Rivals in Exile: The Hot Stove

Ben Jacobs: Last week we looked back at the 2004 season, so now it’s time to look ahead to the 2005 season. We mentioned some of the decisions facing both the Red Sox and Yankees this winter, but we should go into more detail about what might and/or should happen for each team.

Basically, what do you think the Yankees will do this winter? What would you try to do if you were in charge of the Yankees? What are you most worried about the Yankees doing that would really upset you? Before you answer those questions, I’ll ask the same things of myself about the Red Sox.

First, I want to just focus on the four big free agents in Boston — Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe and Orlando Cabrera.

The latter two are easy in one respect. Neither one will be back in Boston next year. I’m glad Lowe gave me some positive starts to remember him by in the playoffs, but there’s no way he’ll be back. The Red Sox front office doesn’t like him enough, he doesn’t like the Red Sox enough and he and the fans have a lot of baggage. Cabrera, I’d like to have back for a year or two at a reasonable salary, but there are enough teams out there that really like him that he’ll probably get four years at an unreasonable salary. So, he’s gone too.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is deciding whether or not to offer arbitration to them. Cabrera’s an easier call than Lowe. The Red Sox are looking for a one- or two-year stopgap at shortstop until Hanley Ramirez is ready, so Cabrera could be that stopgap if he accepts arbitration, although he might cost a little more than the Red Sox had in mind. And it’s unlikely that he’ll accept arbitration because, as I said, enough teams are interested in giving him a longer contract.

Lowe is more difficult. I think somebody will give him a decent contract because of what he did in the playoffs and what he’s done in previous seasons. However, it’s possible that things will drag on and nobody will really knock his socks off and he’ll decide that he can pitch one more year in Boston and re-establish himself for free agency again next year. That scenario is even more plausible when you remember that his agent is Scott Boras, who has had several clients do the exact same thing.

So, I’d definitely offer arbitration to Cabrera, and I guess I’d be a little cautious with Lowe. First of all, hopefully somebody will sign him early enough that it won’t matter. If not, I’d gauge the rumors out there and try to see what the probability is of him deciding he’s better off returning to Boston for a season. Ultimately, I think they’ll offer him arbitration too.

That brings us to Pedro and Varitek. I very much want the Red Sox to re-sign both of them. A few months ago, I would have said Varitek is likely to be back and Pedro’s something of a toss-up. Now I think it’s the other way around.

Boras has set ridiculous demands for Varitek of five years, $50 million and a no-trade clause. The Red Sox aren’t going to be willing to give him anything close to that. If they can’t convince him to come down (I think the most they’d give him is three years, $27-30 million with an option for a fourth year that might vest somewhat easily), then he’ll be playing elsewhere next year, which would be a shame.

If they can’t bring back Varitek, I’d like them to just re-sign Doug Mirabelli and let him be the starter with Kelly Shoppach as his backup. In the four seasons he’s spent with the Red Sox, Mirabelli has hit .259 with 31 homers and 64 walks in 615 at-bats. He doesn’t hit for a great average, but he’s got some patience and some power, although it remains to be seen whether or not he can catch a full season, especially at age 34. As for his defense, I don’t know a ton about it because a lot of the time when he’s behind the plate, there’s a knuckleballer on the mound.

If they decide they don’t trust Mirabelli full-time, they’ll probably need to trade for a catcher because the free agent options are pretty weak after Varitek. One name I’ve heard mentioned is Brian Schneider, and he wouldn’t be bad because he’s not a terrible hitter and he’s supposed to be excellent defensively. In fact, since he’s left-handed, if they could trade for him and convince Mirabelli to stay and play against lefties, they might do as well as if they signed Varitek. I’d rather have Varitek/Shoppach, but Schneider/Mirabelli with Shoppach getting some cups of coffee wouldn’t bother me.

As for Pedro, I think he’ll be back. He’s always talked about wanting to be respected and they came right out with a first offer that’s essentially the same thing they gave Curt Schilling last winter. Pedro can’t complain about being disrespected by that and he shouldn’t really think he’s worth more than that and I think he really does want to stay in Boston. I also don’t think the Yankees are as interested in him as everybody else thinks because they seem to have gone lefty crazy (I know you’re excited about those Al Leiter and Eric Milton rumors).

In fact, I’m confident enough that the Red Sox will re-sign Pedro and desperate enough in my hope that they’ll re-sign him that I refuse to acknowledge any other possibility by talking about a contingency plan.

Now, the question is how to replace Lowe and Cabrera. To replace Cabrera, I wouldn’t have minded Omar Vizquel for a year but if the White Sox want to give him $10 million over two years (plus an option), they can have him. The Red Sox are apparently interested in Barry Larkin, but even if they sign him, he’s not a full-time solution. I’d love to see them trade for Julio Lugo and I wouldn’t mind bringing back Pokey Reese to be the starter. Ultimately, I’m confident the Red Sox will be able to find a solution for one or two years until Ramirez is ready (or until he proves that he’ll never be ready).

That leaves the final spot in the rotation. If the Red Sox re-sign both Pedro and Varitek, I’d like to see them get Jon Lieber here. He’s a quality pitcher and he shouldn’t cost a ton of money, so they should be able to afford him on top of their two big re-signs.

If they don’t re-sign Varitek, that will leave them with more money to pursue a second starting pitcher (unless they do something strange like trade for Jason Kendall). In that case, my order of preference would be Matt Clement, Brad Radke, and then Carl Pavano. My guess is they’d go with Pavano though, because he’s a local boy and a Red Sox draftee and he seems to want to pitch in Boston. And I guess it wouldn’t bother me much if that happens, I just worry about him going from an NL pitcher’s park to an AL hitter’s park.

So, there you go. That’s my take on the Red Sox. Any questions? Now, what do you have to say about the Yankees? And you better not be like those idiot New York radio callers who seriously suggest that the Yankees sign Nomar, Beltran, Pavano and Pedro and trade for Randy Johnson? Oh, is that all the Yankees need to win? You sure everybody else shouldn’t tie their right arm to their left leg while playing against them?

Sorry, I shouldn’t be bitter this soon after the Red Sox win the World Series, but it’s an instinct thing. It’ll pass. Continue with your discussion of the Evil Empire’s plans for world domination.

Larry Mahnken: I haven’t even said anything yet and you’re criticizing me! Sheesh.

The Yankees aren’t in danger of losing any key players this off-season, but they also aren’t dropping any big contracts, either. The bad contracts they handed to Jeter and Giambi are going to really be felt this off-season, and it’s not a question of whether New York’s payroll will go over $200 million, but by how much.

The closest to a key player the Yankees might lose as a free agent is Jon Lieber, whose option the Yanks declined because it was simply for too much. I’m inclined to believe that the Yankees will re-sign Lieber, as he was their most consistent pitcher in the second half and the postseason aside from Mike Mussina. He’s not a name, but he’s better than most of the available pitchers out there, and not being a name can help make him cheaper.

That leaves one spot in the rotation to be filled. I’d like to see them go after Clement or Pavano, or maybe swing a trade for Randy Johnson, but they don’t seem to be that interested in the first two, and certainly don’t have enough to get Johnson, even if they’re willing to trade Vazquez.

There has been a lot of noise about trading Kevin Brown, and that the Yankees are almost desperate to do so. I wouldn’t be at all desperate, and only be willing to send him off if the team got something in return and didn’t have to eat the bulk of his salary. If they’re going to be spending the money anyway, they’re better off keeping Brown.

Apparently, they are hell-bent on getting a lefty starter for next season. There’s been talk about bringing back David Wells, who probably won’t help them that much, as well as Al Leiter or Eric Milton, who would help even less. The frustrating part is that the Milton rumors have been borne out of politics, that the team wants to bring him back to show that they can develop quality pitchers. How bringing Eric Milton in would accomplish that escapes me, and while an average starter is a fine thing to have at the back of the rotation, they’ll be paying him like someone who should pitch at the front. Milton was a decent prospect who was over inflated by the Yankee hype machine, and he’s retained name recognition because of it. Now, in an ironic twist, the Yankees are buying into their own hype.

If they bring back Lieber and Brown, and grab a mediocre lefty for the back of the rotation, they can hope for a rebound by Vazquez to form a strong ’04 rotation. If Boston loses Pedro and doesn’t bring in Randy Johnson, there’s the small comfort in knowing that the Yankees’ rotation will be about as good as Boston’s, maybe a bit better.

They also need to address the bullpen, the top of which was heavily overworked last year, which cost them dearly in the ALCS. A healthy Steve Karsay will help to prevent that from happening again, but the Yankees still retain a need for a lefty reliever. Pouring over the free agent list, only one name sticks out and says, “He’ll do”, and that’s Steve Kline. It looks like he’s going to be available, but I figure that if they get him, the Yankees are going to be paying for his 2004, and getting his 2002-03 instead, which is still good, but not great, and will probably disappoint them. But if they can fit him into the LOOGY role, with Sturtze for long relief and The Run Fairy trying to become effective again in the back of the pen, they should have a very, very strong bullpen. Should.

Obviously, I want Carlos Beltran desperately. He’s overvalued right now, but I what I see in him is Bernie Williams at the same age, with a better glove, and a better baserunner. Had Bernie not gotten hurt so badly in early 2003, I think he’d still be a good hitter for the Yankees, and I don’t want the Yanks to pass that up. But there are budget considerations, so I can see that they’ll have to draw the line somewhere. If Beltran won’t come to New York at the right price, then they’ll have to look elsewhere — as long as they don’t look to Bernie and Lofton.

Some of the Kevin Brown rumors have him going to Atlanta for Andruw Jones. Jones isn’t nearly what he once was with the glove, and his hitting seems to have peaked early, but he’s a definite upgrade over Bernie in both aspects, and would give the Yankees a strong contributor there. But that trade doesn’t seem likely to me unless the Yankees eat a large chunk of Brown’s salary, and I am opposed to that. Much better, in my mind, would be to sign the guy the Braves are trying to trade Jones in order to keep — J.D. Drew. Yeah, he’s had knee problems, but I think they’ll be less of a problem in center than they’ve been in right, I think he’s got much more upside than Jones, and will be overall a better value for the Yankees.

Unfortunately, if the Yankees don’t get any of those three, I do see them settling for another year of Bernie and Lofton, which bodes very poorly for 2005.

The Yankees might decide to play Cairo at second again next year; I think they’re likely to bring him back at least in the old Enrique Wilson role. If they look for a change, Nomar’s said he’s willing to go to second, but he’s too pricey and fragile for me. Jeff Kent’s out there, and Bret Boone may be available for a trade, but I think I’d much rather see them go with defense. They’ve got plenty of hitting, but a no-hit/great-field second baseman like Pokey Reese would help their pitching staff tremendously, and flanking Gold Glove Winner Derek Jeter with him and A-Rod will continue to keep Jeter’s Gold Glove from killing the team. It would be a positive addition and a pretty cheap one, too.

Finally, there’s first base. I have high hopes that Giambi will come back strong next year, and while not nearly the hitter he once was, he should still be a positive addition to the lineup. But even healthy, he probably shouldn’t play that often at first base, so they’re going to need someone to step in there. The rumor is bringing back Tino Martinez… and I’m actually just fine with that. I think that if they do that they should try to play Giambi there as often as possible, but Martinez is a decent hitter and a very good defensive player. He’s a better option than Tony Clark and John Olerud were last season, and he’s a lefty batter, which they were short on last year. As an everyday player, I’m not a big fan, but there aren’t many better options for them. And if he’s a part-time player, it’s a brilliant move.

BJ: Sorry, Larry. Didn’t mean to criticize you before you even started. I guess I watch too much “Mike and the Mad Dog” and am a little put off by all the callers who think all the Yankees need to do to have a successful off-season and get the team ready is bump the payroll up to about $300 million.

Anyway, I’m a little torn about what I want the Yankees to do. Specifically, I’m torn when it comes to Randy Johnson and their center field arrangement. Let me explain.

I really don’t want the Yankees to end up with Randy Johnson. I don’t think his presence in New York would alter Boston’s chances of making the playoffs much, if at all, but he could greatly increase the odds of the Yankees winning the World Series, which I don’t want. However, if the Yankees don’t trade for Johnson, it seems likely that he could end up in Anaheim. And I think Johnson’s presence in Anaheim could alter Boston’s chances of making the playoffs, so I don’t really want him there either.

I guess I’d like to see the White Sox somehow come up with a deal to get the Big Unit, because I think that even if he makes them good enough to win the division, the second place team won’t be good enough to threaten the Red Sox if they again need the wild card to reach October.

As for center field, here’s why I’m torn. I don’t want them to sign Beltran, for all the reasons you do want them to sign him. So, I’d like it if they made the deal you mention to acquire Andruw Jones, because that would preclude them signing Beltran. However, if there’s a chance that they could miss out on signing Beltran, then I’d rather they didn’t trade for Jones because, as you said, he’d be an upgrade over what they have.

Ultimately, I guess I’m not going to worry about the Yankees too much this off-season. I’m sure that they’ll make at least a deal or two that will bother me, but I’m also sure that they’ll make at least one deal that will cause me to laugh because it doesn’t make sense. Hopefully, the senseless deal(s) they make will at least offset the smart one(s).

As I said before, I’m also not that worried about the Red Sox. Vizquel is officially out as an option at shortstop, as the Giants apparently were willing to outbid the already-outrageous offer from the White Sox. Oh well, there’s nothing you can do about players not being an option because other teams are willing to give them more than they’re worth. The Red Sox might treat shortstop this off-season the way they treated second base last off-season, bringing in three or four cheap guys and seeing if one or two of them look like a real answer.

When all is said and done, I think the Red Sox and Yankees will look pretty even going into next season. The differences, I think, will be that the Yankees will have a payroll about $100 million higher than Boston’s, and that the Yankees will have more injury concerns and less depth. And if that’s the way it turns out, I’ll be pretty pleased.

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