Baseball is officially into the offseason now that the Phillies sit atop the sport after beating the Rays in a five-game World Series this past week, but everyone knows that there is really no such thing as an offseason. The champagne had barely begun to dry on the carpet in the Phillies’ clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park following their 4-3 win in Game Five when the first trade of the winter was consummated with the Marlins shipping first baseman Mike Jacobs to the Royals for reliever Leo Nunez.
More trades are likely on the way this week with the annual general managers’ meetings beginning on Monday and lasting through Thursday. So with the “off” season under way, let’s take a look at each of the 30 major league clubs and what they want to accomplish between now and the time pitchers and catchers report to spring training camps in February:
Arizona Diamondbacks: They seem convinced that Orlando Hudson cannot be re-signed as a free agent, so finding a second baseman is their most pressing winter task. They could trade from their surplus at first base/left field, using Conor Jackson, Eric Byrnes, and/or Chad Tracy. Left-hander Randy Johnson is likely to leave unless he accepts a below-market contract as a free agent.
Atlanta Braves: With left-hander Tom Glavine and right-hander John Smoltz both coming off of arm surgery and right-hander Tim Hudson out until at least August after Tommy John surgery on his elbow, the Braves want to added two starting pitchers either by trade or free agency. They also would like to acquire an outfielder with power, though Dodgers center fielder Andruw Jones‘ dream of returning to the Braves is not going to happen.
Baltimore Orioles: They need pitching by the bushel; right-hander Jeremy Guthrie is their only dependable starter, and the bullpen is mediocre. While they are in the midst of rebuilding, look for them to add a couple of veteran starters simply because most of the pitching prospects aren’t ready for the majors yet. They’ll also try for a good defensive shortstop, with free agents Edgar Renteria, Orlando Cabrera, and Rafael Furcal as potential targets.
Boston Red Sox: The first order of business is to see if they can re-sign catcher Jason Varitek, and finding a replacement if they can’t. They also would like to dump Julio Lugo and the $18 million left on the last two years of his contract now that they have committed to Jed Lowrie as their shortstop. First baseman Mark Teixeira piques their interest on the free-agent market, and a starting pitcher is also a possibility as right-hander Josh Beckett had injury problems throughout the end of the regular season and the playoffs. It would not be a surprise to see right-hander Derek Lowe return as a free agent now that he’s wrapped up his four-year stint with the Dodgers.
Chicago Cubs: They want to re-sign right-hander Ryan Dempster and closer Kerry Wood, and will move quickly to do so. After that, they want to add a left-handed hitting outfielder and a left-handed reliever. They would be willing to offload the big contracts of outfielders Alfonso Soriano (six years, $106 million) and Kosuke Fukudome (three years, $38 million), but aren’t likely to find any takers.
Chicago White Sox: They are likely to have a new-look infield in 2009; third baseman Joe Crede and second baseman Orlando Cabrera are expected to leave as free agents, and key reserve Juan Uribe is also eligible. It will likely shake out to where they acquire a third baseman as manager Ozzie Guillen isn’t sold on Josh Fields and they plan to move second baseman Alexei Ramirez over to shortstop and plug rookie Chris Getz in at second base. First baseman/outfielder Nick Swisher is available, but has three years and $22.05 million left on his contract. They would also like to shed the $3 million still owed to reliever Mike MacDougal.
Cleveland Indians: A closer tops the wish list, and they will totally rebuild the bullpen. They also need a third baseman now that they’ve concluded Andy Marte was not the answer after trading Casey Blake in July. They have long needed a power-hitting corner outfielder, but it never seems to be a high priority to management.
Cincinnati Reds: Rebuilding the bullpen in front of closer Francisco Cordero is a must, and they would also like to add a veteran starting pitcher. They could use a right-handed hitter with power to play left field, and will look for a veteran catcher to provide insurance in the event that rookie Ryan Hanigan flops.
Colorado Rockies: They are willing to trade third baseman Garrett Atkins and left fielder Matt Holliday to upgrade their pitching staff, knowing they will not be able to re-sign either one when they become eligible for free agency. They would also like to unload reliever Luis Vizcaino, catcher Yorvit Torrealba, and center fielder Willy Taveras.
Detroit Tigers: They need plenty of pitching, both in the rotation and the bullpen, but they do not have much wiggle room in their budget with which to acquire it. They will probably have to take some low-cost fliers on reclamation projects, with re-signing right-hander Freddy Garcia at the top of their list.
Florida Marlins: They have more than a dozen arbitration-eligible players, and won’t be able to keep all of them. Jacobs has already been sent packing and left-hander Scott Olsen is likely the next to go. They would also like to make their lineup less reliant on home runs while improving the defense.
Houston Astros: They want to re-sign left-hander Randy Wolf to fill their need for a reliable number two starter behind Roy Oswalt, and they will pursue various pitchers on the free-agent market if he decides not to return. They also must decide whether catcher J.R. Towles and center fielder Michael Bourn are long-term answers at those positions, or if they need to pursue better options.
Kansas City Royals: They believe they’ve added the power hitter that their lineup needed when they acquired Jacobs, though he hasn’t even been league average during his career. They would also like to find a second baseman and a solid mid-rotation starter to back up Gil Meche and Zack Greinke. Four-corner player Mark Teahen is very much available, and first baseman Billy Butler could go in the right deal. General manager Dayton Moore has let it be known there are no untouchables on the roster.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Ideally, they would like to re-sign both closer Francisco Rodriguez and Teixeira, but will likely settle for one or the other and look to fill the hole created by whoever leaves.
Los Angeles Dodgers: They will try to re-sign left fielder Manny Ramirez, Furcal, and possibly Lowe, who seems the least interested of the three in staying. Their success in that pursuit will dictate how the rest of the winter shakes out.
Milwaukee Brewers: They will need to find a front-line pitcher for the starting rotation, unless they re-sign left-hander CC Sabathia-not quite the long shot many people think-as both he and right-hander Ben Sheets are eligible for free agency. They also want to retool the bullpen and acquire an established closer so that Salomon Torres can be moved back into the set-up role.
Minnesota Twins: They would like to add a few relievers to stabilize the bullpen, but don’t expect them to do much tinkering.
New York Mets: They need bullpen help and lots of it, particularly with closer Billy Wagner expected to miss all of next season after having Tommy John surgery. They also could use an outfielder with some pop. Despite the need for relief pitching, left-hander Scott Schoeneweis and right-hander Aaron Heilman are very much available, and second baseman Luis Castillo could be had for a song.
New York Yankees: Despite Hank Steinbrenner’s yearning for Ramirez and an interest in Teixeira, they need starting pitching desperately, particularly with Mike Mussina leaning toward retirement. They’ll make big plays on the free-agent market for Sabathia, and also for right-hander A.J. Burnett if he fails to work out a deal to stay with the Blue Jays. There is some sentiment to acquire a center fielder, though many in the organization believe rookie Brett Gardner can ably fill that position. Right-hander Ian Kennedy is their top trade bait, and they are also more than willing to deal veteran outfielders Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.
Oakland Athletics: They would like to add a right-handed bat, most likely at first base where Daric Barton has been a disappointment. Closer Huston Street seems to be the next pitcher to be traded, joining right-handers Rich Harden and Joe Blanton, who were shipped out during the season.
Pittsburgh Pirates: They want to continue to advance their youth movement and hope to get something in return for second baseman Freddy Sanchez and shortstop Jack Wilson in trades. They may also sign a second- or third-tier veteran starter to stabilize a young rotation that was awful last season.
St. Louis Cardinals: Re-signing right-hander Kyle Lohse was a beginning, but they still need another starting pitcher and are uncertain if they can re-sign right-hander Braden Looper. They want to upgrade at either second base or shortstop, and must decide if re-signing the inconsistent Felipe Lopez addresses that situation. They also want to do a major overhaul in the bullpen, and will be looking for a closer and two left-handers.
San Diego Padres: They need to upgrade the rotation, the bullpen, the offense, and the defense. It may be impossible to fill so many needs on such a tight budget, as the payroll is expected to be drastically reduced while owner John Moores goes through a messy and costly divorce.
San Francisco Giants: They want to add a veteran power hitter to put in the middle of their young lineup. To get that bat, they would be willing to part with such players as left-hander Jonathan Sanchez, catcher Bengie Molina, and outfielders Nate Schierholtz and Randy Winn, and they might even consider giving up right-hander Matt Cain in the right deal. Outfielder Dave Roberts can be had cheaply.
Seattle Mariners: First new GM Jack Zduriencik needs to find a manager, and then the real fun begins. The Mariners need help all over the field and an influx of young talent. Look for Zduriencik to convince ownership that it is time for this franchise to rebuild, using left-hander Jarrod Washburn and right-handers Miguel Batista and Carlos Silva as enticements to trade partners in a pitching-starved market. Forget the talk of outfielder/prodigal son Ken Griffey Jr. returning as a free agent-it’s not going to happen.
Texas Rangers: Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan was appalled at what he saw of the pitching staff during his first season as club president, so the emphasis will be on adding as much help as possible to the rotation and bullpen. They would be willing to deal anyone from their catching surplus except Taylor Teagarden, meaning that Gerald Laird, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Max Ramirez are all available. Third baseman Hank Blalock could also be had, along with right-handers Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla. They also seem unwilling to give outfielder Milton Bradley the multi-year contract that he is demanding.
Toronto Blue Jays: They will look for a starting pitcher if they can’t entice Burnett to stay. The Jays are convinced that the rest of their needs will be filled internally by catcher Rod Barajas, infielder Marco Scutaro, and outfielders Adam Lind and Travis Snider.
Washington Nationals: They have a lot of internal problems to deal with, particularly since it appears that team president Stan Kasten has been given little power by team owners the Lerners. There were numerous reports late in the season of discord throughout the organization, and player moves are secondary to cleaning up that mess.
The fifth and final game of the 2008 World Series took three days to complete. It was suspended in the bottom of the sixth inning on Monday night because of rain, and the inclement weather in Philadelphia prevented it from being resumed until Wednesday night. That has led to plenty of discussion about whether or not the World Series should be held at a neutral site where good weather would be guaranteed. It would also give Major League Baseball the opportunity to hold more events in conjunction with the World Series, much like the NFL does with the Super Bowl.
Commissioner Bud Selig is adamantly opposed to the idea however, as is Rays manager Joe Maddon. “Oh no, not at all, I don’t like that,” Maddon said. “I think the hometown fan base should be rewarded. Growing up such a baseball fan, to think that would have been moved away would have been a bad thought. I just think each ballpark is unique. Look at our place, Tropicana Field. We would be at a great disadvantage playing in a neutral spot. This is the way it is, man.”
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said that playing the World Series at a neutral site would have some advantages, but he is not excited about the idea either. “Really, I’d rather have it home for the Phillies fans to get to see us play in Philadelphia,” Manuel said. “I think it should stay in your city. It’s only fair for the fans.”
Ken Macha told the Brewers “yes” the second time around, and was hired as team’s manager. That’s because following the 2002 season Brewers GM Doug Melvin had offered the job to Macha, then the Athletics’ third-base coach. Macha decided to stay with the Athletics when he was offered a promotion to manager when Art Howe was fired, and the Brewers ended up hiring Ned Yost. Macha compiled a 368-280 record in four seasons as the Athletics’ manger, but was fired after they were swept by the Tigers in the 2006 American League Championship Series.
Melvin interviewed just three people, and the other two candidates were also former major league mangers: Bob Brenly and Willie Randolph. “I’m a big believer in second chances,” Melvin said. “I believe a lot of people are better the second time around. Ken has had a lot of success. I got all kinds of endorsements from a lot of baseball people I respect.”
The biggest criticism against Macha with the Athletics is that he did not communicate well with his players. Many of those players reportedly went to GM Billy Beane and demanded that Macha be dumped. However, Macha shrugged off the criticism of his managerial style. “The job of the manager is really not to be buddies with all of the players,” said Macha, who spent the past two seasons as a studio analyst on Red Sox telecasts. “You have to make very difficult decisions over the course of a year. If you look at it from a player’s standpoint, my decisions on playing people and not playing people really have a direct impact on how much money they can make over the course of their career. So sometimes the players think it’s personal, and it really isn’t. The bottom line is this: The manager is responsible for wins and losses. The amount of respect you get from the players is showed by the intensity with which they play. Take a look at our teams we had in Oakland. They always played better as the season went on. We always won in Oakland.”
The Padres’ ownership situation could get very sticky this winter with the divorce proceedings between Moores and his wife Becky expected to be acrimonious. Though Moores has not commented on his divorce, there are persistent reports that he will sell 49 percent of the Padres in order to raise enough money to settle it. State property laws in California require that assets be divided equally, which could make it tough for Moores to meet MLB’s preference for clubs to have one controlling party. The few public comments that Moores has made in recent months indicate that he intends to retain control of the franchise.
Selig admitted he is in an uncomfortable situation when it comes to the Moores’ legal proceedings, and he had little to say when asked by the San Diego Union-Tribune if he would try to prevent Becky Moores from taking control of the club. “I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s not right for me to intervene,” Selig said. Selig was effusive in his praise of Moores, who has been at the forefront of MLB’s embrace of new technologies and globalization in recent years. Moores has also been a big proponent of revenue sharing, and he played a large part in creating MLB’s debt service rule, which went into effect in 2002 and limits the amount of debt a club can carry in relationship to its revenue. “He brings great leadership in a lot of really important areas,” Selig said. “He’s had a great history the last decade, and I would not like to lose that leadership. He’s very important. He’s been on all of the important committees. He’s been involved in all things. When I tell you he’s been a really constructive force in this sport, I am not exaggerating.”