Baseball Beat/WTNYJanuary 25, 2006
One on One: Fast Break
By Rich Lederer & Bryan Smith

We're not talking about Kobe's latest offensive burst. That would be One on Five. Instead, we're dusting off a favored format of ours. One on One, a chance to talk about the offseason - including free agent signings and trades - plus a sneak preview of the year at hand.

The break isn't over. But we're getting close, folks.

Bryan: Congratulations Rich, we did it. We made it through the winter. Just a few more weeks until baseball is back.

Rich: Promise, Bryan? (As I cross off another day on my calendar, waiting for pitchers and catchers to report)

Bryan: I do, just 22 more days. That should be exciting, but I'm really excited for what happens about five weeks from now. Spring Training is fun and all, but this inaugural WBC has me giddy.

Rich: Oh, I didn't realize boxing had another title fight at hand.

Bryan: Don't be sarcastic Rich, we finally have a World Cup of our own! I mean, passionate baseball in March? I'm a bit worried about the impact this might have on the season, but really, good baseball should outweigh political complaining.

Rich: All right. I'll come clean with you. I bought a strip of tickets for three games at Angel Stadium the minute they went on sale.

Bryan: Now that's more like it. What team are you most excited to see, it seems like a few have murderer's rows and rotations of aces.

Rich: Heck, I don't even know who is playing, much less who is playing for whom? I mean, is A-Rod in or out or in?

Bryan: Who knows. Last I heard he was talking to Castro about playing for Cuba. Apparently his great uncle had a Cuban friend once.

Rich: Does smoking a Cuban cigar qualify as well? Look, I don't know if I should root for the good ol' USA or return to my roots like the players and side with Germany, Ireland or Sweden.

Bryan: That's very Piazza-ish of you. Speaking of Mike, word is that he's been talking to the Phillies this week. Platoon a bit with Ryan Howard, give Mike Lieberthal time off. Is this a good fit?

Rich: Mike is from Norristown, Pennsylvania, so he might get a nice welcome home party from his family and friends. But, other than that, I wouldn't be overly excited for either side. Let's face it, Piazza is a much better fit for an AL team.

Bryan: I agree. I thought it might be the Orioles or Twins, but those two seem content with Javy Lopez and Rondell White, respectively. I still think Minnesota should bite.

Rich: How 'bout the Yankees? Alex Belth is clamoring for the guy. If New York is going to live with Jason Giambi in the field (which I think is a disaster waiting to happen), then why couldn't Mikey DH and spell Jorge Posada once a week behind the dish?

Bryan: Not sure New Yorkers - at least those in the Bronx - would like Piazza in a Jim Leyritz role, he's not quite as lovable. But really, it's a far better bet for anyone in the AL than National League teams. I would say Oakland, but the Frank Thomas situation is the worst kept secret in baseball.

Rich: I don't want to pull a Yogi Berra here, but if the Big Hurt ain't hurt, what would it hurt to sign him?

Bryan: It wouldn't, as long as Beane doesn't think that signing him would be enough of a reason to trade away Jay Payton, who would then be out of a starting spot. Signing Frank is a good move, depending on him is not.

Rich: I agree. But I'm not worried about the A's depth. They have a lot of chips at their disposal. Trading for a DH is a lot easier than finding a good CF or SS. Hint, hint.

Bryan: Yeah, sometimes you're left with Alex Gonzalez. And that's no longer even close to a compliment.

Rich: The good news for Boston fans is that this version doesn't have a middle name. He can pick it a bit and should suffice in the ninth hole, provided they consummate that deal with Cleveland. Are you koo-koo for Coco Crisp?

Bryan: Opinions about this possible trade seem to be all over the map. Some Bostonians think that Crisp will be some great improvement upon Johnny Damon, and others think he isn't even worth Edgar Renteria, er, Andy Marte. Covelli is a fine player, and should modestly succeed in Boston, but I don't think he's a budding All-Star.

Rich: I fooled around on the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia and came to the conclusion that Crisp's 2005 looked a tad like Damon's 24-year-old season in 1998 and Marquis Grissom's 25-year-old campaign in 1992 (without the SB). As a result, I think he is a suitable option for the Red Sox. They need a CF and there aren't too many options, if the truth be told.

Bryan: Good point. I do think that this puts the Red Sox back in the AL East argument. The Yankees are much the same team they were, and probably due for a bit of regression. The Blue Jays are much better, but have not pulled ahead of the top two. So now, Boston should be able to get away with a bit of regression and still be in the race.

Rich: I haven't been overly worried about Boston. Everyone seems focused on what they need rather than how much they have improved themselves in certain areas. If healthy, they should be just fine. What I'm not so sure about though is whether the second-place team in the AL East will earn the Wild Card berth this year.

Bryan: Well, I think it will be the same as it always is. The Wild Card should be a simple competition between the loser of the AL East and the loser of the A's/Angels. I think the Indians have taken a big step back, and have the White Sox winning the division by over five games.

Rich: Oh, I haven't given up on the Tribe at all. Despite a 22-36 record in one-run outcomes, they missed the playoffs last year by just two games. I think Cleveland will need to be reckoned with, for sure. It's too bad the Indians aren't in the NL. They would run away with the West and could give the Cardinals and the Mets/Phillies/Braves a run for their money.

Bryan: Well, as the official Midwest representative of the group, I'm going to pick on you for pointing out the Cardinals only. After such a lackluster winter, are you really ready to hand them the division?

Rich: St. Louis won 100 games last year, the most in baseball. Will they win 100 this year? No, probably not. But, let's assume they slip back to 90 games. Who else in the division is in a position to win that many?

Bryan: This seems like the argument with the AL Central last year. "Even if the Twins regress..." Now I'm not saying the Cardinals shouldn't be the division favorite, they have certainly earned it. But I wouldn't rule out the Astros, the Cubs, or the Brewers -- my pick -- to win 91 games.

Rich: I've already ruled out the Cubs. So take that. I like the Brewers and wouldn't be surprised in the least if they captured the Wild Card spot in the NL. That is one fun team.

Bryan: I agree. A lot of high ceilings on offense with a good, young pitching staff and a better coach. That's one good formula. Too bad they don't play out West.

Rich: If the Dodgers can give all these players one-year deals, maybe baseball should allow teams to switch divisions for a year. Can you imagine how much a spot in the NL West would bring in an auction?

Bryan: More than the auctions for Jeff Weaver and Bengie Molina, that's for sure.

Rich: Maybe they can both sit out the year and keep in shape by playing pitcher and catcher - the same game I played as a kid - with one another.

Bryan: I mean, it really seems like this is an option at this point. Otherwise, it seems like Molina might have to take a one-year deal with the Blue Jays, and as for Weaver...well, I still haven't heard a team officially associated with Weaver.

Rich: Buster Olney reported that "the Phillies are doing some checking on Jeff Weaver." I gotta tell you, Bryan, I just don't understand these guys. How could Weaver pass up, say, a 3 x $9M offer from the Dodgers? Is it really worth an extra million bucks or so a year to leave your hometown team? I mean, is that incremental money going to have any bearing whatsoever on your lifestyle or your kids or grandkids? Suck it up and be glad you can stay home, play this silly game called baseball, and make more money than you will ever know what to do with.

Bryan: Amen. But if that's your philosophy regarding Weaver, what are your thoughts on Roger Clemens? It almost seems as he's trying to start a bidding war between his two hometown teams to be fought on after May 1.

Rich: I'm not convinced it's as much about money this time around as it is with whether he wants to even play another season. He could retire after the WBC. Picture him winning the championship game. That wouldn't be such a bad way to end things, now would it?

Bryan: Well, I guess it depends how many people confuse WBC with a boxing match, or care about it at all.

Rich: But you could be right. Maybe Clemens is just rope-a-dopin' Drayton McLane and Tom Hicks. In fact, it seems to me that Lloyd's of London just might be paying Roger's salary this year, so help me Jeff Bagwell.

Bryan: Alright Rich, let's go into the lightning round, like before the winter. Where does Sammy Sosa end up?

Rich: Dead, like all of us. How 'bout David Wells?

Bryan: Theo gets back and gets a deal done in a week. Wells back to San Diego. How about any of the Rays left on the trading block?

Rich: Julio Lugo and Aubrey Huff are history. Look for Lugo to end up with the Cubs. Andy Friedman will deal Huff to the highest bidder, but it may not happen until this spring. No way Molina sits out. Four million dollars for one year is much more than zero, no?

Bryan: Molina gets backed into the corner, also known as the city of Toronto. He's definitely an improvement upon Gregg Zaun. And how much colder can we expect Jeff Weaver's surroundings to be?

Rich: I'm pretty sure there is a market out there for Weaver. Unlike Scott Boras, I just don't think it's 4 x $10M. But, if it is, then I guess the Bank of Omar Minaya or Tom Hicks will be the one to foot that bill. Let's end with the ace of the free agent market and WBC. Roger Clemens - in or out?

Bryan: In, but on May 2. Whether that's with Hicks or McLane, I'm not sure.

Rich: When it's all said and done, I think he might be known as Roger Clemency. Let's just hope he bows out on a high note, whether it be in March with the WBC title under his belt or with one last great season in Houston or Texas.


Good article! Very well done and no controversy.

Im getting worried im becoming too much of a baseball freak, as you guys touched on several things that i've been killing time thinking about:
the WBC, Brewers taking the central(thought i was a vast minority there), Cubs suck, Weaver(Reds?), Bagwell getting squeezed, Clemens, but you left out a few:
Frank Thomas' new team and how many Cubans are going to defect in SanDiego or Puerto Rico? Who is this years Garland, as in, which starter thats above average has pristine conditions for a breakout this year, like say, Garland as the Sox 5th starter(atleast through the break) last season. Im saying either Reyes (or Ponson) in ST.Lou, Papelbon in Boston perhaps, or Young in SD, moving to the NLs worst division should be huge for him.
plus one thing i disagree on:
the AL wildcard could be coming from the AL Central this year for the 1st time ever IMHO. Clevelands loss of Millwood looks bad when you think ERA, but his W total could be filled by Johnson no problem, and that offense should be more post-break than pre-break, but losing Coco could hurt.
good stuff again, gents. Im glad Im not the only one pondering this stuff way before spring training.

great read. funny and thorough.

Congratulations Rich, we did it. We made it through the winter. Just a few more weeks until baseball is back.

Speak for yourself, Brian, I'm going to opening weekend at CSULB on Saturday...