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The UTK suitcases are packed again for my third go-round at the baseball Winter Meetings. Anaheim doesn’t have the nightlife reputation that New Orleans has, so I expect more action and fewer hurricanes when baseball’s movers and shakers get together. (There’s a Starbucks in the building? Oh, I like this more and more.) The backroom deals move out to the lobby and the talk gets serious when GMs, agents, and the rest of the front offices hit the hotel. Jack McKeon might not be the biggest star this year, but he will have his cigar handy again, I’m sure. For a guy like me that makes his living on sources, it’s the best time of the year. Injuries are always a big topic there, and with the current steroid controversy ongoing, that’s sure to be something of a dark cloud over the proceedings. One fun part of the weekend will be giving the Dick Martin Award to Ken Crenshaw. I’ve had it sitting on my desk for a couple days now and will almost be sorry to see it go.

On to the injuries, etc.:

  • So often the story of a free agent isn’t just his performance, but his ability to get on the field and perform at all. It seems like this off-season has more than its share of these types. After getting past Carlos Beltran, a unique player in just about every way, there are injury questions about almost every significant free agent. There are none with more questions than Magglio Ordonez. His knee injuries have been documented both here and elsewhere. About all we don’t know is how he is. A planned workout by Ordonez in Anaheim has been scrapped because Scott Boras feels he’s close enough to a deal that the workout is unnecessary. Enough people have seen the medical records that some team is likely to try to make a move. This is a deal that could well happen this weekend.

  • One of the moves many are expecting soon is a long-term deal for Johan Santana. The Twins have Brad Radke back and, pending Joe Mauer being able to prove that knee will handle a catcher’s workload, really have all the parts that it takes to win a weak AL Central. Santana’s one of the big successes from the Rule 5 draft (another big part of the Winter Meetings) and still a couple seasons from free agency. Still, Terry Ryan would love to lock up the Cy Young winner at a price even Carl Pohlad will approve. It’s hard to argue against the move, but it’s not without its risks. Santana had elbow surgery last off-season, coming back well, yet the surgery itself now makes his pitching elbow uninsurable. All the risk will be on the Twins once this deal is done.

  • Pedro Martinez is what Johan Santana wants to be when he grows up. Pedro’s also looking for a payday, holding court in the Dominican Republic. So far, it’s been more about years than money. The Red Sox won’t give him the extra year that he wants guaranteed. The Mets don’t appear quite as reluctant to go long. Moving to the National League has been said to be something of a holdup, yet it could help Martinez in the long run. He’s done well in interleague play and with his limitations, facing the pitcher could help keep his pitch counts lower.

  • GMs will be playing a game of musical shortstops during the Meetings. Omar Vizquel and Cristian Guzman already have their chairs. Nomar Garciaparra took a one-year deal to prove his wrist and Achilles are healthy, thrusting him onto the list of “What was I thinking turning that deal down?” players that includes Juan Gonzalez and Jody Reed. That leaves Orlando Cabrera and Edgar Renteria as the two top-flight shortstops available, with Boston, Anaheim (who thought they had Garciaparra locked up), the White Sox, and a couple others still looking. Even Detroit and Milwaukee may be in the mix for shortstops: Carlos Guillen will miss part of the season after knee surgery and Milwaukee knows better than to count on J.J. Hardy to stay healthy. Someone’s going to be left with less than expected when the music stops and the season starts.

  • Jermaine Dye still tantalizes people with his size and talent. You’d think he had more than two solid seasons on his stat line for all the teams that are willing to take a risk on his health. Dye’s never really overcome that devastating leg injury despite working as hard at his rehab as any ballplayer I’ve heard about. Dye loves the Bay Area, keeping the Giants in the discussion, though the White Sox seem to have the best chance at him. Texas, Tampa Bay, and Baltimore are also possibilities.

  • Brian Sabean should have his last free agent in hand before hitting the floor in Anaheim, leaving him to concentrate on trades. (He certainly can avoid the draft now.) Steve Finley is rumored to be that last signing, pairing with Marquis Grissom in what could be a very effective CF platoon. This is another move that points to a “win now” plan in San Francisco.

  • Corey Koskie ended his season with a multitude of injuries, yet he remains a decent option for the teams not willing to spend enough to get into the Adrian Beltre tax bracket. Koskie should be healthy and getting off turf might help–unless he ends up in Toronto, another turf field. Koskie could be a signing whose value is determined more by what he can get rather than what he’s worth.

  • Many are surprised that J.D. Drew wasn’t offered arbitration by Atlanta, unless they’re inside the Atlanta front office. The Braves were planning life without Drew a while ago, planning to move Chipper Jones back to the outfield and hoping that Andy Marte proves himself ready at third. Drew’s healthy 2004 showed what he can do and he makes a worthy “Plan B” for many teams in the Beltran sweepstakes. Drew, as I’ve noted in the past, would do better in center by avoiding the dangers of handling sharp turns in the corners, but one trainer pointed out to me that a park with ample foul territory would have roughly the same effect if he stayed in right.

  • Randy Johnson may have more rumors being circulated about him on the Internet than Paris Hilton, but sources tell me that there’s nothing brewing on Johnson right now. The Diamondbacks look to be very aggressive on the free agent market, looking at every second-tier free agent as a target. If they come away empty-handed, they’ll revisit trading Johnson to fill in the gaps. They’re in no hurry so don’t expect a quick resolution. Johnson may be a Diamondback much longer than most expected.

  • Another pitcher that will have to swat away rumors is Tim Hudson. He’s rumored to be shopped by Oakland after declaring he’ll test free agency after the 2005 season. Billy Beane and company have shown they’ll go against expectations, so fans in Baltimore and Atlanta shouldn’t get too excited just yet. Baltimore could use Hudson, but still are focused on Carl Pavano and lack credible prospects that fit Oakland’s needs. Atlanta would be a better fit, though it would be tough to give up Marcus Giles plus one of the Braves’ many pitching prospects for only one guaranteed season of Hudson.

  • Charles Johnson might have a new home by the weekend. A couple teams have come calling, willing to take on the contract load that Colorado won’t absorb in hopes that…well, what does one hope for from Johnson at this stage? His 2004 PECOTA looks risky and I’ll wager that once the 2005 projection pops out of Nate Silver’s spreadsheet, it won’t look any better.

  • Who thought that Sandy Alomar would get signed and that Roberto Alomar would be…well, what is Robbie doing these days? Alomar the catcher signed on with Texas to back up youngster Gerald Laird, who’s recovering from a thumb injury that derailed a nice season. The Rangers will likely grab Richard Hidalgo to man one of their outfield corners, a nice move if they can make it. Hidalgo has been shaking off the BP cover curse for a while. The Rangers are still likely to move Alfonso Soriano at some point, hoping to fill in their rotation that way and clear space for their middle-infield prospects.

  • Woody Williams returns to sunny San Diego and a pitcher-friendly ballpark after a nice run in St. Louis. It’s a move that’s probably good for both sides. What’s less clear is where the Cardinals will go for pitching. Matt Morris is down for a portion of the season after shoulder surgery, Jeff Suppan is being offered around, and Chris Carpenter is still something of a question mark. The Cards have been rumored to be after a couple pitchers–a nice offer on Johnson, a token run at Radke–so something’s bound to be up Walt Jocketty’s sleeve. No matter how well he’s doing in winter ball, Rick Ankiel is not going to be their ace in April.

  • For those of you that can’t get enough Curt Schilling, I have a piece up over at Boston Dirt Dogs that you might enjoy. The Sox added to their bullpen depth by signing Matt Mantei. It’s a one-year deal, and Mantei does have a history of success when he can manage to stay upright, so it’s a reasonable low-risk deal for the Sox.

I forgot to plug it at the time, but I recently did another interview with Aaron Schatz over at Football Outsiders. With the partnership between FO and BP, I’m sure there will be more. I know nothing about football really and Aaron’s site got me to first place in my fantasy league, so that’s a pretty good endorsement. Be sure to catch Aaron during his Chat on the BP Web site next week.

I’d also like to thank everyone for the kind words about the steroid piece. It should have been co-bylined with my editors, Joe Sheehan and Jonah Keri, because they did an exquisite job. Add in all the help from others that I had in putting it together–you know who you are–and the e-mails I got today equaled anything I’ve received about any article I’ve done here. It’s just that type of piece that is the ideal I have for UTK.

If you’re in Anaheim this weekend, stop by and say hi. I’m not hard to find, and I might even show off some of the new “Injury Value” research we’ve been working on. Until then, check out the BP Radio archives, which should have a new show up soon featuring Bill James, Jim Callis, and Aaron Schatz.

Thank you for reading

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