WTNYFebruary 20, 2004
By Bryan Smith

Yesterday, my article on Greg Maddux inspired further thought. I wrote about how the Maddux signing almost assures that Juan Cruz will be traded at midseason. So I have decided to look at how the big Major League moves from this winter will dictate what certain teams do in the future.

To continue with Maddux and the Cubs, his signing provides clarity for how Jim Hendry will handle the future of this pitching staff. The Cubs have often voiced their desire to sign soon-to-be free agent Kerry Wood to a long-term contract before he reaches free agency next winter. I believe there is a mutual love between Chicago and Wood, and I do not doubt that a deal will get done. The Cubs will follow the contracts signed by Roy Halladay (4/42) and Javier Vazquez (4/45), and lock up Kerry Wood for four more years. As for Matt Clement, he’s history. The Cubs top prospect, Angel Guzman, should be ready in 2005, and he’ll provide a cheap replacement for Clement.

Offensively, the Cubs have more decisions to make. Aramis Ramirez will probably turn out to be the best Cubs third basemen since Ron Santo, but what do they do with him? Hopefully Hendry will be smart enough to buy out the aging Moises Alou, giving him plenty of money to work with. But the number one priority should be locking up Derrek Lee, the Gold Glove first basemen that the Cubs acquired this winter. Lee will not come cheap, but his mix of power, speed, and defense is beyond fantastic.

It was the World Champion Marlins who actually used more foresight in the Lee deal, acquiring a first basemen with a super-high ceiling. After winning their second championship the Marlins had big decisions to make this winter, and ultimately chose Mike Lowell and Luis Castillo over Lee and Pudge Rodriguez. There are big decisions to make in the Florida rotation, as Beckett, Burnett, Penny, and Pavano all become free agents at similar times. Surely the team will lock up Josh Beckett, one of the key characters in their championship run. The final question will come down to Brad Penny and Carl Pavano, a decision that Larry Beinfest should wait and let performance dictate.

Florida started their rotation trimmings this winter sending southpaw Mark Redman to Oakland for a middle reliever. Billy Beane is one of the more complicated GMs in the game, and guessing his plan is as ludicrous as seeing “You Got Served.” Peter Gammons stresses that Eric Chavez is the key, and I would agree with him. Beane waived off the losses of Giambi and Tejada, always citing their main long-term target was Chavez. The third basemen recently hired ex-A consultant Dave Stewart as an agent, and the former Oakland hurler will likely cause Beane to lose a member of the Big Three.

With a $40M payroll, I think it was only logical think that Beane could only sign two of the six great players the A’s have had in the last five years: Giambi, Tejada, Chavez, Hudson, Zito, and Mulder. The first two are already left, and we’ve established that Chavez will likely stay in Oakland. Of the big three, I think Barry Zito would be the best choice. He may not be the best pitcher of the group, it’s extremely close, but he upholds the best image. His huge curveball and suave demeanor fit well by the Bay, while Hudson and Mulder seem a bit more high-strung. I know, we’re not selling jeans here, but when performance is this close, go to the player with the most hardware.

Another great player the A’s had to waive goodbye to this winter was Keith Foulke. The dominating closer signed a big deal with the Boston Red Sox, a team that really shook up their future by adding Foulke and ace right-hander Curt Schilling. The team has also already re-signed Trot Nixon to a long-term contract, and are in negotiations with Nomar Garciaparra’s agent. Despite the winter controversy, expect the Red Sox to lock-up Nomah, as he’s the next best thing after the Bronx Bombers brand new third basemen. This likely means the team will lose batting champion Bill Mueller, but the Greek God of Walks should help lessen that blow. Gammons’ MVP choice, David Ortiz, is one of the more unclear situations, and I think time will tell with the big designated hitter.

By adding Schilling, Theo Epstein clouded an already murky contract situation with ace Pedro Martinez. With large contracts already existing in Nomar, Schilling, Manny, and Foulke, I think that Theo will allow Pedro to seek free agency after 2004. While Martinez is the greatest rate-statistic pitcher since Sandy Koufax, his body appears to frail to risk a $15M per year contract on. The final decision that Epstein will be forced to make is Derek Lowe. While converting Lowe to starting has turned out to be a fantastic move, Lowe’s 2003 performance was hardly awe-inspiring. This situation will likely be decided after 2004, and Colorado GM Dan O’Dowd should already be licking his chops.

Former Boston manager Joe Kerrigan may be running the show in Philadelphia by July, assuming that Phillie ownership does the right thing and fires Larry Bowa. Ed Wade has invested a lot of money for this team to be this decades 1990s Indians, so Bowa has very little wiggle room. Most of the offense is locked up, so Wade’s largest post-2004 decisions should be from the pitching staff. Kevin Millwood signed a very fat contract after accepting arbitration in December, and I doubt that Philadelphia will make that mistake again. There is also virtually no chance that Eric Milton gets re-signed, I just don’t believe there’s any way he’ll prove worthy of nine million dollars in 2004. Instead, the Phillies will turn to prospects Ryan Madson, Gavin Floyd, and possibly even Cole Hamels.

Expect the Phillies to exercise brand-new closer Billy Wagner’s option at the end of the year, and the team will probably pursue a long-term contract. Houston was forced to make that move in order to bolster their rotation, and Octavio Dotel should be fine in the closer’s role. The team will have big arbitration salaries due to Dotel, Wade Miller, and Roy Oswalt next year, really limiting Gerry Hunsicker next offseason. That will be very problematic, as a sizeable portion of Houston’s offense will be free to leave.

Will Carroll reported yesterday that Houston is trying to trade Richard Hidalgo, one of four Astros that will be free agents next season. Actually, if the team decides to pick up a $9M option on Jeff Kent (doubtful due to Chris Burke’s presence), it would only be three. Homegrown star Lance Berkman will surely be locked up in Houston, but Hidalgo will be shown the door. Centerfielder Craig Biggio poses an interesting loyalty problem, but from a baseball sense, should not re-sign Biggio for any amount of money.

Tensions began and grew between Houston and the Bronx this offseason, as the Astros stole a pair of ex-Yankees from Steinbrenner’s mighty grasp. But, no matter, George has found some decent replacements instead. While the Yankees got just about every under the sun this winter, the four largest additions were Alex Rodriguez, Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez, and Gary Sheffield. In 2006, the Yankees will be paying eight players somewhere around $110M. After 2004, Mariano Rivera, Jon Lieber, and Steve Karsay will be Brian Cashman’s decisions. Expect the latter two to be let go, but surely the team will sign Rivera for the rest of his career. Afraid the Yankees will go after Pedro to be their “fifth” starter next winter? Yeah, me too.

John Hart’s main justification for the Alex Rodriguez will come down to dollar and cents, as he has about sixteen million dollars more to spend on this team each winter. The club’s desire for Kerry Wood has not been silent, but as I said earlier, I remain confident that Kid K will remain in Cubbie Blue. Instead, I think this team will go after two middle-of-the-rotation pitchers, guys like Matt Clement and Brad Penny. Signing Hank Blalock to a five-year contract was genius, but surely it was pushed by Grady Fuson rather than Hart. Tom Hicks largest post-2004 decision will be whether it is time to publicly hand the team’s reins over to Fuson.

By Fuson becoming general manager, the Major Leagues will have three GMs that worked under Billy Beane. That number increased to two last week as new Dodger owner Frank McCourt named Paul DePodesta their new head honcho. DePodesta likely has large plans for this organization, yet is likely very limited until the Kevin Malone mistakes are completely weeded out. Expect players like Adrian Beltre, Juan Encarnacion, and Odalis Perez to be out of Dodger uniform in 2005. The team will go hard after a big-name shortstop, as well as adding another quality outfielder. Edwin Jackson, Greg Miller, and Joel Hanrahan will provide DePo with a fantastic young, cheap rotation. This will allow the team to go after players like Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Delgado, Richard Hidalgo, Orlando Cabrera, and Edgar Renteria.

If he had been named GM months earlier, I suspect that DePodesta would have signed Vladimir Guerrero to a contract. Instead, Guerrero signed with the Anaheim Angels, joining other talented free agents Bartolo Colon, Kelvim Escobar, and Jose Guillen. Expect either Troy Glaus or Garret Anderson to not be re-signed after 2004, and likely the latter. Anderson has received much praise from Angel brass, and third base prospect Dallas McPherson could be Glaus’ successor. Ben Molina will be pushed out by prospect Jeff Mathis, and Ramon Ortiz will walk when Ervin Santana is ready. I also doubt the team will re-sign Troy Percival, especially when relievers like Francisco Rodriguez and Brendan Donnelly are more than qualified to end games.

Finally, there are the constant question marks surrounding Vlad’s old team, the (insert city here) Expos. Selling the team after 2004 is a must, because if the team remains without ownership, their foundation will crumble. If the Expos are completely out of the race by July, and they should be, Omar Minaya will have the option of trading Jose Vidro, Orlando Cabrera, and Livan Hernandez. All three would be valuable pieces to any puzzle, and the second basemen would unfortunately by Steinbrenner’s first choice. Even OBP Jesus couldn’t help an Expo team without Vidro and Cabrera.


That’s all for today, I hope you found this article as interesting to read as I found to write it. This blog will slowly struggle to find topics as the year begins, and I urge you all to give me future topic ideas in the “Comments” section. Thanks!

Also, I want to point out a few things I've noticed around the blog-world lately...

- Aaron Gleeman's article about Bill Plaschke was one of the best articles I've read in a long time. Alex Belth's Winter Meetings article and Christian Ruzich's review of the Javier Vazquez trade join Gleeman's piece as the best of the winter in my book.

- Finally, if you want to read some good sabermetric pieces, I've seen a few of those. Mike here at All-Baseball is concluding his study on relievers, and you should definitely go see that. Also, Avkash Patel at the Raindrops wrote a great piece on combining the various defensive metrics to create one lone number. Enjoy...


Another xlnt article, Bryan.

Wait Til Next Year? Heck, I can't wait until tomorrow to read your next piece.

Nice work, though it is very depressing thinking of Pedro Martinez in pinstripes. Theo Epstein came out in the Boston Globe today saying that all six of the Sox key free agents (Martinez, Varitek, Lowe, Garciaparra, Williamson, Ortiz) won't be resigned this season. I expect Martinez to walk unless he gives the Sox a big home town discount which seems unlikely. Varitek and Garciaparra are the ones I would most like to see retained, but Varitek is getting older and Garciaparra may not want to come back to the organization that nearly traded him away.

Hopefully Epstein & Co. will start getting some prospects up from Pawtucket in another three or four years as it has been a long time since any homegrown talent made an impact. Youkilis seems to have slipped a little bit in some people's eyes and there just isn't anyone else in the pipeline at this point who looks like he can perform well at the big league level.

Want to hear something even scarier? Look no further than Beltran for the Yankees to solve their centerfield woes in the 2004 off-season.

I don't think Pedro is to be feared all that much going forward, he has become a very fragile pitcher. Some like to ding Mad Dog for being a 6-inning pitcher anymore, but how about Pedro? 100 pitches and he's done.

Let the MFYs overpay for him next year, they'll be sorry for the long term. Red Sox can use the savings to get their other guys signed and start pursuing younger pitchers to begin turning over their staff.

How about Juan Cruz for Youkilis, a possibility?