NASHVILLE–The last time the winter meetings were held at the sprawling Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Resort, in 2002, this is how boring they were: The biggest transaction of the second day was the Pittsburgh Pirates hiring Frank Velasquez as their strength and conditioning coach. While Velasquez is a fine fellow, he isn't the reason nearly every baseball journalist converges on the winter meetings each December. Certainly, fans awaiting news from the confab expect bigger dispatches than the hiring of a fitness guru.
"I think it's the atmosphere here," Oakland General Manager Billy Beane said then in explaining the lack of activity in baseball's visit to Music City USA. "This complex is so big that it is its own biosphere. It's like a different universe. It's just not conducive to making trades."
That could change this year, though, as executives from around the game will begin to converge on the Opryland today, with the winter meetings officially set to start Monday and run through Thursday morning's Rule 5 Draft. The Johan Santana sweepstakes appear ready to play out to a conclusion here, with the Yankees and Red Sox both vying to get the left-hander from Minnesota. The Marlins will continue to shop Miguel Cabrera, and Beane will step up his dangling of Danny Haren in trade talks.
The tone has already been set thanks to several big trades in recent days–the six-player swap between the Twins and Rays that included potential superstars Delmon Young and Matt Garza, and the Mets sending Lastings Milledge to the Nationals for Brian Schneider and Ryan Church. Meanwhile, every agent in the game will be patrolling the various Opryland lobbies, attempting to peddle a lukewarm class of free agent clients to the assembled GMs.
All in all, it should be an interesting four days. Here is a look at where all 30 clubs stand from a trading standpoint at the start of the meetings:
Arizona: The Diamondbacks are offering outfielder Carlos Quentin to everyone and anyone in an attempt to land a young starting pitcher. However, Quentin had surgery on his left (non-throwing) shoulder in October and has been a major disappointment so far in the big leagues. Third baseman Chad Tracy is also expendable following the emergence of Mark Reynolds last season, but Tracy is also an injury risk, as his recovery from micro-fracture surgery on his right knee has hit some snags.
Atlanta: The Braves have plenty of needs, starting with a center fielder, but also with left-handed relief and a utility infielder. However, the roster is thin, evidenced by the fact that left fielder Willie Harris is being used as their prime trade bait. The Braves might have to swallow hard and give up left-handed pitching prospect Jo-Jo Reyes in a deal for a center fielder.
Baltimore: The Orioles are looking to blow up their team and start over, not for financial reasons but because President Andy MacPhail has seen enough bad baseball in just five months on the job. Other teams can back up the truck, because shortstop Miguel Tejada is available, along with catcher Ramon Hernandez, outfielders Aubrey Huff, Jay Payton, and Jay Gibbons, and third baseman Melvin Mora. Left-hander Erik Bedard could be moved, too, if the Orioles don't come to terms with him on a long-term contract extension. The Orioles badly need some young talent with upside.
Boston: Center fielder Coco Crisp is the guy the Red Sox want to move, as prospect Jacoby Ellsbury is ready to be a regular. They are using Crisp as a bargaining chip in their pursuit of Santana and Haren. If those deals fall through, trading Crisp to Texas for catcher Gerald Laird to caddy for Jason Varitek would make some sense. The Red Sox could use a right-handed set-up reliever after Eric Gagne flopped miserably down the stretch last season.
Chicago Cubs: They lean heavily to the right in the hitting department, and could use a left-handed hitting outfielder as well as a lefty bat off the bench. The Cubs would also like to add a true number two starter behind Carlos Zambrano. They have a number of players to offer, including right-handers Ryan Dempster and Jason Marquis, left-handers Will Ohman, Neal Cotts, Carmen Pignatiello, and Sean Marshall, outfielder Matt Murton, and shortstop Ronny Cedeno.
Chicago White Sox: Shortstop Jose Uribe became expendable with the acquisition of Orlando Cabrera from the Angels, and is on the block. The White Sox would also be willing to deal right-hander Jose Contreras and third baseman Joe Crede, but both are dicey, as Contreras had a horrible 2007, while Crede is coming off back surgery. The White Sox need help in left field and center field.
Cincinnati: The Reds still need pitching, even after signing closer Francisco Cordero as a free agent this past week. They have plenty of outfielders to offer (Josh Hamilton, Ryan Freel, and Norris Hopper), and might even part with third baseman Edwin Encarnacion to acquire a front-line starter.
Cleveland: The Indians are happy with the roster that got them within one game of the World Series last season, but would love to add a corner outfield power bat, and have their eye on Pittsburgh's Jason Bay. The Indians have plenty of expendable players to offer, including third baseman Andy Marte, left-handers Cliff Lee, Jeremy Sowers, and Aaron Laffey, and outfielders David Dellucci, Ben Francisco, Shin-Soo Choo, and Franklin Gutierrez.
Colorado: The Rockies don't have much tweaking to do to a roster that got them to the World Series last season. They would be willing to part with left-handed reliever Brian Fuentes for a number two starter, and might also kick in infielder/outfielder Jeff Baker or outfielder Cory Sullivan as part of a potential deal.
Detroit: For the second straight offseason, the Tigers made their big move early, acquiring shortstop Edgar Renteria from Atlanta the day after the World Series ended. The Tigers could use a starting pitcher, a set-up reliever, and some bench help, but are more likely to find that help via free agency.
Florida: The Marlins has expended considerable energy in trying to trade Cabrera, but they are also willing to listen to offers on left-hander Dontrelle Willis, especially if he could fetch a front-line catcher or center fielder along with an above-average pitching prospect.
Houston: The Astros would like a big-time starter to complement right-hander Roy Oswalt. However, the best they have to offer is outfielder Luke Scott, and he won't be enough to bring a 200-innings horse in return.
Kansas City: The Royals desperately need a big bat in the lineup. Whether some package involving players like outfielders David DeJesus and Joey Gathright and left-hander Jimmy Gobble would be enough to land a big hitter is open to debate.
Los Angeles Angels: Miguel Cabrera is the guy they want, but they've been frustrated by Florida repeatedly rejecting trade proposals in recent weeks. The Angels have plenty of young talent to offer, including left-hander Joe Saunders, right-handers Ervin Santana and Nick Adenhart, catchers Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli, infielder Brandon Wood, and outfielder Terry Evans. It is a matter of how much of that young talent they're willing to give up.
Los Angeles Dodgers: They would like a third baseman because they aren't convinced prospect Andy LaRoche is ready, and a center fielder because they are convinced that giving Juan Pierre five years and $44 million as a free agent last winter wasn't a really good idea. The Dodgers have plenty of intriguing youngsters to dangle in trades, including right-hander Chad Billingsley, first baseman James Loney, LaRoche, and outfielder Matt Kemp. However, do the Dodgers want to part with any of them?
Milwaukee: The Brewers are one of the few teams with starting pitching to spare, as left-hander Chris Capuano and right-handers Dave Bush and Claudio Vargas are expendable and available. Doug Melvin will likely deal one of them to fill a hole in left field.
Minnesota: The Twins made their first big move by acquiring Young, and they ideally want a top-flight young pitcher, third baseman, and center fielder back in any trade for Santana.
New York Mets: They covet Santana but their unwillingness to give up outfield prospects Carlos Gomez or Fernando Martinez likely kills any chance of that trade happening. The chances of landing Haren from Oakland have also lessened after trading Milledge.
New York Yankees: That the Yankees have decided to part with prized young right-hander Phil Hughes makes them the favorite to land Santana in a deal that would also include center fielder Melky Cabrera. The Yankees could also use bullpen help, but an ace starter is their top priority.
Oakland: Beane will be very popular, as Haren, fellow right-hander Joe Blanton, and closer Huston Street all can be had in trades with the Athletics as Beane looks to retrench and restock their farm system.
Philadelphia: The Phillies made their big trade last month when they acquired closer Brad Lidge from Houston. They still would like to add more pitching, but are more likely to do so through the free agent route. The Phillies keep insisting third base is not a priority, but could wind up with the Orioles' Mora after reportedly offering free agent Mike Lowell four years and $50 million before he re-signed with Boston.
Pittsburgh: For a team that has lost at least 94 games in each of the past three seasons, the Pirates are surprisingly set. Pittsburgh is willing to make deals to add overall depth, though, and has a number of players who could draw interest: Bay first and foremost, followed by left-handed relievers John Grabow and Damaso Marte, and also durable set-up man Salomon Torres. Right-hander Matt Morris, former GM Dave Littlefield's going-away present to the organization last July, is very available.
St. Louis: Third baseman Scott Rolen can be had if someone would take the three years and $36 million left on his contract, not to mention the risk that comes with his bum left shoulder. Rolen has a no-trade clause but would waive it to go anywhere Tony La Russa isn't.
San Diego: The Padres have a long shopping list that includes a center fielder, a corner outfielder, a second baseman, and bullpen help. However, the list of talent they have to offer pretty much stops with Kevin Kouzmanoff, who could be moved to make way at third base for prospect Chase Headley.
San Francisco: The Giants need power, power, and more power, especially at the corner infield and outfield spots. While they love Cabrera, they don't have enough prospects to land him. Most likely, the Giants will have to part with one of their prized right-handers, Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum, to get a big bat, though they would rather deal left-hander Noah Lowry. In a heartbeat, they would dump center fielder Dave Roberts, right fielder Randy Winn, second baseman Ray Durham, and catcher Bengie Molina.
Seattle: The Mariners could use two starters and two relievers. While they would love to unload pricey first baseman Richie Sexson, other clubs are more interested in first baseman Ben Broussard, second baseman Jose Lopez, and outfield prospect Wladimir Balentien. It's a long shot, but the Mariners might land Santana with an offer of prized youngsters Brandon Morrow, catcher Jeff Clement, and outfielder Adam Jones.
Tampa Bay: The Rays filled many of their immediate needs in the last few days by adding Garza, shortstop Jason Bartlett, and reliever Troy Percival. Still, they would be willing to give up perpetually-troubled outfielder Elijah Dukes, who had a winter ball run-in with an umpire in the Dominican this past week, in order to upgrade at catcher over Dioner Navarro.
Texas: The Rangers are still looking for a center fielder after being rejected by Torii Hunter, and have their sights set on Crisp. If that fails, they could go after the Mets' Carlos Gomez. A more realistic target, though, is Gathright in a trade for shortstop prospect Joaquin Arias.
Toronto: The Blue Jays should be quiet unless they decide to aggressively shop right-hander A.J. Burnett or right fielder Alex Rios. Toronto would gladly trade right-hander Josh Towers or left fielder Reed Johnson, but other clubs will likely to wait to see if they are non-tendered.
Washington: The Nationals have two intriguing relief chips to offer–closer Chad Cordero and set-up man Jon Rauch–in the attempt to find a long-term answer over Cristian Guzman or Felipe Lopez at shortstop.
The merits of the big trade between Minnesota and Tampa Bay were debated earlier this week by Joe Sheehan and Kevin Goldstein. Not surprisingly, both the Twins and Rays were happy after the deal in which Minnesota sent Garza, Bartlett, and relief prospect Eduardo Morlan to Tampa Bay for Young, infielder Brendan Harris, and outfield prospect Jason Pridie.
Young finished second to Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia in American League Rookie of the Year voting despite hitting just 13 home runs and generating only 5.7 VORP in 681 plate appearances. However, Twins General Manager Bill Smith thinks the 22-year-old Young has room to grow. "We think his power is going to continue to improve," Smith told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "He's going to be a middle of the order difference-maker in our lineup."
Young is the first player to be traded in the offseason after finishing first or second in the Rookie of the Year voting since 1953. After that season, Boston traded outfielder Tom Umphlett, who finished second in rookie balloting. Young says he grew up a lot in his rookie season, and has removed any questions about his makeup that arose when he was suspended for 50 games at Class Triple-A Durham in 2006 for flinging a bat at an umpire. "I grew up a lot over the last couple of years, getting older and wiser. [Trouble is] going to happen with some players when you are 18 years old and thrown out to the world with a little money in your pocket."
Some believe that the Rays should have waited to deal Young until he improved his trade value. Tampa Bay Executive Vice President Andrew Friedman, however, believes that it was a deal needed for the Rays in the present. "This trade is about the present, not about the future," Friedman told the St. Petersburg Times. "We capitalized on our depth in certain areas to address more pressing areas of need."
Said Rays manager Joe Maddon, "I hate to lose Delmon, but [it's] for us to advance our situation now rather than in four or five years from now. I'm looking at the two good pieces we got back. Both teams had specific needs so it's a nice fit for both sides."
Buoyed by winning the National League West and getting to the National League Championship Series, the Arizona Diamondbacks plan to offer contract extensions to team president Derrick Hall, general manager Josh Byrnes, executive vice president for business operations Tom Garfinkel, and manager Bob Melvin. Byrnes, entering the third year of a four-year deal, was approached by "one of the very high-profile teams," D'backs general partner Ken Kendrick noted, although declining to say which team. Byrnes appeared to have no interest, and Kendrick said he wanted to keep it that way. Assistant GM Peter Woodfork interviewed for the GM job in St. Louis. "We are getting bombarded by other clubs," Kendrick told the East Valley Tribune. "What you want to do is to forestall as many of those offers as you can. We want to make sure there will never be a time where they would consider a change. You do that by paying them well and letting them do their jobs. You want to put really good contracts in front of your best people. We want to lock them in."
Byrnes figures to get a significant raise over his initial contract of four years and $1.2 million. He put together a team that won a division title last season despite a $52 million payroll, not bad for a franchise seemingly headed for bankruptcy five years earlier because of all the backloaded contracts given to players on the veteran roster of the 2001 World Series champions.
"The economic turnaround of the Arizona Diamondbacks is the most significant in the history of baseball," Kendrick said. "The people inside of baseball know that. Our people have become known within the industry as very bright and very capable. Not just on the field, but in season tickets, radio and TV, and sponsorships."
Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins was so good at the prediction business last season that he is already at it again for 2008. After winning the National League Most Valuable Player award, Rollins went on Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia and had this to say as he looked forward to next season:
"We'll win probably 100 games, and 100 games will get us to the playoffs. There's going to be fireworks. I know that much. And I plan on another celebration, but not just one. I don't plan on giving up that title of NL East champions, I know that much. I don't know if we can make a run like the Braves did (14 straight division championships), but we've started."
It was Rollins who said last year in spring training that the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East. The Phillies then won their first division title since 1993, making up a seven-game deficit to the Mets in the final 17 days of the season.
Rumors and rumblings: While Arizona made a surprise offer to Japanese free agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, the Dodgers and Seattle remain the co-favorites to sign him. ï¿½ Boston is expected to sign manager Terry Francona, who has an 8-0 career record in World Series play, to a two-year, $6 million extension that will keep him under contract through 2010. ï¿½ Colorado's starting rotation is set for next season with Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales, and Jason Hirsh, but the Rockies would like to add some veteran insurance and are trying to sign Mark Redman and Steve Trachsel as free agents. ï¿½ After trading for Young, the Twins are almost certain to not tender a contract to outfielder Craig Monroe, who was acquired in a trade from the Cubs last month. ï¿½ Detroit has backed off of its pursuit of free agent reliever Octavio Dotel, and has targeted LaTroy Hawkins in an attempt to shore up the relief corps. ï¿½ Left-hander Glendon Rusch sat out last season after suffering a blood clot in his lung late in the 2006 season with the Cubs, but is attempting a comeback, and is drawing interest as a free agents from the Dodgers, Brewers, and Cardinals, among other clubs. ï¿½ Atlanta is no longer counting on left-hander Mike Hampton for next season after he suffered a strained hamstring in his first winter ball start in Mexico. While John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, and Tom Glavine are assured of the first three spots in the rotation, Chuck James leads a host of candidates that includes Reyes, Jair Jurrjens, and Jeff Bennett for the final two jobs. ï¿½ Milwaukee will not offer a contract to backup catcher Damian Miller after signing Jason Kendall to start behind the plate. Instead, they will go with an in-house option–Mike Rivera, Vinny Rottino, or Eric Munson–as the backup.