When Jim Bowden awoke Saturday morning, there were already 41 messages on his cell phone. "How quickly I forgot," the interim general manager of the Washington-based Expos says, "how crazy this job really is."
Bowden doesn't know how long he will have this job or to what end, only that Bob DuPuy told him "do whatever's necessary" to get the team formerly known as the Expos back toward the road to respectability. "We've started selling tickets," says Bowden, "so I want to try to create some excitement and get people interested. It's a great city, a great opportunity, and I'll give the job everything I have."
Monday, Bowden sets up his office at the spring training complex in Melbourne, where cows roam behind the center-field fence. At different times this week, manager Frank Robinson, assistant GM Tony Siegel and scouting director Dana Brown will fly to Florida to discuss personnel moves with Bowden. "I've already made offers to free agents," he says. "And I've discussed a number of trades. We are in business, and I'm going to try to do everything possible to get this team moving in the right direction, both in the short and long terms."
Bowden is looking for a shortstop, third baseman, right-field bat and veteran (180 to 200 innings) starting pitcher. If possible, he'd like to hold onto catcher Brian Schneider (who's sought by Boston, among many other teams, after having the majors' best percentage of runners thrown out), first baseman Nick Johnson, center fielder Brad Wilkerson and relievers Chad Cordero and Luis Ayala. Bowden tried to acquire Jose Guillen, whose career he rescued in Cincinnati, but the Angels insisted on getting Cordero back in return. Guillen may end up in Florida in a three-way trade that would send Randy Johnson to Anaheim, or he'll be moved to Kansas City.
The free agents on his list include third basemen Corey Koskie and Vinny Castilla and shortstop Cristian Guzman, as well as several pitchers. Philadelphia came asking for Endy Chavez, several teams have asked for rookie outfielder Ryan Church, including Tampa Bay, which has several veterans it's trying to move, Aubrey Huff and Jose Cruz Jr. among them.
"I think we can have a pretty solid bullpen with Ayala, Cordero and (Gary) Majewski," says Bowden. "We have some pretty good young starters, and (left-hander) Mike Hinckley (11-4 between Class A Brevard and Double-A Harrisburg) is a stud, someone I don't think I'd be afraid to send to the big leagues this season."
So, from now until the winter meetings in December, Bowden will be holed up in Melbourne, trying to find ways to make baseball's refugees interesting to the people of Washington.
Only the bad and the ugly (contracts)
Sammy Sosa. Preston Wilson. Kevin Brown. Jason Giambi. Kenny Lofton. Cliff Floyd. Mike Piazza. Tom Glavine. Byung-Hyun Kim. Ryan Klesko. Jason Kendall. Andruw Jones. Shawn Green. Darren Dreifort. Arthur Rhodes. Jose Vidro. Pat Burrell. Mike Lieberthal. Charles Johnson. Chan Ho Park. Matt Lawton. Paul Konerko. Eric Hinske. Edgardo Alfonzo. Ray Durham. Juan Encarnacion. Shigetoshi Hasegawa. Jay Payton. Jeff Bagwell. Jose Guillen. Tim Salmon. Bret Boone. Joe Mays. Kazuo Matsui ...
... And on and on it runs, the list of players teams would love to unload to rid themselves of the salaries. They are, pure and simple, bad contracts, some too long, some too much money. And while agents posture for five-year deals for mid-30s players or 10 years for icons, there is one fact of life every general manager has to accept: Kevin Malone went from the Sheriff of L.A. County to a fundraiser for a small Christian college because he doled out 18 years' worth of contracts to Brown, Green and Dreifort.
It appears that Sosa may be willing to pare down the $18 million he is owed for 2006 if he is traded, which would open the door for him to be traded to the Mets and reunited with Omar Minaya. Sosa's agent, Adam Katz, warns that he does not want Sosa to play for three different teams in three years, which would be the case if he were to go to Colorado for Preston Wilson and Charles Johnson. As Tracy Ringolsby pointed out, it is a cash wash, but while Sosa might hit 70 homers in Coors Lite, Katz knows that the Rockies would either trade him in July or let him walk at the end of the season.
The lengths of deals trouble clubs because history doesn't lie. Scott Boras is asking for five years and $65 million for Jason Varitek, and the Red Sox won't give it to him even though Varitek is the soul of the team. "Guaranteeing a catcher $11 million at the age of 37 (Varitek's fourth year in this deal) is suicide, probably to the GM," says one National League GM. Boras told the Red Sox he has a five-year offer in hand, but then he told the Phillies and Braves that Kevin Millwood and Greg Maddux had multi-year offers in 2003 and 2002, respectively, and neither did, requiring them to go to arbitration.
Presently, the Red Sox are trying to sign Pedro Martinez and Carl Pavano, who says that he would very much like to pitch with Curt Schilling. "I have a past with Curt (going back to Schilling's days in New Britain, Conn., when Pavano was a teenager in Southington)," says Pavano. "And I would like to learn from him." Boston has some interest in Troy Glaus, and could make it work if they cleared $8 million by trading Kevin Millar and Doug Mientkiewicz, but that is a 10 percent shot and way down the road.
Because of the aggressive nature of agents like Boras and the fact that teams want to see what players require as free agents, don't expect much to happen until after Dec. 7, when clubs can offer their free agents arbitration. "I think this is going to drag out until January and even February," Giants GM Brian Sabean says. "There will be more players signed after the first of the year than before," says another GM. "There will be another 40 non-tendered players on the market. And the shortstop market may take five or six weeks to sort itself out."
There were four teams that reached the postseason in both 2003 and 2004: the Yankees, Twins, Red Sox and Braves. The Yankees had nine players on both postseason rosters, the Braves nine, the Twins 14, the Red Sox 16.
"That turnover," says one general manager, "is what successful teams do."
"Teams that put themselves in a position to win every year," said another GM, "don't fall in love with the past."
The Dodgers' postseason roster had eight players who weren't with them (DL'd players don't count) on Opening Day, the Astros six, Twins and Angels five, Red Sox, Braves and Yankees four, and the Cardinals two.
"The playoffs aren't in January," Oakland GM Billy Beane says. "You leave flexibility so that the first two months of the season are spent finding out what you have, the next two months are spent trying to get what you need, and the last two months you go for it."
In case you were wondering Value Over Replacement Player for free agent starters
(Source: Baseball Prospectus)
Firing up the projector
And you don't think home runs are devalued? There were 16 players with 500 homers -- all Hall of Famers -- before 1998. In James' career projections, there are 19 current players who project to 500 or more home runs:
Quality starts: Johnson, 26; Johan Santana and Jeff Weaver, 25; Brad Radke, Sheets and Doug Davis, 23.
Austin's power available
The Reds are taking offers on Austin Kearns, with a young future top-of-the-rotation starter their primary need ... Texas will move Alfonso Soriano, as expected ... The Mets are offering Al Leiter $4 million in addition to his $2 million buyout once they don't pick up the $10 million option for 2005 ... The Cardinals still believe they can re-sign Edgar Renteria, but he will have to backload the deal. ... The first two teams to step up to Oakland seeking one of the Big Three are the Braves (offering second baseman Marcus Giles and left-handed pitcher Dan Meyer) and the Orioles (offering pitchers Erik Bedard and John Maine). A's GM Billy Beane will wait and take in offers from other teams. Beane is also talking to the Pirates about a deal for Jason Kendall, which would involve Arthur Rhodes and Mark Redman. If the A's are able to acquire Kendall, Beane could then move him at some point, with catchers Landon Powell, John Baker and Jeremy Brown all currently minor leaguers in Oakland's system.