At the beginning of last week, Royals general manager Allard Baird told his players that they had one week to turn their season around or he would have to begin shopping players and move on to 2005.
Phils Not After Beltran
We keep seeing the Phillies listed among the potential suitors for Carlos Beltran. Well, cross them off the list.
For one thing, it's not their M.O. to give up prospects of Gavin Floyd's or Cole Hamels' magnitude for a rent-a-player. For another thing, with a $92-million payroll, they don't have enough financial breathing room to take on even the last two months of Beltran's $9-million paycheck.
And finally, no matter what you hear, they're not ready to pull the plug on Marlon Byrd -- a perennial slow starter who hit .325 after June 1 last year. Then again, if Byrd hasn't gotten his stroke mechanics together by July 1, stay tuned.
-- Jayson Stark
"I've never heard of a one-week ultimatum before," George Brett said to Baird. "Hey," replied Baird, "that's the way we have to look at it."
Baird's reasoning was simple. "If we're going to be so far behind on Memorial Day that we don't have a realistic chance of getting into the race, we have to move on," he said. "We have to keep developing the young players we have, and add the parts around them. The fact is that if you move now rather than wait until the (July 31) deadline, the player is worth more to the team that trades for him because he gets him for anywhere from 40 to 60 extra games. That means we can get more."
That is the way Cleveland's Mark Shapiro reasoned two years ago when he put Bartolo Colon into the market early and got three prime building pieces from the Expos in Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore. That was Ken Williams' thinking last year when he moved early on Roberto Alomar and Carl Everett; reliever Frank Francisco has already paid dividends for the Rangers, and right-hander Josh Rupe isn't too far behind. That was Theo Epstein's reason for moving quickly to do the Shea Hillenbrand-Byung-Hyun Kim deal, as Kim went 8-5 with 16 saves and stabilized the bullpen, enabling Boston to make the playoffs.
With Carlos Beltran in Houston, the Yankees can focus on what they really need -- starting pitching.
So while the Royals picked up this week and took two of three from the Twins over the weekend, they still entered the holiday only a half-game ahead of the Devil Rays in the race for the worst record in the American League. If Kansas City hasn't gotten within single digits of the division-leading White Sox by next Monday's draft, Carlos Beltran will be actively shopped, as will Joe Randa and other veterans; Baird feels to move Mike Sweeney, who has a list of eight teams to which he can be traded and gets a $1.5 million bump if dealt, "would be pretty tough for our fans, but it will probably depend on how Mike feels."
There will be a major scrum for Beltran, with this major understanding: Scott Boras wants to get Beltran into the free agent market, which means that what a club gives up is for a three- to four-month rental and a head start on the courtship. That clearly would throw the Padres, Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox and A's into the line. Maybe the Giants, Diamondbacks and Marlins. If the Mets are out of it, trading three players for the back pages of the tabloids would be senseless.
This is an odd trading season because at the Memorial Day turn there are very few teams for whom it's over. Seeming rebuilders like the Pirates, Brewers, Reds, Tigers and Rangers can't afford to be waving white flags to their fans before the All-Star break. In the NL West, no one is out of a race that may be won with 83 victories. Montreal's Omar Minaya is trying to hold onto and develop the Expos for the 2005 move.
Realistically, until the Royals decide what to do, the only teams willing to start unloading players are the Mariners and Blue Jays, and with Carlos Delgado and Frank Catalanotto hurt, Toronto's two most attractive pieces are sidelined (and Delgado may not be willing to waive his no trade, anyway). Seattle tried to get Dusty Baker and the Cubs to take Rich Aurilia, but were rejected. The Mariners' most attractive chips are Freddy Garcia, Bret Boone and Everyday Eddie Guardado, but they may proceed cautiously with those three. Because the market is tight, Garcia is the most attractive pitcher on the market. He will be 28 on June 10, has won as many as 18 games, pitched well against the Yankees in two playoff series and still has big-time stuff. However, the fact that the Mariners will not even try to re-sign him sends up a flag. Yet, it is well known that Williams has been trying to piece together a deal with Bill Bavasi for Garcia, and that the Yankees, Twins, Red Sox, Rangers, Cardinals, Padres, Dodgers, Braves and Orioles would be joined in the chase by the Giants, D-Backs and even the Phillies if Vincente Padilla is down for a long time.
The Royals want a young third baseman, catcher, second baseman, outfielder and pitching, so Baird hopes to get three of the five if he deals Beltran. "We know he'd give us one more potential free agent," says one Boston official. "But it would be very hard to turn away from Beltran for this season." With Kevin Youkilis, catcher Kelly Shoppach and left-hander Abe Alvarez, the Red Sox might have a package that would at least pique Baird's attention. But to give up three players who next year will make $900,000, not to mention give them insurance if Jason Varitek leaves and the promise of a much-needed left-handed starter, might be too much. The Yankees have Double-A catcher Dioner Navarro, but little else in terms of 2005-ready position players. So this may be open.
Seattle wants to get younger, quicker and more athletic, starting in the infield and center field; don't underestimate the Twins in the Garcia hunt. They have a phalanx of good young players and depth in the high minors and on the 25-man roster. Toronto wants quality arms, although J.P. Ricciardi will listen on a third baseman, first baseman and an outfielder.
Colorado is open for business, and while the Rockies would like to redeem Jason Jennings (hey, he won his last start), the Red Sox and others have already been calling. Now, when Preston Wilson gets back and is healthy, if someone wants to take his $12.5 million 2005 contract, there's something to talk about. And the Indians are always looking to the future, which is why if someone like the Cubs came inquiring about Omar Vizquel, they would listen.
Obviously, a lot can and likely will change before the deadline, as we see what the middle third of the season brings to the pitching staffs of the Pirates, Cardinals, Brewers, Reds, Tigers, Diamondbacks, Giants, Rangers and Orioles.
We know the Yankees, Red Sox, A's, White Sox, Cubs, Marlins, Cardinals, Padres and Twins will deal if they stay in it. The Twins made a division-winning trade for Shannon Stewart last season, Williams always goes after it, the Cubs traded for Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton, Oakland's history is to get players like Jermaine Dye, Ray Durham, Ricardo Rincon and Jose Guillen and Marlins GM Larry Beinfest helped get his team into the Series by acquiring Ugueth Urbina and Jeff Conine.
When it comes to rebuilding with these dump deals, there are seldom guarantees. Oakland seemingly gave up two top prospects to get Dye, but Mario Encarnacion and Jose Ortiz were never heard from again. The Pirates got Bobby Hill and Freddy Sanchez for Ramirez, Lofton, Scott Sauerbeck and Jeff Suppan. Cincinnati, desperate to pare payroll, got Brandon Claussen (a good Sunday start, but poor Triple-A season) and a couple of sore-armed lefties for Aaron Boone, Gabe White, Felix Heredia and Scott Williamson, although the $2 million-plus they received was the reason for the trades. Baltimore, however, acquired a chunk of its future in Denny Bautista in the Conine trade, as the Rangers acquired their future first baseman, Adrian Gonzalez, for Urbina.
"Teams that are sellers had better be prepared -- the way the Twins were always prepared -- to ask for the right players when they were unloading," says one AL GM. "Contenders can't be wishy-washy. It means a lot to get quality players early, and there may not be much quality available because of the parity in the NL Central and West divisions."
News and notes
Perhaps the most surprising element in the AL Central is the fact that the White Sox starters are among the top three staffs in the league -- despite the fact they are 0-8 with their fifth starters. In fact, they haven't had a win out of a fifth starter since 2002.
Let's see, that's Chan Ho Park's fifth trip onto the DL in three years. More fodder for the "retain John Hart" contingent, who have had enough of Scott Boras' influence, which many see as extending to Grady Fuson.
It's not fair to Alex Rodriguez, per se, but when they drew three straight games at 49,000 for the Yankees, it was a contrast to the five times the Rangers drew that many with A-Rod in his three years.
Rumors filter around about Walt Jocketty and Tony LaRussa being in trouble if the Cardinals don't make the playoffs, despite the fact that St. Louis has been in contention the last few years. Jocketty has not been talked to about an extension. His signing of Chris Carpenter has turned to be one of the best moves, as Jocketty says Carpenter "may be our best pitcher by the time the season is over."
It's been a tough stretch for Bret Boone, with grandfather Ray in a San Diego Hospital recovering from a stroke. Bret also has a hip flexor problem, which has affected him at the plate.
As for Aaron, he, too is struggling with his esteemed grandfather's illness, but says he "should be ready to go out to play in about two months." The Angels, Orioles, Dodgers, Pirates and Red Sox are among the inquiring teams, with Anaheim the early favorites. But don't underestimate Baltimore; signing Boone would eventually allow Melvin Mora to return to the outfield.
The Padres were privately peeved at Phil Nevin's outburst at a Philadelphia fan, but Kevin Towers is out looking for a starting pitcher. He inquired about Derek Lowe, but the Red Sox are trying to restore their former 20-game winner.
Boston is still trying to assess Kim interest if the Red Sox pick up most of the salary.
Don't be surprised if the Mets ask Kaz Matsui to switch places with Jose Reyes next year. But first they think they can address Matsui's vision problems; part of his problem defensively is that he hasn't been able to pick up the catchers' signs and set himself.
The Cardinals had hoped to get Edgar Renteria signed, but talks have essentially broken off, so Renteria and Nomar Garciaparra may enter the free-agent market as the premier shortstops.
The Padres may now go for Florida State's Stephen Drew as Khalil Greene's eventual double-play partner, but if they should turn back to Jared Weaver, here is one man's opinion -- 15 years from now, Vanderbilt left-hander Jeremy Sowers will have more major-league victories than any of the high-ceiling righties, from Weaver to Old Dominion's Justin Verlander to Rice's Jeff Niemann and Phil Humber.
There is heat from the Houston media on Jimy Williams, especially concerning his handling of the bullpen. Which, as Octavio Dotel tries to find himself and Dan Miceli gets used the way Rick Stone was two years ago, is a major concern.
A few statistical observations:
It's worth noting that senior citizens Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens are 1-2 in the NL in strikeouts per 9 innings (10.63 and 10.62, respectively), right ahead of Oliver Perez and Ben Sheets, who is second in fewest walks per 9 innings behind 40-year-old David Wells. Sheets has a 77-11 K/BB ratio.
Colorado has a .304 average, 42 homers and a .921 OPS in 25 home games, .236/28/.699 in 24 road games. But Texas has similar splits: .315/39/.911 in 25 home games, .246/25/.706 in 24 road games.
Some individual numbers: