These are all vital calls, and meanwhile the agents will fly in from Capistrano and begin their market management. Pedro Martinez, arguably the best starting pitcher on the market, already has a two-year, $25.5 million offer (with an option for another $13 million) in his pocket as he awaits the moves of George Steinbrenner and the Angels' Arte Moreno, among others.
Martinez may now be closer to Greg Maddux than the Pedro of 1997-2001 and his earned run average may have climbed to 3.90, but he is still 50-17 over the last three years. His strikeouts per 9 IP have only declined from 10.8 to 9.93 to 9.41. If the Red Sox think this is dragging on too long and that he is playing games, they will continue to pound after Jason Varitek and move on to either Brad Radke (34-23 in three years) or Carl Pavano, whose three-year career path (6-10, 5.16; 12-13, 4.30; 18-8, 3.00) is the opposite of Derek Lowe's (21-8, 2.58; 17-7, 4.47; 14-12, 5.42).
There are rumblings that the Yankees will go hard after the Red Sox by trying to sign Martinez, Lowe and Varitek. However, finding a trade for Jorge Posada won't be easy unless they pay a big chunk of his contract, which would make Varitek a $13 million-$14 million catcher. But not only is Steinbrenner after the Red Sox, the Yanks' front office was furious during their playoff series at the complaints filed by Boston with the Commissioner's Office for things like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez getting radar readings from the stands The Yankees are expected to make quick, hard runs at Eric Milton and Steve Kline in an effort to get more left-handed, then work the market The Red Sox had hoped that Varitek would give them a chance to sign him early, but that may be unlikely, a leftover from the Larry Lucchino negotiations this spring
Oakland will see what's out there in a deal for one of its big three starting pitchers, but Billy Beane wants to take a step toward 2006, when prospects Huston Street, Joe Blanton, Nick Swisher, Jairo Garcia, Landon Powell, Richie Robnett, et al, may be in the majors. The A's have no interest in Posada or Trot Nixon, but as teams like the Orioles and Phillies line up, the A's do not count out Brian Cashman and Theo Epstein because of their ability to go get what Beane can obtain only with great creativity
In Wally Backman, we've had the first embarrassment for the new Arizona ownership. Next, Richie Sexson is expected to move to Seattle. Then, after rejecting a cosmetic offer, Randy Johnson will force a trade. And Johnson plans to let the D-Backs know that if he isn't traded before the season, he will reject any trade, play it out and move on at the end of the season, as the great one believes he can still pitch another four or five years Then there's the reality that the D-Backs have to pay $34.5 million in 2005 to players who are no longer active. Ah, the folly of deferred payments
The Reds are hoping that Austin Kearns can convert to third base, despite early reports indicating that the switch was a Ken Williams disaster (not that his move to third base was his fault). If Kearns cannot make the transition, a Toronto deal involving Eric Hinske is possible The Orioles have some interest in Delgado, but he is a back-burner guy. They prefer a right-handed hitting outfielder, and are waiting for Scott Boras to give them medical data that shows he is recovering from knee surgery. The inclination is to try to trade for a starter, with a Jorge Julio-Shawn Chacon deal on the table. The O's know they have fiscal problems competing in the division with the Yankees and Red Sox. "Baseball is now divided into blue states and red states," says Mike Flanagan. "We're on the fringe of the blue states"
Jim Bowden had nothing to lose in taking the Washington GM job. He has assurances that he will have some money to build interest, and other GMs know he will be creative and active in seeing what's out there for Vidro, Nick Johnson and others. Don't be surprised if Bowden takes Jose Guillen off Anaheim's hands Oh yes. The Red Sox have no intention of putting Manny Ramirez back on irrevocable waivers Colorado has no interest in Jason Giambi even if it means moving Todd Helton's contract. The Rockies contacted Boston, which had no interest, because its trying to fit its signings into $25-30 million Gerry Hunsicker was simply worn out by Houston owner Drayton McLane. Hunsicker is one of the best in the business, and his name will likely surface in Washington. In fact, it's already surfaced in Philadelphia as Ed Wade's replacement if the Phillies stumble again With a small market for closers, the Indians may make a preemptive strike on Benitez, the Cubs on Troy Percival.
Some in the Yankees' offices refer to the club's back-loaded contracts as Randy Levine's "Manana Economics." Here are their commitments for 2005 and 2006:
Yanks' Back-loaded Contracts
One of the most remarkable career paths belongs to Roger Clemens. The last three seasons his wins have gone from 13 to 17 to 18, his earned run average from 4.35 to 3.91 to 2.98.
Speaking of remarkable, the invaluable Bill James Handbook is available from Baseball Info Solutions and Acta Publications (www.actasports.com). Here is my first week's contribution from the publication, those players on three-year career inclines and declines.