- Mark Kreidler, Page 2
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Meanwhile, out here in the land of the melanoma-retardant Santa suit, the Baseball of Christmas Present eventually may arrive. Or not.
I guess we'll see what the Red Sox and Yankees finish doing, and then decide.
Ain't no Hot Stove League in the Western climes this year. There may not even be a pilot light working on the coast. While New York and Boston go at it hammer and tongs, the Orioles suddenly free up $40 million in additional salary commitment (what, they're going to finish a stronger fourth place in the AL East?) and even the Tigers start scrapping around trying to sign major-impact players, the West Coast teams have redefined the art of laying back.
It isn't that nothing is happening; it's just that you barely notice. The Angels, who if memory serves were World Series champions barely a calendar year ago, went out and got Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar, giving them the appearance of improvement-directed activity. But since Anaheim is the same franchise that let Scott Spiezio go to rival Seattle and hasn't delivered on its promised contract-extension negotiation with Garret Anderson, let's call it a modest step for a team that finished 19 games out of first place last season.
The Dodgers? Can't even get sold, much less make real forward progress. (What, Frank McCourt's having trouble with the exchange rate to California money?) The Dodgers dished off Kevin Brown to the Yanks, got Jeff Weaver in return, signed .270 hitter Juan Encarnacion and said goodbye to Brian Jordan and Paul Quantrill.
Even L.A.'s biggest potential offseason move, the acquisition of Nomar Garciaparra, is almost completely out of its hands. The Dodgers are essentially reduced to wait-in-the-corner status while the Red Sox and Rangers see whether they can figure out a trade for Alex Rodriguez that makes sense. Only if the A-Rod deal goes through do the Dodgers become players.
Let's all grab a chair and sit on the deck! ESPN will tell us pretty soon what's going on.
The Padres would like to make a splash heading into the opening of their new place, Petco Park. So far, they've added Terrence Long, Ramon Hernandez and Japanese reliever Akinori Otsuka. (Arf.) The Athletics watched Miguel Tejada and stud closer Keith Foulke bail out, following the leads of Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, Jason Isringhausen and others before them, then sent forth GM Billy Beane with his traditional holiday message that this isn't really Oakland's time of year. The Giants made it clear they didn't feel like adding salary; their big pickup was ex-Twin A.J. Pierzynski. Seattle made moves, notably the addition of closer Eddie Guardado, but it's the Pacific Northwest, never to be confused with Greater California.
Nope, here along the sandy shores, it's a quiet Western front.
Maybe there's not enough franchise hatred to really set the gears to moving. I speak here of the healthy kind of hatred, the sporting kind, not to be confused with anything in real life. The Red Sox hate the Yankees enough to want to make every available push to get past New York, and that's really all you need. (It's impossible to tell from here whether the Yankees hate the Red Sox or think of them as wonderful sport, but it doesn't really matter. With George Steinbrenner sitting shotgun, the franchise always stands a few hours away from either a breathtakingly huge or an astonishingly silly transaction -- sometimes both in the same breath.)
The Giants and Dodgers once felt that enmity, but it just isn't enough these days to cut through the red tape of Bidness. L.A. is more concerned with who's going to control its team than it is with, say, whether San Francisco has replaced Jose Cruz Jr. or Joe Nathan adequately. The Dodgers have their own problems. And the Giants ownership group is managing to sit both fat and unhappy -- with a consistently good seller in the jewel that is Pac Bell Park, yet saddled with a $20 million annual debt service that shades the baseball operation to a greater extent than anyone probably would want.
Still, often all a winter needs is for one competing team to get a little out of control, or maybe to think a little bigger. Put it this way: I'm not sure how unnerved the Giants are going to be by a Dodgers team that finished 15½ games behind them and just dispatched Brown and his fat salary, nor by a Padres franchise that's really aiming to get good a few years from now. But set Garciaparra down in the middle of the L.A. lineup, add Encarnacion as support rather than foundation -- do those things, and watch the rest of the West sit up and take notice.
The Red Sox-Yankees winter has been voluminous and visceral even by those franchises' standards; it's hard to recall an offseason more delightful in terms of moves, countermoves, rumors and innuendo. That's a Hot Stove League a baseball fan would love to join, and Baltimore's sudden appearance of seriousness (Peter Angelos' attempt to solidify his fan base and perhaps stave off location of a second franchise in the market?) is as welcome as it is curious.
It's also worlds away from where we sit, here in the West, waiting for things to shake out slowly. The winter baseball forecast for California: languid, with occasional gusts of listlessness and a 20 percent chance of secondhand excitement after the teams in the East finish their hyperactivity.
Maybe Billy Beane's right: This no longer is our time of year.
Mark Kreidler is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com
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