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December 9, 2007

Every Given Sunday

The Arms Race

by John Perrotto

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It would not be entirely correct to say the winter meetings were a bore. After all, it's not every day that a team trades both its franchise player and most marketable player, as the Florida Marlins did in sending Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Detroit Tigers for a package of six prospects that included two of the game's best, center fielder Cameron Maybin and left-hander Andrew Miller.

However, the expected trading frenzy that was supposed to sweep Nashville never materialized. Maybe that was because the general managers never found each other in the maze of lobbies, atriums, restaurants, and shops that make up the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.

Since there were so many trades that went unmade, the futures of three of the game's best pitchers remain unsettled. Minnesota was supposed to trade left-hander Johan Santana. Then, the teams that lost out in that sweepstakes were supposed to battle it out to trade for Oakland right-hander Dan Haren and Baltimore left-hander Erik Bedard.

Santana seemed headed to the New York Yankees, who offered right-hander Philip Hughes, center fielder Melky Cabrera, and right-handed pitching prospect Jeff Marquez. However, when the Twins asked for someone better than Marquez, the Yankees withdrew from the sweepstakes.

That left Boston as the primary pursuer of Santana, offering either left-hander Jon Lester or center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury--a pair of young World Series heroes--as part of a deal that would have also included shortstop prospect Jed Lowrie. When the Twins wanted both Lester AND Ellsbury, the negotiations reached an impasse.

"Everything can change with one phone call," Twins General Manager Bill Smith said.

However, Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire did not like the perception that the Twins are ready to start gutting their team.

"Everybody thinks we're just launching people," Gardenhire said. "That's not the case, or Santana would have been traded. We've had good offers from people on Santana, but it has to be a package that we're comfortable with that's going to help us win this year and all the way through the opening of the new stadium (in 2010). The same way we got Delmon Young (in a six-player trade with Tampa Bay). We got a great young hitter. That's very important for our fan base to know that we're not just sitting here launching guys. We're making sure that we're going to compete. We want to win. We want to keep up with these other guys."

Meanwhile, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein seemed in no hurry to consummate a deal, raising suspicions that the Red Sox got into the derby primarily to tweak the Yankees, and really don't want Santana.

"I think both teams agreed just to have an open dialogue going forward," Epstein said. "I don't see any need at this time to put on a deadline or an ultimatum of any kind. I respect the position they're in. They have a lot of big issues facing them and we'll be there to talk."

Athletics GM Billy Beane seems ready to take Haren off the market. Beane had considered retrenching and beginning a rebuilding phase prior to the meetings but seemed to have a change of heart in Nashville, and now plans to try to contend in the American League West in 2008.

"We're not pushing our guys," Beane said. "It's more a slowing-down process, 'OK, we know you have interest, let us get back to you.' We have a pretty good idea which teams have the players to have the chance to overwhelm us."

Meanwhile, the Orioles seem more apt to trade Bedard, as President Andy MacPhail realizes it is time to start over again in Baltimore after 10 straight losing seasons. Plenty of teams asked about Bedard during the meetings, including Cincinnati, the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Seattle, and Toronto. The Yankees and Red Sox, though, aren't likely to land Bedard, as the Orioles don't want to trade him to one of the AL East superpowers.

"We've said in every way we can that it's not really a question of shopping him or trying to move him," MacPhail said. "At the same time, our record is what our record has been and we have a responsibility to our fans to try to make it better and take whatever we think we have to take to make it better."

---

Chicago White Sox GM Kenny Williams had the appearance of a frustrated man as he left Nashville. The White Sox went from winning the World Series in 2005 to missing the playoffs in 2006 to crashing and burning in 2007 with a 72-90 record--just as Nate Silver and PECOTA predicted.

Williams thought he could get the White Sox jumpstarted by signing Torii Hunter as a free agent. However, the Los Angeles Angels made a quick strike and landed the center fielder with a five-year, $90-million contract the night before Thanksgiving. Williams then hoped to acquire Cabrera from the Marlins. Instead, the AL Central rival Tigers won that sweepstakes and also got Willis in the deal.

The White Sox' only move in Nashville was buying low on Arizona outfielder Carlos Quentin in a trade for first base prospect Chris Carter. Thus, at this stage of the offseason, the White Sox look no better than a third-place club, far behind the Tigers and Cleveland.

"In some respects, you go, 'Uh-oh,'" Williams said after the Tigers-Marlins trade was consummated. "In other regards, you go, 'Good.'

Say what?

"One thing that's difficult when you make a decision like that, one that is made for the short term, is that what you're trying to do had better work," Williams said. "If it doesn't, you're swimming upstream."

Williams then changed direction himself and talked like a man who felt his club was the team to beat in the division rather than a club that finished 16 games behind the Tigers and 24 games behind the Indians last season.

"All this has done is put the Tigers in a better position to contend with us," Williams said.

Regardless of his GM's peripatetic ways, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen believes Cabrera is poised to have a monster season for the Tigers in 2008. Guillen and Cabrera are both natives of Maracay, Venezuela, and their wives are close friends. Guillen says he believes Cabrera has lost at least 15 pounds and appears to be taking a more serious approach to conditioning.

"People will be surprised by how this kid looks in spring training," Guillen said. "They will see he's into it, that he (realized) it's time to grow up."

Guillen believes he motivated Cabrera when he called him "fat" last season when the Marlins visited the White Sox in an interleague series.

"That's hearing it from a best friend," Guillen said. "That's how best friends talk about each other. They tell the truth. I told him you have a chance to be a Hall of Famer, a chance to be one of the best players to ever play the game. Miggy has the God-given talent. You have to take advantage of that."

---

There is nothing Washington Nationals GM Jim Bowden likes better than high-ceiling players with plenty of tools. It is thus no surprise that he has added two young outfielders who fit that description in recent days, even though Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes have troubled pasts.

"Haven't you ever heard of taking a chance?" Nationals President Stan Kasten said. "These guys are worth a risk."

Milledge's draft stock took a hit in 2003 as a high school senior in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., when he was accused of sexual misconduct. He was not charged in the incident and has stayed off the police blotter since the New York Mets drafted him in the first round that year.

However, Milledge played his way off the Mets by being repeatedly late, showing a questionable work ethic, and irritating his veteran teammates. One veteran posted a sign that read "`Know Your Place Rook" on Milledge's locker in 2006.

Dukes' reputation is much worse, as his wife obtained a restraining order against him this past summer after he allegedly left a threatening message on her cell phone that said he was going to kill her and their two children. Yet, the Nationals think he is worth the risk.

"His talent is off the charts," Bowden said. "We're well aware of the issues. We have a plan in place, on and off the field, for him. It's very clear. His book hasn't been written yet, just the first two chapters. The rest of his book is in front of him, and we're going to do everything in our power to make the rest of the book special."

The Nationals can certainly use the offense Milledge and Dukes could potentially provide. Washington was last in the National League in runs scored and home runs last season and second-to-last in slugging percentage.

---

Dusty Baker idolized Pete Rose as a young player, but the new Reds manager hopes the Cincinnati legend is wrong in saying it is impossible for pitchers to succeed in Great American Ball Park. Rose isn't the only person who thinks that way about the bandbox that opened along the Ohio River in 2003. However, Baker is trying to be positive as the Reds go about trying to find two starting pitchers to slot into the rotation with right-handers Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Harang, and Homer Bailey.

"They said Wrigley Field made it hard to attract free-agent pitchers, too," said Baker, who managed the Chicago Cubs from 2003-06. "It depends on if guys think they can win and it depends on how much money you have to pay them."

The Reds tried to trade for Willis at the winter meetings, but refused to part with Bailey, fellow pitching prospect Johnny Cueto, and outfield prospect Jay Bruce in any deal with the Marlins.

"I was a lot more confident about us making a deal before the Miami trade, I'll say that," Baker said. "My wife grew up with Dontrelle's mother and we both live in Sacramento and I was like, 'Man, we could have ridden to spring training together.'"

If the Reds aren't able to deal for a starter, Baker still holds out hope that he can cobble together a solid starting rotation. Cincinnati, though, tied with Florida for last in the NL in ERA last season with a 4.94 mark.

"Hopefully one or two of the young kids will develop and mature over the winter," he said. "When I played with the Dodgers we were always looking for a surprise pitcher to fall out of the sky, some Rule 5 guy or a guy who was injured last year or a young man who went to winter ball and picked up another pitch."

---

Rumors and rumblings: Free agent center fielder Aaron Rowand continues to seek a five-year contract, but neither the Chicago White Sox nor Philadelphia want to commit to him for quite that long. Kansas City might, though, as the Royals continue to look to make a splash after giving right fielder Jose Guillen a three-year, $36-million contract as a free agent this past week. The Royals are also in on two free-agent right-handed starters, Hiroki Kuroda and Carlos Silva The Cubs appear to be the frontrunner to sign Japanese outfielder Kosuka Fukudome as a free agent. However, their options are limited if he decides to sign with San Diego. They would then most likely try to sign Geoff Jenkins as a free agent, though trading for Cincinnati's Josh Hamilton or Pittsburgh's Jason Bay could also be a possibility. The White Sox are also interested in Fukudome, but he is more interested in the Cubs Though Milwaukee broke off trade talks with St. Louis about third baseman Scott Rolen at the winter meetings, people on both sides think the deal with be revisited at some point before the holidays. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa severely damaged his club's leverage in trade talks by ripping Rolen during his media availability at the winter meetings Also expected to be revisited: Cleveland's pursuit of Bay and Toronto's offer of right fielder Alex Rios to San Francisco for right-hander Tim Lincecum, who would join right-handers Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett at the top of the Blue Jays' rotation How much is pitching in demand? Left-hander Glendon Rusch, a free agent who sat out last season because of a blood clot, is telling teams he will not sign unless he is guaranteed a spot in the starting rotation Free-agent right-hander Kris Benson, who missed last season after undergoing shoulder surgery, will throw in Phoenix on Dec. 17, and scouts from at least 12 teams are expected to attend the workout The Reds won't give up left fielder Adam Dunn or right fielder Ken Griffey Jr. in their pursuit of pitching Washington does not plan to trade right fielder Austin Kearns despite trading for Milledge and Dukes. The Nationals plan to have those three compete for playing time along with Wily Mo Pena in spring training, and there is a chance Dukes could head to Triple-A after sitting out the last three months of last season when Tampa Bay dropped him from the roster.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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