NAPLES, Fla. -- Baseball's general managers began their 2006 meetings by donning Hawaiian shirts and taking a field trip to a local bowling alley, where San Diego's Kevin Towers and the White Sox's Kenny Williams showed them how it's done.
Towers rolled an impressive 163 in his first game before slumping to a 110. "We all did better before the beers starting kicking in," said a National League GM.
Now that the salary arbitration meetings, opening-night dinner and bonding rituals are out of the way, the general managers will cease rolling gutter balls and begin rolling the dice. A lot of .500 pitchers, nondescript middle relievers and 30-something position players are hoping to take advantage.
The 2006-07 free-agent class lacks star power and depth, but its timing sure is good. With a new labor deal in place and the industry awash in $5 billion-plus in revenue, franchises are dying to find a place to invest all that cash.
Let's put it this way: It's a good year to be Vicente Padilla. He's fresh off a 15-win season in Texas, and everyone from the New York Mets to the Kansas City Royals has contacted his agent. Those rumors of a four-year, $40 million deal aren't likely to fade anytime soon.
Thus far the offseason activity has been limited to players re-signing with their old clubs (e.g. Aramis Ramirez) and trades, with Detroit acquiring Gary Sheffield from the Yankees and Cleveland picking up Josh Barfield from San Diego. Chances are some other players will be moved before the elite free agents begin signing.
Looking for a bat? Here are five productive players -- four outfielders and a first baseman -- whose names are likely to be kicked around the suites and the lobby of the Naples Grande Resort. We've ranked them from the most likely to least likely to change teams this winter.
Adam Dunn, Cincinnati
Reds GM Wayne Krivsky hasn't wrenched his back yet trying to move Dunn, but lots of people say he's in full-fledged listening mode.
Dunn hit 40 homers for the third straight season, and the tape-measure jobs still generate oohs and ahs. But his combined on-base/slugging percentage has dipped from .957 to .855 since 2004, and some people think his heart went out of it a little bit after the Reds traded his buddy Austin Kearns to Washington. He never projected a tremendous amount of fire before that.
"He's a very strange package," said an American League executive. "The power is incredible, obviously, and he does walk a lot. But the defense is brutal and the strikeouts are brutal. I think they'd move him if they could."
Krivsky spent a lot of years in Minnesota, where the Twins stressed pitching and defense, and Dunn doesn't fit that philosophy. Cost is also a concern. Dunn will make $10.5 million in 2007, and the Reds have a $13 million option for 2008. That's a lot of money for a DH -- especially in a league where the position doesn't exist.
Here's the problem: While Krivsky made some inspired acquisitions last offseason -- adding Bronson Arroyo and Brandon Phillips -- he put a dent in his offensive surplus when he traded Kearns and Felipe Lopez to the Nationals in July. The Reds ranked ninth in the NL in runs scored, and Rich Aurilia, who hit 23 homers, is a free agent. If Krivsky moves Dunn, he'll want both pitching and an impact bat in return.
Baltimore and Texas are among the American League clubs that might have an interest. The Astros are more likely to pursue Carlos Lee and Alfonso Soriano through free agency, but they'll at least kick the tires on Dunn.
Pittsburgh makes some sense, given the short right field at PNC Park and the team's need for a lefty power hitter. But it's hard to see the Pirates shelling out the coin for Dunn. They're more likely to focus on a younger, less costly bat, such as Arizona's Chad Tracy or Florida's Mike Jacobs.
Vernon Wells, Toronto
The Blue Jays are straining to envision a best-case scenario for Wells, who's a year away from free agency. They think his low-key personality is a nice fit for Toronto, and they're hoping he might value comfort as well as price and stay with the only organization he's ever known.
But Wells, who'll hit the market next winter with a Carlos Beltran-caliber portfolio, is looking at a potential nine-figure deal if he has a big 2007 season. Most observers figure he'll say good-bye to Canada, a la Carlos Delgado two years ago.
Since 2001, the Oakland Athletics have hung on to three prime-time players in their free-agent "walk" years (Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada and Barry Zito) and gone to the playoffs each year. Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi has cited that example to show that he's not desperate to move Wells.
"I think they view him as a blue-chip, cornerstone player," said an AL assistant general manager. "If they're able to get a similar type guy who they can control for more years, I think they would listen. But I'd be surprised if they're actively talking about Vernon Wells."
On the other hand, Ricciardi's faith could be tested if it becomes clear that Wells is too far out of Toronto's price range. Wells is signed for a very affordable $5.6 million in 2007. The Jays better enjoy that while it lasts.
Mark Teixeira, Texas
Teixeira hit nine homers in 353 at-bats before the All-Star break, and 24 homers in 275 at-bats after it. He's 26 years old and a Gold Glove defender, and the Rangers regard him and shortstop Michael Young as team leaders and the heart and soul of the clubhouse.
The Rangers plan to give new manager Ron Washington every chance to win, and general manager Jon Daniels knows he wouldn't be sending a positive signal by trading the team's cornerstone first baseman. If the Rangers still had Adrian Gonzalez, maybe, but they shipped him to San Diego in the Adam Eaton-Chris Young deal last winter.
Trading Teixeira, who is going to be awfully expensive in time, could allow Texas to rebuild its rotation. But he's still two years shy of free agency, so Daniels won't have to listen to Scott Boras refer to him as an "icon player" until the winter of 2008.
Baltimore has had a hankering for Teixeira, a Maryland native, since missing out on him in the 2001 draft, but the Rangers say they haven't had any substantive discussions with the Orioles or anyone else about Teixeira.
Andruw Jones, Atlanta
Jones has 10 years of service time in the majors and five with the Braves, so he has the right to veto any trade. He's also a free agent in a year. Those Boston rumors notwithstanding, it's a stretch to think Jones would pack up and leave the organization he's played for since age 16 for a one-year pit stop somewhere else.
Jones has regressed slightly in the field, but he doesn't turn 30 until April and he's averaged 46 homers and 128 RBI the past two years. Unless he pulls an end-run around Boras -- as he did before agreeing to his current six-year, $75 million deal -- signing him is sure to be an adventure for anyone.
Atlanta GM John Schuerholz and his staff came to Naples with more modest goals. The Braves want to move Marcus Giles and upgrade the bullpen in front of Bob Wickman, and they're looking for a leadoff hitter who can play left field or second base. Dave Roberts is one guy who might fit their needs. While Jones' $13.5 million salary constitutes a significant chunk of Atlanta's 2007 payroll, moving him isn't part of the agenda.
The Rays don't have to move Crawford because: (1) he's a 25-year-old monster player and (2) he's so gosh-darned affordable. Crawford will make $9.25 million over the next two seasons. Then the Devil Rays have two option years worth a total of $18.25 million.
That's why GM Andrew Friedman can afford to ask for the moon. If the Dodgers make a call on Crawford, they'll probably have to consider Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton as a starting point. The Devil Rays want to stop being perceived as a feeder system for more affluent clubs, and Crawford is as good a place as any to finally draw the line.
In time, that could change. If Evan Longoria and Reid Brignac are ready to man the left side of the infield in 2008, the Rays could move B.J. Upton to left field. They already have Rocco Baldelli in center and Delmon Young in right, and Friedman envisions Elijah Dukes -- the talented problem child who's tearing up the Arizona Fall League -- amassing 400 or so at-bats in the outfield and at DH in Tampa Bay next season.
But that's too many "ifs" for such a bold move. In a year or two, the Devil Rays might be more amenable to moving Crawford. At the moment they have no compelling reason to do so.