Some of the hot topics at GM meetings
Baseball's general managers usually have a week after the World Series before gathering at a plush resort in some warm-weather site for their annual meetings. Not this year.
The Phillies' parade is barely over and Chase Utley's farewell expletive is still ringing in our ears, and the game's executives have already arrived in Dana Point, Calif., for three days of salary arbitration meetings, rules discussions, early trade talks and private audiences with Scott Boras.
This is always a chaotic time of year in baseball, but these GM meetings seems particularly intriguing. The free-agent crop features some formidable bats (Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez), a record-setting closer (Francisco Rodriguez), a front-of-the-rotation horse (CC Sabathia) and lots of established starting pitching behind him.
Will the sputtering economy have an impact on baseball's average salary? Most people in the game expect the big stars to get paid, but the riches won't be quite as abundant for the middle-rung and fringe players. And as usual, teams will explore their trade options before shelling out big money for free agents.
As the hot stove season gets under way, ESPN.com surveyed 15 general managers, assistant GMs, baseball operations people and scouts on seven notable questions that will play out in the coming weeks. Here are their responses:
1. Which team will sign left-hander CC Sabathia?Responses: New York Yankees 12, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 1, Los Angeles Dodgers 1, "no idea" 1.
The Yankees exercised restraint and long-term thinking last winter, lost out to the Mets in the Johan Santana sweepstakes and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993. With Hank Steinbrenner getting antsy and the coffers flush with new stadium revenue, the consensus is that the Yankees will do whatever it takes to land Sabathia.Indeed, we heard the phrase "whatever it takes" a half dozen times.
"I don't see how the Yankees don't blow every other team out of the water, financially," said a National League front-office man.
The estimates of Sabathia's deal range from a low of five years and $125 million to a high of six years and $180 million. One executive predicted New York could go as high as eight years.
While Yankee love reigned supreme, one AL official makes a compelling case for the Dodgers.
"They have lots of money coming off the books, with a lot of cheap young players filling critical spots," the official said. "Throw in the fact that they're an NL club in his home [state] with [potentially] two rotation spots to fill, and I think it makes the most sense."
2. Which team will sign Manny Ramirez?Responses: Los Angeles Dodgers 10, New York Mets 4, New York Yankees 1.
Actually, the price of gasoline has declined in recent weeks, but Ramirez seems like a good bet to surpass the $20 million annually that he received in his last free-agent deal with Boston eight years ago.
Stock in Manny was down in late July, when Ramirez was vilified for dogging it in Boston. His profile went up when he hit .396 in August and September in leading the Dodgers to the playoffs and past the Cubs in the Division Series. Now Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and GM Ned Colletti are going to have a tough time saying no.
"Manny is still an offensive force, big-time," said an AL assistant GM. "At times he's not in the best condition, and he can shut it down, so there's a risk to him. But after what he did for that team -- turning their season around -- the Dodgers are going to have a hard time explaining to their fans that they didn't get it done."
The Mets need to find a closer to replace Billy Wagner and some help for the rotation, so they might not have the cash to bid on Ramirez. Surprisingly, none of our survey respondents mentioned the Phillies, who are considered a potential Ramirez suitor because of manager Charlie Manuel's relationship with Ramirez and the team's need for a left fielder if Pat Burrell leaves town.
The estimates for Ramirez's contract range from a low of three years and $55 million to a high of five years and $105 million. Several respondents predicted three years and $80 million.
3. Will the Padres trade pitcher Jake Peavy?
Responses: 13 say Peavy will be traded, 2 say no.
Possible destinations: Atlanta 9, Dodgers 1, St. Louis 1, Cubs 1. The other "yes" voter said the Padres will trade Peavy "to anyone who'll give them four prospects."
Peavy has a no-trade clause and will probably waive it for only a select few clubs. The Cubs' interest could hinge on whether Ryan Dempster returns or leaves through free agency. The Astros, Dodgers and Cardinals are also on Peavy's most desirable list, but Houston and St. Louis don't match up with San Diego, talentwise.
If the Padres try to move Peavy to a place he doesn't prefer, he can either decline to waive his no-trade clause or ask for more money to sweeten the deal. Peavy's contract with San Diego guarantees him $60 million over the next four years, and the Padres have a $22 million club option for 2013.
4. Will the Rockies trade outfielder Matt Holliday?
Responses: 9 say Holliday will be traded, 6 say no.
Possible destinations: Boston 1, Philadelphia 1, Washington 1, New York Mets 1, Cleveland 1, Arizona 1, and 3 "not sure."
Some observers think O'Dowd is more likely to trade third baseman Garrett Atkins. Atkins is two years away from free agency, and the Rockies could shed a big salary while handing over the position to prospect Ian Stewart.While no one questions Matt Holliday's ability, he has a 1.068 career on base-slugging percentage at Coors Field and an .803 OPS on the road. And clubs who talked to O'Dowd about Holliday during the 2008 season got the impression that the Rockies will have to be bowled over to trade him. "I'm not sure that anyone gives up the necessary package for a one-year Scott Boras client with a big home-road split," said an AL executive.
O'Dowd did a nice job in the Jason Jennings trade two years ago, acquiring Willy Taveras, Taylor Buchholz and Jason Hirsh from Houston. But after the success that Boston, Tampa Bay and Colorado have had in bringing young players along the past two years, no team is in a rush to move top prospects for rentals these days.
5. Who would you rather sign to a four-year deal, Derek Lowe or A.J. Burnett?
Responses: Lowe 9, Burnett 6.Derek Lowe, Ryan Dempster and A.J. Burnett (once he exercises his opt-out clause) are generally regarded as the best starting pitchers on the market after Sabathia. The conventional wisdom, right or wrong, is that Dempster will wind up back with the Cubs. So which of the other two would executives prefer?
6. Left fielder Pat Burrell or right fielder Bobby Abreu?
Responses: Burrell 8, Abreu 7. Pat Burrell is 2½ years younger and hits with more power. He has averaged 28 homers and 92 RBIs in nine seasons with the Phillies.
7. Will Ken Griffey Jr. play in 2009? If so, where?Responses: 14 say yes, and one says yes only on the condition that Griffey is willing to accept a reduced role. "I doubt any team would commit everyday at-bats to him," the executive said. Potential destinations: Seattle 8, Tampa Bay 1, Oakland 1, Atlanta 1, New York Mets 1, Chicago White Sox 1, and 2 "not sure."
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