Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hot Stove News and Notes: Big Chips Waiting to Drop

-So far, the biggest Hot Stove news is the Derek Jeter-Yankees negotiations. Thankfully, both sides seem to have come to their senses a little bit, and now are content to negotiate to each other and not to the media.

Ultimately, my feelings on the whole situation is that both sides were wrong. The Yankees should have made their initial offer and shut up after that, while whatever Jeter and his agent were asking for was probably too much. Plus, playing on the icon status coming off the worst year of his career was probably not a good strategy.

Now that everybody’s calmed down, look for Jeter to sign a 3-year, $52 million deal, possibly with a mutual option for a fourth year that could become guaranteed. Also expect for Mariano Rivera to come to terms shortly after that, with something along the lines of a two-year, $36-$40 million deal.

-Once the two Yankee mainstays are taken care of, the big fish in the free agent market is looking ready to sign. Cliff Lee still seems like either a coin flip between the Yankees and the Rangers, and with the Rangers offering a five-year deal, don’t be surprised if the Yankees offer a sixth year to try and make the difference.

I’m thinking it either comes down to Lee’s comfort with the Rangers last year, as well as being close to home, or the Yankees giving him the most money and years. Considering this is the guy who turned down Roy Halladay’s contract and has talked for the past two years about maximizing his chance at free agency… Advantage, New York (if only slightly).

-I wouldn’t feel so bad if the Rangers miss out on Lee, since their backup plan is to try and pry Zack Greinke from the Royals. It may take a good chunk of their farm system to get it done, and it’s questionable whether they have the pieces to get it done after trading for Lee, but they’ll definitely have the motivation.

-The news on Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth has been very quiet, with most of the focus on Jeter and Lee. The Yankees’ backup plan if Lee goes to the Rangers is Crawford, and considering Brett Gardner just had wrist surgery, expect to see Nick Swisher or Curtis Granderson to hit the trade block if they land Crawford.

Things playing out as expected and Lee signing with New York, the Angels and the Red Sox are still considered the favorites for Crawford, with Werth option 1A for Boston.

-Detroit made the early noise in free agency, signing Joaquin Benoit and Victor Martinez, and they’re still not done spending either. Werth could be the play here, as Magglio Ordonez is not expected back, and he would add even more depth to their lineup.

-No huge news on Adam Dunn either – it’s really been a quiet start to free agency for most. Dunn is looking for the most money, and since he projects to a DH, look for him to end up in the AL, possibly with the A’s who could use a big bat to give their young pitching some run support.

-Don’t feel too bad for Washington, though, as they’re considered the favorites for Carlos Pena, and he’s both cheaper and significantly better defensively than Dunn. This is a team that’s still a couple years away, and their SS of the future Ian Desmond could use the help to lower his errors from last year.

-The Marlins made a couple curious moves, especially in combination when they traded Dan Uggla to the Braves and signed Javier Vazquez. Uggla, while a mediocre at best defensive player, is still a huge offensive threat, and certainly should’ve been worth more if he was shopped harder than an inferior infielder in Omar Infante and a middle reliever in Mike Dunn. At the same time, they’re taking a calculated gamble that Vazquez is better suited for the NL than the AL (especially the AL East).

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’d rather spend the money on the sure thing, even if Uggla wasn’t signing a contract extension.

-The big trade rumor early on was that Arizona was going to put Justin Upton on the block. Those talks seem to have quieted down a lot, and expect them to pick up once Crawford and Werth land somewhere.

The biggest hope for Arizona to get a big package, if they’re serious about moving him, would be this: Crawford to the Angels, Werth to the Tigers, and the Red Sox can’t pry away Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres and get desperate.

Normally, I’m not a big proponent of dealing prospects for position players, but consider that Upton is signed to a reasonable long-term deal and is only 23, and I think you could argue that the Mets should make a run here as well.

-Speaking of the Mets, they’re holding tight to the initial plan of not spending this year. The big questions for them are going to be filling holes in the rotation and bullpen on the cheap, with Hisanori Takahashi being released and Pedro Feliciano not expected to return. Oliver Perez is expected to be moved, although the Mets might have to eat a ton of money to make it happen.

Expect a couple small moves from the Mets, but no big names for new manager Terry Collins.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hot Stove Primer: Who’s Going Where And What Moves Will Be Made

After a surprising World Series victory by the Giants, there’s only a five-day turnaround before we see 142 players in free agency. Where are the big names heading? What trades might we see? Let’s start with the biggest fish in this small free agent pond…

SP Cliff Lee
Main suitors: Rangers, Yankees
Dark Horse candidate: Nationals

Following three stellar starts in the postseason with a dud and a Series-clinching loss, there are some newfound questions about what Lee can expect from free agency. This is a pitcher who will be 33 next season, just had back issues in August, and has pitched a lot of innings the past three years. Add in the fact that long-term pitcher deals tend not to work out very well (see Kevin Brown, Barry Zito, among others), and there really shouldn’t be a deal to any pitcher above 4 years.

However, the rules go out the window when the Yankees are in the bidding and have a target in their sights. While I wouldn’t make a long-term deal with a pitcher of this age, if it takes 6 years to get Lee in pinstripes, expect the deal to get done.

You can’t rule out the Rangers, however, who are fresh off a deep postseason run, have new owners and a big-money TV contract to make matching the Yankees’ offer a possibility. Also, the Nationals are talking about making a big splash in free agency, and there would be no bigger splash than stealing away Lee.

Predicted deal: Yankees, 5 years, $135 million

LF Carl Crawford
Main Suitors: Red Sox, Angels
Dark Horse Candidates: Yankees, Mets

Crawford is easily the best position player in this free agent market. The Rays can’t afford him anymore, and the Red Sox are looking to benefit from Tampa’s budget cuts. They have a huge need in the outfield, and even if Crawford’s stellar defense would help more in right, he would be a cornerstone in Fenway’s short left field.
The Angels, coming off a disappointing year, could really use a tablesetter for their lineup, and Crawford’s blend of speed and ability to get on base could be a key for a 2011 turnaround. Owner Arte Moreno has not been shy about spending money, and I don’t think they’ll be outbid.

I list the Yankees and Mets as dark horses for different reasons. For the Mets, I feel they absolutely need Crawford, even if he would have to play right field for them (Jason Bay has to play in left), and would be a huge boost to their lineup – he’s a great fit for Citi Field in my opinion. The Yankees are probably not as focused on upgrading their outfield as much as getting Lee, but if they fail at getting Lee, don’t be surprised if Granderson or Swisher are on the trading block and Crawford is playing left field at Yankee Stadium.

I don’t see the Yankees missing on Lee, however, and Crawford goes elsewhere.

Predicted deal: Angels, 5 years, $100 million

OF Jayson Werth
Main Suitors: Phillies, Angels, Red Sox
Dark Horse candidates: Nationals, Braves

Werth is going to get a big-money offer, and while he’s a solid major leaguer, he’s really going to benefit from the Jason Bay and Matt Holiday deals last year. He is definitely not the $100 million player that one of these teams is going to make him.

Between the Red Sox and the Angels, whoever misses out on Crawford will go after Werth hard. I don’t think the Phillies will be able to find the money in their budget to retain him, but their lineup is really lefty-heavy, so don’t be surprised if a couple pieces are moved (Ibanez? Blanton?) to free up the money for Werth.

I mention the Nationals and Braves, since like I mentioned before the Nationals are looking to make a splash in free agency, and the Braves could really use a replacement for Chipper Jones in their outfield.

This one, I honestly have no feel on where he will end up, so take this with a grain of salt.
Predicted deal: Red Sox, 5 years, $100 million

Other Hot Stove Notes:

 -Expect the three Yankee FA’s to re-up with the team, even if they go to free agency. I’m thinking a one-year deal again for Pettitte, a two-year deal for Mo Rivera, and either a 3 or 4-year deal for Jeter. Money might be an issue in the Jeter negotiations, but he wouldn’t get nearly the kind of money on the open market that the Yankees would give him.

- The biggest names in this market left are Rafael Soriano and Jorge De La Rosa. Considering that closers generally get overpaid in free agency, and there’s no starting pitcher on anywhere near the same level of Cliff Lee available, both guys could be budget-breakers for the teams that land them.

- As free agency proceeds, expect the trade market to produce a couple interesting moves. Zack Greinke, like I stated already (Zack Greinke On The Move? But Where Exactly?), should be on the move to the team that comes up with the biggest offer – Twins or Rangers being the lead candidates. Adrian Gonzalez could be on the move, although it wouldn’t surprise me if the Padres see if they can build on last season to make another run at a weak NL West. Prince Fielder also could be on the way out.

- Bud Selig should be focusing more on expanding instant replay in baseball, instead of making the long baseball season longer by adding more playoff games. I have no problem with the concept of two wild card teams who have to play a do-or-die game to make the Divisional round, but only if he also makes sure that we don’t have anymore November baseball.

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