DENVER-While the Red Sox and Rockies aren’t finished playing the World Series yet, it’s never too early to look ahead. So, as we look forward to 2008 for both league champions, the Red Sox could be without both one of the top run producers and the veteran leader of their starting rotation, while the Rockies could have a new catcher and second baseman, along with some turnover within their cast of middle relievers pitching in front of the late-inning duo of Brian Fuentes and Manny Corpas.
The Red Sox have seven players eligible to file for free agency once the World Series ends, notably third baseman Mike Lowell and right-hander Curt Schilling. The other potential free agents are right-handed starter Matt Clement, right-handed relievers Eric Gagne and Mike Timlin, righty swingman Julian Tavarez, and backup catcher Doug Mirabelli.
Lowell would be the biggest potential loss for the Red Sox; he hit .324/.378/.501 in 653 plate appearances, and plays a position where the Red Sox don’t have an immediate alternative. The Sox would prefer to bring the 33-year-old Lowell back with a two-year contract, but he will almost certainly command a longer-term deal than that on the open market. The Yankees will be major players if they can’t re-sign third baseman Alex Rodriguez, and Philadelphia is willing to spend top money to upgrade at the hot corner after getting little production this year from a combination of Greg Dobbs, Wes Helms, and Abraham Nunez. The Red Sox may have no choice but to swallow hard and give Lowell a four-year deal, as they did with catcher Jason Varitek after winning the World Series in 2004.
Schilling has 4.3 SNLVAR in a season in which he was limited to 151 innings because of a shoulder injury, which also forced him to begin making the transformation from power pitcher to finesse guy. It seemed the Red Sox would allow the 40-year-old to walk as a free agent, but that sentiment has seemed to change with his strong postseason performances; he will likely be back on a one-year deal worth approximately the $13 million he is making this season.
Timlin is still an effective middle reliever despite being 41, as he had a 1.572 WXRL in the regular season and will likely be back for another season as the de facto captain of the Red Sox bullpen. Trading for Gagne at the July 31 non-waiver deadline seemed right at the time, but he was horrible in 18 2/3 innings, and won’t be back. Tavarez can pitch in many different roles, but none of them well; he was left off the team’s postseason roster, a sign that he isn’t in their future plans. Mirabelli hit a weak .202/.278/.360 in 127 plate appearances; he has hung on with the Red Sox mainly because of his ability to catch knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, but the Red Sox could turn to the even weaker-hitting Kevin Cash to perform that role at a lower salary. Clement missed the entire 2007 season following shoulder surgery and the Red Sox will cut ties with him after getting only 6.2 WARP during the course of his three-year, $25.5 million contract.
In Denver, catcher Yorvit Torrealba and second baseman Kazuo Matsui, two of the lesser lights in the regular lineup, top the Rockies’ list of potential free agents. The other potential free agency defectors are right-handed starters Josh Fogg and Rodrigo Lopez, left-handed reliever Jeremy Affeldt, and right-handed relievers LaTroy Hawkins, Matt Herges, and Jorge Julio.
While Matsui has never come close to replicating his performance in Japan, he was at least passable this season for the Rockies with a 16.9 VORP, a .265 Equivalent Average, and a .288/.342/.405 line. Torrealba’s VORP was only 4.6 to go with .255/.323/.375 slash stats in 443 plate appearances, with a .242 EqA. The Rockies don’t to re-sign either, as they have younger and cheaper alternatives in Chris Iannetta behind the plate and Ian Stewart at the keystone (he’s working on a conversion from third to second base this winter).
Among the rest, Fogg had 2.3 SNVLAR in 165 2/3 innings, and Lopez had 1.8 in 79 1/3 before having to undergo arthroscopic elbow surgery. The Rockies have interest in both, but not if they price themselves out of what figures to be another crazy market for starting pitchers. Herges had a 1.927 WXRL in 48 2/3 innings, and leads the team’s host of potential free-agent relievers, followed by Julio (0.563 in 52 2/3 innings), Hawkins (0.271 in 55 1/3 innings), and Affeldt (-0.647 in 59 innings). Ironically, the reliever most likely to get a multi-year deal is Affeldt, who will tempt suitors because of his left-handedness and ability to throw hard.
The Yankees are expected to name their manager as soon as the World Series ends, and once Major League Baseball’s embargo on making major announcements during the postseason ends-although it has already been broken multiple times this month. All signs points to the Yankees either promoting bench coach Don Mattingly to replace Joe Torre or hiring Joe Girardi, who broadcast games on television for the Yankees and Fox this year, and was the National League Manager of the Year in 2006 with Florida. Yankees first base coach Tony Pena was the only other person interviewed, and he will become bench coach for whoever gets hired.
The balance of power in the Yankees’ organization will be revealed by who they pick as manager. Owner George Steinbrenner and his sons Hank and Hal want Mattingly to get the job. However, General Manager Brian Cashman and the Yankees’ “baseball people”, as Steinbrenner always calls them, feel Girardi is a better fit.
Hank Steinbrenner told reporters Friday that the Yankees are close to making the hire. “Still a few details to work out,” he said. “Do some more thinking on it. That’s about it.”
Meanwhile, talk that the Dodgers are thinking about hiring Girardi to replace manager Grady Little is not necessarily accurate. The Dodgers want Girardi to be their bench coach to replace Dave Jauss, who is expected to become Pittsburgh’s farm director, and who might also possibly interview for the manager’s job with the Pirates. If Girardi is hired, then Little will immediately step to the head of list of manager most likely to be fired first in 2008.
The Cardinals announced this week that Tony La Russa will be back as manager in 2008, as he signed a two-year contract. La Russa has spent 29 seasons as a major league manager, winning more games than anyone in history but Connie Mack and John McGraw, but there was much speculation the 63-year-old might not come back for a 13th season with the Cardinals. There were also signs the Cardinals wouldn’t have been that disappointed to see La Russa leave, even though he guided them to the World Series championship last year.
La Russa wound up not taking a standard three-year deal and also quashed much speculation that he would come back for only one more season. “Two years is right,” La Russa told reporters during a press conference to announce the contract. “Three is looking too far forward for a senior citizen. One year isn’t the answer either because, all of a sudden, from spring training, it’s the same deal as this year. Two years lets the players know I’m back more than one.”
The Cardinals still have not hired a GM to replace Walt Jocketty, though Cleveland assistant GM Chris Antonetti is said to be the strong favorite. La Russa said he was told by Cardinals Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. that all of the candidates who were interviewed were OK with him returning as manager.
While left fielder Barry Bonds might harbor hopes of returning to San Francisco for a 16th season, the Giants will hold steadfast to their plan of not re-signing the all-time home run leader as a free agent this upcoming offseason. “There’s still time. Things might change,” Bonds told a crowd of 450 people who attended a forum honoring him this past week in San Francisco. “I told (Giants owner) Peter Magowan that if I’m a part-time player, I’m still better than your full-time player, and it’s a wise idea to keep me.”
Bonds does make a valid point. His 55.2 VORP this year was more than double any other Giants hitter; right fielder Randy Winn was second at 26.4. Then again, perhaps Bonds could replace Giants GM Brian Sabean. When Bonds was asked it he would consider buying a franchise, he said that if he were ever put in a position of power with the Giants that he would deliver their first World Series title since the franchise moved from New York in 1958. “I know the game so well, I can see talent, I know exactly what I’d be looking for,” Bonds said.
Even though his team blew a 3-1 lead to the Red Sox in the America League Championship Series, don’t look for Indians GM Mark Shapiro to spend the offseason wondering about what might have been, particularly not after being outscored 30-5 in the final three games. “They were the better team,” Shapiro said of the Red Sox. “Experience was some factor, but talent was the ultimate factor. I look at it as we won three in a row, then they won three in a row. There is some disappointment, some bitterness in that. But if you’re not the team that wins the last game, no matter what level you get to, you feel that sense of bitterness and disappointment.”
Shapiro, though, chooses to look at the overall picture when he thinks back on 2007. “The backdrop to all of it is we still won 96 games, the most in the major leagues (along with Boston), we made it to the postseason, we won a series over New York, in Yankee Stadium, and we took the Red Sox to Game Seven. I look at it as the two best teams in the league met in the ALCS. It went seven games and the best team won.”
That is why Shapiro is quick to point out that he and his staff will not make any offseason decisions based solely on the Indians’ play in the postseason. “This game leads you to the temptation of coming to conclusions based on short-term evaluations,” Shapiro said. “Everything we do here is an attempt not to make decisions on small time frames, but by looking at a greater body of work.”
From the rumor mill: Aaron Boone, covering the World Series as an analyst for CBSSports.com, says he is recovered from the knee surgery that limited him to 228 plate appearances this season with Florida, and plans to continue playing. … Despite the HGH story that was leaked on the day of Game Seven of the ALCS, look for Cleveland to exercise its $8 million option on right-hander Paul Byrd for 2008. … Arizona GM Josh Byrnes doesn’t plan many off-season changes after the Diamondbacks made it to the National League Championship Series, but would be willing to trade top outfield prospect Carlos Gonzalez for a young starting pitcher who could step in to the major-league rotation. … Minnesota plans to make offers to retain right-hander Carlos Silva and center fielder Torii Hunter as free agents. Hunter turned down a three-year, $45-million offer earlier this year, because he is seeking a longer contract. … Milwaukee has decided to stick with catcher Johnny Estrada for next season, believing elbow surgery will help after he threw out just six of 79 runners attempting to steal this year. … The Chicago White Sox are likely to exercise the $5 million club option on Juan Uribe‘s contract for 2008 because of the shortage of shortstops on the free agent and trade markets this winter.