Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Friday, December 10, 2004

On the Range


Home for the break already, so anyone else is home (Mike?), tell me. It's gonna get boring here real fast. Although by all rights, I should be working my ass off on the thesis. But a couple of days of rest and relaxation is permitted isn't it?

I still don't have my laptop, which part of why my posts have dropped from near daily to less than weekly now. But I'll make more of an effort now that I'm home.

Unfortunately, only two or so people are going to like this post, because I'm devoting it to baseball. Free agent signings and a look ahead to next year and what not. I figure that if I get it all (and by all, I mean over the next couple of days) out of the way in one fell swoop I won't have to bother anyone that doesn't want to read about baseball until March. Or until Carlos Beltran gets signed. Whichever comes first.

The BALCO Scandal really hit the fan over Bud Selig's head in the past month, with Gary Sheffield first admitting that Barry Bonds had given him something that Sheff didn't know was steroids at the time, and Jason Giambi's grand jury testimony (which was supposed to be secret) being broken to the press, in which he openly admits rampant steroid use, and the Big Bad Bonds himself admitting that he used steroids, although he thought "The Clear" and "The Cream" were flaxseed oil and an arthritis cream or something like that.

Barry, it's pretty obvious when you heal faster and get forearms like footballs that it's not the Ben Gay. Honestly now, at least Giambi came clean. Of course, his career is all but over now, what with the Yankees trying to purge the 82 million they owe him and his health in shambles.

That being said, steroid use has been in the open for a while, and MLB has done just about nothing to prevent players from abusing them; their drug testing policy basically tells the multimillionaire players that if they can stay ahead of the already antiquated standards, then they can go ahead and take all the hormones they want.

Now, if the owners were to threaten to pool funds at the player's cost (open collusion, anyone?) to establish a hardline drug testing standard that employed top of the line tests and testers and labs, then the game might get clean in a hurry. It would be kind of like a luxury tax, in which the more players you had that tested postitive for steroids, the more the team would have to contribute to the fund. Of course, that would penalize Steinbrenner the worst under what has already been revealed, but hey, is that so bad in the end?

The game isn't going to change a whole lot though. Sure, no one hit 60 home runs last year, but offense still went up overall. And more fans came than the year before. The game has surged to new highs after the '94 strike lows, and in part, the MLB does have to thank juiced sluggers like McGwire and Sosa (I just assume that Sammy's juiced, although there is the distinct possibility, given his recent fall of production, that he was clean at one point and is actually just showing his age. Besides, juiced players don't need corked bats). But they've been better at promoting themselves, and the increased parity has helped. With smaller market teams like the Marlins winning, and the Red Sox and Cub both fielding excellent teams perenially, fans have really come back to the sport. Steroids, which only show physically as enormous bulk, are not going to drive fans away until players start turning blue or looking like Bane from "Batman".

Moving along, I'm going to do a preview of all the teams in the MLB - what positions they need to fill and what they can do to fill them in this year's free agent pool. Yes, all the teams. Starting with the AL East. I might only do the AL East today. Maybe.

I also want to say that there are several interesting trades that might go down in the next few days, so keep your eyes and ears peeled. One I would like to see?

A three team, six, possibly seven player deal involving the Yankees, Rockies and Braves.

Yankees send Javier Vazquez (picking up part of his contract) to Atlanta and Tony Womack (who just signed) and possibly a middle reliever or midlevel prospect to Colorado. The Rockies send Preston Wilson to NY and Shawn Chacon to Atl. And the Braves send Andruw Jones to Colo. and Marcus Giles to NY.

This trade assumes (a big assumption, but let's see if it happens) that the Yankees DO NOT sign Carlos Beltran, because that would obviously solve their problem in center field. New York could also give up a setup man after signing Felix Rodriguez, but probably won't. Preston Wilson has apparently rehabbed well after his knee problems of last year required surgery. Marcus Giles would be their big pickup, as I sense the vertically challenged but very charismatic Giles would be a hit in the clubhouse and with the fans, and also solve huge problems at second base and in the batting order.

Andruw Jones has apparently worn out his welcome in Atlanta, and could benefit from the Coors air flattening out curveballs that he would normally flail at. Tony Womack would be able to fill a hole at shortstop that the Rockies have after cutting ties with Royce Clayton (definitely an upgrade over Clint Barmes). Also, Colorado has made it known that Chacon, Wilson, and Charles Johnson are on the trading block.

Marcus Giles would be an unfortunate loss for Atlanta, but they do have a plethora of middle infielders, with Rafael Furcal, Nick Green, Wilson Betemit AND Mark DeRosa all major league caliber. Atlanta would benefit by adding a legitimate starter in Vazquez who would benefit from Leo Mazzone's magical tutelage, possibly two if Chacon becomes a starter and Smoltz stays in his closers role. If Smoltz becomes a starter, Chacon gives them a decent closing presence.

I don't know, however, how the money works. Preston Wilson's 12 million dollar contract is a drop in the bucket for the Yankees, but Andruw Jones might be expensive for the Rockies, and Javier Vazquez might be too much for the Braves.

If this trade goes down, remember, you heard it here first.

The Yankees

What can you say about the Yankees? Their payroll will exceed 200 million next year unless they get rid of Giambi's contract, in which case it might fall under by just a bit.

They're the leading contenders in the race for Beltran, and I can see Scott Boras licking his lips right now because they Yankees might actually consider offering Beltran something approaching the 10 year, 200 million dollar contract that Boras has claimed Beltran is worth. I weep for Brian Cashman. He should be the posterboy for Mylanta and Rolaids.

Center field isn't exactly where the Yankees need to improve themselves most though. Bernie Williams is on the decline, but the Yankees really need to address a starting rotation that was only saved by a miracle named El Duque last season, a miracle that's not likely to happen again. Javier Vazquez looks like he'll fit in like a fat kid at a pool party, Mike Mussina is overdue for a real season, Jon Leiber is gone (Phillies, 3 years, 21 million), Kevin Brown is going to be 40 by Opening Day and El Duque might reveal that he's really 46 this offseason.

They just signed or are about to sign Jaret Wright (3 years, 21 million), which is a step in the right (sorry) direction, but Wright could turn into another Mazzone project that doesn't quite work outside the bounds of the ATL. Of course, he could turn into Jason Schmidt, but my money's on the former. He was looking awfully tired at the end of last season, which is not surprising given that last year was his first year of throwing anywhere near 200 innings since 1998.

The Yankees are of course going after Randy Johnson, but it looks like the Diamondbacks are demanding way too much and the Yankees can't work the deal, even if they do involve another team in the deal.

This leaves the Yankees with an opening day rotation of Brown, Mussina, Wright, El Duque and a fifth starter, likely Eric Milton, now that Al Leiter (Marlins) and Brad Radke (Twins) are off the market. That's actually pretty decent, although there are way too many questions (if you look at El Duque during his windup, he actually starts looking like a question mark - kind of) there for Steinbrenner to be comfortable. To partially remedy that, he seems likely to sign every middle reliever known to man, having already grabbed Mike Stanton and Felix Rodriguez. Of course, this still leaves the Yankees with an aging bullpen that would be a lot more intimidating with a device that could turn time back about four years or so.

Oh, and they signed Tony Womack to address a hole at second base, which wasn't a bad move actually. Womack is a little too old at 36 to be the leadoff hitter and basestealer he was a few years ago, but he can still perform, as he evidenced last year with the Cardinals. He's also excellent trade bait, as his two year contract came fairly cheap at 4 million.

The Yankees still have no depth in their minor league system, their closest prospects to the majors still being untouchable Dioner Navarro, who will never see the day as long as Jorge Posada is still playing and pitchers Scott Proctor, Brad Halsey and Alex Graman, good prospects, but nothing spectacular.

The Boston Red Sox

Coming off their World Series Win, the Red Sox look to spend even more money than they did last year to field another dominant team. It's looking more an more like Pedro is going to realize that no better offer is going to come along than the 3 years + option that he got from the Mets, and if Pedro want to pitch for the Mets, he's crazier than I thought he was. He probably won't be a Yankee, although he wants to be, in his heart of hearts. I don't expect the Red Sox to offer a fourth year, but Pedro probably will re-sign if the money goes up even a little.

The Sox have Schilling, Wakefield and Arroyo returning, and that's a pretty good core to build around. If Pedro comes back, their starting rotation is formidable, considering they still have Byung Hyun Kim gathering dust in AAA.

The news that they just signed Matt Mantei bodes well for their bullpen, as the big men, Embree, Timlin and Foulke, are all back next season, Mike Myers might come back and best of all, Curtis Leskanic is no longer around.

The only real hole the Red Sox have is in the middle infield, as Orlando Cabrera has likely been priced out of the Red Sox's range with the high money signings that went to Omar Vizquel (Giants) and Christian Guzman (Nationals). Pokey Reese is a gold glover at short or second, the only question being whether the Red Sox will want his anemic bat in the lineup as well.

Jason Varitek still has not been signed, and a platoon of Doug Mirabelli and prospect Kelly Shoppach would be likely if Varitek left. Other issues to address include having two major league third basemen and two (three including David Ortiz) first basemen. Bill Mueller and Kevin Youkilis can't both play third and Kevin Millar and Doug Mienkeiwicitz (sp?) aren't both going to play first.

With several good prospects (Hanley Ramirez) waiting in the wings, the Red Sox look pretty strong for the next year, even if they don't manage to sign their biggest free agents (the only must sign is still Jason Varitek) or make any huge moves on the market.

The Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore just hasn't been the same since that Jeff Maier kid ruined everything. Even after they put together a decent season highlighted by an asounding under the radar performance by Miguel Tejada, who even at 12 million a year is a bargain, and gave a very young pitching staff some time to cut its teeth, people still laugh at the Orioles, whose owner Peter Angelos doesn't think his team can deal with another one moving in 60 miles down the coast in DC. That's faith for you.

In any other division, it would be safe to say that there would be no place to go but up for a team with Tejada, Javy Lopez and Raffy Palmiero supported by Melvin Mora, now a star in his own right, Dave Newhan and good position players in Brian Roberts and Jerry Hairston. Jay Gibbons was expected to hit the 30 HR mark this past year by many, and failed to impress. He'll have to be a presence in the lineup next year for this team to succeed. I don't see this team signing a Carlos Delgado or Richie Sexon, only if they've already developed too many first basemen that swing a lot, miss a lot, and homer a lot.

Unfortunately a merely solid rotation with the very solid Sidney Ponson at the forefront is too top heavy. Next year, the Orioles have to expect Kurt Ainsworth to be back, Rodrigo Lopez to be brillant, Daniel Cabrera to show what he's made of, and Sidney Ponson to lose a whole lotta weight. The free agent pitchers in this market are to expensive for the Orioles (Pavano is going to sign for a lot, Lowe might be in reach, Esteban Loaiza and Aaron Sele might be more what they can get). Jorge Julio is also a liability in the ninth inning, despite his electric stuff. Needless to say, all of this happening is not looking too likely. But if Ponson can rein in the trips to Baskin Robbins, this team could play a good spoiling role next year.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Lou Pinella is starting to get frustrated with the lack of economic support he's getting, but this team is still young. Carl Crawford is a joy to watch on the bases, and the team really needs to find a position for BJ Upton. Along with speedster Joey Gathright, this team can run circles around the bases faster than Hideki Irabu can eat a hot dog.

Aubrey Huff looks to have another strong season, although it's unfortunate that he's the only real power presence in the lineup. Considering Tino Martinez won't be back, some help at first or even third (Huff can move to first) would be a huge bonus. But it's one that the front office is not going to fund, considering the decent first or third basemen within their price range are limited to John Olderud, Joe Randa and Corey Koskie. Even Tony Batista might be out of reach. This compounded with the fact that Rocco Baldelli is going to miss significant time next year makes Tampa's initial outlook for next year look rather stormy.

The Devil Rays also managed to find an easy mark with the New York Mets, who took Victor "Wa'happen to the Strike Zone?" Zambrano off their hands AND gave them Scott Kazmir, who struck out 41 in 33 innings after a September callup. However, they desperately need good seasons from Daewon Brazelton and Mark Hendrickson, who do have the capability to shine. Again, starting pitching is way too expensive this year for a team with an annual budget of around 30 million. The best they could do would be Matt Clement, and that would be considered a blockbuster. If they could only figure out what happened to Damian Moss, this would actually be a good team. They have some presence in AAA (Durham Bulls, baby), but it's unlikely that they can ride a D-Train equivalent next year.

The Toronto Blue Jays

Now that those pesky Expos are gone, the Jays can finally get down to conquering the hearts of mounties and common folk all over the Great Country of Canadia. Or not. Has everybody forgotten that the Expos and Jays fielded excellent teams in the 90's?

The Jays are losing Carlos Delgado, their one true star. Vernon Wells is excellent, but not my idea of a team icon.

Even Roy Halladay was a surprise two years ago. Halladay will be an ace again next year after finally pitching less than 200 innings last year, but with Ted Lilly and Miguel Batista behind him, hope is a rare commodity. This is a team the doesn't need to worry a whole lot about signing a top tier closer, considering the save opportunities are going to be sparse at best. They might delve into the market for some pitching depth, but I can't see them pursuing pitcher that can earn anything more than 4 million a year.

There's really nothing spectacular at the minor league level, although products Gabe Gross and David Bush performed admirably last year and will have to do so again if Toronto doesn't want to become a laughingstock.

The catcher position is going to be a significant problem, as Kevin Cash is nowhere near money, Guillermo Quiroz is solid but offensively inept, and Greg Myers is a catcher pushing 40. Toronto has to find at least a decent backup catcher, and might not be able to do better than Paul Bako, although it is doubtful Bako won't re-sign with the Cubs. Brook Fordyce would be my pick for them.

The one bright spot at the moment is shortstop Russ Adams, who looks like he's going to have a very solid rookie season this coming year.

That's it for now, but more later


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