Tag:MLB Hot Stove
Posted on: January 20, 2012 5:10 pm
 

Pena, Scott smart moves for Tampa Bay Rays

Carlos Pena to Tampa Bay is cute in a homecoming sort of way, sure. But could it be more than that? You bet.

Ever so quietly -- as usual -- the Rays are working smart and putting together another team down there by the water that will give the Yankees, Red Sox and everyone else fits this summer.

Maybe Pena, at 33, struggles to stay above the Mendoza Line anymore. But he did whack 28 homers for the Cubs last summer while collecting 80 RBI, which was exactly ... 28 more homers and 79 more RBI than the Rays got from Manny Ramirez in 2011.

Nobody, surely starting with the Rays, is expecting Pena to replicate his 2009 All-Star season (39 homers, 100 RBIs).

But Pena trumps Manny by about 1,000 miles both on the field and in the clubhouse. Together, Pena and Luke Scott, whom the Rays added as a DH bat earlier this month, should be a much more productive first base/DH combination than last year's Casey Kotchman/Johnny Damon tag team.

In fact, the Rays last summer ranked dead last among major-league first basemen in 2011 in both runs scored and RBI. Overall, Tampa Bay's 707 runs scored ranked eighth in the AL.

In Pena and Scott, they should get more production. And with a killer rotation in James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis and rookie Matt Moore or Jeff Niemann -- the Rays' 3.58 ERA in 2011 was second in the AL only to the Angels' -- there is no reason why it shouldn't carry Joe Maddon's club deep into September once again.
Posted on: January 18, 2012 5:35 pm
 

Yu Darvish, Texas Ranger

That the Rangers got the Yu Darvish deal done is no surprise.

Neither is it a surprise that the talks pretty much extended all the way to Tuesday's 5 p.m. EDT deadline.

Now ... will it be a surprise if Darvish immediately becomes the Rangers' ace?

Hmmm. ...

The airspace from Japan to the major leagues has been turbulent for pitchers, but so many scouts say Darvish is no Daisuke Matsuzaka or Hideki Irabu (or Kei Igawa). Across the board, that's a good thing for Texas.

Most importantly, the Rangers themselves are betting that there will be no surprises, that Darvish is ace material. They got exactly what they wanted in essentially exchanging Darvish for C.J. Wilson, and they got exactly what they wanted in getting it done with a six-year deal instead of a five. (Thus keeping him out of the free agent market for an extra year).

Texas' total commitment is $111 million, given the $60 million plus the $51 million posting price, and who knows, maybe there even will be money left over for Prince Fielder. The Rangers steadfastly have downplayed that possibility, but they do have the money and the potential for a monster winter remains.

A good day overall for the Rangers, who have watched AL West rival Los Angeles sign Albert Pujols and Wilson this winter while waiting patiently to put their own plans in motion.

But despite his credentials in Japan, Darvish still comes to Texas as less of a proven commodity than, say, Cliff Lee when the Rangers acquired him at midseason in 2010. Darvish must prove that he can adjust to a longer schedule, pitching every five days, a different culture, a different baseball, the Texas heat and living away from his family. Among other things.

Wilson helped pitch the Rangers to consecutive World Series in 2010 and 2011. He worked 223 1/3 innings last year and 204 innings two summers ago. He made 77 starts over those two seasons and won 31 decisions. He was not nails in the postseason, however, and he had run his course.

There was absolutely no way the Rangers were going to re-sign him, certainly not at anything remotely close to the $77.5 million he got over five years from the Angels.

They did not like the prospect of their return on that investment, and they have not liked how the past two seasons have turned out despite the World Series appearances.

"We've had some success the last two years, but we haven't been able to close it out," general manager Jon Daniels said last month on the night it was revealed that the Rangers won the right to negotiate exclusively with Darvish. "That's our goal. Put the best possible club out there and win a championship."

That goal only gets harder, never easier, as players age and opponents adjust. The Angels have stolen all the headlines this winter and there is no question -- on paper -- they are better post-Pujols.

Baseball men who have watched Darvish pitch, both in Japan and on video, swear that he is by far the best pitcher to come out of Japan. Best stuff, strongest, most developed, most confident.

They Rangers right now have $111 million saying that's right.

As for the rest, well, across the AL West, the Angels are feeling pretty, pretty good about themselves right now. But with Darvish -- and with Fielder still free -- it would be a colossal mistake to curb your enthusiasm where the Rangers are concerned.

Posted on: January 12, 2012 8:30 pm
 

Owners play Lucy to Moorad's Charlie Brown

Easy to see why John Moores' anger flashed quickly at the owners' meetings on Thursday. He wants his money and he wants out of baseball.

But the riveting question now after fellow owners pushed the pause button on the impending transfer of the Padres from Moores to Jeff Moorad is, will it happen?

Or will Moorad be left standing in the on deck circle?

Commissioner Bud Selig cited "economic concerns" as the reason for the delay. Meanwhile, ownership sources with multiple clubs hesitated to predict where this thing will go next.

"Usually, when you get to this point, it's teed up," one person said. "The fact that it did not get voted on shows significant financial questions."

Translation: When a person is allowed to begin running a club, as Moorad was the Padres beginning in the spring of 2009, approval by other owners usually is just a formality.

The fact that there were enough "red flags" to leave the owners' executive committee asking for more answers, however, at best slows the process and keeps the Padres' finances flat and, at worst, could torpedo the entire sale. That would leave Moores, who had intended to divest the 51 percent he still owns in the club once the money owed by Moorad was deposited in December, back at the starting point.

Few want that, and though Moorad has made several enemies among owners from his days as an agent, those with knowledge of this snag say reasons are purely financial, not personal.

Selig promised Moores and Moorad that the process will move "expeditiously." The next quarterly owners' meeting is in May, though one person suggested Thursday that Selig could convene a vote via conference call in 60 or 90 days if the financial questions are answered.

Moores, who will receive about $530 million total for the Padres, a club he purchased in 1995, was angry enough at the delay that he refused to vote in favor of the two-year extension Selig received, which went 29-1 in the commissioner's favor.
Posted on: January 11, 2012 5:10 pm
Edited on: January 11, 2012 7:07 pm
 

Prince Fielder intrigue continues to build

So why hasn't Prince Fielder signed yet while Albert Pujols has been sitting back and counting that 10-year, $254 million deal for weeks?

Plenty of reasons. Mostly, as Boras would tell you, because the market is still developing.

Start with the fact that the two clubs who in recent years have helped establish the ga-zillion dollar markets -- the Yankees and Red Sox -- are sitting this one out. New York has a long-term first baseman in Mark Teixeira, as Boston does with Adrian Gonzalez.

Beyond them, only a small handful of clubs can play ball at Fielder's asking price. Which, you can be sure, is a dollar or two more than Pujols is getting annually from the Angels.

From the start, barring a stunning early offer, Boras was in no hurry to sign Fielder. It was clear that Pujols would sign, the bar would be set, and then Boras/Fielder would look to exceed it.

Within that, as Boras has explained many times this winter, free agents at this level are ownership decisions. As he did when he represented Alex Rodriguez in 2000 and scored the 10-year, $252 million deal, Boras meets directly with owners (then-Rangers owner Tom Hicks, in that case).

That, too, takes time.

With the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels out, the Cubs, Mets and Dodgers are among the few who could afford Fielder.

The Cubs are under new management, and president Theo Epstein philosophically does not believe in awarding long-term contracts to the tune of seven, eight or more years to free agents. Consequently, they acquired Anthony Rizzo from the Padres this month, the idea being Rizzo will be Chicago's first baseman of the future.

The Mets and Dodgers, of course, have serious financial issues of their own. The Mets, who lost Jose Reyes to the Marlins this winter, are rebuilding and broke. The Dodgers are in the process of being sold.

So that leaves the next tier of suitors. And one other key component: With the Yankees and Red Sox on the sidelines, there is nobody to help drive up the price up via a bidding war.

Boras met with the Nationals several weeks ago. Those two have done several multi-million dollar deals in recent years, including the $126 million Jayson Werth contract last winter, and deals with recent top draft picks Stephen Strasburg (four-years, $15 million) and Bryce Harper (five years, $9.9 million).

The Mariners desperately need a middle-of-the-lineup bat. But whether the M's would spend that kind of dough remains to be seen ... as does whether Fielder would want to play in Safeco Field, notorious for diluting offensive numbers.

Asked at the winter meetings last month whether his client had a geographical presence, Boras quipped, "I just think he likes fences that are close to home plate. That's the geographics he likes."

Baltimore is another city that continues to be linked with Fielder. The Orioles are desperate for a clean-up hitter, not to mention a winner. Owner Peter Angelos has the money, though he is notoriously slow in wading through the free agent market.

Texas? The Rangers' deadline for signing pitcher Yu Darvish is next week. Some industry sources think the Rangers are holding off on Fielder while they negotiate with the Japanese free agent. Then, they'll either go full bore after Fielder if they don't sign Darvish (unlikely, they're expected to sign the pitcher) or see if there's a way to fit Fielder in after signing the pitcher.

The Blue Jays? Hmmm ... interesting thought, and lots of speculation surrounding them. Maybe the exchange rate is slowing those talks down.

Milwaukee remains in on the fringes, but only if the price falls.

Always, with Boras, there is the threat of a "mystery team" stepping up. No other agent in the game is as skilled at luring suitors down the path ... and then obtaining a pot of gold ... as Boras.

But now, as it gets deeper into January and an industry awaits Fielder's decision, it may take Boras' biggest play yet to get what he and his client want.
Posted on: January 6, 2012 3:51 pm
Edited on: January 6, 2012 4:12 pm
 

Another opening, another show for Rizzo

If Anthony Rizzo ever develops feet big enough for the shoes he's been supposed to fill over the past year ... well, he's going to have really, really big feet. And an All-Star career.

Last year, 22-year-old first baseman was the heir apparent to All-Star Adrian Gonzalez in San Diego.

Friday, he became the heir apparent to All-Star Prince Fielder in Chicago.

Well, not technically. Fielder never did play for the Cubs. But Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, Wrigleyville's new Glimmer Twins, effectively bowed out of the free-agent bidding for Fielder on Friday by acquiring Rizzo and minor-league pitcher Zach Cates from the Padres for right-hander Andrew Cashner and minor-league outfielder Kyung-Min Na.

The deal essentially brands Rizzo as the Cubs' first baseman of the future.

And however serious the Cubs were -- or weren't -- regarding Fielder, the nature of this winter will leave Rizzo attached to the Former Fresh Prince of Milwaukee regardless.

If Rizzo blossoms into a star, Cubs fans in the future will be heaving sighs of relief that their club didn't fork over half the franchise to Fielder.

If Rizzo flops, the Cubs will be answering pointed questions about their non-pursuit of Fielder for years.

Now, all Rizzo must do is grow into the role ... which is what Hoyer and Cubs assistant GM Jason McLeod had planned for Rizzo a year ago when the two executives were working for the Padres and acquired him from the Red Sox in the monster Gonzalez deal.

This is the second time Hoyer and McLeod have placed their bets on Rizzo in just over a year.

Now, it's up to Rizzo.

At Triple-A Tucson last summer, he was one of the most feared hitters in the game: .331, 26 homers, 101 RBIs, a .423 on-base percentage and a .652 slugging percentage.

But when he was summoned to San Diego in June to help boost an anemic lineup, Petco Park swallowed him whole. In 49 games (153 plate appearances), he batted .141 with one homer and nine RBIs.

"To be candid, I don't think I did Anthony any favors last year," Hoyer said on a conference call Friday afternoon. "He was leading Triple-A in RBIs by 20 percent and I called him up ... too early. It was a mistake on my part. I don't think I did Anthony any favors there."

Citing Rizzo's need for further development, Hoyer said he expects Bryan LaHair to open at first base for the Cubs and Rizzo to start at Triple-A Iowa come opening day.

Rizzo was rated this month as the No. 1 prospect in the Padres' system by Baseball America. He became expendable when San Diego acquired Yonder Alonso, also a left-handed hitting first baseman, from the Reds in the Mat Latos trade.

"This is now the third organization Jason and I have been in with Anthony, which speaks to how much we think of his ability and character," Hoyer said. "We expect him to be a middle-of-the-order run producer for a long time."

The Cubs steadfastly have not commented on Fielder this winter. As Hoyer said Friday when asked about a couple of potential Cuban free agents, "Discussing any free agent is something we're not going to do."

Dig the franchise out of its century-long World Series drought with big spending -- at least, right now -- is something Epstein, Hoyer and Co. are not going to do, either.

"Anytime you go with young players, it's the right thing to do," Hoyer said. "It's exciting to have young talent in the organization.

"There's no doubt that with young talent comes an adjustment period. ... It's nice to have a team with that upside because when you pass it, it can really explode.

"With young players comes growing pains and that's something we're prepared to deal with. ... The only way to be a great organization is to go through growing pains with young players and get to the end of that tunnel."

Posted on: December 22, 2011 9:21 pm
 

Pujols gone, but Cards can win with Beltran

File this under the Life Goes On Dept.:

The St. Louis Cardinals lost three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols ... and still may enter 2012 as NL Central favorites.

Yes, you read that right.

That's what two years and $26 million -- oh, and a full no-trade clause -- to free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran does for the Redbirds. No guarantees of course, because his knees have more mileage on them than Don Rickles. But if Beltran, at 34, can produce as he did as an All-Star last summer, look out.

Defending division champion Milwaukee is on the brink of losing Prince Fielder, and the Brewers could be without NL MVP Ryan Braun for the first third of 2012 if his suspension for a testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug is upheld. The Reds are coming off of a highly disappointing season and have young starters surrounded by lots of questions (Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Travis Wood, Mike Leake). The Cubs have miles to go. The Pirates fell off in the second half last season. Houston? Please.

In St. Louis, this isn't about the Beltran of 2006, when he played in 140 games and blasted 41 homers and collected 116 RBIs. That Beltran but a memory -- just as is the image of him standing there frozen at home plate, gawking at Adam Wainwright's knee-bending, Game 7 curve for strike three that sent the Cardinals, and not Beltran's Mets, to the World Series.

No, this is about how today's Beltran fits in with, yep, Wainwright and the rest of the post-Pujols Cardinals.

Wainwright should be sufficiently recovered from Tommy John ligament transfer surgery to start the season in the rotation. Add him to Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Kyle Lohse and that's a winning rotation. Always, you start with pitching.

Beltran alone would not solve St. Louis' issues, pre- or post-Pujols. But with Matt Holliday (left field) and Lance Berkman (first base) in place, and with promising outfielders Jon Jay (center field) and Allen Craig (right field), now you've got something. Beltran fits well into that rotation. Veteran Rafael Furcal back at shortstop, World Series hero David Freese at third base ... mm-hmmm, the Cardinals will miss Pujols, but they're still versatile and potent.

With all that, first-year manager Mike Matheny shouldn't need to ride Beltran into the ground. But with Craig probably set to open the season on the disabled list following November knee surgery, Beltran can plug into right field early, stabilize the outfield and add depth and power to the lineup.

When Craig returns, Matheny surely will have no problem finding enough at-bats for Beltran in center and right field.

If he's got his legs under him, his bat is still there: His .525 slugging percentage in 2011 for the Mets and Giants ranked eighth among NL outfielders. Overall, he batted .300 with 22 homers and 84 RBI in 142 games.

You can argue that St. Louis overpaid for a guy who turns 35 in late April. But Colorado gave Michael Cuddyer $31.5 million over three years. It's a lot of money, but it's also a short-term commitment for St. Louis.

In that short-term, especially when measured against the rest of the NL Central right now, it looks like smart money. Yes, Pujols is gone. But that doesn't necessarily mean turn out the lights in St. Louis.
Posted on: December 22, 2011 6:29 pm
 

Gio a princely acquisition for Nationals


Now that the on-the-move Nationals have snagged ace pitcher Gio Gonzalez in a prospect-heavy deal with Oakland, they've got a rotation that puts them squarely on the launching pad in the NL East and brings with it one obvious reaction.

For that, I turn to the Twitter account of one Bryce Harper, who exuberantly tweeted Thursday afternoon: "Now all we need to do is get Prince! hah."

Can you imagine?

The Nationals at least are camped on Prince Fielder's front doorstep, one of a number of clubs talking with the slugging first baseman as the winter shopping season hurtles toward its next big target. And the Nationals do have a very good relationship with Fielder's representative, Scott Boras -- see Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Jayson Werth, among others.

Maybe that's far-fetched dreaming. After all, Werth is only headed into Year Two of that $126 million deal. And though the Nationals are located near U.S. Mint headquarters in Washington, D.C., the printing presses that spit out currency are not located in Nationals Park. Would the Lerners have dough -- and, more importantly, the guts -- to roll with both Werth and Fielder?

Of course, after watching the long, torturous slog that brought them from Montreal to rat-infested RFK Stadium to present day, it's hard to believe that the Nationals are finally on the threshold of playing with the big boys in the NL East. But they are.

In Gonzalez, Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, they not only have a very good front three in their rotation, but they have a trio of young arms they can control for the next several years.

Even without Gonzalez and, essentially, Strasburg last year, the Nationals' 3.58 ERA ranked seventh in the majors.

Ryan Zimmerman is a Gold Glove third baseman and team leader, Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond are very solid in the middle of the infield, Wilson Ramos is the good, young catcher so many teams would love to have and Michael Morse, who can play first base or left field, is a monstrously strong young man who became a legitimate power threat in 2011. And people are dying to see whether Harper will make the club out of camp this spring.

Philadelphia is Philadelphia, Atlanta remains a force and the Marlins have spent more money than the Yankees this winter. The entire NL East will be playing at a higher level (well, everybody but the Mets).

For the Nationals to become kings of the divison, it just might take a Prince.

Failing that? The Nationals -- 80-81 last year, and 21 1/2 games behind the Phillies -- are moving from rebuilding to intriguing, and quickly.
Posted on: December 21, 2011 7:47 pm
Edited on: December 22, 2011 12:57 am
 

Beltran talks hot, Indians now in mix

Carlos Beltran continues to sort through interest from at least five clubs -- maybe more -- and hopes to make a decision by Christmas, sources with knowledge of the discussions say.

The Cardinals, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Rays were all said to be "in the mix" on Wednesday, and talks were heating up. By Wednesday night, the Indians had joined them in serious talks with the free agent outfielder.

Beltran is said to have offers for both two and three years, with the dollars varying significantly. He earned $20 million last season in the final summer of a seven-year, $119 million deal.

At this point, the six-time All-Star appears to be weighing his preferred city (cities?) against average annual value (AAV) in yearly salary. The many American League clubs involved suggest that, at this point in his career, teams view Beltran more as a designated hitter than as an everyday outfielder.

While Beltran still prefers the outfield, one source close to him said Wednesday that he would be open to DH'ing part-time.

One team that probably would offer Beltran the most time in the outfield is St. Louis. The Cardinals have been aggressive all along, especially since Albert Pujols signed with the Angels. St. Louis figures to move Lance Berkman to first base and go with Allen Craig in right field, with Matt Holliday in left and Jon Jay in center field. Beltran could mix in both in center and right in a rotating Cardinals cast.

Beltran has intrigued the Blue Jays all winter -- enough, according to a source, that their pursuit remained unchanged after it was revealed this week that the Rangers had won the posting for Japanese free agent pitcher Yu Darvish. In other words, did the Blue Jays, who were believed to be knee-deep in the Yarvish bidding, up their ante after losing the pitcher? No, they've been aggressive all along.

In Toronto, Beltran projects more as a DH-type, because the Jays, of course, have Jose Bautista in right field and Colby Rasmus in center. As of now, they've got newly acquired Ben Francisco, Travis Snider or Eric Thames in left field. Beltran has played very little left field in his career.

The Red Sox have had an exceptionally quiet off-season, losing closer Jonathan Papelbon to the Phillies and so far failing to add any significant pieces. They have been looking for a bat to lengthen their lineup, and with right-fielder J.D. Drew gone, Beltran makes some sense in Boston. Right field can be demanding in Fenway Park, however, with the configuration of the fence, and David Ortiz is back as the Red Sox DH.

Tampa Bay, on a tight budget, needs help at both first base and DH, where Johnny Damon got most of the at-bats last year.

The Indians have been scrounging around for ways to improve their offense all winter, and their late entry into the Beltran talks Wednesday added intrigue as the outfielder moves toward making a final decision. Cleveland has been a distant admirer before -- the Indians spoke with the Mets last July about acquiring him in a deal. Beltran had no-trade powers then and, eventually, approved a deal to San Francisco. The Giants talked about bringing him back early in the off-season but scotched that idea fairly quickly because of a tight budget.

Adding Beltran not only would give Cleveland another potent bat that it seeks, but also depth behind center fielder Grady Sizemore. Banged up severely in recent years, Sizemore has undergone five surgeries in the past two seasons, including one to fix a microfracture in his knee. The Indians are set at the corner outfield spots with Mickey Brantley and Shin Soo-Choo, and at DH with Travis Hafner.

Now 34, Beltran batted .300 with 22 homers, 84 RBI and a .385 on-base percentage in 142 games last summer for the Mets and Giants. He's had serious knee issues in the past but was strong enough to produce an All-Star season in 2011.

The Rockies also were talking with Beltran, but earlier this week they signed former Minnesota Twin Michael Cuddyer to a three-year, $31.5 million deal.
 
 
 
 
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