February Musingsby Bryan Smith
September 09, 2004
Close your eyes. Forget the AL East pennant race, or the NL Wild Card battle. Imagine a horrific time where there are no games, trades or action. Hell right? Well, I'm about to take you there, looking back on the 2004-2005 offseason. The Carlos Beltran and Nomar Garciaparra negotiations were hot, a former Cy Young winner was traded, and Aaron Gleeman is happy with Terry Ryan. Welcome to the Twilight Zone ...
Let’s go against the norm and start in the American League West. The biggest story from this division over the winter was the Oakland Athletics, trading away former Cy Young winner Barry Zito. While the team had already lost Jermaine Dye, Zito was traded to create money to open negotiations with aces 1 and 2, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. Erubiel Durazo’s non-tender should come as no surprise, this was simply the Billy Beane way of buying low, selling high.
After Bobby Crosby won the American League Rookie of the Year last year, expect Nick Swisher and Dan Johnson to make some noise this season. Swisher had a September call-up last year, impressing the team enough to not sign a rightfielder. Johnson was always a solid slugger in the minors, and Beane surely doesn’t question his ability to hit in the majors. While it took the A’s the better part of six months, they did finally get their hands on Placido Polanco. Whether or not Mark Ellis’ comeback attempt goes well, there is no question that Polanco will have a spot to play on the team.
As for the rotation, expect no problems. The Barry Zito trade created some options, including one of the game’s better pitching prospects in Dan Meyer. The southpaw should go a long way to replace Zito, and will surely beat out Joe Blanton for the fifth spot in Spring Training. Beane showed with the Octavio Dotel trade last winter that he could turn a problem into a strength in the snap of a finger, and Jairo Garcia and Huston Street should only add to that.
Michael Young didn’t have a lot of competition last year for the title of “AL West’s best shortstop,” once an impressive award. But with the Anaheim Angels signing Edgar Renteria, Young will have to increase his numbers even further to hang onto the top spot. With Troy Glaus, Troy Percival and Aaron Sele walking out the door, Arte Moreno had more than enough money to lure the ex-Cardinal to California. The club tried to woo native-born Nomar Garciaparra, but the Cubs proved to be too much.
But, Renteria wasn’t even the team’s most impressive haul. Since Kevin Appier and Tim Salmon (now retired) have disappeared from their payroll, Moreno thought it necessary to sign Carl Pavano, fresh off a #2 finish in the NL Cy Young voting. The club is hoping Pavano provides more than Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar did last season. And we hear that Ervin Santana’s midseason call-up could allow the club to trade Jarrod Washburn, as they still have Ramon Ortiz. Surely considered the division favorites, Anaheim will be in the mix for the World Series.
You have to credit Peter Gammons, he knows his stuff. When he predicted last August that Texas wouldn’t be able to hang onto Alfonso Soriano, he was almost prophetic. Texas had to send yet another talented middle infielder flying, this time to the Philadelphia Phillies. At least this will give Chase Utley a chance to shine, creating a young and talented infield. With Buck Showalter heading the operation, it should not have come as a surprise to anyone that Texas signed Danny Bautista, one of the offseason’s first signings. Bautista can be everything from a starting rightfielder, to one of the game’s best fourth outfielders.
With extra money in his pocket, John Hart knew it was his responsibility to go find another pitcher. But pardon John, he decided to go for two. Jaret Wright was born and raised in Hart’s Cleveland system, and you have to bet there was no one happier to see him break out last season. We’ll see if Wright can remember the Mazzone magic, or if Orel Hershiser can add even more to Wright’s repertoire. While Esteban Loaiza wasn’t even considered a big catch, it could turn into a coup if Loaiza can find his lost stuff. Think Jeff Weaver circa 2004, minus the pitcher’s park.
Finally, we have the walking, talking problem that is the Seattle Mariners. Richard Hidalgo is a nice solace for losing both the Adrian Beltre and Carlos Beltran negotiations, but no one knows what to expect from the leftfielder. Fans were shocked the team didn’t rid itself of Randy Winn, who will apparently be in Seattle long enough for the M’s to find out who the next young centerfielder will be. Jeremy Reed, Chris Snelling, Shin-Soo Choo? Wait and see.
It was fairly obvious that Hideo Nomo would eventually land in Seattle; we just had to wait for the right time. Nomo joins Jamie Moyer as the two-fifths of the old part of the rotation. The boys over at U.S.S. Mariner were pleased to see the team wise up on Ryan Franklin, who hit the highway in December. Bobby Madritsch pitched well enough at the end of last year to lock himself a spot, along with Joel Pineiro, and a prospect. Whether it will be Clint Nageotte, Travis Blackley, or the teenage Felix Hernandez is something only Bob Melvin (no, he wasn't fired) can tell us.
Bryan’s February 2005 AL West Prediction: Anaheim, Oakland, Texas, Seattle
Losing Magglio Ordonez didn’t seem to bother the White Sox much, who apparently dealt with that a long time ago. Trading Carlos Lee appeared to be a certainty at one point, but the offense will remain largely the same this year. The only differences will be that Juan Uribe and Willie Harris are guaranteed playing time up the middle, rather than Jose Valentin and Robbie Alomar. Thank God.
With the money, Kenny Williams was able to sign Russ Ortiz, who he nearly traded for a year ago. Ortiz will help create a rotation that should be one of the league’s best, depending on which Jose Contreras shows up. Jon Garland is the best fifth starter the team has had in years, mostly because he was the third starter until the Freddy Garcia trade last June.
Chicago looks like they’ll finally pose problems for the Minnesota Twins, who didn’t see a lot of changes. Corey Koskie and Brad Radke were re-signed, although it was possible Terry Ryan was sending Aaron Gleeman a Christmas present by not re-signing Cristian Guzman. Furthermore, the team should benefit from using Jason Kubel rather than Jacque Jones, who apparently was worth Jason Jennings from the Colorado Rockies. Jennings will join an improved rotation that, thankfully, doesn’t include Carlos Silva.
Mark Shapiro’s long and hard quest to bring Cleveland back to their days of glory continues. Aaron Boone’s 2004 signing created a lot of infield depth and question marks, since Shapiro showed such an interest in re-signing Ronnie Belliard. But, it appears as if we have everything figured out, with an infield of Boone, Jhonny Peralta, Belliard and Casey Blake. Ben Broussard will move back out to left field, taking over for the departed Matt Lawton.
Lawton, one of last year’s most valuable pieces, was traded to the Chicago Cubs, to solve some of the growing pitching staff pains. Kyle Farnsworth and Todd Wellemeyer should undoubtedly help a bullpen that was one of the league’s worst in 2004. Negotiations for various starting pitchers really went nowhere, ending in the inauspicious signing of Aaron Sele. Hooray!
Count Detroit and Kansas City as non-factors. The Tigers did trade one of their best and most expensive players in Dmitri Young, so the powerful left-hander could play in his brother’s organization, Tampa Bay. After trying out Alex Sanchez and Nook Logan, expect Detroit to love Joey Gathright. Kansas City re-signed Matt Stairs, and their big free agent signing: Scott Schoenweis. Well hey, at least they flirted with us in 2003.
Bryan’s February 2005 AL Central Predictions: White Sox, Indians, Twins, Tigers, Royals
Last and surely not least, comes The Rivalry. Even more hate was brewed this winter, when the Yankees actually started flirting with the notion of signing Pedro Martinez. Theo Epstein didn’t like that idea, and quickly came in with the four-year deal the ace right-hander was looking for. Derek Lowe, Scott Williamson, Bill Mueller, see ya. The team splurged on re-signing Pedro, Orlando Cabrera, and Jason Varitek. Thank God the San Francisco Giants showed moderate interest in Byung-Hyun Kim, or enough to take one-third of his salary next year. Al Leiter will provide a nice changeup from the left side, and should give the Yankees some fits.
But, it would be a joke to say the Yankees didn’t do a little of their own. Center field is a little weak? Carlos Beltran. A weak rotation? Matt Clement. Poor second basemen? Mark Grudzielanek. It’s one thing to sign all these guys; it’s another to do it in a span of days. But while the team was able to hang onto a lead last September, most media predictions have the Yankees as the Wild Card favorites this spring. My advice? Stay away from the Boss’ office.
North of the border, the Blue Jays front office was doing summersaults when they wooed Troy Glaus into signing. With money saved from the rookies all over the place, it appears as if Eric Hinske will move across the diamond. If Glaus’ power returns, he’ll more than replacement the exited Carlos Delgado. If not, well things just can’t keep going wrong for J.P…
Note to Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie: Moises Alou is not a catch. Bad things just kept happening in Baltimore, who appeared to be hibernating in retaliation against Bud. It didn’t work. Add in the bad blood with Rafael Palmeiro, and things keep spiraling downward for the Baltimore Orioles. But, trading for Kip Wells should be good, since Brian Roberts and Larry Bigbie aren’t very expensive pawns.
And finally, we close in Tampa. I mentioned the Dmitri Young trade, and Lou Piniella was pleased by the signing of Joe Randa. The team tried long and hard to land a pitcher, but to no avail. Jeff Niemann could very well fly through the system, but the D-Rays will need a lot more than a 22-year-old to make their voices heard in this division. Ain’t gonna happen.
Bryan’s February 2005 AL East Prediction: Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles, Devil Rays, Blue Jays
Back next week with a look into the NL ...
Bryan Smith, co-founder of Baseball Analysts, is a freelance writer with work appearing at SI.com, BaseballProspectus.com and Baseball America. Feel free to e-mail Bryan here, and look for his annual prospect list at SI.com next week.