Tagged: Prince Fielder

MLB’s Hot Stove spending could eclipse $2 billion

No sport incites salary rage like Major League Baseball, so for those who bellyache the money is too big, consider this a fair warning to gulp a handful of Tums before reading the next sentence.Daisuke Matsuzaka Lions

Teams are barreling toward $2 billion spent on free agents this offseason.

Now, they may fall short of that nice, round number and still absolutely obliterate the previous spending record: around $1.75 billion in the 2006 offseason, a number that includes major league free agents as well as the posting fees for Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kei Igawa.

Already teams have lavished approximately $1.543 billion on players, the latest a $130 million investment by the Texas Rangers for seven years of outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. He is the third nine-figure player of the offseason, joining Jacoby Ellsbury ($153 million) as an offset diamond around the center stone, Robinson Cano ($240 million).

Masahiro TanakaThere is plenty more to come. If Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka gets posted – his status remains in limbo – the $2 billion threshold is certain to be obliterated. Between his contract and the $20 million posting fee, teams expect to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $120 million for Tanaka. Beyond him are three pitchers who reason says will cash in for around $60 million each (Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza), an outfielder worth the same (Nelson Cruz), a shortstop a notch down from that (Stephen Drew), another starter sure to get multiple years (Bronson Arroyo), a bevy of relievers who will get papered (Fernando Rodney, Grant Balfour and Jesse Crain, among others) and the dregs of the class, who can fetch $5 million here, $3 million there and add up quickly.

For those surprised, don’t be. Baseball’s economic system, as presently constituted, guaranteed free-agent salaries ballooning to unfathomable levels. A number of factors conspired to turn it into even more of a money booth than in the past.

First are the revenues. Back in 2006, a year before the recession started, baseball’s revenues were around $5.5 billion. Today, they are nearly $8.5 billion. And only now is free-agent spending catching up; over the previous three offseasons, it fell somewhere in the $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion range.

More than that are the mechanisms in place that more or less force teams to spend their money on free agents. Simply put: They can’t spend it anywhere else. The league capped how much teams can spend on the draft and international free agents. Many of the best players in the game don’t even make $1 million a season because the system artificially depresses salaries for the first three years of a career. Plenty of the best would-be free agents forgo the open market by signing long-term extensions, which can be for big money, sure, but almost every time represent a discount against what the player would receive with his services available to all 30 teams.

Ells tries it on

For those, then, with the patience to wait for free agency and the luck to do so coming off even a decent walk year, the rewards are massive – enough so to make you wonder if there will be some sort of a market correction in which pre-free-agency extensions start to inch closer to the open market or players who might’ve been locked up opt instead to chance free agency.

Kershaw deliversThere is an expectation within the industry that at least a couple of the monster class of free-agent pitchers next offseason will sign extensions. The group includes Clayton Kershaw (who will command the first deal for a pitcher over $200 million), Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, James Shields, Homer Bailey and Justin Masterson. If each went to free agency, there’s a good three-quarters of a billion dollars among the six, more than making up for a hitting class that includes Hanley Ramirez and a group that is best referred to as Et Cetera.

It’s one of the biggest reasons the Rangers went so hard after Choo, giving him more years and money than they wanted: the outfield market next year is paltry, and they’ve got goo-gobs of TV money from local and national sources to cover it. Give the Rangers this much: They’ve long made a habit of being ahead of other teams in how they spend their money. They went bigger in Latin America than any other team before the spending cap, then blew by it when the penalties weren’t as severe as they are now. This offseason, they’ve committed more than a quarter billion dollars to Choo and Prince Fielder and helped spearhead the spending that left the American League West as baseball’s most munificent division and the AL spending nearly three times as much as its National League counterparts.

Cano presser

The five AL West teams have combined to heap $466.6 million on free agents – Cano and Choo account for 79.2 percent of that – while the AL East is at $399.25 million (with the Yankees at 79.1 percent of that). Next is the AL Central ($268.75 million), followed by the three NL divisions: East ($182.98 million), West ($148.25 million, not including the Hunter Pence or Tim Lincecum deals because they signed before free agency) and Central ($77.95 million – and, without Jhonny Peralta, less than $25 million combined).

Thirteen players by themselves have signed for $25 million, and another seven have exceeded the $20 million mark. It’s almost exactly like 2006, with 15 at $25 million-plus and 20 at $20 million-plus. With the five starters, Cruz and Drew left to go, this year’s numbers should dwarf ’06 in all respects.

Welcome to baseball in 2014, which rewards free agency more than ever. Ask Robinson Cano. Ask Jacoby Ellsbury. Ask Shin-Soo Choo. Ask any of the middle relievers cashing in for $6 million a year, the back-end starters and utilitymen getting four-year guarantees, the fourth outfielders getting paid what used to be All-Star wages. The union sought free agency with such fervor 40 years ago because the brilliant men leading it saw this day, when owners would make money hand over fist and give players their fair share.

Even those brilliant men could not fathom just how big that number would be: $2 billion or bust.

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A Huge Log on the Hot Stove….

Wednesday night’s huge (what other word do you use for a transaction involving Prince Fielder?) deal between the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers — Fielder to Texas, Ian Kinsler to Detroit — could have a ripple effect on the Red Sox.

Napoli and Ells

For one, it may take the Rangers out of the bidding for free agent first baseman Mike Napoli, although it’s still conceivable that the Rangers view Napoli as an ideal complementary bat to the left-handed hitting Fielder, who could DH while Napoli plays first. The Rangers ranked 14th in the league in OPS at first base (.700) — only the Yankees were worse — and they were slightly worse at DH (.698, ninth in the league).

Less than two years after boldly signing Prince Fielder to a $214 million contract, the Detroit Tigers traded the slugging first baseman to Texas in another blockbuster move.

Fielder was dealt to the Rangers on Wednesday night for second baseman Ian Kinsler. The Tigers agreed to pay the Rangers $30 million as part of the swap, according to a person with knowledge of the deal. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the amount of money exchanged was not revealed when the teams announced the trade. The $30 million is payable from 2016-20.

”Obviously, a very exciting trade for us in adding Prince Fielder to the organization,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. ”Also a tough trade to make in that Ian Kinsler’s been with the organization since he was drafted in ’03, and we’ve signed him here a couple of times. Been here, a catalyst for our World Series clubs, and a huge part of this. A winning guy, a heart-and-soul guy, and Detroit got a tremendous player and person.”

The Tigers, meanwhile, made it known last week at the GM meetings that contrary to speculation, they are not in the market for Ellsbury. Moving Fielder wouldn’t seem to alter that. The Tigers’ priroities remain re-signing pitcher Max Scherzer and extending two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera, whose current deal runs out after the 2015 season.

It’s the first headline-grabbing move of baseball’s offseason, and it involves two of the American League’s top teams. Detroit has won three consecutive AL Central titles and reached the World Series in 2012, while Texas won the AL pennant in 2010 and 2011.

Prince FielderFielder, a five-time All-Star, had to consent to the trade before it could be completed. The big first baseman signed a $214 million, nine-year contract with the Tigers before the 2012 season that includes a limited no-trade provision.

”We’re thankful for what he did for us,” Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski said. ”It’ll be a bat that we miss at times – there’s no doubt about it.”

Kinsler just finished the first season of a $75 million, five-year contract.

With stars like Fielder, Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Anibal Sanchez in the fold, Detroit’s payroll had become one of the game’s biggest. And although Fielder hit 55 home runs over the last two years for the Tigers, his numbers dipped this season and he struggled in the playoffs when Detroit lost to Boston in the AL championship series.

Fielder hit .279 with 25 homers this year. He drove in 106 runs, but it was his lowest home run total over a full season. He did not have a single RBI in the 2013 postseason and hit .182 in the ALCS.

Daniels said the trade came together quickly – the first discussions took place Tuesday. The Rangers will welcome the durable Fielder, who has played 162 games in four of the last five seasons. Texas was interested in Fielder when he signed with Detroit as a free agent.

”Our offer was well below what it ended up being, so we weren’t that close,” Daniels said. ”I thought he was a genuine guy that really loved the game, really loved playing the game, loved his boys, his sons.”

Kinsler batted .277 with 13 homers this year. The a three-time AllIan Kinsler-Star was limited to 136 games because of injuries to his ribs and right side. Kinsler stole 15 bases in 2013 – not a high total by his standards but more than any player on the Detroit team he is joining.

The trade could save the Tigers more than $75 million in the long run, giving them more financial flexibility with Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer a year from free agency.

Fielder is still only 29, and the Rangers are set to add a big bat to the middle of their lineup while also resolving a logjam in the middle of their infield. Jurickson Profar, a highly touted 20-year-old prospect, appeared to be blocked by Kinsler and shortstop Elvis Andrus. Now, Profar should have a chance to play regularly.

The Tigers signed Fielder to a huge contract shortly before spring training in 2012 – after designated hitter Victor Martinez injured his knee. Martinez came back in 2013. With Fielder gone, Cabrera may move from third base back to first.

”I’m really not sure what we’re going to do as we sit here now today,” Dombrowski said. ”Eventually, we see him as a first baseman. Will it happen this year or not? I’m not sure.”

The 31-year-old Kinsler fills a need at second base for Detroit after Omar Infante became a free agent.

Fielder is due $168 million through 2020, a salary of $24 million per season. Under his no-trade clause, he submits a list of 10 teams each year that he can be traded to without his approval.

Texas was not on that list this year, but Fielder agreed to accept the trade and instructed agent Scott Boras to approve the deal.

”If he was coming off the best year of his career, he’s not available,” Daniels said. ”I think that’s kind of the whole idea of this deal – if anybody feels like that’s a sign of things to come, that he’s slipping, you may not like the deal. We don’t feel that way. We don’t feel that way at all.”

Kinsler is guaranteed $62 million through 2017: $16 million in each of the next two seasons, $14 million in 2016, $11 million in 2017 and a $5 million buyout of a $10 million option.

It’s already been an unpredictable offseason for the Tigers. Manager Jim Leyland stepped down after the season and was replaced by Brad Ausmus. Detroit could have come back with a similar roster and probably been favored to win the division again, but now more changes seem possible.

”If you put Kinsler’s bat at the top of the lineup, that’s an instant threat,” Ausmus said. ”It changes the dynamic, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less potent.”

If Cabrera moves back to first base, prospect Nick Castellanos might replace him at third. Previously, it appeared Castellanos would have to play the outfield if both Cabrera and Fielder were still on the team.

Andy Dirks is still available to play left field, but that’s a spot the Tigers could still try to upgrade. They also have six capable starting pitchers – Drew Smyly was used in the bullpen this year – so that’s a surplus that could come in handy in a possible trade.

Detroit’s bullpen will likely undergo a makeover after struggling last season.

The Rangers lost slugging outfielder Nelson Cruz to a late-season suspension as a result of MLB’s investigation in the Biogenesis case. He’s now a free agent, and if Texas loses him, Fielder, who hit 50 homers in 2007 for Milwaukee at 23, should help replace his production.

”A huge focus for us this winter was finding some kind of middle-of-the-order presence and power, and at 29 years old, I still think there’s still a lot of big run production and years ahead of him,” Daniels said.

The Rangers also were thought to be on the margins for free agent outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, but taking a contract that pays Fielder $24 million a year through the 2020 season would seemingly be a deterrent to GM Jon Daniels adding another $20-million-plus per year in Ellsbury. The Rangers have two outstanding outfield defenders in Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry, so it would seem they would be better served going after catcher Brian McCann.

Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios are among the dangerous hitters under contract next season in Texas. Beltre had an AL-high 199 hits and Rios, acquired from the Chicago White Sox in August after Cruz was suspended, has a year left on his deal.

The Rangers lost a one-game tiebreaker to Tampa Bay for the second AL wild card this year.

Playing Catch Up…

A few days taken for a family emergency… but nothing too exciting had been missed, in Red Sox Nation anyway.

The Patriots won 23-20 over the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game:  The Patriots advance to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis on Feb. 5.  It will be the team’s fifth Super Bowl appearance in Bill Belichick’s tenure as coach (2000-present) and is the Patriots’ seventh Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.  Tom Brady and Bill Belichick become the first starting quarterback/head coach combination to advance to five Super Bowls.  For Brady, he ties his boyhood idol, Joe Montana, with his  16th career postseason win as a starting quarterback.

Just a ‘Classic’ game.  At one point, Brady’s emotions showed as he was jawing with Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis after the quarterback scored on fourth down goal-line drive in the fourth quarter, a play in which he took a big hit from Lewis.  The Ravens had a chance to win with 22 seconds left when Lee Evans dropped a touchdown pass. Then, after cornerback Sterling Moore deflected a pass on third down, Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal wide left that would have tied the game. A breath-taking ending.

The Red Sox signed free agent outfielder Cody Ross to a one-year deal worth about $3 million:  Boston had maintained an interest in Ross throughout the signing season, but pounced after his asking price dropped significantly (initially, he was seeking a three-year deal) and after left fielder Carl Crawford underwent surgery last week to address an arthritic condition in his left wrist.   The signing followed the Sox’ trading of infielder Marco Scutaro and his $6 million salary to the Rockies, which freed up the money they privately said they needed to have before making additional upgrades.   Even before Crawford’s injury, the Sox had maintained a healthy interest in Ross, who has hit left-handed pitchers well, with a career .912 OPS, even though his 2011 season could be considered a slight disappointment.  Ross, 31, is a .261 career hitter with 100 homers in eight seasons with Detroit, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cincinnati, Florida and San Francisco.

Right-hander Scott Atchison was designated for assignment to create space for Ross on the team’s 40-man roster.

The Sox are still interested in adding another starter to the mix at the right price.  Roy Oswalt remains their No. 1 target, though a team source acknowledged fears that Oswalt would prefer to pitch for either the Rangers or Cardinals (the free-agent turned down an offer from Detroit).  If they do not succeed in signing Oswalt, to whom they have made an offer (supposedly for $5 Million), a team source said Wednesday night, they most likely will shift their focus to trying to swing a deal with the Chicago White Sox for right-hander Gavin Floyd, with free agent pitcher Edwin Jackson a long-shot option at this stage.

The Sox also are thin at shortstop after dealing Scutaro, with veterans Nick Punto and Mike Aviles and rookie Jose Iglesias their only options at this time. The Sox have indicated they do not want to rush the 22-year-old Iglesias, who has fewer than 700 professional at-bats, and with neither Punto and Aviles the answer on an everyday basis, the Sox are expected to seek more help there. Punto is the better glove of the two, Aviles a better bat.  At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much shortstop help available. Even the soon-to-be 45-year-olds have signed, Omar Vizquel coming to terms Monday with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Clay Mortensen, received from Colorado in the Scutaro trade, will compete for a spot in the bullpen, but more likely will open the season in Pawtucket.  Don’t look now, but the Sox have the makings of a potentially strong bullpen, especially if Franklin Morales and Andrew Miller can click from the left side.  If the Sox succeed in acquiring another starting pitcher and elect to return Alfredo Aceves to the pen, on paper they look strong with Andrew Bailey closing and Mark Melancon sharing setup.  If Bobby Jenks can be healthy and Matt Albers proves he just ran out of gas last season, the Sox pen has a chance to be strong and deep.  If.. If.. If…

With Jorge Posada announcing his retirement Tuesday after 17 seasons with the Yankees, it would appear to be a matter of time before we hear similar announcements from Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek.  Wakefield’s agent, Barry Meister, said the 45-year-old knuckleballer just returned from a vacation in Mexico, and that he hasn’t had substantive conversations with him in about 10 days.  He acknowledged that while there have been inquiries from other teams, there’s nothing in the works.  As Bobby Valentine noted the other day, it’s inconceivable that Wakefield would accept a minor-league offer from the Red Sox.  Varitek turns 40 just after Opening Day and got married in the offseason. No word from the player or his agents on Varitek’s plans, but the signing of Kelly Shoppach virtually closed the door on a return to Boston, and while Varitek last spring expressed a desire to play for as long as he can, he may have reached the endgame.

Tim Thomas Skipped the White House:  Boston Bruins president Cam Neely admitted Tuesday that he would have liked goaltender and Stanley Cup MVP Tim Thomas to be with the team when they visited the White House on Monday, but that Thomas “felt very strongly about not going” so the team respected his wishes.  He said the team didn’t make the event mandatory because “we didn’t think it would be an issue.”  Neely said he doesn’t expect the controversy to adversely affect the Bruins’ chemistry, pointing out with a laugh that not a lot of political discourse occurs in an NHL locker room.

Thomas explained Monday night in a Facebook page posting that he skipped the White House event due his disappointment in the federal government. His post read:

“I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.
This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.
Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.
This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT”

Later Monday night, Neely released this Bruins statement:
“As an organization we were honored by President Obama’s invitation to the White House. It was a great day and a perfect way to cap our team’s achievement from last season. It was a day that none of us will soon forget. We are disappointed that Tim chose not to join us, and his views certainly do not reflect those of the Jacobs family or the Bruins organization. This will be the last public comment from the Bruins organization on this subject.”

Of course, Timmy ‘The Tank’ is not alone.  Theo Epstein, who had made a campaign appearance on behalf of John Kerry, was not on the stage when President Bush honored the team in 2005, choosing to sit in the front row of the audience next to Stacy Lucchino, wife of the Sox CEO.  The reason, he said, was because he wanted attention focused on those most deserving.  Epstein was with the group of players who subsequently visited wounded vets at the Walter Reed Medical Center.  Bush was still in office when the Sox won again in 2007.  Epstein did not attend the ’08 ceremony, citing “family reasons,” and his absence barely registered.  It was overshadowed by the no-show by Manny Ramirez, whose absence from the stage was noted by the President himself.

 

And then of course… there’s this:

Prince Fielder stood with a smile and recalled his earliest memories of old Tiger Stadium, when he would hang out at the ballpark where his father hit so many massive home runs.  “For me, it was always Sparky saying I was going to pinch hit—and I really believed him,”  Fielder said, referring to former manager Sparky Anderson. “I’m just glad I get to come back.”  The Tigers introduced Fielder on Thursday after finalizing a $214 million, nine-year contract with the free agent first baseman, who is expected to hit a lot more home runs than his dad.  Detroit plays at Cecil Fielder (45) played for the Tigers from 1990 to 1996. His son, Prince (with ball), will follow in his footsteps after reportedly signing a nine-year $214 million contract with Detroit.Comerica Park now, and times have changed. Jim Leyland manages the Tigers, not Sparky Anderson.

Fielder was born in 1984, the last time Detroit won the World Series.  After luring him back to Michigan with the fourth-largest deal in baseball history, the Tigers are hoping Fielder will help usher in a new championship era for the Motor City.  “This is awesome, it’s kind of a dream come true. I’m excited.”  Detroit began seriously pursuing Fielder after designated hitter Victor Martinez tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during offseason conditioning.  Now the Tigers have three of baseball’s biggest stars—Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander—all in their primes. Detroit won the AL Central by 15 games last year but lost to Texas in the AL championship series.

It will be up to manager Jim Leyland to figure out where to play all of his powerful hitters. He said Thursday the Tigers will move Miguel Cabrera from first base to third to make room for Fielder. He also listed a possible batting order, with Cabrera hitting third and Fielder fourth.  It’s a lineup based on power, not speed.  That much is clear.  Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski indicated he’s satisfied with his roster heading into spring training, although it’s hard to rule out any more moves after the Tigers shockingly emerged with Fielder.  The pitching rotation is anchored by Verlander, who won the Cy Young Award and MVP last year, but Detroit’s fifth starter spot is still uncertain. Dombrowski said the Tigers could bring in some non-roster invitees to compete for that job.  “I think positional player-wise, we’re pretty well set,” he said.

Fielder’s father Cecil became a big league star when he returned to the majors from Japan and hit 51 home runs with Detroit in 1990.  Cecil played with the Tigers into the 1996 season, and young Prince made a name for himself with his prodigious power displays during batting practice at Tiger Stadium.

Just Killing Time While Time Is Killing Me…

To think, the waning days of the Hot Stove are upon us.  The Sox haven’t made any earth-shaking moves with but a single remarkable transaction to show this off-season.  That, and who’d have thought both Prince Fielder and Roy Oswalt would still be on the market..?

Speaking of that single remarkable (or even better, marketable) transaction: Josh Reddick is in town for the annual Boston Baseball Writers’ Dinner, where he’s being honored as the Red Sox Rookie of the Year. (Yeah, really.)   The Red Sox traded the former prospect, along with two minor leaguers, to the Oakland Athletics in December in exchange for closer Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney. Reddick was surprised when he was told of the transaction.  “Shock.  I had a feeling I was going to get traded at the winter meetings, but once it didn’t happen, I was at ease with it and didn’t worry about it a whole lot.”  Reddick spoke with A’s GM Billy Beane and manager Bob Melvin on the day of the trade and the outfielder was given the impression that he should prepare to start every day.  “Obviously, that was good news to hear, especially when that was a question mark with the Sox. Once the shock kicked in, I realized, once I talked to Billy Beane and Bob Melvin, that it was going to be a good opportunity to play every day.”

In parts of three seasons with the Red Sox, Reddick combined for a .248 average with 10 homers and 37 RBIs in 143 games.

While questions remain in regards to the Red Sox’s starting rotation, general manager Ben Cherington said he is confident that both Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz will be healthy and productive once spring training begins.  “They’ve both had really good offseasons, Our new pitching coach [Bob McClure] has been in touch with both, as has the medical staff. It’s been a really good offseason for both and we don’t expect any issues with either of them going into camp. We know they’re both motivated to have a good year.”

Beckett, Buchholz and Jon Lester make up the top three of the rotation, but there are still questions on the back-end. Right-handers Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves will come to spring training as starters, along with Felix Doubront, Vincente Padilla, Aaron Cook and Carlos Silva.  “We feel really good about the front of the rotation. We feel like we have a collection of guys that can win jobs and help us in spots,” said Cherington. “We feel confident both Bard and Aceves are capable of doing it, but that’s not to say they will definitely be in the rotation. But they’re both capable and will come to spring training as starters.” Cherington said there could be other options as well..  “We’ll keep our eyes open as we get closer to spring training, or even in spring training, if there are ways to strengthen the rotation.”

The Scarlett Hose have not had an arbitration hearing with a player since 2002, but it appears this could be the year under their new general manager.  “We wouldn’t rule out a hearing,” Cherington said Thursday. “We had more cases this year than we’ve had in a while. We were able to settle five of those and we have four remaining and we’ll continue dialogue to see if there’s a settlement with any of those four.” The Red Sox have four players who are arbitration eligible, including David Ortiz, Alfredo Aceves, Daniel Bard and Andrew Bailey.  Of course, Ortiz is the biggest name. The DH accepted arbitration last month and rejected the team’s two-year, $18 million offer. The sides exchanged offer sheets this week and are $4 million apart, with Ortiz asking for $16.5 million and the Sox offering $12.65 million.

While Cherington downplayed the need for adding another outfielder in the wake of Carl Crawford’s wrist surgery Tuesday, the Red Sox can be expected to continue their search for outfield help before the Feb. 19 opening of spring training. The Sox have Jacoby Ellsbury in center field and recently added the left-handed hitting Ryan Sweeney, who was an above average defender in Oakland and was expected to get first crack at the majority of playing time in right field. The team also has Darnell McDonald to play against left-handers; Ryan Kalish, who is recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder; and Mike Aviles, an infielder who has been playing outfield in the Puerto Rican winter league.

The best available free agent remaining on the market would appear to be Cody Ross, who was paid $6.3 million by the Giants last season. Of course, the Sox could also look for help via trade.

Fact or Fiction…. ?

Many an MLB analyst, ‘insider’ and blogger have touched upon the subject of Kevin Youkilis and the possibility of his being traded during the 2012 calendar year.

It’s not that Youk has outlived his welcome, been branded a loss or some clubhouse miscreant.  It’s because he’s a valuable commodity.  That and both Will Middlebrooks and Jose Iglesias could be making regular appearances on the big-club by September, should their minor league seasoning go as planned.

Youk is only going to be traded to a team that needs him.  The Sox aren’t waving the flag for a 33-year-old 3B who finished the last two seasons with injuries around the league.  The interested team will have a specific need for an established veteran 1B/DH platoon (not necessarily a 3B) who gobbles up at at-bats like Skittles… a need so great that they’ll part with a young MLB ready starter.  Period.

There are clubs out there… they’re all the one’s whose faces are turning blue waiting for Prince Fielder to make a decision.  Think of Youk bitch-slapping Bryce Harper in Washington as a calming influence on a young team.  Picture Youk in Texas filling the 1B/DH spot behind Hamilton, Beltre or Napoli in the line-up.  Ooh, maybe he’ll give Ryan Braun the fish eye, you know.. after the 50 game suspension is over, for the Brew Crew. Or maybe even a package deal to Seattle for King Felix.  And then there are teams who just need to bolster their line-up in front of or behind a veteran bomber.  Think of him (gasp!) setting the table for King Albert in LA as a 3B/1B/DH platoon.

I don’t want to see him go, but the business side of the game beckons and the truth may be obvious… Youkillis won’t be as productive a 3B for the long haul as he would a 1B or DH.  He plays too hard, too heartily and too old-fashioned,  the way he should,  to not breakdown over the span of the season.  I love Youk.  He reminds me of Bill Mueller, Mike Stanley or Dwight Evans… guys who go between the foul lines, play their heart out and don’t ask for or expect the attention for their fairly quiet, continuous production.  Dustin Pedroia is made in the same mold.   The other ‘one-five’ echoed this style as well, but Millar’s personality and media savvy attitude served as a shield for his teammates and allowed them to just be themselves on the grandest stages.  Youk can easily pick up the 1B/DH platoon with Adrain Gonzalez… once Big Papi has retired.

Obviously, this war or worried words will be continuing well into the season.  A tell-tale sign will come as soon as the ink dries on Prince Fielder’s contract.  The vultures will then turn eyes to guys like Casey Kotchman and Carlos Pena while the serious contender watches Youk’s spring training sessions and Grapefruit League games.  I’d expect the beginning of March and then the beginning of July to be a real scale of the honest interest in his services.  Youkilis’ return from injury combined with Lars Anderson returning to form could obviously dicate how the Sox approach their future trades.

“Aftershock”

That was the headline in St. Louis ‘the morning after’, or the first day of ‘AD’ on the Cardinals calendar.  Albert Departed.

Folks can me mad.  They can blow up their Face_space pages,  jump on My Tube with clips of burning their Pujols jersey,  call the talk radio, be Twits on Twitter and blah blah blah…

But life will continue long past December 8th.

12/8/11; the Anniversary of John Lennon’s murder on the doorstep of the Dakota.  The day following the Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It will go on past this coming Saturday (the press conference in LA to announce Pujols official signing) and past the second week in February when players begin reporting for Spring Training.

The fans wanted it.  The team would have liked it.  Stan ‘The Man’ had hoped for it.  But as Ozzie Smith said, “.. It wasn’t meant to be.”

But, let’s look at it seriously.  Yes, The Los Angeles Angels made a splash.  A massive free agent splash.  But, they signed a 31-year-old player whose numbers have begun to show a slight decline.  In the end, St. Louis is breathing a sigh of relief (hence why they allowed him to become a FA in the first place).  Sure, it sucks to lose the greatest player of his generation, no doubt.  However, in five years, St. Louis will be coasting as a perennial contender and Pujols will be the DH in LA.  The Red Birds can invest that money a bit more wisely in a solid number three and four starter, a power hitting outfielder and make plans to find a slugging first baseman to succeed Lance Berkman next year.

It stings.  But it’s the business side of The Game.

Oh yeah, The Angels also signed C.J. Wilson to a five-year deal to augment one of the better starting rotations in the American League.    Amazing what a $3Billion television contract can do for a team, a fan base and a city.  (potential Dodgers owners had best be paying attention)  And please don’t be surprised if the Angels aren’t done yet.

Good thing there’s a second Wild Card now.

 

And I don’t care what Nolan Ryan says, The Rangers are going to make a play for Prince Fielder.  They don’t need to sign him for 7 or 10 years…  sign him for four or five years at the higher annual salary, win two or three WS Titles and let him hit the market again.  Go into the next few years with a bona-fide first baseman who can crush the ball in your ball park, use the time to cultivate a prospect 1B for when Prince makes the move to platoon 1B/DH and bask in the glory of the AL West.  Now they have to keep pace with the Angels not vice-versa… it’s an even playing field at this point…  because even after Houston joins the division in ’13, it’s still a two-horse race for the next half decade.

 

Aside from signing Bobby V., the Sox had no unexpected happenings at the Winter Meetings.  We’ll discuss the new manager and Big Papi’s return in a further entry as well as some of the big happenings across Florida and how all of it may affect the Scarlet Hose.

Let’s take a closer look…

With nearly 200 Free Agents on the market this winter, there’s oodles of Hot Stove speculation, especially since The Red Sox didn’t make the playoffs and both the Phillies and Yankees dropped out in the first round.

Looking at the list, here are a few FA’s that I feel the Sox should give consideration and in the order most of the experts have them ranked.

C.J. Wilson, SP:  Wilson is the top pitcher in the market and deservedly so.  He’s won 15 games the last two seasons as part of the Texas Rangers machine but fell apart in this years playoff run.  The talent pool for starters is thin and Wilson will probably command a greater price tag than the $82 million or so both John Lackey and A.J. Burnett received, and that would be a lot for a guy who’d project as the 3rd or 4th starter.  Inquire but move on.  (Signed by LA Angels @ Winter Meetings)

Roy Oswalt, SP: Oswalt, as he did in Philadelphia, could fill the #4 hole in the Sox rotation, but as the Phillies already established by declining his option, it won’t be for silly money.  Chances are he could return to Philly, but the Rangers (he’s established in the Lone Star State) and probably Yankees will inquire with some real interest.   

David Ortiz, DH/1B: Big Papi would be foolish to leave his folk-hero status in Beantown but this is a business and easily his last chance at the big paycheck.  Aside from the Scarlet Hose, I feel the Angels and Rangers could be real contenders for his services while Toronto, Seattle, Minnesota and Cleveland test the waters.  The ‘Bombers could send out a phone call or two just to p!ss of Sox fans.  (Accepted arbitration from Boston)

Mark Buehrle, SP:  Many ‘in the know’ have mentioned St. Louis as a possibility while others believe he’ll stay put in Chicago.  He’s a good talent and calming presence worth a look.  Since Texas, Miami, possibly the Angels and probably Yankees will be looking, we should too.  (Signed by Miami Marlins @ Winter Meetings)

Jonathan Papelbon, RP:  Cherington has said he’d love to bring back both Ortiz and Papelbon for deals that make sense to everyone… however Pap’ is the best closer on the market and will be of interest to Philadelphia, possibly Miami (a showboat presence for a showboat manager) and any other team who can both spend big and be a contender.  If he’s not in Boston, look in the Phillies bullpen. (Signed by Philadelphia 11/13)

Ryan Madson, RP: Philly could be looking to keep him as he might be an alternative to Papelbon or a Heath Bell.  Madson has progressed nicely over the past few seasons and depending on what Boston plans to do with Daniel Bard or Aceves (convert them or make one closer in waiting), with or without Pap’, Ryan should be on the radar. (Signed by Cincinnati 1/11/12)

Grady Sizemore, OF: Sizemore is not the Indians slugger from just a few scant years ago, but he is still only 29 and worth a look.  A year removed from microfracture surgery most believe Grady should be eased back in to a starring role, getting 70 to 80 starts as a OF/DH platoon.  Rushing back to be the Cleveland slugger and star outfielder may have been what caused his several setbacks.  He could be worth a one or two-year deal to a big market team with room for him in such a situation.  Both he and Josh Willingham present better alternatives to Carlos Beltran (whom I omitted from this list). (Signed by Cleveland 11/29)

Heath Bell, RP: All signs point to Bell staying put in San Diego but he’s definitely worth the effort of a phone call or two should the Papelbon contract drag out or just not materialize.  (Signed by Miami Marlins @ Winter Meetings)

Josh Willingham, OF: Willingham played in Oakland whose stadium, the O.co, is massive and still put out 15 homers and a respectable slugging percentage.  Now, put that right-handed bat in Fenway and watch his numbers flourish.  He could platoon well in RF and present a viable option to Carlos Beltran. (Signed by Minnesota 12/14)

Paul Maholm, SP:  A left-hander on the market is going to get attention no matter what (see Darren Oliver and soon to be returning Jamie Moyer), so at 29 Maholm could be worth a look.  He finished the season with a shoulder problem sending him to the DL, but his consistency to cause grounders could be a great lefty complement to Lester in the rotation. (Signed by Chicago Cubs 1/10/12)

Jonathan Broxton, RP:  He’s a reclamation project coming back from non-reconstructive elbow surgery, but then again the Sox love those low-risk high-reward incentive laden contract players.  With the way the bullpen collapsed in September, call him.  (Signed by KC Royals 11/29)

Kerry Wood, RP:  Wood has salvaged his career as a late-inning specialist (if only Brad Penny would follow his lead) and put the gloom of lost potential in the past.  The Sox considered him at the trade deadline the last two seasons, so there’s no reason not to consider him now.  (Signed by Chicago Cubs 1/13/2012)

Jim Thome, DH:  Thome could present a poor man’s solution to David Ortiz should Big Papi take his talents elsewhere.  Thome is a legendary clubhouse presence and could still hit a few of those HOF home runs at Fenway’s friendly confines.  I expect he’ll return to Cleveland (if the Indians ‘do the right thing’) but anyone in the AL who can’t land Ortiz or Beltran may come calling. (Signed by Philadelphia 11/5)

Hideki Matsui, DH/OF:  Like Thome, Godzilla could find a late career flourish in Fenway as Big Papi’s replacement.  He’s still a threat in the middle of the line-up and my gut tells me he’ll continue the pilgrimage north (LA to Oakland) to Seattle and play alongside Ichiro for the Japanese owned Mariners.

Takashi Saito, RP:  He’s older but still a workable component to a bullpen.  Plus, we’ve had him before.  Worth the look.  (Signed by Arizona 12/12)

Brian Sanches, RP:  A young arm who was worn out by the Marlins bullpen.  Placed in the right situation, he could be a valuable addition to a pen armed with Jenks, Bard and Papelbon.

Jason Varitek, C:  ‘Tek appeared to adapt well to his new role of mentor/back-up to ‘Salty for the majority of the season.  As a tag team, their numbers were comparable to many others at catcher in the league, especially during the mid-months when the Sox were the best team in all of baseball.  Ryan Lavarnway is still at least a half-season from a steady role on the big club, and while some have called for any old veteran to back-up ‘Salty, I say stick with what works.  Let him continue to groom Jarrod, then work more with Lavarnway and transition from mentor to his next life as an MLB coach and future manager.  His silence during ‘The Fallout of Francona’ and ‘Pitcher-gate’ (after all, he is The Captain) is the only reason I could see him not being offered a return.  As many Yankees fans have noted in regards to FA Jorge Posada, I can’t see ‘Tek in another uniform. 

Tim Wakefield, SP/RP:  Like Varitek, The Time Lord is a proven veteran commodity for the Sox.  He can pitch from wherever he is asked to and can flash that knuckleball on many an occasion.  He’s 6 wins away from tying both Clemens and Young for all time on the Red Sox wins list, and could easily get there with a solid rebound year.  While he too was silent during ‘The Fallout of Francona’ as well as ‘Pitcher-gate’, he’s an established veteran that could assist the new manager in the rotation, bullpen and clubhouse.  Though, like in the case of ‘Tek, it may just be sentimentality.