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October 8, 2008

On the Beat

Early Off-season Planning

by John Perrotto

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The Angels and Cubs spent six months building the best regular-season records in their respective leagues. Now, they will watch the rest of the postseason at home in front of their flat screens after both were knocked out of the League Division Series.

That the Angels bowed to the Red Sox in four games in the American League following the first 100-win season in franchise history was disappointing, but it was also not totally unexpected. The Angels had a tough first-round draw in the Red Sox, who won 95 regular-season games to take the wild card, and have two World Series wins in the previous four years.

The Cubs' loss was more painful, and that goes beyond their being swept despite having won 97 games to lead the National League. This season marked the 100th anniversary of the Cubs last World Series win, and their fans seemed convinced that the Cubs were destined to be the latest franchise to break a long championship drought in this decade, joining the Red Sox, who ended an 86-year wait in 2004, and the White Sox, who put to rest 88 years of frustration in 2005.

Alas, the Cubs lost three straight to the Dodgers, a year after meeting the same fate against the Diamondbacks in the NLDS. "We were expecting more when we left spring training," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said after the final game of the series. "We played well all summer and won our division convincingly. We thought we would go farther in the postseason and it's very disappointing, to say the least. I'm in the role of congratulator again, and that wasn't what I was looking for." The Cubs' players also seemed shocked that their season ended so quickly. "This team is better than this," second baseman/right fielder Mark DeRosa said. "A team that wins 97 games shouldn't get swept, it should do better than this."

The nature of the postseason is fickle; the best team doesn't always win.Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot seems to understand that better than most players. "We won our division, the expectations are to win the World Series, like they are every year," Theriot said. "We didn't do that this year. We won our division two years in a row, and next year we do it again, hopefully, and see where we go. There's no perfect formula. There's no rhyme or reason to what happened this year. But there's always next year."

They have been saying that on the North Side of Chicago for a century now, but the Cubs again figure to be a strong contender in 2009 and are expected to re-sign their three key free agents-right-hander Ryan Dempster, closer Kerry Wood, and center fielder Jim Edmonds. Beyond that, the only real need is a good left-handed reliever to work the late innings in concert with right-hander Carlos Marmol to set up Wood. In addition to these moves, left fielder Alfonso Soriano believes that general manager Jim Hendry should consider shaking up the roster after two quick post-season exits. "We're a very good team for 162 games, but we don't do anything after that," Soriano said. "That's the difference. We're not put together for the playoffs."

Perhaps the same could be said for the Angels, who have won the AL West four of the last five seasons but have gone 5-15 in post-season play since beating the Giants in 2002 in the franchise's lone World Series appearance. "We've got a lot of guys who are frustrated," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said after losing to the Red Sox in the ALDS for the third time in four seasons. "I can't tell you how proud I am of the way the guys played over the whole summer, though, and it's unfortunate how this series turned out." Count right-hander John Lackey among the frustrated. "We lost to a team that's not as good as we are," Lackey said.

The Angels figure to have a much more eventful winter than the Cubs; two of their marquee players, closer Francisco Rodriguez and first baseman Mark Teixeira, are eligible for free agency and will command huge contracts on the open market. Rodriguez has spent his entire career in the Angels' organization after being signed as an amateur free agent from Venezuela. "This has been my family for 10 years," Rodriguez said. "I would love to stay here, no doubt about it." However, if Rodriguez is indeed looking for a five-year, $75 million contract after setting the major league record with 62 saves this season, then the Angels are likely to pass and instead hand the closer's job to rookie right-hander Jose Arrendondo.

Teixeira, acquired last July in a deal with the Braves, will almost certainly command an eight-figure deal, and the Angels figure to be in the middle of the bidding war. Teixeira is amenable to staying. "I wasn't even thinking about Anaheim until I was traded here," Teixeira said. "It's an amazing organization. I have tremendous respect for the organization, from [owner] Arte Moreno to the last guy on the bench. It's definitely going to give me something to think about."

---

Left-hander CC Sabathia steadfastly refused to talk about his impending free agency throughout the season, but after the Brewers were eliminated by the Phillies in four games in the NLDS, he finally gave some insight into what he's been thinking as he heads toward what will likely be the richest contract ever for a pitcher, possibly exceeding the six-year, $137.5 million deal that the Mets gave left-hander Johan Santana last winter after acquiring him from the Twins. While Sabathia wouldn't divulge what direction he is leaning, he did say that he would like to come to terms on a contract expeditiously once teams can begin negotiating with him next month. "All that would be is stress to have it drag on through the winter," Sabathia said. "We'll see what happens, but I can guarantee you I won't be flying around and going to different cities. I've pretty much been to every city. I've got a lot of friends around the league. Teams are going to have to come to me."

The Brewers certainly plan to come to Sabathia, though they seem to be a long shot to land the lefty. Sabathia said he would not close the door, and hinted that he would consider giving owner Mark Attanasio a bit of a hometown discount. "I had spent my whole career with the Indians, so I was nervous about coming into a new clubhouse, a new environment, and not really knowing what to expect, but this was great," Sabathia said. "This is the ideal environment. A young, talented team, a great clubhouse, guys get along and have fun. I've really enjoyed my time here. That was my thing, even in Cleveland-I want to have fun. I want to be around people I enjoy because you're around them eight months a year. That will all factor in."

Meanwhile, right-hander Ben Sheets is also likely to leave the Brewers as a free agent. Sheets, who missed the NLDS with a torn flexor mass near his right elbow that will not require surgery, had been the Brewers' ace since he came to the major leagues in 2001 until they traded for Sabathia. "I really haven't spent one ounce of my energy thinking about that," Sheets said of his impending free agency. "I don't know what [the Brewers] are doing. That's their business. It's not for me to worry about."

---

The White Sox were expected to be also-rans this year, so losing to the Rays in the ALDS might represent a moral victory of sorts. They won the AL Central by beating the Indians in the final regularly-scheduled game of the season and then defeating the Tigers in a makeup game necessitated by a rainout, before nipping the Twins 1-0 in a one-game playoff for the division title.

"At the start of the season, none of the seers, none of you guys thought we would be here," White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf told the Chicago Sun-Times. "I remember reading the newspapers in April, some of the most vicious things I've ever read were in the newspapers in April. 'How can they go to the well with [John] Danks and [Gavin] Floyd?' But [general manager] Kenny Williams knew how important they would be, he went after them and he got them. The Cuban [second baseman Alexei Ramirez] was great. [Manager Ozzie Guillen] did a fabulous job. There's nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, we should be proud."

Williams, though, wants to remodel his roster and make it somewhat younger and more athletic after the White Sox scored a higher percentage of runs on home runs than any team in the major leagues this year. "We all know that I've got to probably do a better job of getting some players in here who can do some little things," Williams said.

---

With the Angels and Cubs making early exits, expect the cries to become louder for MLB to increase the length of the Division Series from five games to seven. However, commissioner Bud Selig shot down that idea this past weekend while attending the Brewers-Phillies NLDS games in his hometown of Milwaukee. "We're going to play until October 31," Selig said, referring to the scheduled date for a possible Game Seven of the World Series. "Next year, because we're starting a week later [because of the World Baseball Classic], we're going into early November, which I'm not thrilled about. I've said to the clubs at every [owners'] meeting, 'if you want to go to seven games then we've got to cut some games off the regular season.' There's never been a vote called. End of discussion."

Selig threw out the first pitch before Game Three of the Brewers-Phillies series, the first post-season game played in Milwaukee since 1982. Selig admitted he had a hard time keeping his objectivity during the game since he grew up in Milwaukee. He bought the Seattle Pilots out of bankruptcy court just before the start of the 1970 season, moved them to his native city, and then kept the franchise in the family before selling it to Attanasio prior to the 2005 season. "It was a wonderful day for Milwaukee and Wisconsin, an emotional day for a lot of people," Selig said. "It was emotional just having people come up to me. I kept telling people I'm supposed to be neutral, but it was a thrill for me to walk into [Miller Park] for a post-season game."

---

AL Rumors and Rumblings: Red Sox right-hander Curt Schilling, eligible for free agency after missing this season because of shoulder surgery, says he would consider coming back next year and pitching in the second half for a contender. ... Yankees right-hander Mike Mussina is still on the fence about retiring, though those close to the situation believe he won't be back in 2009. ... White Sox center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. dismissed talk that he might retire, and said he would prefer to re-sign with Chicago. ... The Twins are willing to trade left fielder Delmon Young following the emergence of rookie outfielder Denard Span this season.

NL Rumors and Rumblings: The Cubs are talking to general manager Jim Hendry about a long-term contract extension. ... The Cubs will make another run at Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts after spending most of last offseason trying to trade for him. The Orioles, though, will first try to sign Roberts to a contract extension. ... If the Padres do decide to trade right-hander Jake Peavy in the offseason, the Braves, Yankees, and Red Sox will be at the head of the line of suitors. ... The Dodgers are leaning on starting rookie left-hander Clayton Kershaw instead of Greg Maddux to start Game Four of the NLCS against the Phillies, and are likely to use Jonathan Broxton rather than Takashi Saito as the closer. ... Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez's asking price is expected to be $85 million for five years on the free-agent market. ... The Reds won't re-sign center fielder Corey Patterson, but they will make a pitch to re-sign reliever David Weathers. They also have interest in catcher Josh Bard, recently released by the Padres, to replace backup Paul Bako, who won't be re-signed.

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

15 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

elferguson80

"The Cuban [second baseman Alexei Ramirez] was great."

From now on, A.R. is "the Cuban" to me.

Oct 08, 2008 10:57 AM
rating: 1
 
tdrury

Yes, yes, Cuban B

Oct 08, 2008 11:19 AM
rating: 0
 
Ben Solow

Haha, money. I love the reference.

By the way, anyone else catch that one of the White Sox announcers (I forget which from the blinding rage they tend to inspire among any non-White Sox fan) repeatedly refers to Alexei as "the best baseball player" on the White Sox, and also did so before Quentin was injured?

Oct 10, 2008 15:52 PM
rating: 0
 
ItzikJones

I think it's Darren Jackson, but you can;'t take either DJ or Hawk literally. I have heard him say that plenty of times and what I think he means by that is that Alexei does all the little things well(even though he doesn't). And if you are concerned for your mental health, don't tune into their broadcasts too often. They are atrocious.

Oct 18, 2008 12:57 PM
rating: 0
 
Robert Flaxman

Soriano's right in the sense that one of the key factors for the Cubs this year was their depth - I mean, their fourth starter won 17 games! - and depth isn't necessarily as useful in a three-game span as it is over the course of 162. For example, the Cubs had better depth at shortstop between Theriot and Cedeno - neither Berroa nor Hu hit for the Dodgers. But Furcal is a better player than Theriot and in a 3-game set where only one guy is playing, that's suddenly a big difference. Ditto with the Dodgers running Pierre and Jones out there for months and then suddenly having Manny Ramirez as their left fielder. The Cubs were a much better offensive team than the pre-July 31 Dodgers; afterwards, it became closer to even, although the Cubs still should have had the edge. Really, the fact that Ryan Dempster picked the worst possible time to have his second-worst start of the year and the infield defense picked the worst possible time to experience a complete breakdown has as much to do with the result of the series as anything else the Cubs did or didn't do (though of course the offensive shutdown didn't help much either, but playing at home in those first two games, you have to give the Cubs a decent shot at squeaking out a 3-2 game like they did during the season series).

Oct 08, 2008 11:30 AM
rating: 0
 
nblascak

In regards to Manny, I have to say that 5 years/$85 million certainly is different than the 4 years/$100 million like some people have been speculating.

Oct 08, 2008 11:42 AM
rating: 0
 
Drew Miller

Whoever does either deal isn't going to get value during the last two years of that deal.

Oct 08, 2008 11:54 AM
rating: 0
 
ofMontreal

But it is much cheaper. Although those numbers (4/100) have always come from the Boston peeps who try to assassinate Manny at every turn. 5/85 is bait for a big market AL team, which is the smart way to go all around. But back to Manny, he himself said that the way Boston does it is to attack a star players character and then dump him. That way if he plays well afterward, it appears he dogged it in Boston. I think they wanted to move him regardless and got what they wanted.

Oct 08, 2008 18:19 PM
rating: 0
 
EnderCN

I'd love to cut the season down to 154 games and add 2 games to the divisional series. Way too many players break down late in the season as it is.

Oct 08, 2008 11:57 AM
rating: 0
 
JoeSky60

Ozzie's been calling Ramirez "The Cuban Missile" since Spring Training. The local media have carried it along, and even the TBS guys mentioned it. My son & I refer to him as "The Missile", for short. "The Cuban", or "Cuban B" won't have much traction.

Oct 08, 2008 14:30 PM
rating: 0
 
tdrury

LOL, not trying to make anything catch on, just trying out a pop culture reference

Oct 08, 2008 15:59 PM
rating: 0
 
alanj
(767)

Eight-figure deal for Teixeira? You mean nine figures, right?

Oct 08, 2008 18:54 PM
rating: 0
 
husier
(90)

The Cubs have some defensive issues that need to be solved, especially up the middle aside from Soto ... just one of those things that gets overlooked in a 97-win season but can bite you in the playoffs.

Bringing back Edmonds won't solve them, and neither will leaving Theriot at shortstop.

Oct 08, 2008 21:20 PM
rating: 0
 
ItzikJones

I think their only up the middle weak spot is SS. DeRosa and Cedeno are both solid gloveman and are pretty sure throwers as well. Theriot is the only bad defender on the infield.

Oct 18, 2008 13:01 PM
rating: 0
 
West21

People seam to forget that the White Sox made the playoffs to spite losing their best player, Carlos Quentin. They don't need more athletes, they just need some on-base guys to get on before Quentin and Dye and a little more defense. Pierzynski and Cabrera were pretty terrible at doing that. They play in a solfball park, theres no good reason to at add a bunch of speedsters who won't hit home runs. We all know what a distaster the Darin Erstad signing was. Speed is nice but I don't want to see Alexei Ramirez and Willie Tavares 1-2 in front of Quentin. I'd rather see Orlando Hudson and Nick Swisher 1-2.

Oct 09, 2008 20:08 PM
rating: 1
 
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