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Looking ahead to a wild winter

 

By Adam Hoff

 

Just when you thought that the World Series was the culmination of baseball excitement, along comes the offseason.  It’s doubtful that anything will compare to the wild winter of a year ago – with the A-Rod trade and near-trade, Schilling deal, Vlad/Sheffield debate, and all the other massive moves – but there’s no doubt that we are in for another crazy couple of months of wheeling and dealing.  Will the Yankees reach $250 million in payroll?  Can the Red Sox keep the team that beat the Curse together?  Where will the next Barry Bonds (Beltran) wind up?  How much money can Carl Pavano steal?  It’s going to be riveting.  Here are my best guesses at who goes where this winter. 

 

Carlos Beltran – And then there were three.  At least a dozen teams had Beltran in their sights in late-August, but after his postseason for the ages, only the Yankees, Astros, and Cubs appear to remain in the hunt.  All three have a shot for different reasons.  The Yankees because they have the most money and they always outbid everyone.  The Astros because Beltran seems like he may be the rare player that will make his choice based on fit (he loves it there).  And the Cubs because they might be and should be desperate enough.  Let’s just put it this way, you look at Beltran and you just know that he will be leading a team to a World Series title in the next five years.  If you’re a team that hasn’t even been to a World Series in more than a half-century, wouldn’t you do whatever it takes to get that player? 

 

Prediction – Beltran stays in Houston.  The Yanks will make the biggest offer (something like eight years, $150 mil) and the Cubs will make a strong run at him, but the Astros will simply make him feel at home.  Plus, Houston will make up for the lower price tag by giving him the long term deal he’s looking for.  Nine years, $120 million sounds about right. 

 

Richie Sexson.  Let’s see,, the D-Backs are trying to screw him over.  He’s from the Northwest.  The Mariners need him in the worst way.  Is there any doubt how this one should turn out?

 

Prediction – Mariners.  The monkey wrench here is if Seattle decides to pursue Delgado instead. 

 

Randy Johnson – He’s old and expensive, but teams are lining up to make the D-Backs an offer for the Big Unit.  And why not?  Three of the five best pitchers in baseball this season (long with Jason Schmidt and the immortal Johan Santana) were all playing baseball way back in the ‘80’s.  Clemens won his seventh Cy Young at age 42, Curt Schilling became a Boston hero at age 38 (on a ruined ankle), and Randy Johnson had better stats than all of them at the ripe age of 41.  If you look beyond the won-loss record, the Unit had better numbers than any pitcher in baseball, with the exception of Supernatural Santana.  If you are a team like the White Sox, Phillies, or Cardinals – teams with just enough money to work something out – you’d be crazy not to make a move.

 

Prediction – You can’t rule out the Yankees here, but if their baseball people win out over The Boss, they won’t acquire any more old timers.  Their management staff knows they have to get young players this time around.  The White Sox seem to be the best bet since they can send Paul Konerko and some young pitching to the D-Backs, but my gut tells me that he winds up in St. Louis.  The Cardinals were close enough to taste a title this year and everyone knows that the missing piece was a dominant starting pitcher.  I think they’ll let Renteria walk and take a run at it.  They can package young starter Danny Haren (pride pf Pepperdine, looked great in his long relief appearances) and some prospects to snag the most dominant arm in the NL.  It’s worth it. 

 

Pedro Martinez – This will be interesting.  It seems weird to imagine a Red Sox team defending it’s title without Pedro.  Apparently, they feel they same as they offered him a very nice 2-year, $25 million deal.  Two months ago that deal maxes out at two years and about $19 million.  But his gritty postseason and World Series gem – not to mention the increased velocity that came with it – have upped his price tag.  The Yankees are split on him; management again wants to go young, George wants to acquire stars and screw the Red Sox.  That will be a fun subplot to watch, but Pedro can’t really go play for Daddy, can he?  Say it isn’t so.  The Cardinals will make a run at Pedro.  The Padres are a great fit.  The Angels are developing a reputation for overpaying for pitching.  You want to believe that it will come down to the Sox-Yanks yet again, but this actually feels wide open.

 

Prediction – The Cards might be hungry enough to give him $40 mil over three years, but if they do turn their sights to Randy Johnson, that rules them out.  I read somewhere that San Diego would be the best fit and that really makes a lot of sense.  Great ballpark for Pedro.  Multiple starts against weak offenses like Arizona and Los Angeles.  Match-ups with Barry.  No DH to pitch to.  Most importantly, warm weather all the time.  Even though my head tells me sunny SoCal, my heart tells me that he and the Sox will work it out.  Pedro stays in Boston and the Sox repeat. 

 

Edgar Renteria – It’s going to be weird to see him playing shortstop in another uniform.  Despite the fact that he came up with the Marlins and had that huge hit in the 1997 World Series, St. Louis is where he’s evolved as a player.  However, it seems more and more likely that’s where this is headed.  His price tag is pretty high and the Cards don’t seem willing to pay it.  This makes no sense to me, as Renteria is one of the best defensive players in the game, a team leader, a clutch player, and is one year removed from one of the best offensive seasons by a shortstop in team history (.330, 34 steals, 100 RBI).  But yeah, let him walk – that makes a lot of sense. 

 

Prediction – The team that should make a run at him is Seattle.  The Mariners were a last place team a year ago, but weren’t as bad as it seemed.  They lost a lot of close games and had some extremely bad luck (particularly the injury to Rafael Soriano in the bullpen).  If they can get a starting pitcher, Richie Sexson to play first, and Renteria at short, they will be back in the playoff hunt.  Unfortunately, the Mariner ownership’s wallet is tighter than Tim McGraw’s pants.  I’m guessing that the Cubs, after losing out on the Beltran Sweepstakes, throw big money at Renteria to come shore up their defense.

 

Carl Pavano – The young right-hander might be the most overrated pitcher on the market.  He had a nice season on the surface, but a closer look reveals some pedestrian numbers.  He was 18-8 with a 3.00 ERA, which is nice, but his WHIP of 1.17 failed to land him in the top 10 in the NL and his total of 139 strikeouts was very low.  He’s a solid pitcher and has a good attitude, but he doesn’t have the kind of stuff that makes hitters consistently swing and miss.  And that’s what you need in the postseason. 

 

Prediction – I bet his youth drives the Yankees to grossly overpay.  The Phillies, Mariners, and Red Sox are good fits for Pavano, but he’ll simply see more green to play in pinstripes.  Expect him to be a .500 pitcher and suffer the same fate as last year’s young pitching prize, Javy Vasquez.  Namely, a regular season in which he is exposed as mediocre,  a postseason spent coming out of the bullpen while Mussina, Leiber, and Leiter get the call, and an offseason filled with trade rumors galore. 

 

Matt Clement – Anyone who wants to sign Pavano should save the cash and ink Matt Clement to a five-year deal.  The guy has better numbers in several areas, including K’s (190 in 181 innings) and opponent’s batting average.  Both hurlers stepped up big for pitching staffs maligned by injury, but Clement pitched in front of a hideous defense and in a huge hitter’s ballpark while Pavano had one of the finest defenses in the league behind him and a spacious pitcher’s park to swallow up mistakes. Plus, Clement can be had for far less money thanks to his misleading won-loss record.  This guy is the steal of the free agent market as far as pitching goes.

 

Prediction – I’ve heard Indians which makes a ton of sense.  I’ve also heard Red Sox which makes even more sense.  The Indians need a power pitcher and they need a right-hander to add to a nice, young staff that includes twin southpaw’s C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Ellis.  Clement just might be there guy.  Once again though, I’m going with the Red Sox.  If Boston re-signs Pedro to team with Schilling, Clement could be added to form the best power pitching trio in the game.  He’s better than Lowe and might cost less money. 

 

Sammy Sosa – Will he be dealt?  After serving as the face of the Cubs for years, Sosa got blindsided by the Chicago fans and management this year.  He was blamed for virtually everything that went wrong, booed constantly, and generally treated like a villain.  How about some love for the guy that helped save baseball?  Regardless, Sosa didn’t help himself by pouting, complaining about where he hit in the order, and skipping out on the season’s final day.  Plus, he’s never been the same player after being beaned early in ’03.  It’s probably time to make the split.  Like the Kings and C-Webb, the Cubs probably aren’t going to make the breakthrough to a title with Sosa and his baggage on the roster.

 

Prediction – I think that Jim Hendry knows that there are some problems here and that both sides need a fresh start.  While the Kings failed to trade Webber when things started looking grim (and now he’s got that team all screwed up with his divisive talk and gimpy play), the Cubs should act quickly and move Sosa before thing get worse.  If they trade him now they can get a real live body in return, get a developing problem out of town, give Sammy a fresh start, and – perhaps most importantly – maintain Sosa’s legacy in Chicago.  If he leaves now, people will brush aside the griping and the corked bat and the poor play of the past 18 months, attribute all of his problems to the beaning, and remember him warmly.  If he stays though, he could actually become a full-fledged villain in this town.  It says here that the Cubs work something out with the Mets. 

 

Magglio Ordonez – The Sox have already bowed out.  His agent wants to put him in front of all 30 teams to show how healthy he is.  Expect Ordonez’ salary to go through the roof in the coming months. 

 

Prediction – He may wind up in Seattle, it’s possible that he could go across town as a Beltran consolation prize to the Cubs, and there’s a shot that the Phillies could make a run at him.  However, my guess is that he will be an Oriole.  And no, I have no logical reason why that would happen.

 

Jeff Kent – I’ve always found Kent to be overrated, but the Astros need to keep all hands on deck.  If they lose Clemens, Beltran, and Kent in the same offseason, the wheels are going to come off.  If they keep them all, they will be playing in the World Series next year.  It’s that simple.

 

Prediction – I bet he stays in Houston.  Detroit will offer more money and you could make a case for him being the missing piece in Oakland, but I think the ‘Stros will find a way.  I’ve got Houston cleaning up this offseason and taking on the Sox in the 2005 World Series.

 

Nomar Garciappara – Will the Cubs lock him up?  Will anyone?  Nomar has stated that he’s willing to sign a one-year deal so that he can prove his health.  Good move, since his stock is at an all-time low right now. 

 

Prediction – I’ve got the Cubs inking Renteria, which should lead one to believe that Nomar is going elsewhere.  In fact, I think he signs a one-year deal and plays second base, in a prolonged audition to play for the Yankees.  Or something like that.  You know what?  Who cares about Nomar.  This was his anti-career year and he simply needs to earn some respect back.

 

Adrian Beltre – I love that Beltre’s agent is hyping him up as the greatest third basemen of all time.  Please.  Yes, he had a great year and I give him extra credit for playing all season with an injured ankle.  BUT.  This is the same guy that was synonymous with the word “bust” for the first six years of his career.  The same guy that had been so bad for the Dodgers that he went undrafted in 94% of fantasy leagues last year.  And now he and his agent want a $100 million deal?  I don’t think so.

 

Prediction – The Dodgers are saying all the right things, but I can’t imagine DePodesta giving Beltre that kind of deal he wants.  Maybe 3-4 years of big money to see if he can live up to it.  But an eight-year deal worth over $120 mil?  Get out of here.  Call me crazy but I see Beltre as the Phillies big signing this summer. 

 

Brad Radke – This guy is underrated but he’s not a postseason stopper.  The Yankees proved that he has a tough time shutting down a big time offense.  However, he’s consistent, durable, leader that throws strikes.  He’s going to be a smart investment.

 

Prediction – Radke will get a long look from the Sox and Yanks and might end up in Minnesota, but I see him in Cleveland. 

 

Barry Zito – My guess is that Zito is gone.  Billy Beane knows that he can’t keep the Big Three together much longer and that he needs a big bat.  So, what to do?  It’s easy if you use the Moneyball approach: identify the pitcher that has more market value than actual value and trade him.  Zito is two years removed from a Cy Young award and is still considered to be a premier pitcher, but the numbers say otherwise.  He’s the one guy that is perceived to be better than he is.  Mulder is terrific and Hudson is excellent.  Zito … merely pretty good. 

 

Prediction – I see an intra-division trade coming.  The Rangers are desperate for pitching and want to move Alfonso Soriano.  The A’s don’t want to pay Soriano $8 million, but they’ll bite the bullet for a year or two to get the offensive boost.  Zito will be serving up gopher balls in Arlington and Soriano will be gunning for 30-30 for his third team in three years. 

 

Orlando Cabrera – The Red Sox really should re-sign this guy.  His glove work, clutch hitting, and toughness were all critical in reversing the curse.  (That elbow he threw in the Series set the tone against the Cards.)  However, Boston has a big time prospect at shortstop so they don’t want to clog up the position by inking Cabrera for more than two or three years.  Meanwhile, Cabrera knows that this is the time to get some security.  So it just doesn’t seem likely to work out. 

 

Prediction – I’m glad we discussed the Rangers above, because this is where he’s headed.  The Cubs or Cardinals would be a good fit, depending on which one winds up with Renteria, but Texas wants to move Young back to second base and trade Soriano.  Cabrera would allow them to do just that. 

 

Carlos Delgado – Here’s a mystery.  The guy was awful during the first half last year, but finished on a tear.  A lot of people felt that it was all the trade talk that affected him – apparently he’s a great guy and hated the idea of leaving town.  Throw in the fact that he absolutely mashes and you have to wonder why he isn’t one of the biggest names on the market.  I’d rather have him than Ordonez or Pavano, that’s for sure. 

 

Prediction – Orioles.  B-More is going to lose out on players time and time again, so expect Delgado to get paid big time to salvage the winter. 

 

Troy Glaus – This is the most underrated offensive player on the market.  He was hurt last year, but he can crush the ball and play an outstanding third base.  The O’s want him to play first and there are rumors that he’ll wind up in Boston, but overall I’ve been surprised there hasn’t been more chatter about Glaus’ destination.  Maybe it has something to do with the Angels cutting him loose in favor of Dallas McPherson.

 

Prediction – Boston, Baltimore, Seattle, and Houston all make sense, but I think he’ll wind up in San Francisco.  The Giants are pretty quiet about their plans right now and they have limited financial resources, but I think they have a shot at locking up Glaus.  He terrorized them during the 2002 World Series, so they know what he can do.  This is a pretty outrageous prediction, but I’ve got a gut feeling. 

 

Armando Benitez – He had a sensational season last year but it doesn’t appear the Marlins can afford to bring him back.  It’s too bad, because Benitez really thrived down in Florida. 

 

Prediction – Unfortunately, I think he winds up in Chicago and wilts under the pressure of closing games for the Cubs.  Nothing like sending a head case to a cursed franchise.  The Marlins will wind up trading for Ugueth Urbina now that Detroit has Percival closing games.  (Speaking of Percy – the Cubs should have made a move for him.  He’s a guy that can handle clutch moments and has something to prove after being pushed aside for Frankie Rodriguez.  They could have cashed in on a huge year.)

 

Others:

 

Al Leiter – New York Yankees.  Can handle NYC and gives the Yanks a lefty in the rotation.  Will later be hailed as their best signing in years. 

 

J.D. Drew – Atlanta Braves.  He’s Atlanta’s #1 priority this offseason. 

 

Jermaine Dye – San Francisco Giants.  Moves across town to become yet another crafty acquisition by Brian Sabian.

 

Eric Milton – New York Yankees. One of baseball’s most overrated pitchers will feel right at home with the Yankees.

 

Kris Benson – New York Mets.  The Mets pretty much have to sign him now.

 

Derek Lowe – Baltimore Orioles.  The O’s need pitching and they’ll outbid the Rangers for the honors of overpaying Lowe.

 

Steve Finley – San Diego Padres.  He seems to get younger every year and could boost the Pads to NL West favorites.

 

Matt Morris – Baltimore Orioles.  The O’s will be spending all kinds of money this winter. 

 

Odalis Perez – Texas Rangers.  The Rangers finally get some pitching!

 

Adam Hoff is a columnist for WhatifSports.com and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers of America.  He can be reached at ahoff@uchicago.edu or by sitemail at adamo112.

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