December 8, 2008
Rolling into Town
It's fair to say that the 2008 Winter Meetings have been anticipated for some time. After all, the family of baseball and the hordes that write and talk about the game have been traveling to Dallas, Orlando, Nashville, Anaheim, and other locales each December for years now, so four days in Las Vegas has its appeal. I would say that we've been joking about this year's meetings for years, and while the amusement beats the reality-I doubt there will be any stories that open with, "Well, I was down $220 at the craps table, but then Brian Sabean walked up, bought in for $15,000, and proceeded to roll for an hour!"-the fact is, this isn't a bad place to be, meetings-wise.
What makes it ironic is that in a year when the meetings are being held in a place where dead time can be more easily filled than in almost any other locale, we could very well have four days that leaves no one time to get their aces cracked. Yes, we say this every year, but weeks of stagnant player markets have caused pressure to build in the pipes. Free agents want to sign, owners want to make a big splash, and GMs want to get their 2009 plans put into place. Agents... well, Billy Ray Valentine probably had this one nailed.
It's not that everything is going to happen this week. After all, Derek Lowe is waiting for CC Sabathia, who is waiting for Mark Teixeira, who for all we know doesn't want to upstage Barack Obama's transition process and plans to make his decision after the inauguration. Even without those stars, there are plenty of free agents, especially relievers and bats who can't field, who need homes. There's the Rule 5 draft, which despite being gutted in the most recent CBA, keeps producing interesting players each year. (Remember the name Pedro Strop, an infielder-turned-reliever who bounced from the Rockies to the Rangers and was surprisingly left unprotected by the latter.) There's the trade market, which takes on importance not just for teams wary of signing free agents, but for those who have needs that simply won't be met by the pool. There are no championship-caliber catchers, third basemen, or center fielders available via free agency, and just a couple of marginal second basemen.
The meetings' first deal reflects that problem. The Tigers need a catcher and see nothing in the market they can invest in with confidence. The Rangers have a glut of them, thanks to some shrewd trades by Jon Daniels. Gerald Laird, pack your bags. Laird is a marginal starter himself, with so-so power, a poor contact rate, and a career K/BB over three to one. He has a good defensive reputation, and very good statistics, having thrown out 38 percent of the runners trying to steal on him in his career. Some of that may be in the pitchers he's worked with, such as Kenny Rogers and Vicente Padilla, who hold runners well, so take that figure with a grain of salt. Laird is a stopgap, and at 29, he's not going to change much. He's probably better used as part of a solution than as the whole one.
The Tigers didn't give up the store here. One of the prospects is a 25-year-old who has just 260 professional innings under his belt. Guillermo Moscoso was the Tigers' tenth-ranked prospect according to Baseball America, and while his performance begs attention-122 strikeouts in 86
For the Rangers, it looks more and more like Taylor Teagarden is going to emerge from their group and be their starter in the long term. Teagarden is by far the best defensive catcher they have, and will be one of the best in baseball once he takes over in Arlington. While the team could find room for Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Max Ramirez, both players-who are marginal catchers with very big bats-would have more value to an organization that will put them behind the plate and live with their defense. That puts Daniels on the spot; he has a team that is emerging as one of the best collections of talent for the 2010s. His job now is to turn that into a baseball team, which means signing the right free agents-next year, in all likelihood-sorting through the gluts at some positions, and bringing along studs Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland in a way that balances their development, their health, and the team's needs. While I'd rather have his job than, say, Neal Huntington's, Daniels faces significant challenges in progressing from a strong organization to a championship team. Trading Saltalamacchia and Ramirez will be a critical step in that process.
That's the kind of move I think we'll see this week, teams making mid-range deals, not really blockbusters, in order to fill needs and position themselves for either 2009 or the future beyond that. It is my hope that we see some creativity, because that makes the game more interesting. It is also my hope that we see activity beyond what you might call "the usual suspects." I think the Reds could be a strong sleeper in the NL, and whether they get Jermaine Dye or not, that's the kind of move I'd like to see them make, something that positions them for success. We've seen the White Sox and the Tigers, legacy franchises, restore their team's place in their cities with success; the Reds could be the next one in line for that.
Think about all the tweeners that are out there, like the Blue Jays, Indians, A's, Braves, Astros, maybe even the Giants. There are a lot of teams that are currently projected to win 78-85 games that could make one or two moves, especially if they're NL teams, and change the conversation about them. It's not clear whether they should-the Blue Jays, in particular, are in a tough spot-but baseball is healthiest when most teams feel like they can progress towards a championship. The AL, so long dominated by a few franchises, is really moving back to that model, with most of its teams either contending or thinking about it. In 2009, only the Orioles, Royals, and maybe the Rangers are rebuilding. That makes for a fun game.
Back with more as the day progresses, over in Unfiltered.