While it’s certainly been a rewarding experience, my blog pursuits have rather outgrown the confines of MLBlogs, and in the interests of becoming a member of a more vigorous and active baseball community, I have moved operations to a new blog hosted by Baseball Toaster: it’s called Bad Altitude. Update your links.
Ray King, Jose Mesa, and Yorvit Torrealba in, Aaron Miles and Larry Bigbie (and possibly Marcos Carvajal) out. With the exception of Carvajal (and that’s just speculation at this point), the Rockies are getting something for nothing here. King (trade with the Cardinals) is cheap and left-handed. Mesa (free agent signing) is old but not a huge risk as a one-year signing with no attached draft pick cost. Torrealba has shown some flashes in the past with the Giants and in any event a platoon with he and Danny Ardoin will give the Rockies excellent defense at the catcher position. With Aaron Miles gone, one would assume Luis "N.R." Gonzalez will be the regular starter at second and perhaps Colorado can afford to get no offense out of their catchers. Or maybe Torrealba will hit, who knows. It’s not impossible.
In any case, the Rockies seem to working their way through the offseason without losing anybody major, making potentially helpful little additions here and there while not laying out any ridiculous salary commitments. There are worse strategies. Byung-Hyun Kim has been offered arbitration, so we’re still at least in the running there. I haven’t heard his name in connection with anybody else…yet.
Crazy stuff coming from everywhere on the first night of the winter meetings. I’m going to try and start with the stuff we know for sure and work downwards into the hearsay.
Nobody seems to know for sure, but A.J. Burnett seems to be headed for Toronto. The last I heard was 5 years, $55 million for everyone’s favorite career .500 starter. The Cardinals are the other team in the running but I’ve yet to hear anyone claim that St. Louis is willing to go that high in either years or dollars. Of course, you never know — I could have sworn that Rafael Furcal was going to the Cubs, and then he reversed course and went to Los Angeles. It’s good news for the Rockies, anyway, as the Dysfunctional Dodgers (I think it says that on their uniforms now) will pay cleanup hitter money to a guy with a .757 career OPS.
Oakland has allegedly sent a pair of spare pitchers, Kirk Saarloos and Mario Ramos, to Los Angeles for Milton Bradley. If the A’s also add Frank Thomas as is rumored, they’re going to be pretty good next year. If they get those two bats without trading Barry Zito, they could keep him, or they could turn the Cy Young lefty into Alfonso Soriano or Hank Blalock. They already have Esteban Loaiza in the fold, who by the way was better than A.J. Burnett last year. In any event the A’s are dealing from a position of power while their division rivals in Seattle (who missed out on Burnett), Anaheim (runners-up for Paul Konerko), and Arlington (losers of bidding wars for both free agent Kyle Farnsworth and Florida fire sale chip Josh Beckett) are not.
Another good tidbit from the must-bookmark MLB Trade Rumors: Cincinnati’s Austin Kearns (who they should have traded about three years ago) for Cubs Jerome Williams and Ricky Nolasco. After losing out on Furcal Chicago GM Jim Hendry is desperate to make some kind of splash and he certainly doesn’t lack for young talent (which Dusty Baker won’t play, anyway). Kearns would be an upgrade from Jeromy Burnitz in any event. Although Johnny Damon remains the sleeping giant on the free agent scene thanks to demented agent Scott Boras (who apparently wants 7 years and $84 million for the 32-year-old Damon), I think he’d be a good fit for the Cubs if his price comes down any. Better than Julio Lugo or Joey Gathright, anyway.
And it never ends: Kevin Millwood to Seattle, Paul Byrd to replace him in Cleveland. Trevor Hoffman’s name has also been mentioned in connection with the Indians. The Marlins sent Luis Castillo to the Twins and Paul Lo Duca to the Mets and are weighing offers for Juan Pierre. The Florida fire sale is, no way around it, embarrassing for baseball, but the Fish have done a better job than the last time around in securing promising prospects in their salary dumps: Yusmeiro Petit, Travis Bowyer, Gaby Hernandez. The very fact that there was a last time around, though, is pretty awful.
One kind of weird thing that’s new on me: FOXSports.com in its AL offseason report cards indicates the Mariners are after Jason Jennings and/or Aaron Cook. Jennings, fine. He makes a lot of money for a Colorado pitcher and he’s not getting any better. But the Rockies would be completely insane to deal Aaron Cook, the closest thing to an ace they’ve ever had and a relative bargain as an early arbitration-years player. Also, Seattle doesn’t have anybody the Rockies want besides Yorvit Torrealba, who’s not worth Cook or Jennings, and Felix Hernandez who I assure you is not for sale. Anyway Dayn Perry turns right around and in his NL report cards claims that Colorado has no interest in trading either of their starters, which begs the question of why exactly he brought it up in the first place.
One team to keep an eye on at the winter meetings is the Devil Rays, who are under new management and have a lot of chips to deal. Hopefully the evil spectre of Chuck LaMar won’t haunt them into overplaying their hand and walking away with nothing from one of the hottest sellers’ markets in recent memory. Another small-market story is developing in Milwaukee, where the smokescreens are already up regarding the status of Lyle Overbay. He’s going somewhere, folks. The weirdest rumor involving Overbay that I’ve heard has him going to Boston for Matt Clement, which seems odd since Clement’s contract is ludicrous and the Red Sox already have Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis to staff the infield corners. If Boston doesn’t want to start Youkilis they should really trade him, because he’s been ready to be an everyday player in the big leagues for two years now. Milwaukee fans still recovering from the three-headed Russell Branyan-Wes Helms-Jeff Cirillo monster at third would certainly welcome the Greek God of Walks appearing in those sassy retro uniforms, and it would free up TGTBATB fave Bill Hall to go back to his natural super-utility role.
This is but the first day of the meetings! Tomorrow will probably be crazier still. Yikes.
My father just called to say he was listening to the radio in Chicago and he heard a real ******* of a trade rumor: Barry Zito to Chicago, Kerry Wood to Texas, assorted young guys to Oakland. I haven’t seen it repeated anywhere else yet, so I’m just going to go ahead and mention it so I can feel smart if it turns out to be true.
Meanwhile, the latest news on the Rockies is both good and bad. They’re definitely talking to Byung-Hyun Kim, which is good. But they still want Shawn Estes, which is bad. Esteban Loaiza’s contract has effectively removed mentions of Colorado in connection with Matt Morris. Oh well, that was a pipe dream. Cubs reliever Todd Wellemeyer is mentioned as a trade target, which is interesting. Wellemeyer is affordable and changes speeds well.
Hooray for Colorado losing 70-3 in the Big 12 Championship Game!
The way the free agent market has been developing in the past several days, I’m almost afraid to post. What’s the use in ridiculing the contracts Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry received when only a few days later Billy Wagner and B.J. Ryan got Monopoly money? It’s insane. You can question the Rockies’ commitment to spending the money required to build a winner, but this offseason, they look real smart by default for not playing the games the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays (???) are engaged in.
As for Dan O’Dowd’s operations down in the bottom-feeder market, Felix Rodriguez and Jose Mesa are slightly more appealing options than the previously discussed Elmer Dessens and Shawn Estes, at the right price anyway. The Rockies are going to get some new catchers to look at, but whether they will be any better than the current crop is subject to some debate. I will duly note that the names floating at the moment are Josh Bard and Yorvit Torrealba; I don’t have anything further to say on the subject. The Post also throws out the name of Phillies outfielder Jason Michaels, which is sort of funny because I traded for him in my Rockies MLB 2K5 season. He’s another fourth outfielder/tweener kind of guy, which Colorado seriously has coming out of their ears at this point, but I guess he’s cheaper and not much of a downgrade from Larry Bigbie, who seems as good as gone at this point. Frankly I think that Clint Hurdle would be best off sticking with Brad Hawpe and Matt Holliday at the corners, giving Cory Sullivan the centerfield job to lose, and maybe throwing Ryan Shealy into the mix as an outfielder in smaller road parks, a backup first baseman, and a DH in interleague games. The Rockies wasted a lot of playing time and money on Dustan Mohr last year, and it’s really not necessary to go down that road again with a similar "established" veteran outfielder type.
I’m going to get back to doing my 40-man roster review soon. I’m glad Paul Konerko stayed with the White Sox. The Orioles are rapidly becoming the new joke team of the AL East with Tampa Bay’s new dawn and the Blue Jays’ sudden spendthriftiness. The Cubs are going to spend a lot of money and not get a whole lot better, I believe. Oakland’s signing of Esteban Loaiza is a bit of a head-scratcher, but if they can get an absurd haul for Barry Zito like they got for Mark Mulder last year, they will win the AL West. Remember, Danny Haren was as good or better than Mulder last year, and the A’s got useful reliever Kiko Calero and hotshot prospect Daric Barton in the trade as well. The Tim Hudson deal with Atlanta was nowhere near as good (Charles Thomas, Dan Meyer, Juan Cruz), but as Gwen Knapp notes, Billy Beane had far less leverage in that instance than he seemingly does with Zito. And there’s still the possibility that Oakland could pull off a lower-wattage deal involving Kirk Saarloos and field a rotation of Zito, Joe Blanton, Haren, Loaiza, and Rich Harden. That’s pretty good. You know the A’s are going to get a bat somewhere, and the Loaiza signing won’t make complete sense until we find out who that bat is going to be. (Not Mike Piazza, I hope.)
Who in the NL West has gotten better so far this offseason? Not the Padres (who are making a last-ditch effort to retain Brian Giles), not the Diamondbacks (who have to trade Javier Vasquez), not the Giants (who are beginning to resemble an old-timers’ fantasy camp), and not the Dodgers (I don’t even know where to start). Can the Rockies bash their way into the postseason by beating up on their weak division siblings at Coors? Is it worth spending a little more money to be a 78-win "division champion?" Man, I love the hot stove season. Particularly since my two first picks for my fantasy basketball league (Andrei Kirilenko and Michael Redd) are injured and my football team had their winning streak snapped last weekend. Curse you, Peyton Manning.
The Rockies don’t get compared much to their original expansion partners, the Florida Marlins, because there’s frankly no comparison. We have one playoff appearance since 1993; they have two championships. The Marlins have been completely disassembled and rebuilt since the Rockies were any good. But, they’re going to move and we’re staying in Denver. Why?
Since the early ’90s, every major league team except for the Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Yankees without one has been agitating for a new stadium. Bud Selig, for all you might want to say about his other qualities, has managed to turn major league baseball’s antitrust exemption and relative scarcity into a hard and fast policy: if a city wants to attract (or keep) a team, public funds have to buy it a stadium. At the same time, new ownership groups have been selected not on on the basis of access to capital but on closeness to the existing cartel and willingness to work the established system. And so taxpayers have sprung for an ugly domed thing in Milwaukee that claimed several workmen’s lives and yet still has a leaky roof. The public has tripled the value of the Pittsburgh franchise for its eventual sale while seeing no improvement whatsoever on the field. They’ve built a barn in Detroit nobody likes while leaving old, charming Tiger Stadium to rot, still standing less than a mile away. And although it’s hardly a phenomenon unique to baseball, we’ve been subjected to stadium names that change more often than Reggie Sanders changes uniforms, all in an effort to prevent baseball’s owners from having to pay any money whatsoever towards improving their own business’s infrastructure. Comiskey to U.S. Cellular. Enron to Minute Maid. Bank One Ballpark to Chase Field. Joe Robbie Stadium to Pro Player Park. When does it all end?
The only team to finance its own park in the last 20 years is the Giants. It may be a coincidence, but Pac Bell Park — or whatever it’s called now, I guess nobody’s perfect — is by far the nicest of the new generation of quirky, asysmmetrical ballyards, as well as one of the most consistently filled. For their trouble San Francisco has received a black mark in the book of most other baseball owners, especially those still trying to find their free meal ticket in Minnesota, South Florida, Oakland, and elsewhere. Don’t let the fans know it’s possible to pay for your own ballpark and field a competitive team! That’s like taking away our license to print money!
As for the Marlins, I wrote when the Rockies travelled there early on the season that they were only some $30 million away from getting their own flip-top baseball-only facility right next to the Orange Bowl. Now they’re going to move over $30 million? Apparently so. And why wouldn’t they, when some city — likely Portland or Las Vegas — will be more than willing to promise them that money and so much more? MLB hasn’t quite reached the depths of the NBA, where certain owners move teams into situations where they know they have no hope of long-term success just to secure a few seasons of free rent and guaranteed minimum ticket sales. But look at the quagmire in Washington, D.C., where MLB is some four years behind schedule on finding a new ownership group for the former Expos. Are there groups with the capital to get a stadium built at least in part with private funds? Of course there are. Would baseball rather steer the team into the arms of a more cash-poor group who will guarantee not to rock the free money boat the current owners have sailing? You bet.
The Miami Herald‘s Dan Le Batard is playing the owners’ tune when he blames the Marlins’ failure on "the worst major-league city in North America." Hey, I can’t blame Miami fans for staying the heck away from Pro Player, home of the only outfield fence ad in baseball that can be seen from outer space. I can’t blame them for not coming back after the embarrassing ’98 post-championship fire sale either. They’re not one of the worst major-league cities on the continent, they’re one of the first to get smart. If Las Vegas or Portland wants to pay for their own version of the Tigers or Pirates and watch 20 years of .500 ball in half-full (but extremely profitable) tax shelters, that’s their business.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ new ownership is slashing ticket prices, loosening restrictions on outside food, and giving away parking spaces in an understanding that building a successful baseball franchise is not necessarily about ending up in the black every year. The Devil Rays, never close to the Marlins’ (or even the Rockies’) equal on the field, have it all over them when it comes to a business model.
There hasn’t been much to report lately. Elmer Dessens is apparently headed for Kansas City, and more power to him. The Royals evidently plan to raise their payroll to $50 million next year, which means there will be at least one more team spending more per win than Colorado next year. Seriously, if the Rockies manage to find one more decent starter, they ought to win about 75 games next season, and I don’t see how Dessens and Reggie Sanders are somehow going to get the Royals more than 60.
If anyone still cares, Wayne Hagin, the broadcaster who went out of his way to disparage Todd Helton last spring, has lost his job with the Cardinals. The Cubs’ comical overpaying of Scott Eyre should prove again the wisdom of Colorado’s plans to extend Brian Fuentes’ contract. Less wise would be giving anything other than a minor-league contract to 40-year-old Jose Mesa. Given the ridiculous prices that even relief specialists are receiving in the current free agent market and that save for Fuentes the Rockies assembled their entire bullpen from waiver claims last year, Dan O’Dowd would be wise to tread cautiously.
CBS SportsLine has offseason checklists for all of the NL West teams. Unfortunately Scott Miller resorts to the usual cruise control reporting that the national baseball media uses with the Rockies; it’s "trade Todd Helton" this and "pitching at altitude" that. Plus he badmouths our Kims. Byung-Hyun and Sunny were our second and third best starters last year, thank you very much. Miller does stress continuity, which I approve of, but minus several points for the gratuitous Barmes/vension gag. A companion piece has nice things to say about Fuentes.
The Rockies seem to at least nominally still be in the running to acquire the services of Matt Morris, a useful starter whose price tag probably won’t be out of control thanks to his injury history. They’re competing (according to ESPN Insider) against the Royals and Mariners, both of whom should be significantly less competitive than Colorado next year, and Texas, the other place (besides here) where pitching goes to die. Morris is adjusting to life without a blazing fastball by concentrating on sinking stuff, and his double play and groundball/flyball numbers from last year look interesting. He’ll give up homers but he hasn’t walked too many recently. He’s worth a look at the right price, in short. If the Rangers remain somewhat gunshy from the Chan Ho Park blooper signing, Colorado could sneak in there. If the Rockies were able to sign Morris and bring back Byung-Hyun Kim, that would mark the first and second times in franchise history that Colorado acquired an above-average starting pitcher as a free agent for a reasonable dollar figure. And you know we’re all about moral victories around here.