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Cards, A's reload differently



Special to ESPN.com

Dec. 18

Walt Jocketty got his Cardinals to the World Series but knew he needed a No. 1 starter.

He went head-long after Tim Hudson, dabbled in the Pedro Martinez sweepstakes, and now has Mark Mulder: 27 years old, 81-42 lifetime, one of the best left-handed starters of his generation.

As the Braves went to Oakland for Tim Hudson, so did the Cardinals to get Mulder to front their staff, a masterstroke by Jocketty to ensure that St. Louis will be right back in the NL Central hunt.

But the interesting side is what Oakland has done in the span of three days, trading .702 (Hudson) and .659 (Mulder) lifetime winners.

"We have to move forward, not slide backwards," said Oakland general manager Billy Beane, who with one of the game's five lowest payrolls, has had six years averaging 95 wins and seems positioned to go a decade without a losing season.

Danny Haren
Haren has the stuff to be a future ace.

He acquired Danny Haren, whose 20-inning, 17-4 strikeout-walk ratio, 1.77 September ERA echoes his minor-league track record. He also got reliever Kiko Calero, who in two seasons has thrown 83 2/3 innings with just 56 hits allowed, striking out 98, while allowing just 30 walks. Calero has a 2.80 ERA, while allowing just a .193 opponents' average and a .615 opponents' OPS.

So, in three days, Beane has acquired two starters in Haren and Dan Meyer who slip right into the rotation behind Rich Harden, Cy Young Future, and Barry Zito, 26, Cy Young Past, with rookie Joe Blanton behind them. He has acquired two power relievers in Juan Cruz and Calero, a starting left fielder in Charlie Thomas and a potential hitting star in left-handed hitting catcher Daric Barton, just 19, whose A ball stats --.313, 36 extra base hits, 44 strikeouts, 69 walks -- are Pujols-esque.

Now he has depth and power in the pen after Octavio Dotel with Huston Street, Jairo Garcia, Cruz, Calero, Ricardo Rincon and Chad Bradford; he already has a pretty good trade offer for Cruz. Oh yes. The five players other than Bradford he acquired will cost less than $2 million in 2005.

"What I'm trying to do is set our pitching up for five years," said Beane. "That's something we can't do in free agency, so we have to be as creative as possible. There are risks, especially with so many young pitchers, but we have Harden, Blanton, Haren and Meyer for at least five years, Zito for two more."

So what Beane has tried to do is retool without falling too far back. "I felt badly for some of the teams that worked really hard on Hudson and Mulder," said Beane.

"But we had to get pitchers who can step in right away, and Meyer and Haren can do just that."

And the Cardinals will be right back in the high life, again.

Yanks Reload Rotation
The Yankees thought their pitching was set last year. General manager Brian Cashman beat the Red Sox to Javier Vazquez. New York already had Mike Mussina, and when the Red Sox scooped up Curt Schilling, the Yankees reeled in Kevin Brown.

And while the Yankees won 101 games and were one Tony Clark bounce from the World Series, in the end, it was the starting pitching that self-destructed. They had no 15-game winner. Orlando Hernandez (8-2, 3.30) was the only starter with an ERA under 4.09, and he was done by October. Jose Contreras and Esteban Loaiza made 24 starts between them and had earned run averages of 5.74 and 6.10, and the 15 starts by Tanyon Sturtze, Brad Halsey, Jorge DePaula, Alex Graman and Donovan Osborne resulted in ERAs of 4.50, 6.68, 7.11, 30.00 and 14.21 respectively, or "disrepectively," as we have so many players today who don't know the meaning of the word.

So when the Randy Johnson deal is done, Cashman will have completely reconstructed the rotation. Gone will be Vazquez, Jon Lieber, El Duque and the fodder. Oh, Mussina, Brown and Johnson may be 36, 40 and 41 on Opening Day, but they are all 200-game winners whose combined 734 victories are 173 more than the Arizona Diamondbacks' franchise total. They then have Jaret Wright and Carl Pavano. They will have added Felix Rodriguez, Mike Stanton and Kazuhisa Ishii.

Randy Johnson
Johnson likely will lead a formidable Yankees rotation.

Cost of the starting rotation: $60 million.

Cost of the pitching staff (including Steve Karsay and Paul Quantrill): close to $95 million.

Cost of George Steinbrenner finally winning another World Series after a seemingly endless four-year drought: priceless.

It should be noted that Pavano went to the Yankees for what one Red Sox official called "the right reasons -- family (his mother and fiancée). We actually offered a little more money, but his mother had bought the Yankee hat and his fiancée really wanted to go to New York. That's fine. That's good. We offered Brad Radke more money and more years, but he preferred living in Minnesota. For us, it's not good. In the big picture, it's very good. I just wish we had them both."

Whether they go get Carlos Beltran or not, or if Tino Martinez has to replace Jason Giambi, the Yankees are going to be really good. Sure, Johnson is expensive; he's also one of the five greatest left-handers who ever lived, and conditioned to be great for a while longer if his back holds. Sure, Mussina is being paid $19 million this year, Brown $15.7 million.

That's why they have The YES Network, and why so many other teams get take-home gifts from George Steinbrenner, between attendance and luxury tax/revenue sharing dollars. And if someone shows George enough videos of David Ortiz's walk-off piece or Johnny Damon's grand slam, he might go get Beltran and Jason Varitek, just to have on the shelf.

The rest of the American League simply has to play in their different financial divisions. If the Yankees are 1, the Red Sox and Angels are 1A, with the Mariners coming up.

And that's fine. Red Sox GM Theo Epstein says "we build with the assumption that the Yankees are going to win between 100 and 110 games a year, and we concentrate on putting the best possible team on the field and then doing what we can to beat them head-on."

Which the Red Sox have done over two years, going 27-25 in head-on competition and splitting two dramatic seven-game American League Championship Series that could have gone either way.

After 86 years, the Red Sox had some currency this winter, and they knew all season that this would not be an easy offseason. They now know Curt Schilling may miss some time come April -- especially dangerous considering they play the Yankees in six of their first nine games -- and that they will be without Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe. But their plan was:

  • Hold the veteran pitching together as much as possible by signing Matt Clement. Epstein then could hold his prospect bullets until midseason, when they are closer to the major leagues, and use them for the one or two most appealing pitchers on the market;

  • Try to start to get younger. The reason the Mariners had to go to $13 million for five years with Adrian Beltre is that that's where the Red Sox went with Scott Boras. Boston planned to plug the 25-year-old star in at third and go for a cheaper shortstop until Hanley Ramirez is ready, but Beltre preferred the West Coast and wanted $14 million a year over five seasons to go to Boston. So Beltre went to Seattle and the Red Sox signed Edgar Renteria, 29, counting on him being close to his 2002-2003 norm when his on-base percentages were .364 and .394 with an average of 55 extra base hits and 88 RBI. When the Mets were talking about trading their entire farm system for Manny Ramirez, the Red Sox were in position to sign Beltre, Renteria and J.D. Drew, 27.

  • Start to change the culture. The Idiots thing worked for a year, but this has, at times, been a dysfunctional team. They want it to be Varitek's team, and to restore respect for rules, the manager and the game itself, because, as John Lennon always said between spits of tobacco, the respect you earn is equal to the respect you give.

Boston's team is probably better than last year's, but its starting pitching is nowhere near as good as the staff that won the World Series. But if Matt Mantei stays healthy, the Red Sox have an eighth-inning power arm to help Mike Timlin and Alan Embree. By August, they may have some arms on the way in Jon Papelbon, Jon Lester and Abe Alvarez, as well as reliever Cla Meredith.

Once Schilling became the darling of the city, walked out there with his bloody sock and after one gimpy start in The Stadium reiterated his credential as the greatest postseason pitcher of all-time (14 GS, more than two runs allowed twice), Martinez was gone, in a huff.

Forget the hysterics when he left, talking about the Red Sox, not the Mets. His agent, Fern Cuza, knew for a month that the third year was there and that he could get whatever he wanted from the Mets. So he finally drove it to something/anything above Schilling, then took it to the Mets knowing they'd give Martinez whatever he wanted. They spun a nice myth about the Cardinals and Red Sox rushing back with four years to make the Mets look good, but it was fiction.

To the Mets, Martinez is worth whatever they pay him, because he is the right-handed Koufax already entrenched in Cooperstown, a national icon for his pitching and his lifelong charity and someone for whom the National League lineups should be worth a run to a run and a third off his ERA.

If New York doesn't turn on Pedro, it may be the best thing for him, both for his physical strength (this is one person who believes the work he did to rebuild his shoulder doesn't make him as much of a risk as popularly thought) and his motivation to tuck it to Epstein, Schilling, et al. To reiterate a number: the five world champions in the 21st century have changed their rosters an average of 5.8 players per team after May 15. The Yankees won 101 games and had nine holdovers from 2003. It's the way it is.

Why Pedro's $92M contract was a great deal for Boston
MAJOR LEAGUE LEADERS, 1998-2004
Wins ERA Ks per 9 IP
R. Johnson 122 Martinez 2.52 Johnson 11.9
Maddux 121 Johnson 2.74 Martinez 10.95
Martinez 117 K. Brown 2.87 Wood 10.43
In Contrast: Koufax's comparable seven years, 1960-66
Koufax 137 Koufax 2.36 Koufax 9.51

Diamond Notes
  • If Kris Benson comes back to where most think he can be, and considering how much better Tom Glavine pitched than his record, the Mets rotation with Victor Zambrano and Steve Trachsel at the end is going to be one of the three or four best in the league.

  • As the Astros wait to see what happens with Beltran, this is their opening day lineup as of the moment: Craig Biggio, lf; Jason Lane, cf; Orlando Palmeiro, rf.

  • Omar Minaya met with Sammy Sosa on Friday in the Dominican Republic and continues to work on Carlos Delgado (hey, with the recent signings, his track record warrants $13-14 million) and Moises Alou, while dangling Cliff Floyd; a Floyd-Shea Hillenbrand deal was once a possibility.

  • By the time you read this, Jacque Jones may well have been moved -- the Twins couldn't tender him on Dec. 20 because he was a fifth-year arbitration eligible player.

  • The Braves' deal for Tim Hudson might have been done quicker, but John Schuerholz refused to trade rookie right-hander Kyle Davies.

  • The whole politician quagmire in Washington is embarrassing, but the fact remains that MLB announced they were moving before having a deal in place with the warring politicians, a deal in place with Peter Angelos and a deal in place for their media. Major League Baseball is trying to negotiate some compromise with council chair Linda Cropp that would re-open the stadium deal, but the clock is ticking with Dec. 31 the drop-dead date since the Marion Barry crew takes office the first of the year and will kill any park plans. Right now, if the deal does not get re-negotiated, Bud Selig is not going to play at RFK, and the word around baseball is that the Nationals will play the next two years in Norfolk, Va. Would they be called the Norfolk Vicks?

  • Boston declined to put in a claim for A.J. Pierzynski because they felt it would have been viewed as a transparent threat to Varitek

  • The Dodgers had a pretty good idea they would lose Beltre, as they bid $20 million for Corey Koskie, but the third baseman took $17 million from the Blue Jays.

  • The one statistical concern one might have on Hudson, given his hip problems, is that his on-base and slugging allowed against left-handed hitters went from .271 and .291 in 2003 to .354 and .422 in 2004.





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