After leaky week, GMs eager to see transaction season begin
By Peter Gammons Special to ESPN.com
The fallout from the BALCO leaks stuffed the rest of baseball underground for four days. So baseball reaches the Dec. 7 date for free agents to be offered arbitration and the Dec. 9 assembling of the winter meetings far behind where it normally finds itself in terms of signings and trades.
"It seems as if nothing has been done for two weeks," one GM said. "At this point, it appears as if the transaction season will effectively begin Wednesday and heat up for at least two weeks -- right up to the 23rd."
Once clubs see whether they have to surrender draft picks for free agents Wednesday, there could be some signings before everyone starts arriving at the Anaheim Marriott on Thursday. There are rumblings that Jaret Wright (White Sox, maybe Mariners) could get done quickly, and with the Yankees and one other team talking to Eric Milton about a three-year deal in the $21 million to $22 million range, that, too, might happen.
"But agents are looking at the Kris Benson, Omar Vizquel and Cristian Guzman signings and can't possibly allow their clients to go for lower than what the early signings appear to have established as the market," an NL GM said. "I don't blame them. I don't blame Jon Lieber for asking for three years, or Pedro Martinez for four."
There should be several trades in Anaheim, although it remains to be seen if either Sammy Sosa or Randy Johnson will be moved. The Cubs want to deal Sosa to the Mets --for Cliff Floyd and a prospect, with Chicago making the money work -- but the Mets haven't indicated whether they're still in it. There had been reports in New York that the Barry Bonds "scandal" affected New York's thinking, but the Cubs' front office thinks that is absurd, since Sosa has never been linked to any steroid scandal and last year hit 35 home runs despite missing close to 30 games because of a back injury.
As for Johnson, most everyone expects him to go to the Yankees, who will give him his contract extension.
"When and if the Diamondbacks come off their demands," said one source, "they can talk."
Javier Vazquez will be in it, as will third baseman Eric Duncan. The acquisition of Felix Rodriguez sparked speculation that Tom Gordon could be included, speculation denied by the Yankees.
Oakland will be taking offers on any of its big three, but Billy Beane is in no hurry to move Tim Hudson, Barry Zito or Mark Mulder until he gets what he wants. Baltimore thus far has been very active (starting with Erik Bedard). Atlanta may be.
But general managers could leave on the 13th with no big names being traded. Instead, they could sift through lesser possibilities -- Charles Johnson from Colorado to Tampa, if Scott Boras and Chuck LaMarr can get together to waive Johnson's no-trade (and avoid a spring release); the Rangers are actively shopping Alfonso Soriano, whose three consecutive years of declining performance make his arbitration price high, although the Mets are always a possibility if they can move Kaz Matsui; Toronto and Washington have talked about an Alexis Rios-Nick Johnson swap; Boston will talk to clubs about Dave Roberts (in whom there's considerable interest) and one of either Kevin Millar or Doug Mientkiewicz; Colorado will trade Shawn Chacon.
"I think that once clubs get in rooms together things happen," Cubs GM Jim Hendry said. "That should be the case."
How many free agents get signed is subject to question. These are the teams that could drive the market:
Anaheim: Artie Moreno has no debt, a thirst to take Southern California, a GM in Bill Stoneman who hordes the value of young $300,000 players and will be the man to watch. "They will be the favorites on Carlos Beltran and they will sign a shortstop (reportedly Orlando Cabrera over Edgar Renteria) before they get to the pitching," one GM said. Beltran and Cabrera?
Detroit: The Tigers are in on every free agent, and the other AL Central GMs are predicting Detroit's payroll hits $80 million (compared to the White Sox at $70M, Twins at $54M, Indians at $48M and Royals at $40M). Boras is enamored with Mike Ilitch, who has a lot of time and money on his hands with the NHL in limbo, and GMs think there could be a package with two of Boras' major free agents from Derek Lowe, J.D. Drew and Adrian Beltre. They've reportedly offered Steve Finley $16 million for two years (which might just lure him from L.A. or San Francisco), are bobbing for Troy Glaus and will spend big for Carl Pavano, Lowe or some other pitcher. There have been reports that they could sign Renteria -- who has ties to the Dave Dombrowski crew -- and put Carlos Guillen at third.
The Mets: Even if they got Sosa, they still need to prove they can get the big free agent, which is why the Red Sox believe they'll go to guarantee the full four years and $50 million for Pedro (Boston will go to three years, $38 million). The Mets are also in on Carlos Delgado and have made Richie Sexson an offer.
The Yankees: Thus far, their attention has been on pitching; outside of Johnson, New York has talked to seven starters. Indications are now that first base will be attended to by either Tino Martinez or John Olerud, but if George Steinbrenner feels the entire Jason Giambi affair has gotten too messy and embarrassing, there is always the possibility he could shoot the moon on Beltran. The outfielder's friends think it will be Anaheim or Houston (whose new TV deal could spring seven times $15 million), but the Yankees are the Yankees.
Seattle: The Mariners have money to spend and will, for either Delgado or Sexson, perhaps even Glaus or Beltre, plus a pitcher.
Presuming Nomar Garciaparra gets a one-year deal worked out with the Cubs, that leaves Cabrera and Renteria in the mix for the Cardinals (who started at four years, $32 million for Renteria), Red Sox and teams like the Angels, Tigers and Mariners. What would Boston do if it loses out on both Cabrera and Renteria? The Red Sox can sign a filler like Jose Valentin, Barry Larkin, Craig Counsell, Rich Aurilia or Pokey Reese. Julio Lugo may be available. And there might be others available, like Matsui, even David Eckstein. The Sox thought they had a Roberts-Maicer Izturis trade done, but the Nationals found they could get Jose Guillen and moved Izturis to the Angels, who don't want to trade him.
Then there's the starting pitching circle, inflated by Benson's deal. There is no immediate end to the big chase -- Martinez -- unless the Mets go to four years. Pavano may sign by next weekend. Teams pursuing Brad Radke seem confused by agent Ron Simon, who has asked teams if they'd consider two, not three, years with a player option. Matt Clement could go at the meetings, with the Dodgers and Cardinals the rumored leaders. Lowe (Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore and others), Odalis Perez (Washington's after him hard now, but why sign early?), Lieber and Milton will likely get done. Then those who are a starter short will start thinking about the possibility of Ben Sheets being next summer's big trade deadline prize.
It seemed as if Boras' reduction from five to four years guaranteed for Jason Varitek would get that deal done quickly, but they are still $2 million apart in average annual value and indications are that it will go right to the 19th, when Varitek can accept or decline arbitration.
And another thing ...
The Rockies are dead serious about trying to void Denny Neagle's contract on morals grounds. But their chances of winning are slight. The odds of Steinbrenner getting out of Giambi's contract may be better, if slightly, but lawyers caution that if that gets to court, it could open up a very serious issue -- which owners knew what about steroid use and when. ... Rick Ankiel has three walks and 25 strikeouts in 20 innings in Puerto Rico. ... The Astros are encouraged by medical reports on Wade Miller, so they will probably tender him a contract. ... Among the pitchers clubs feel may be non-tendered are Josh Fogg, Scott Schoeneweis, John Riedling, Jarrod Washburn and Luis Vizcaino. ... Among the players who could be non-tendered are A.J. Pierzynski, Shea Hillenbrand, Chris Woodward, Jay Gibbons and Junior Spivey. ... Arizona has made a serious run at Glaus, but with $55 million due him next season in deferred payments, other owners wonder where, short of bankruptcy court, they're going to get the money to pay new players.