Posted on: November 17, 2011 2:28 am

Brewers hope to extend Greinke, Marcum

MILWAUKEE -- For now, the Brewers are focused on shortstops, and on a certain big-money first baseman.

But don't be surprised if the biggest money they hand out this winter goes to one or more pitchers already on the roster.

According to sources familiar with the team's plans, the Brewers intend to pursue contract extensions with starters Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, both of whom would be eligible for free agency after the 2012 season. The Brewers also plan to pursue long-term deals with some younger core players, including closer John Axford.

Greinke and Marcum were Milwaukee's two big acquisitions last winter, and the two contributed greatly to a 96-win season that gave the Brewers the National League Central crown.

It's very unlikely at this point that the Brewers will make any similarly high-profile acquisitions this winter, and even more unlikely that they'll re-sign free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder.

While the Brewers continue to talk to Fielder, they seem to have accepted the idea that he won't be back. And while they have talked to the agents for shortstops Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins, Brewers people say that they don't expect to be a serious contender for either one.

It's very possible, in fact, that the Brewers could end up bringing back Yuniesky Betancourt, their 2011 shortstop. And while they have discussed signing someone to replace Fielder at first base (Carlos Pena, for example), general manager Doug Melvin has talked more about giving Mat Gamel a chance at the job.

Owner Mark Attanasio is highly competitive, and never shy about spending money.

But Attanasio said Wednesday that just because the Brewers have the money to make an offer to Fielder, it doesn't follow that they would spend that money elsewhere if (when?) Fielder leaves.

"How you manage your payroll has to be opportunity-driven," Attanasio said. "We're not going to just fill the payroll for the sake of filling the payroll."

Attanasio and Melvin both made the point that the Brewers expect to contend in 2012, even without Fielder. They point to a solid core that includes Ryan Braun (who signed a long-term deal early last season), and a rotation that will return intact.

"Doug and I never felt we were 'all-in' for last year," Attanasio said.

They'd rather not be all-in for 2012, either, but extending their window of opportunity past next year would be a lot easier if they can keep together the rotation led by Greinke, Marcum and Yovani Gallardo.

Signing Greinke and Marcum this winter would make perfect sense, if it's possible.

The Brewers intend to find out if it is.

Posted on: November 15, 2011 9:10 pm

The White Sox could be . . . rebuilding?

MILWAUKEE -- The last time I mentioned rebuilding to Kenny Williams, he scoffed at the idea.

"You know me," the White Sox general manager said. "You know Ozzie. As competitive as we are, do you think we could accept rebuilding?"

That was a few years back.

Ozzie Guillen is gone. The White Sox went through a thoroughly frustrating and disappointing 2011 season.

Times have changed.

And now the White Sox are . . . rebuilding?

It sure sounds that way.

They're readier than ever to say good-bye to free agent starter Mark Buehrle, a mainstay in the Sox rotation since 2001. They're more willing than ever to trade starters John Danks and Gavin Floyd ("If you're going to trade one, you might as well trade both," one rival general manager said). They'd definitely deal Carlos Quentin. They could well be willing to deal Gordon Beckham.

If they do everything they want, Williams said Tuesday, they will definitely be rebuilding. If they do everything they want, Williams promises to even admit that they are rebuilding.

"I'd use [the word]," he said. "If we do this, I'd use it. Check with me in January."

The White Sox won't have a total makeover. It's not possible. No one is taking the Alex Rios contract, or the Adam Dunn contract.

And as for the players he can trade, Williams said he isn't just looking to fill specific needs.

"There are specific players it would take to get [Danks and/or Floyd]," he said. "Reasonable baseball deals. But impactful players. High-ceiling players."

High-ceiling young players, or exactly the kind of players you'd expect a rebuilding team to acquire.

Williams says this doesn't mean he'd be giving up on 2012. Fair enough, because talented young teams can win.

But with the White Sox very possibly rebuilding, and the Twins in a total state of flux, and the Indians and Royals still young, the Tigers may well be the biggest favorite of any team in any division next April.

"They'd be a heavy favorite," one National League general manager said Tuesday.

And the White Sox -- the Kenny Williams White Sox -- would be . . . rebuilding.
Posted on: November 15, 2011 1:34 am
Edited on: November 15, 2011 1:39 am

Red Sox, Cubs nearing choice on manager

MILWAUKEE -- The lists of candidates were almost identical. The schedules have been similar.

And sure enough, this week the Red Sox and Cubs have both reached the final stages of their twin searches for a new manager.

It appears that Dale Sveum is the leading candidate in Boston, and Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said Monday that Sveum will have his second interview on Wednesday. Sveum will meet with Red Sox ownership during the second interview.

Cherington said it's possible but not definite that another one of the five candidates already interviewed will also be brought back for a second interview and a meeting with ownership.

It's not as clear who the favorite is for the Cubs job, but club president Theo Epstein said Monday that they have reached the "decision-making phase this week."

Like Cherington, his former assistant in Boston, Epstein said that it's unlikely he'll add any candidates beyond those he has already interviewed. Unlike Cherington, Epstein said he may not conduct any in-person second interviews, and may instead present one choice to ownership for approval.

The Cubs also interviewed Sveum, as well as Pete Mackanin and Sandy Alomar Jr., both of whom were also candidates with the Red Sox. Mike Maddux, who turned down a chance to interview with the Red Sox, did interview with the Cubs.

Epstein said that Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer conducted a phone interview with DeMarlo Hale, who was the Red Sox bench coach under Terry Francona. Epstein refuses to publicly rule out Francona as a candidate, but it's considered highly, highly unlikely that he would get the job.

Sveum is a former third-base coach with the Red Sox, and Cherington said that familiarity with Boston is a plus. But there's more than that.

"I felt a comfort with him on a personal level," Cherington said.

Cherington said he hopes to have his new manager in place before Thanksgiving.
Posted on: November 15, 2011 1:16 am
Edited on: November 15, 2011 1:18 am

Angels among 8-9 teams interested in C.J. Wilson

MILWAUKEE -- The most popular pitcher at the general managers' meetings is in Japan.

Not from Japan. In Japan, on vacation.

C.J. Wilson is headed home Friday, on his 31st birthday. He won't have a new contract and a 2012 team by then, but based on the early interest, he'll have plenty of choices and a chance to make plenty of money.

In fact, early indications are that Wilson could well command a six-year contract.

Agent Bob Garber, who shuttled from meeting to meeting on Monday, wouldn't comment on that, but did say that there are 8-9 teams interested in Wilson, and that he hopes to narrow the group to the four or five most interested teams before more serious negotiations begin.

Garber had dinner Monday with new Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto, who did little to hide his interest in stealing Wilson away from the rival Rangers.

"Obviously, we have interest," Dipoto said. "I hope C.J. feels the same way. We'll find out."

The Angels would seem to be set at the top of their rotation, with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. But as Dipoto said, "I don't know that you can ever have enough pitching."

Wilson grew up in Southern California, but Garber said his ultimate decision on where to sign will "really have nothing to do with location."

Wilson hasn't at all ruled out a return to the Rangers, and Garber said the idea of chasing a third straight trip to the World Series has appeal. The Rangers haven't ruled out re-signing Wilson, either, but with the level of interest elsewhere, it seems unlikely that he'll remain in Texas.

Wilson has had two strong seasons as a starter, going past 200 innings each year and finishing with a combined 31-15 record. He had a poor October this year, going 0-3 with a 5.79 ERA in six starts, but that doesn't seem to have hurt his market appeal.

The Washington Post reported Monday that the Nationals have interest in Wilson, as well as in Roy Oswalt, another Garber client. Garber spent some time with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo Monday evening.

Posted on: November 14, 2011 5:22 pm

Kemp signs, and 2013 free-agent class takes a hit

MILWAUKEE -- Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder made it to the free-agent market.

Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez didn't.

It's always fun to look a few years down the line to see who what treats each year's free-agent marketplace will offer.

And it's always important to remember that those treats may or may not reach the market.

Matt Kemp could have been a free agent next winter. Jered Weaver could have, too.

Kemp and Weaver chose to take the big money upfront and stay in Southern California instead.

For now, Matt Cain and Cole Hamels remain on the list of possible 2012-13 free agents. In fact, right now Matt Cain and Cole Hamels probably top the list of 2012-13 free agents.

Hamels may not make it to the market, either. The Phillies would like to sign him to a long-term deal this winter.

Cain may not make it there, either. And it wouldn't exactly be shocking if Zack Greinke (another potential 2012-13 free agent) stays in Milwaukee.

The 2012-13 class was never going to match this winter's class. There wasn't a Fielder, and there wasn't a Pujols. There wasn't a Verlander or a Felix, two ace starters who would have been free agents this winter if they hadn't signed long-term deals with their own teams.

With Kemp and Weaver, though, the class would have featured a potential MVP and a potential Cy Young winner.

Without them, it just doesn't look as good.

Posted on: November 14, 2011 5:01 pm

With Kemp deal, post-McCourt Dodgers have arrived

MILWAUKEE -- So this is what the Dodgers will look like without Frank McCourt.

This is what the Dodgers should look like.

The McCourt Dodgers were a team with a lower payroll than the Twins. The McCourt Dodgers were known for the people who stayed away, the people (fans and players) who left.

The post-McCourt Dodgers will be a big-market team again.

The post-McCourt Dodgers will be the Dodgers again.

We suspected that already. We have more proof of it now, and it doesn't matter that it was McCourt who appeared with Matt Kemp on Monday, after the 27-year-old star outfielder agreed to one of the biggest contracts in baseball history.

McCourt is on the way out, and this contract is just another reminder that he'll soon be gone.

The Dodgers could sign Kemp for $160 million because anyone who would even think about owning the Dodgers could easily afford a contract like that. The Dodgers could sign Kemp for $160 million because it makes sense for a team like this to keep a player like this.

Baseball understands that it makes no sense to keep teams working through bankruptcy (and through court-supervised ownership changes) to continue operating at a high level. It's why the Rangers were able to trade for Cliff Lee in 2010, even as their sale was in progress.

And it's why the Dodgers were able to commit to Kemp, even though Frank McCourt hasn't yet officially left the building.

It never made sense that the Dodgers would have trouble keeping star players they wanted to keep.

It still doesn't make sense that the Mets aren't able to bid seriously on Jose Reyes, and that they could well lose Reyes to the formerly low-budget Marlins.

Someday, the Mets will rejoin the ranks of the big-market clubs.

The Dodgers just did.

They signed a guy who will finish in the top two or three in Most Valuable Player voting when the award is announced next week. He might even win it.

They signed a guy who would have been a free agent after the 2012 season, which is why he had to be signed this winter (and why the Dodgers couldn't wait until a new owner took over).

It's the biggest contract the Ddogers have ever given out, the biggest contract any National League team has ever given out. Five years from now, we may be saying it's a bad contract -- but we could be saying that about any long-term deal.

That's the risk of doing business, the risk of playing with baseball's big boys.

It's a risk that teams like the Dodgers have no choice but to take, but it's also a risk that teams like the Dodgers can afford to take.

Under Frank McCourt, the Dodgers became a franchise that gave away any big-market advantage it had. They were a team that preferred to give away prospects rather than to spend a few extra bucks in a trade.

They were a team that wasn't in on the big free agents, and was no certainty to even keep its own free agents.

They weren't what they should be. They will be again.

The change won't be complete until the new owner walks in the door, and McCourt finally walks away.

But change is coming, and Monday was a sign of what the Dodgers will look like when it does.

Category: MLB
Posted on: November 11, 2011 4:38 pm

Lots of money, but Phillies get their closer

Typical Phillies.

Lots of money. A little intrigue. And the best guy on the market ends up at Citizens Bank Park.

They needed a closer, with Ryan Madson heading into free agency. And after a strange week in which they agreed (or didn't agree) on a deal that would have paid Madson $11 million a year, they agreed (this time for real) on a contract that will pay Jonathan Papelbon a little more than $12 million a year.

Papelbon has a deal with the Phillies, sources confirmed to on Friday afternoon. He'll get $50 million for four years, with a vesting option for a fifth year.

The Phillies get a soon-to-be 31-year-old closer who has more than just survived in the American League East, with 219 saves for the Red Sox over the last six years (third in baseball behind Francisco Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera). They get a guy who has closed out a World Series, a guy coming off a strong year.

They get a guy who will go into the season as the no-doubt closer . . . something Madson never did in nine full seasons in Philadelphia.

Remember, when Brad Lidge was hurt last spring, the Phillies didn't hand Madson the ninth inning. They left him in the eighth inning, and put Jose Contreras in the ninth -- until Contreras got hurt.

Madson eventually proved he could handle the job. He ended up with 32 saves (one more than Papelbon), and the Phillies felt comfortable enough to try to bring him back.

Depending on who you want to believe, they may even have offered him $44 million for four years, a deal that sources close to Madson said he agreed to. Phillies sources insisted that no such deal was ever made.

We may never know the full truth. We do know that the Phillies, who had already been talking to Papelbon even as they negotiated with Madson, eventually decided to sign the ex-Red Sox closer instead.

We also know that Papelbon is a safer bet than Madson, basically the same age and with a much longer and better track record as a closer. Madson looked good in 2011, but in a role where success is often a year-to-year thing, it's very easy to say you'd rather have Papelbon.

The Red Sox would have rather kept him, and now they're left without a closer. They'll be in on Madson, and also Heath Bell, who are the top two remaining closers on the market.

Madson is left without a deal. He'll have interest from the Red Sox, and also possibly from the Rangers, Nationals and others. There are lots of closers available (Rodriguez is also on the market), and plenty of teams that could use one.

Meanwhile, the Phillies have done what they always do, what they did last winter when they signed Cliff Lee, what they did when they traded for Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence.

They spent big, and they went out and got the best guy out there.

It doesn't guarantee that they'll win, obviously not. Putting Halladay and Lee together in a dream rotation didn't guarantee the Phillies a title, either.

It does get their offseason off to a flying -- and typical -- start. They still need to find a shortstop (retaining incumbent Jimmy Rollins is their obvious preference), and they'd still like to find an outfield bat (Michael Cuddyer seems to be the top choice, although not at his current asking price).

But finding a closer was general manager Ruben Amaro's top task this winter.

It cost him a lot. It wasn't at all simple.

But in the end, he got the best one available.
Posted on: November 10, 2011 6:14 pm

Aoki is available, Darvish may (or may not) be

Yu Darvish is the Japanese player you know about.

Norichika Aoki is the one you don't.

Should you?

Depends on who you ask, but we already know one thing about Aoki that we don't yet know about Darvish, the Japanese pitching star who many big-league teams covet: Aoki is definitely going to be posted by his Japanese team this winter, and thus will be available to a major-league team willing to pay for him.

Two or three years ago, there would have been a long line of teams. Aoki, a center fielder with the Yakult Swallows, is a three-time batting champion with speed, compared by some to Shane Victorino.

But he's 29 years old, coming off a bad year, and battling the perception that he doesn't always work hard enough.

"His skills have eroded," said one scout who follows the Japanese market. "Five years ago, I really liked him."

So when the Swallows announced Thursday that they will put him through the posting system, it didn't exactly set off the same stir there will be when Darvish is posted by the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Ah, but when will that be?

The expectation for a long time would be that it will happen this winter, and it still could. But one international scout who knows the Japanese market well predicted Thursday that the Fighters will wait until next winter to offer Darvish to a big-league team.

Under the posting system, big-league teams submit sealed bids for the right to negotiate with the player. The Japanese team can accept or reject the highest bid, and if the bid is accepted the player has 30 days to work out a contract with that one big-league team.

Whenever he shows up, Darvish will be the biggest Japanese star to be posted since Daisuke Matsuzaka, whose negotiating rights cost the Red Sox $51 million in 2006. Matsuzaka later signed a six-year, $52 million contract.

Some people believe Darvish could cost even more, even if Matsuzaka's struggles in Boston give some teams pause.

"Darvish is better," one scout said. "He has a better body, better overall stuff, and he hasn't been overpitched as much. He's also a little more Westernized."

"He has legit front-line starter stuff," another scout said.

But he's not available yet. Aoki is.

"At one time, he was one of the best players there," one of the scouts said.

How much is he worth now?

We'll soon find out.

Category: MLB
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