Baseball Notes

Bargain hunters cooking up plans at the Hot Stove

By Nick Cafardo
January 2, 2011

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The holiday break is over, and now the “second season’’ of the Hot Stove is about to begin. Here’s a look at who might benefit from bargain basement players or January trades:

1. Tampa Bay — The Rays didn’t sign Joaquin Benoit until Feb. 15 last year, and he turned out to be one of the best relievers in baseball. It’s a reminder that cheaper players can make a huge impact if you hit it right. The Rays have to piece together a bullpen and replace Carl Crawford with either rookie Desmond Jennings or a veteran like Johnny Damon, Scott Podsednik, or Fred Lewis. Solid righthander Grant Balfour is still available, and if the market drops on relievers, the Rays might be in position to re-sign him. Chad Qualls, Jon Rauch, Kyle Farnsworth (yeah, I know, but he can still throw), and Chad Durbin could get cheap enough to consider. There are still terrific hitters the Rays could add. Manny Ramirez or Jim Thome could DH. A first baseman like Nick Johnson or Russell Branyan could fit into the limited Rays budget. They have lots of trade chips, such as B.J. Upton. Do not discount this team in the AL East.

2. New York Mets — Since they couldn’t enter into the primary market because of budget constraints , the Mets have to rebuild their pitching with the secondary market. They’ll have to take chances and hope to get lucky. Jeff Francis, Bruce Chen, Brian Burres, Kevin Millwood, Brad Penny, Freddy Garcia, and Jeremy Bonderman — OK, none of them are great — are all out there as possible rotation pieces. Don’t expect the Phillies to deal Joe Blanton within the division.

3. New York Yankees — They don’t need to use the discount bin to fill needs, but a veteran starter like Penny or Millwood, a reliever like Brian Fuentes, or a bat off the bench like Marcus Thames could be an alternative to a deal. But do not put it past the Yankees to make a blockbuster trade that’s not on any radar at the moment. It could involve Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, Ivan Nova, or even one of their veteran outfielders like Curtis Granderson or Nick Swisher. They lost out on Kerry Wood, who did a fine job for them as a setup guy, so ideally they need someone else to help Joba Chamberlain. One dramatic move would be signing Rafael Soriano as a setup man.

4. Los Angeles Angels — Many expect Adrian Beltre to end up here at a price discounted from what Scott Boras was looking for (five years, $85 million). The Angels are making sure not to compete against themselves for Beltre. If they land him at shorter money, they will have done a good job playing out the market and getting their price after drawing the line on Crawford. The same could be true with Soriano, as the Angels currently sit with three setup men and no bona fide closer.

5. Texas — The Rangers, too, aren’t necessarily looking for a bargain, but they probably need to do something after losing Cliff Lee if they want to repeat as American League champions. There are some interesting needs left, including another starting pitcher, and that 1B/DH/3B situation. The latest is that the Rangers appear out on Beltre because moving Michael Young to first base or DH would be rather traumatic. If that’s the case, we’ll see whether they bid on one of the remaining free agent first basemen instead of opening up the job to Mitch Moreland and Chris Davis. They have a lot of decisions to make, including whether to move closer Neftali Feliz to a starting role.

6. Seattle — We’re waiting. The Mariners have had a quiet offseason for a team that needs to do things. They need pitching depth, and any of the free agents mentioned earlier would fit a back-of-the-rotation role. They could also use a bullpen piece, with David Aardsma having hip surgery. It’s assumed that Chone Figgins will move to third base, opening the second base job to Dustin Ackley and Brendan Ryan. Everyone thought Ackley would get to the majors fast, but he will need an exceptional spring training to stick.

7. Arizona — Think Kevin Towers is done dealing? One never knows, but remember that someone might come calling for Justin Upton when you least expect it.

8. Oakland — This is a team that will make an impact in the AL West, whether or not it does anything from here on out. The pitching is too good not to make an impact. The A’s wanted to add a big bat like Beltre, and they tried their best, only to be rebuffed a second time. So they didn’t get that bat, unless you count Hideki Matsui. It seems they had more in mind than that, so let’s see if they add more offense.

9. Cleveland — If they wanted to, the Indians could probably continue selling off players to extract more prospects; Chris Perez, Rafael Perez, Joe Smith, and Fausto Carmona are pitchers other teams would want. They would love to trade Grady Sizemore (he must show he’s healthy) and Travis Hafner.

10. Baltimore — The Orioles have a very interesting lineup with the addition of Derrek Lee. Are they poised to turn the corner toward . . . a winning record? They likely will go as far as their young pitching takes them. The obvious thing would be to add experience to the rotation and possibly beef up the end of the bullpen. They have never been known to be in the Carl Pavano hunt, but that is an interesting name.


Criticism may have gotten Bowa bounced

Larry Bowa has been in uniform 40 years, but won’t be this year. The former Phillies manager, most recently Joe Torre’s third base coach in both New York and Los Angeles, thought he was going to be Don Mattingly’s bench coach with the Dodgers, but Mattingly opted for Trey Hillman.

“I guess he wanted to go in a different direction,’’ said Bowa, who taught Mattingly so many things about managing.

How did Mattingly explain his change of heart?

“He didn’t, really,’’ Bowa said.

Bowa is a longtime confidant of Torre’s and was Torre’s disciplinarian. But his open criticism of Matt Kemp seemed to do him in.

“If you can’t tell a player that he should be running out ground balls and how to play the game the right way, then why are you coaching?’’ said Bowa. “You can get someone off the street to be their friend. Sometimes you pay a price for being honest.

“He’s a five-tool player, but he’d bring you five tools on Monday and sometimes one tool on Tuesday. This kid can do anything he wants in this game. He’s got tremendous ability. He’s not a bad kid. It just looked like he had other things on his mind.

“I was trying to get him to see what he was doing or not doing. Some people call it ‘old school.’ I just call it playing baseball the right way. I’ve put on the uniform and played the hardest I could for as long as I could. That’s all I ever asked of anyone else.’’

Kemp’s agent, Dave Stewart, said at the time that he thought Bowa should not be allowed to speak on this subject. Imagine a coach not being allowed to speak his mind? Should he just hit fungos and keep his mouth shut?

Bowa said he called three general managers he knew to see if he could hook on.

“None of them called me back,’’ he said. “I thought there was a professional courtesy or something, but maybe it’s the way they do things now.’’

Bowa isn’t ready to call it a career. He is pursuing a couple of other possibilities to stay in the game, directly or indirectly.

Bowa is a gem the game shouldn’t lose.


With passing of Lajoie, game loses a great one

Bill Lajoie was one of my weekly calls, and if I didn’t call him, he’d call me.

“Hey, Bill, how are you feeling?’’

“Great, Nick.’’

I knew that wasn’t always the case, but we never spoke about his ailments. That’s because Bill never complained about anything.

You talk about a pure baseball man, well, that was Bill Lajoie. He knew talent and players and their psyches. He had been a player, a manager, a general manager, and an adviser.

He used common sense and instincts to make his evaluations, not the quantitative data that so many teams use. He knew there was a use for it, but that isn’t why Theo Epstein and Neal Huntington and Ned Colletti valued his opinions so much. They wanted his eyes.

He built the 1984 Tigers championship team, bringing in Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Willie Hernandez, etc.

That year was the first time I was around Lajoie, who could be gruff if you didn’t know him. Once you got to know him, though, there wasn’t a more loyal friend. As much as he groomed scouts and GMs, he groomed sportswriters, too.

“So what do you think of . . .’’ is how our conversations often started. After he heard what you had to say and showed great respect for your opinion, he’d offer his take and bring up something you wouldn’t have thought of in a million years.

One young scout remembers, “We were in a meeting, and Bill gave his opinion on a player, and he picked him apart and brought out all the reasons why we shouldn’t go after him.

“I disagreed, because I had my strong opinions on why we should go after him. As he spoke, the things he said about the player were things I’d never considered. By the end of his spiel, I just sat there and realized, ‘Bill’s right.’

“When it came to my turn to say something, I said, ‘I agree with everything Bill just said.’ ’’

Kind of the way our conversations would end.

We lost this wonderful man last week at age 76.

I’ll miss you, Bill.

Apropos of nothing 1. I’m taking Harmon Killebrew vs. the esophageal cancer he’s now battling; 2. Be interesting to see if Red Sox prospect Lars Anderson emerges without Anthony Rizzo behind him; 3. The Sox have some redundancy with Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick; 4. Wonder if J.D. Drew will play beyond this year, the final year of his contract; 5. So happy that expanded replay was put on the back burner this winter.

Updates on nine 1. Edgar Renteria, SS, free agent: The World Series MVP, out of work, has a shot at joining the Reds, who are looking for veteran help at shortstop after letting Orlando Cabrera go. Renteria could have walked off into the sunset with two memorable World Series moments, but at 34, and in good health, he feels he can be the player he was in the Series for at least a couple of more years.

2. Adam LaRoche, 1B, free agent — The Nationals have been extremely aggressive in pursuing players, and LaRoche is the next guy on their radar after a deal with the Orioles fell through. The Nationals know it’s tough to get players to buy into the future of the team, and that’s why they overpaid for Jayson Werth and why they may give LaRoche the three-year deal he’s seeking.

3. Manny Delcarmen, RHP, free agent — Delcarmen’s agent, Jim Masteralexis, says Delcarmen has several teams interested. Don’t bet against the Rays, who have seen a lot of Delcarmen over the years (40 appearances against them, a 5.06 ERA) and could use a middle/late reliever. Other than that, he has pitched respectably against AL East rivals New York (30 games, 2.20), Baltimore (32 games, 3.64), and Toronto (2-0, 3.30 in 29 games).

4. Carl Pavano, RHP, free agent — We’re told something may happen this week on the last of the big-name free agent starting pitchers. Pavano is likely to decide between Minnesota and Washington. We know his preference is to return to the Twins, but the Nationals will offer him a better contract. It won’t be an easy decision for the former Red Sox farmhand, and he may take less to stay where he’s happy.

5. Jack Zduriencik, general manager, Mariners — He will find himself on the hot seat if he doesn’t turn the team’s fortunes around. He has hired Eric Wedge as manager, but the Mariners appear to lack depth, and the offense is still woeful. Baseball people don’t like this team except for Felix Hernandez at the top of the rotation and the possible arrival of Dustin Ackley as the starting second baseman.

6. Doug Melvin, GM, Brewers — He has recovered well after a poor season. In a short period of time, he hired Ron Roenicke as manager, made two significant trades for pitching — acquiring Shaun Marcum from Toronto and Zack Greinke from the Royals — and added Takashi Saito to his bullpen. There is excitement again in Milwaukee. But the next thing for Melvin is to decide what, if anything, to do with Prince Fielder. Do they allow him to play out the string this year and become a free agent, or will there be a push before spring training to get him dealt?

7. Jed Hoyer, GM, Padres — He did a terrific job turning the PR hit on Adrian Gonzalez into a very salvageable situation by upgrading the middle infield with Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett, with the possibility of Brad Hawpe at first base. Hoyer never thought he could keep Gonzalez, and has ventured to build a new team that’s suited for Petco Park (pitching and defense). This team, like Tampa Bay, is one many baseball people feel will decline. I’m not ready to join them just yet.

8. Rafael Palmeiro, 1B, retired — I was asked by a few reporters why I wouldn’t vote for him for the Hall of Fame. I was always a huge advocate for Palmeiro because he was so consistent and his numbers really popped out. But as we reach the steroid-era players in Hall voting, one place I will draw the line is that anyone who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs after the steroid policy was implemented will not get my vote. Players were warned that after the 2003 non-binding testing, from then on they’d be penalized if caught. There are no excuses for guys not cleaning themselves up or for claiming not to know what they were injecting into their bodies.

9. Terry Francona, manager, Red Sox — At age 51, he will start the 2010 season tied with Mike Scioscia for second-most regular-season games managed (1,782) among active American League managers. Buck Showalter isn’t far behind with 1,773. The leader in the AL is Jim Leyland with 3,013. Francona, however, has managed in two very high-profile Northeast cities, Philadelphia and Boston. He also has had top talent and payrolls to work with, at least in Boston. In the National League, Tony La Russa has managed 4,934 games. Trailing La Russa is Dusty Baker at 2,690 (he also played in 2,039 games) and Bruce Bochy at 2,574.

Short hops From the Bill Chuck files: “In 1970, Carl Yastrzemski had 186 hits, 102 RBIs, and a 1.044 OPS. In 2010, Josh Hamilton had 186 hits, 100 RBIs, and a 1.044 OPS.’’ Also, “If you look at 2001-10 as the first decade of the 21st century, then you need to know that CC Sabathia was baseball’s winningest pitcher, edging Roy Halladay, 157-156. In AL wins alone, Sabathia led with 146; Mark Buehrle was next with 144. The NL leader was Roy Oswalt with 150 wins.’’ . . . Happy birthday to Jeff Suppan (36) and David Cone (48).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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