Baseball Beat/WTNYNovember 10, 2005
Talkin' Turkey
By Rich Lederer & Bryan Smith

We went on record with our top 30 free agents in a three-part series on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. We gave you our rankings and projections as far as contract terms. However, you didn't think we were going to end there, did you? Right you are. It's time for us to match the players with the teams. And we mix in some other Hot Stove stuffing and gravy as well. Let's serve it up.

Bryan: Well, Rich, now that we've dissected and ranked the players, let's talk about where they might end up. I want to start with Paul Konerko, who seems to becoming the 'sexy' name of the offseason, even if he wasn't our number one player. Who do you see coming out of this bidding war on top?

Rich: If it's not the White Sox, then it will be either the Angels or that other Sox team.

Bryan: Let's talk about the White Sox commitment to him. Besides being the power hitter on the club, there is also a public relations side that must sign him.

Rich: Yes, teams that win the World Series often times feel compelled to please their fan base by locking up their star players. Other than Ozzie, Konerko is the most popular guy on the South Side of Chicago. You can bet the Sox will do their damnedest to keep him.

Bryan: The Chicago Sun-Times reported yesterday that Ken Williams is preparing a 4-year, $52 million contract. I'd say that's their damnedest, wouldn't you?

Rich: That is a very full offer and just about what you and I predicted. The floor has now been set. The only question is whether or not Konerko holds out for a fifth year.

Bryan: Let's hope that no one would put a burden on their payroll like that. But, as you said, there are some high-profile teams contending for him. The only team I think that has a chance, honestly, is one you didn't mention, the Mets.

Rich: I'm quite certain that the Angels and Red Sox will be tendering offers. You might be right about the Mets though. Omar Minaya seems to have more money at his disposal than Bill Gates. Boy, Konerko's numbers would take a dive going from U.S. Cellular to Shea Stadium, don't ya think?

Bryan: Most definitely. I really don't think that Konerko is a direction that the Mets should go. In fact, today we heard reports that Minaya has been talking about acquiring Aubrey Huff. Now that's more like it.

Rich: Kudos to Gerry Hunsicker and Andrew Friedman down in Tampa Bay. They are trying to unload Huff while they can and at the same time take care of one of their own in Rocco Baldelli. The Devil Rays, if managed properly, could become the Cleveland Indians of the late-'90s.

Bryan: Without question. Now if they could only use their offensive depth to acquire some pitching, and find a spot for B.J. Upton, I'd be happy. Let's just be glad the Devil Rays aren't like the Royals, who seem to be committed to spending too much money on a veteran that might help them win 65 games instead of just 60.

Rich: I gotta tell you, Bryan, I am concerned for Royals fans. This free agent crop is right up their alley. A bunch of second-tier guys who they can throw some money at in the hopes that the uninitiated will think they are making a concerted effort to get better. Guys like Kevin Mench, rumored to be heading to KC, and Matt Morris aren't going to turn things around anytime soon.

Bryan: Yes, can't you just imagine a press conference in which they give Morris something like 3 years at $8M per season? Yuck! I don't really have a problem with the Mench-for-Affeldt rumors (Jeremy just isn't turning the corner in K.C.), but they must show their fan base the right mentality. They should be focusing on nurturing and improving Billy Butler, Zack Greinke, Alex Gordon, Justin Huber, and in time, Andrew Miller.

Rich: Patience is the watchword here. Well, at least in terms of how long it's going to take to turn this mess around. But I bet the fans wish they would hurry up and sell the team, hire a new GM, and put a five-year plan in place. I mean, the Royals could have one of the top picks in the draft for the next few years. How can they NOT get better?

Bryan: No kidding. Let's move within the division to a team whose five-year plan actually looks to be succeeding: the Cleveland Indians. Mark Shapiro is in a tough place, forced into decisions regarding Kevin Millwood and Bob Wickman. Sure, both have regressions coming, but both are also top 30 free agents. Is simply bringing back the 2005 team the direction he should go?

Rich: I normally don't advocate sitting tight but, in the case of the Indians, I think that just might be the way to go. Building your team with young and talented players like Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, and Grady Sizemore up the middle is a sure sign that management knows what it is doing. The Indians were one of the best teams in baseball last year. Heck, they might have been the second best for all we know. Winning 93 games with a $41 million payroll is a tribute to Shapiro and his staff.

Bryan: Yes, and you can bet that Shapiro will now be given some extra money to add to his payroll. However, I disgaree with you. This team has the foundation for success, yes, but they also can't just sit tight. Re-signing Wickman is a bad idea, and I wouldn't advise to meet Millwood's demands, either. Instead, let the front office continue to be creative, filling these holes, and trying to find a way to eliminate Aaron Boone and/or Casey Blake from that lineup.

Rich: When I said "sit tight," I didn't mean holding on to Millwood and Wickman per se. I just think they should stay the course while tweaking their roster on the margin in the most cost-effective manner. I'm certainly not married to Wickman. There's no reason to suspect that an even cheaper option like Bob Howry couldn't do as good a job as him. Let's face it, there are a lot of decent closers out there to choose from.

Bryan: Definitely not. The consensus top two are, as we ranked them, Billy Wagner and B.J. Ryan. And I don't see either of those players touching Cleveland with a ten-foot pole. Instead, Wagner will probably choose between the Phillies and the Mets (are they in on every big free agent these days, or what?), while Ryan is going to hear from all the big teams: the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, etc.

Rich: I guess it depends if you like to shop at Bloomingdale's or Target. Todd Jones would be just fine by me -- as would Howry -- and I wouldn't be against giving Kyle Farnsworth a shot. The Wagners and Ryans out there are going to come at a big price. No thanks. I would rather see the Indians give Brian Giles the same money or even slightly more, for that matter, in order to get one more big bat in the lineup.

Bryan: I agree, though Giles might get priced-out of their budget pretty fast. I see him ending up with the Chicago Cubs, who will also get Rafael Furcal. But Giles, like the closers discussed above, will get interest from everyone. While he might not even make a ton of sense for the Yankees or Red Sox (unless they trade Manny), you can bet even they will be in on the calls.

Rich: For sure, as well as they should be. What were the Padres thinking, offering him a 3 x 7 deal? C'mon, that is downright insulting. Sheesh, that's not even in the ballpark -- and Petco is a huuuuuuuuge park. If Kevin Towers & Co. believe they can replace him with Jacque Jones, on top of trading for Vinny Castilla, I have a bridge to sell them and it's not heading to Coronado.

Bryan: The Dodgers would have to fall flat on their face to not be the favorites in March. After all the 2005 injuries returning, and the money spent this winter, they should be much improved.

Rich: The only money the Dodgers have spent so far is in severance pay. I'm not at all convinced the McCourts are going to pay up for anyone. That said, I don't think the Dodgers can get much worse and in such a weak division, I guess they have as good a shot at winning as anyone else. But the real story here is 2007 and beyond, provided the McCourts and the new GM don't panic first. Oops, silly me. I forgot, the panic button has already been pushed.

Bryan: The Dodgers are the definition of mismanaged, but still should be the favorites in the NL West. Says a lot about that division, huh? Really, the Dodgers concern should be to avoid becoming the number two team in Los Angeles. The Angels have shown an interest in getting rid of Darin Erstad this winter, which is a sign their winning ways just might continue.

Rich: That is a very good sign. But for the life of me, I don't understand why they have so much interest in Konerko. It's not like Erstad is their only option at first base. Bill Stoneman, I'd like you to meet Casey Kotchman. Oh, and Kendry Morales is sitting in the lobby waiting to see you, too.

Bryan: It's funny that the team was so quick to implement Dallas McPherson, but approach Kotchman with such apprehension. They have the chance in 2007 to have Jeff Mathis behind the plate, with an infield of Kotchman-Kendrick-Wood-McPherson and Kendry at DH. I'm not sure Billy Beane could make 1,000 trades to top that future.

Rich: Excuse me, I was salivating. Gotta wipe my shirt off. Not only are those guys up-and-coming players with high ceilings, they will be cheap for years to come. Arte Moreno will be able to add a real center fielder one of these years and put even more money into an already top-notch pitching rotation.

Bryan: Alright, Rich, let's give the readers what they want with a quick lightning round. Do the Burnett-to-Toronto rumors make sense, and where will he end up?

Rich: Toronto has the money as well as Brad Arnsberg. If Burnett is OK with Canada, then Toronto it is. While on the subject of the AL East -- Johnny Damon?

Bryan: Stays in Boston for too much money. Am I right with Furcal to Chicago?

Rich: If not the Braves, then the Cubs. Speaking of which, Nomar?

Bryan: Heads out west to the Dodgers. How about the three catchers, Hernandez, Molina and Jojima?

Rich: Arizona, NYM, and Seattle. Let's turn to those ace relievers. Wagner, Ryan, and Gordon?

Bryan: The Mets, Red Sox and Yankees. Now please Rich, tell me Hoffman and Thomas stay in the right uniforms?

Rich: Maybe Hoffman although they are far apart. Thomas is Oakland's next DH. Sad but true.

Rich: Speaking of has beens, where will Piazza wind up?

Bryan: If it's not Thomas in Oakland, it's Piazza. Otherwise, he'll replace Raffy in Baltimore. Let's end on the two bashers, Konerko and Giles. Who lands 'em?

Rich: Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals. Have a good life, Larry Walker. Welcome, Brian Giles. The type of guy LaRussa and the fans in St. Louis will love.


Ugh. I do not want Konerko on the Red Sox. Not even a little bit. Give me Lyle Overbay via trade.

Rich/Bryan -
Sounds like you're advocating the Angels sit tight...which I get, given the quality of the prospects.. .but how do you address the offensive void created last year by the departure of Glaus and Guillen, that was exposed so obviously this past post-season?

Should the Angels avoid the big moves this off-season and hope that they can hold off a very young Oakland team for one more year until the (very young) pieces are in place in 2007?

Players like Manny don't come along very I get the interest there. But Konerko is another story. While he would add some much needed offense, and wouldn't cost them valuable prospects (Stoneman has always preferred free agent acquisitions over trades), he blocks at least one if not two premium prospects (Kotchman and Morales).

The interest in Konerko looks a lot like last year's signing of Cabrera, which offered some indication that Stoneman isn't thinking more than a year or two ahead. Granted Brandon Wood's stock has gone through the roof since then, but they also had Aybar and Callaspo...not to mention a perfectly adequate SS in Eckstein. Yet he signed Cabrera to a 4 year deal.

Wouldn't they be wise to trade Cabrera now... while there's some market for SS and only one premium SS Free Agent in Furcal?

Rich, Bryan -- great dialogue. Re the Angels' pursuit of Paul Konerko and Manny Ramirez, maybe it's just the optimist in me, but the Angels FO has a history of dropping big names and then not landing them. Call it marketing-by-leak, if you will... the Dodgers are in a morass, don't have a GM, and according to today's Long Beach Press-Telegram, may not have one for another week or more. Of course, the scary thing is last year's pursuit and successful acquisition of Orlando Cabrera...

That didn't come out as clearly as I'd hoped. Arte's trying to position himself as the dominant team in the area, and with the McCourts stirring the pot in their own FO, the Angels news is all about players who could improve the team, vs. McCourt's blunders. Recall last year when the Angels were supposedly hot on the trail for Randy Johnson...

Sounds like you're advocating the Angels sit tight...which I get, given the quality of the prospects.. .but how do you address the offensive void created last year by the departure of Glaus and Guillen, that was exposed so obviously this past post-season?

Sitting tight when you have prospects on the order of Kotchman and Morales? Isn't that what you're supposed to do when you have guys who can play waiting in positions of need?

I can't recall the Angels FO doing much talking at all, let alone talking about players they don't land. Stoneman is notoriously tight-lipped. All of the recent big FA signings... Cabrera, Guerrero, Escobar ... came without any warning.

Often the talk comes from agents, as it did with Manny...and the Angels are frequently mentioned because they're always active...even aggressive.

Drew - I'm not advocating that the Angels sit tight at all, but I don't understand the need to get a 1B like Konerko when you have Kotchman ready to go and Morales waiting in the wings. I think it is a huge mistake to allocate a large portion of a team's payroll in 1B/LF/DH types. The supply of such players is typically much higher than correspondingly good CF/SS/2B/C or even 3B or RF.

This might not be the year to fill their void in CF, but that should be a priority. I'm not sold on McPherson either and would strongly consider better options at the hot corner.

As far as Cabrera goes, it seems like trading him next year when Wood might be ready would fit the team's plans better than this year. A more economical option would have been to give Eckstein a two-year deal as a bridge to Wood or Aybar rather than handing a 30-year-old SS $32 million over four years. However, now that the Angels have Cabrera, they may as well keep him for another year.

"the Royals, who seem to be committed to spending too much money on a veteran that might help them win 65 games instead of just 60"

The Royals willingness to spend this offseason is a PR move. My hope is that they will make a few offers to big names, get shot down, and tell KC that they did their best. I think 2004 is too fresh in their minds for them to overpay veteran players. I think they'd do well to sign a few lower tier free agents to one years deals and trade them at the deadline for some more prospects. Dealing Sweeney would also help that, especially since Huber is almost ready and Butler may spend a lot of time DH when he comes up.
I think we need to reserve judgement on Allard Baird. Ownership didn't let him do his job until June of last year.(See Jermaine Dye to the A's) He is very good at making small trades. Last season he got two solid prospects in exchange for a few months of Tony Graffinino and in '04 he got Justin Huber and Denny Bautista for almost nothing. He also exels at finding contributing players off the scrap heap. (See Raul Ibanez, Emil Brown, Aaron Guiel, Desi Relaford, Graffinino, Jose Lima[2003 not this past season], Jason Grimsley) Now if he can keep those things going, while not overspending on overrated free agents and not developing tunnel vision in his trade talks,(See Kevin Mench, Austin Kearns, & Orlando Hudson) he will turn this franchise around.