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ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Signed manager Mike Scioscia to a contract extension
through 2009, with a club option for 2010. [11/4]

Think about that: the manager is locked in for the next four years, and with
an extra year just in case. Now that’s job security. More basically,
it’s a necessary reaction to a world where Scioscia’s original organization
isn’t just moaning some sort of siren song, it’s downright hot to trot when
it comes to acquiring some quick respectability. That’s on top of operating in
a sports entertainment environment where there’s blood in the water and
every media minnow might harbor delusions of grandeur when it comes to
potentially influencing a weak-willed Dodgers owner. So with those
considerations in mind, I’d credit Arte Moreno and Bill Stoneman for moving
quickly to make sure that their guy, the one manager that probably makes
every Dodgers fan go fanboy on some level, is very, very, very much off the
market.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Signed C-R Chris Widger to a one-year, $650,000 contract;
exercised their $3.5 million option to terminate the contract of DH-R
Frank Thomas. [11/4]

So by telling Thomas thanks but no thanks as far as his $10 million option
for ’06 is concerned, what’s important is that the Sox are saving themselves
more than $6 million. Having already expressed an interest in bringing the
Big Hurt back at a lower price, this all makes sense. Money goes into the
coffers to help raise the club’s bid in the Konerko sweepstakes, while
potentially also adding cash to help finance a solid lefty-hitting fourth
outfielder who might fill in at DH now and again if Joe
Borchard
still isn’t ready or if Brian Anderson
needs an entire spice rack’s worth of seasoning in Charlotte.

That’s a lot of change for a backup catcher, but Widger has his uses as the
occasional lefty-masher, and the White Sox organization really should give
Chris Stewart time in Triple-A next year, instead of
pushing him up any further than that. Stewart hit .286/.341/.460 at
Double-A, which looks like a breakthrough for the 23 year-old backstop, but
it was the first time Stewart hit well, and as a 12th round pick from the
’01 draft, he hasn’t been talked up much in the past. For Stewart, ’06 will
be a year where he’ll have to build, because the real catcher of the future
for Bridgeport is supposed to be Francisco Hernandez.
However, Hernandez is still only 19 and not yet into full-season pro ball, so Stewart, and by extension, Widger, shouldn’t have much competition
from within the organization in ’06.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Exercised their $4 million option on 2B-R Ron Belliard
for 2006. [11/4]

Re-signed LHP Scott Sauerbeck to a one-year contract with a
club option for 2007. [11/6]

I like the decision to keep Belliard, even if he will be 31 next season. He
did a great job of ironing out his platoon splits, hitting right-handers
much better this year than he has in some past seasons, and defensively,
he’s still more than adequate. However, having locked him in, I still think
that the Tribe has to return to the question about whether or not it makes
sense to keep both Aaron Boone and Casey
Blake
, or if they’re comfortable footing the bill to retain two
expensive, older players who aren’t major offensive assets anywhere beyond
third base. Consider these factors:


Player          Blake   Boone
Birthday       8/23/73  3/9/73
2006 Salary    $3.75M   $3.75M (+$1M in incentives)
2005 EqA        .269    .253
'04/'05 FR@3B    92      101

To help out here, ’04/’05 FR@3B is the two players’ Rate at third base in
their respective seasons as the Indians’ regular at the position. So, having
restructured Boone’s deal, it’s really a matter of picking your poison.
Offense or defense, with the player who offers you a bit of defense costing
you a little extra? I’m not a big believer that Boone’s bat is back, despite
how quickly some liked to bring up his nifty June or useful July. I guess
I’m more stuck on the fact that the season overall was terrible, and the
reason for that was because he was terrible most of the year, before
and after his temporary renaissance at the plate. His Isolated Power
from July 1 on was only .126, nothing special. He walks, infrequently. So
basically, he has to hit for average to offer you much, and that’s the least
reliable skill, relative to power or patience, without even beginning to
worry about his age. I’m still convinced that he’d make a great third
baseman for somebody else, but the Indians seem convinced that he’s a
project who will turn around. I’m skeptical, but from Mark Shapiro on down,
they do have a good track record.

Speaking of that track record, while that seems to be an awful lot of
long-term confidence placed in the notoriously flaky Sauerbeck, you have to
credit Eric Wedge and his staff appropriately, because they did successfully
retread him. Situational starlets have their uses, so they get their
compensation.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Declined their $3 million option on 1B-L Tino Martinez,
making him a free agent. [11/8]

Whatever his few remaining believers might think, El Tino was
doublebaked in done-ness, so it’s best to move on and see what the Yankees
can do to help themselves as far as finding a part-time first baseman who can
perhaps do some damage against lefties while keeping Jason
Giambi
‘s glove in mothballs. The problem is the cancerous
expansion of the payroll: now that the calendar’s rolling over, Giambi just
got $7 million more expensive, Randy Johnson $4.5 million,
Jaret Wright adds $2 million, Derek Jeter
and Jorge Posada get an extra million apiece, and you can
count on Shawn Chacon to pick up a million or two through
arbitration. That’s without touching on how to handle Hideki
Matsui
‘s free agency, the team’s lack of a center fielder, or who’s
going to replace Tom Gordon. The $26 or $27 million or so
saved from buying out Martinez and Bernie Williams and
happily waving goodbye to Kevin Brown is almost already
allocated without adding the expenses those three situations will
demand.

So yes, there is crying in baseball, but only at the self-pity party you
might throw in the Bronx.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Signed SS-B Neifi Perez to a two-year contract. [11/7]

Not just more Neifi than you deserve, Chicago, but a guarantee that nothing
short of a meteor strike hitting the side of the planet that Neifi’s on can
prevent his destiny as the Cub you love to hate. I guess there’s some sort
of risk management in play: Nomar Garciaparra might go
away, and it’s a bit quick to assume that Ronny Cedeno is
really ready already. So who’s at short? Well, first, we have to get through
the play-acting pass at Rafael Furcal to keep the home
folks happy. And then there’s the potentially sensible idea, like trying out
this Nomar thing one more time and for one more year, just to see if it will
finally work. But you don’t have to be a Calvinist to think that some
outcomes are predetermined, and that when all of 2006 has been revealed and
becomes history, the Cubs shortstop will be our very own fifth horseman of
the apocalypse, the one who can bring desolation and waste to any lineup,
the inNeiffably Neifi Perez.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Signed LHP Steve Colyer to a minor league contract. [11/6]

Signed INF-L Jason Smith to a minor league contract. [11/7]

Smith has certainly come to the right place, so give the man’s agent a heap
of credit, because there are big league jobs to be had on this team.
Aaron Miles is never going to be a useful major league
regular, and all the hubbub aside, Clint Barmes doesn’t
really look to be all that spectacular. Luis Gonzalez gets
a little bit of hype, but that’s because he’s the patch who gets plugged
into the oft-open holes in this lineup, and everybody roots for the
ever-ready flexible types. Put him at one position, however, and he’s no
longer a moving target, which means people might zero in on his indifferent
woodwork at the plate.

Smith’s strengths are best summed up by the fact that he hits lefty and can
handle second, short, or third. Not that Smith is really all that good, mind
you, but when you’re talking midget wrestling, you still have that very
human instinct to pick a dark horse or two.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Re-signed OF-B Jose Cruz Jr. to a one-year contract with a
club option for 2007. [11/5]

Over three million guaranteed simoleans for a guy who… well, played like
crap for four months, then showed up in time to do good stuff as a Dodger in
the two months after they’d become little more than a wasting afterthought.
So which player did they get? The guy who didn’t hit in Arizona’s drafty
closet of a ballpark, or the guy who hit .301/.391/.532 for the boys in
blue, when the possibility of a winter harvest that might only yield an
incentive-laden split contract was staring him in the face? Happily, it’s
only a one-year deal, but the guy’s going to be 32 in April, and it isn’t
like he’s been aging particularly gracefully. The key thing is that he’s
basically a step above a fourth outfielder, but not quite a regular,
whatever he’s being paid. That’s not an entirely terrible guy to have around
on a team whose best two outfielders are the often-absent Milton
Bradley
and J.D. Drew. As it stands now, he’ll
squabble with Ricky Ledee for the playing time that exists
in either outfield corner, at least until something happens to Drew, or
Bradley erupts, breaks, or erupts and breaks.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Named Robin Yount bench coach. [11/4]

Extended the contract of general manager Doug Melvin through 2009. [11/5]

As far as keeping Melvin, I’m happy to see that he’s rooted in place for a
long enough stretch to give him all due credit or criticism for what’s about
to happen. Melvin already deserves a ton of credit for how he’s made the
Brewers a respectable organization again, something they’d lost in the
decade after the late Harry Dalton’s fall from power. Brewers player
development is no longer a joke, but instead resembles the Cardinals for
something that looks like an all-or-nothing farm system, cranking out blue
chippers or organizational soldiers, and very little in between. (That’s not
a bad way to be; let’s face it, how many minor league championships do you
really, really care about?) He seems to have a great working
relationship with manager Ned Yost, who in turn seems to be
one of the least-heralded good managers around these days. The challenge
that Melvin faces is a subject I’ve probably gotten downright dull to listen
to on, which is how he integrates the kids like Prince
Fielder
, Corey Hart, and Nelson
Cruz
onto a team that associates its newfound respectability with
guys like Lyle Overbay, Geoff Jenkins, and
Carlos Lee. It won’t be easy, and if he does anything to
bring in the kids, there may be squawking from those just happy to be back
into eighty wins territory. Believe me, I know how this feels, I remember
the ’87 A’s, and wondering how Oakland was going to get any better. I spent
that Hot Stove League hoping that Sandy Alderson would get Dan
Pasqua
for Alfredo Griffin; happily, I set my
expectations way too low (and probably liked Pasqua way too much), and
Alderson procured Bob Welch. I don’t know how Melvin is
going to do anything like that, but the hope here has to be a focus on
continued improvement, not on standing pat. Melvin now has the security to
know that he can act without panicking management into a rash firing.

As for Yount’s return to Beertown, let’s face it, having the man wear copper
and teal was just unnatural. I have no idea if the Brewer’s best-ever player
will make a good bench coach or not, and considering his reputation for
being slightly less chatty than Calvin Coolidge, asking him probably
wouldn’t help, but nostalgic as I am for my youth, part of which involved a
goodly amount of time in County Stadium watching Mr. Yount, I am simply glad
to see him back in Milwaukee.

NEW YORK METS
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Declined their $2 million club option on LHP Dae-Sung Koo,
making him a free agent. [11/5]

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Hired Pat Gillick to be general manager. [11/2]

… thereby putting off for a couple of years that choice they’ll eventually
have to make between assistant GMs Mike Arbuckle and Ruben Amaro Jr. It’s
pretty much what we should have expected, given that the Phillies essentially
seem to operate out of two competing ethics: fear and loyalty. But for an
organization known for its cronyism, a baseball lifer like ‘Stand Pat’ makes
for a pretty good fit. Old enough to relate, old enough not to stick around
forever, and not encumbered with too many of those noisome newfangled
notions that have so many people’s panties in a bunch over in the press box.

More importantly, the Phillies’ organization has a pretty interesting
collection of prospects to use in barter. Gillick’s latter days with Seattle
are rightly criticized for his repeated failures to capitalize in-season on
the opportunities generated by the team he’d built over the winter. However,
to give credit where credit is due, it’s worth giving the man his props for
having done everything he could to win in Toronto in the early ’90s, a
period in which the Jays not only made some aggressive moves in the free
agent market, but also a few great in-season deals. If Gillick can remember
any of that, while also relying on his highly-regarded scouting acumen to
help identify which kids are keepers, and which are bait, then it’s possible
that hiring Gillick to head things up until they’re ready to pick between
Arbuckle and Amaro could be a good thing. If, on the other hand, he remains
as passive and foggy-minded as he seemed to be at times in Seattle, then the
holding pattern has no up-side, things really will not have changed from how
things were done (and not done) on Ed Wade’s watch, and the Phillies will be
exactly where they’ve been for years, the wallflower who almost wasn’t.

First order of business? Sorting how much contract he has to eat to make
Jim Thome and his trick back somebody else’s problem.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Exercised their option on RHP Akinori Otsuka; declined
their option on 2B/OF Eric Young, making him a free agent.
[11/8]