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November 8, 2009

On the Beat

Fire Up the Hot Stove

by John Perrotto

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Well, so much for the theory that the groundwork for trades is made at the general manager's meetings and consummated at the Winter Meetings. Four significant trades were made this week, and we're only entering our fourth day of the offseason. The GM meetings start tomorrow in Chicago, and there is better-than-even chance at least one deal will be made there. Heck, by the time the winter meetings get underway December 7 in Indianapolis, there might not be anybody left to trade. Thus, it behooves us to take a look at the trade market before it dries up.

Baseball's two new general managers have some of the more intriguing trade chips on the market. The Blue Jays' Alex Anthopolous will try to deal right-hander Roy Halladay, who becomes a free agent at the end of the 2010, after predecessor J.P. Ricciardi's much-publicized bid to move the staff ace failed at the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline. Meanwhile, new Padres GM Jed Hoyer has two All-Stars he can dangle in first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and closer Heath Bell if he wants to continue the youth movement that started this year. Right-hander Kevin Correia and third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff would also draw interest.

Starting pitching is always at a premium, and while Halladay will be hotly pursued again, a number of younger starters are also available, including the Dodgers' Chad Billingsley, the Brewers' Dave Bush, the Orioles' Jeremy Guthrie, the Phillies' Kyle Kendrick, and the Twins' Glen Perkins. Billingsley is the most intriguing of the group, as he is just 25 and pitched in the All-Star Game this season. However, he struggled so badly down the stretch that he was taken out of the rotation and left the Dodgers wondering if he might need a new start in another organization.

Beyond that group, there are bigger names who could be in the mix. After re-signing Tim Hudson to a three-year, $27 million contract, the Braves are willing to trade one of three starting pitchers-Kenshin Kawakami, Derek Lowe, or Javier Vazquez-for an outfield bat. The Cubs might listen on ace Carlos Zambrano, but would need to be overwhelmed to deal him.

Meanwhile, teams looking for a closer may be able to fill their void via trade, as the Pirates' Matt Capps, the White Sox' Bobby Jenks, and the Indians' Kerry Wood are all said to be available. Marlins left-hander Renyel Pinto is one of the many quality set-up relievers who can be had, while the Rays' Dan Wheeler and the Athletics' Michael Wuertz are others.

Several hitters who have 30-homer seasons on their resumιs might also change uniforms this winter, including Rays left fielder Pat Burrell, Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz, Cardinals outfielder Ryan Ludwick, and Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla. The Marlins will presumably trade Uggla rather than go to an arbitration hearing with him for a second straight winter. Though Cruz hit 33 homers and was selected to the All-Star Game this past season, the Rangers are looking to sell high because they feel he had a career year.

As always, there are a number of overpriced players that teams are trying to get rid of. In the front ranks in that group are Cubs outfielder Milton Bradley, Diamondbacks outfielder Eric Byrnes, Royals outfielder Jose Guillen, Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner, Angels outfielder Gary Matthews Jr., and Dodgers outfielder Juan Pierre.

Catching has become an increasingly difficult position for teams to fill, yet there are some interesting names floating as trade possibilities: the Pirates' Ryan Doumit, the Rays' Dioner Navarro, the Rangers' Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and the Cubs' Geovany Soto.

Finally, there are a host of other position players available to suit various tastes and needs: Orioles utilityman Ty Wigginton and outfielder Luke Scott; Rockies third baseman Garret Atkins and outfielder Ryan Spilborghs; Royals outfielder David DeJesus; Brewers outfielder Corey Hart; Athletics first baseman Daric Barton and outfielder Travis Buck; Pirates outfielder Brandon Moss; and Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman and outfielder Elijah Dukes.

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Joe Girardi was considered a manager in waiting during his 15-year playing career as a catcher from 1989-2003. His career included winning three World Series with the Yankees in 1996, 1998, and 1999. Now, Girardi has fully arrived at that destiny. He was the National League Manager of the Year in 2006 with the Marlins, though he was fired at the end of his rookie season as a skipper because of disagreements with team owner Jeffrey Loria. Girardi guided the Yankees to a World Series victory this year, as they polished off the Phillies in a six-game series that ended Wednesday.

Girardi said experiencing a World Series victory as a manager is different than as a player. "The joy is the same, but it's a different type of joy," Girardi said. "As a player, it's what you dream about ever since you were a little boy, and for me, it was listening to Curt Gowdy do all those World Series games. As a manger, you still have that joy, but the joy is for other people because you understand all the behind the scenes work that it takes. It starts with The Boss (George Steinbrenner) and his family and (general manager) Brian Cashman and his staff and the developmental people, (senior vice president of baseball operations) Mark Newman and (player development director) Pat Roessler. I think about all the coaches and the all players that we brought up from Triple-A, some from Double-A, the job that they did. I am so happy for all those people because a lot of times they're not recognized but I think about Pat Roessler and what he does in the organization and all the scouts who were out and away from their families for a month, a month-and-a-half, two months scouting all these teams. They are such a big part of this and I'm happy for them."

Girardi famously asked for the No. 27 when he was hired to replace Joe Torre after the 2007 season because his goal was to manage the Yankees to their 27th World Series title. Girardi said he got the idea from Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who requested No. 10 when he was hired prior to the 1996 season because the franchise had won nine titles. Girardi said he would like to switch to No. 28 next season if reserve first baseman Shelly Duncan is amenable.

Though the Yankees' policy is not to address contracts until they expire, things might get interesting this winter. Girardi will also likely ask for an extension since his three-year, $7.5 million deal runs out at the end of next season. If the Yankees don't extend Girardi, then he will be a rare manager who comes off a World Series victory yet faces lame-duck status. Quoth Cashman, "We have to evaluate everything when we have our organizational meetings-players, coaches, and manager."

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While the Phillies failed to become the first National League team to win consecutive World Series since the 1975-76 Reds, manager Charlie Manuel fully expects his squad to get back to the Fall Classic next year and perhaps a few more seasons beyond that.

"I think we're in a span right here that is going to be our heydays," Manuel said. "It's very important for the next couple years that we stay afloat because most of our guys are in their primes. At the same time, I think we can tinker with our team enough to even get better. I know we can get better. I know (left-hander Cole Hamels) is going to be better and I know (closer Brad Lidge) is going to be better. I know that. So, therefore, that's going to make us better. We can improve on our hitting, too, and we will. We're going to be a better team next year. That's our goal."

The Phillies repeated as NL champions even though Hamels' SNVLAR was nearly halved from 7.2 in 2008 to 3.8 in 2009 and Lidge's SNLVAR crashed from a major league-best 7.615 last season to a major league worst -3.257 this year.

The Phillies actually improved their run scoring this year, leading the NL with an average of 5.1 runs per game after finishing second in 2008 with a 4.9 average. However, Manuel felt the Yankees' pitching staff exposed his left-laden lineup in the World Series. "I give credit to some of the Yankees' pitching, but it seemed like our offense, when we had to really get it done and get the big hits or we had to do things to kind of take them out of the game, it seemed like we couldn't do it," Manuel said. "We kind of sputtered a little bit."

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That the Royals traded infielder/outfielder Mark Teahen to the White Sox made sense. They had no desire to pay him a salary of least $5 million through arbitration, particularly since he did not have a defined starting position with them for 2010.

However, the Royals' return in the deal was baffling, as they got second baseman Chris Getz and third baseman Josh Fields. The Royals already appeared set at both positions with Alberto Callapso at second and Alex Gordon at third. Both Callapso (2.4) and Gordon (0.1) had better WARP1s this year than Getz (0.8) and Fields (-0.4). Furthermore, Callapso and Getz are both 25 and Gordon, who is 25, is nearly two years younger than Fields, who turns 27 next month.

So, what exactly was GM Dayton Moore thinking when making a trade that doesn't seem to be getting the Royals any closer to a playoff berth that has eluded them since they won the 1985 World Series? Well, Moore's winter game plan is to acquire as many players with three years of service time or less and those who are not yet eligible for arbitration, who usually have salaries barely over the major league minimum of $400,000. "We're at a time in baseball where the economics are very important," Moore said. "I would not discount that as part of the equation."

The Royals had a $70 million payroll to begin this past season and say that number will hold steady in 2010, though Moore's strategy seems to contradict that. However, Moore said the primary reason he wants to horde as many young players as possible is to create position battles in spring training. "The bottom line is it hasn't worked here," Moore said. "We have to do what we have to do to shake up our team and generate as much competition as we can. We have to put pressure on (players) to go out and perform."

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MLB Rumors and Rumblings: Many in baseball believe that the longer the Nationals drag out their managerial search, the better the chances Jim Riggleman has of getting the job. Riggleman was promoted from bench coach to interim manager when Manny Acta was fired at the All-Star break. He led the Nationals to a 33-42 record after they went 26-61 in the first half. … Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez is the early favorite to become the Braves' skipper when Bobby Cox retires at the end of next season. Gonzalez's contract with the Marlins runs through 2011, but Loria would likely let him go in exchange for cash considerations. … Multiple sources report that the Blue Jays are close to trading first baseman Lyle Overbay to the Diamondbacks for catcher Chris Snyder. … World Series MVP Hideki Matusi will sign with another major league team if he does not re-sign with the Yankees as a free agent, instead of returning to his native Japan. … Yankees closer Mariano Rivera was serious when he said during the World Series trophy presentation that he wants to play five more seasons. Rivera feels so good after having shoulder surgery last winter that he believes he can pitch until he is 45. … The Phillies are leaning toward not exercising third baseman Pedro Feliz's $5 million option for 2010 and buying him out for $500,000. They also want to re-sign reliever Chan Ho Park, but have decided not to try to retain free-agent pitcher Brett Myers. … Ken Griffey, Jr., who is eligible for free agency, will either return to the Mariners for what figures to be his final season, or retire. … The Red Sox are likely to pick up shortstop Alex Gonzalez's $6 million option for 2010 after losing out to the Twins in their bid to trade for Brewers shortstop J.J. Hardy. … The Brewers have decided not to attempt to re-sign center fielder Mike Cameron after acquiring Carlos Gomez in the Hardy trade. … Left-hander Jarrod Washburn wants to return to the Mariners, who traded him to the Tigers at the July 31 non-waiver deadline, as a free agent. … The Astros would be willing to re-sign Miguel Tejada as a free agent if he would be willing to move from shortstop to third base to open a lineup spot for rookie Tommy Manzella. … The Tigers will make a play for free-agent reliever J.J. Putz, and there will likely be mutual interest, since he is a Michigan native and pitched for the University of Michigan. The Tigers also want to retain closer Fernando Rodney, who is eligible for free agency. … The Cubs have decided not to try to re-sign right-hander Rich Harden and outfielder Reed Johnson, who can both become free agents. … The Reds will pursue catcher Ramon Hernandez in free agency despite declining his $8.5 million option for 2010. … The Rockies want to bring relief pitcher Rafael Betancourt back, but not at the $5.4 million his club option dictates for next season, so the sides are trying to work out a two-year guaranteed contract with an option for 2012. The Rockies will not attempt to re-sign two of their free-agent pitchers, left-handed reliever Joe Beimel and righty Josh Fogg. … The Rangers will try to re-sign infielder Omar Vizquel and outfielder Marlon Byrd as free agents, but they have decided to let corner infielder Hank Blalock and outfielder Andruw Jones walk.

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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