|MIGUEL CABRERA Weight is an issue|
He is the sensation of the Hot Stove season. A little pudgy. A little carefree. There's a lot of Miguel being Miguel. But Miguel Cabrera might be emerging as the best pure hitter in the National League.
He would fit like a glove in Boston. The Miguel and Manny Show would be something to behold.
The Red Sox do have interest in Cabrera, but there's more of a chance that the Angels or Dodgers will land him simply because they may have more young players they'd be willing to part with in a deal with Florida.
Some have called him the "Manny Ramírez of the National League." He's 24 and is listed at 6 feet 4 inches, 240 pounds. You might say he's a growing boy, and that's one of the problems. He vowed in a recent interview with a Venezuelan newspaper to take his conditioning more seriously.
The nightlife on South Beach probably doesn't help. The feeling is that Cabrera has to mature and realize that with his natural ability to hit a baseball, more preparation and better care of his body could take him to incredible heights.
He is definitely a young player who needs a father figure/guidance counselor. But it's always a treat for the rest of baseball when a young impact player is available for the taking. The Rangers seized upon such an opportunity in 2001 when they signed 25-year-old Alex Rodriguez to a record 10-year, $252 million deal.
"No worries about whether this kid loves to play," said Dodgers special adviser Bill Lajoie, who watched a lot of Marlins games. "He loves to play. He loves to hit. He definitely loves the game."
The Dodgers have good young players they could give up like James Loney, Matt Kemp, Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, Clayton Kershaw, and Andy LaRoche, but they are drawing a line. Cabrera is a heck of a player, but Lajoie is very protective of the Dodgers' young talent.
"It comes down to what you have to give up," Lajoie said. "If you can do it by giving up one solid player, then you do it. As far as giving away three or four regular players, I don't believe you do that. It's obviously up to the individual club to make that decision."
Lajoie believes Cabrera can remain at third base, though some see him eventually at first base.
"Certainly if he balloons to 240 or 250 pounds, it would affect his first-step quickness," said Lajoie. "But he has a very accurate and powerful arm. He can stay at third base. It's up to the team."
Because of his weight issues, Cabrera is considered "heavy-legged," which is one of the reasons he was moved out of left field. He would prefer to stay at third, which is why he is at least talking a good game about conditioning.
Asked about comparisons to Ramírez, Lajoie said, "He's an exceptional hitter who knows the strike zone. He doesn't chase bad pitches. Manny certainly has a longer track record. But I'd say if you compared their first four years, they'd probably be similar."
In his first four full seasons, Cabrera has hit 126 homers and knocked in 461 runs. In Ramírez's first full four years, he hit 135 homers and knocked in 452. A-Rod bashed 143 homers and had 442 RBIs, and Albert Pujols was off the charts with 160 homers and 504 RBIs.
He would also love to stay in Florida, but the two-time World Series champion Marlins have morphed back into a small-market team (in a big market) unable to afford star players once they get deep into their arbitration years. Any team trading for Cabrera will have to make quite an investment.
That limits the options.
In Anaheim, Cabrera would be a perfect hitter in front of or behind Vladimir Guerrero, and the Angels have several young players they could give up. The Yankees and Red Sox also have the means, if they want to relinquish their top young players. But both also have their eyes on Johan Santana and possibly Dan Haren, if the A's make him available.
Cabrera's running buddy, Hanley Ramirez, said, "He's one of the best hitters I've ever seen. He never gets fooled. When I was in Boston, I always thought Manny Ramírez was the best I'd ever see. Miguel is pretty close to that."
Don't expect this to linger. One thing about Florida president Larry Beinfest is that once he makes a decision of this magnitude, he moves quickly. That was his MO with the Josh Beckett deal when Boston stepped up and offered a better package than Texas and Baltimore.
If Cabrera is traded, it means one thing: The team involved was willing to give up three of its best prospects.
A conference with Farrell
A few questions for Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell:
The Japan trip seems quite disruptive to the flow of spring training, especially around March 19 when pitchers are beginning to peak. Wondering how you plan to keep this from hurting natural progress with pitchers.
JF: "It is anticipated that starting pitchers will have a minimum of four, and in the case of two pitchers five starts, in spring training prior to departing for Japan March 19. This progression will enable starting pitchers to progress to five innings and 80 pitches in advance of the games to be played in Japan. Exhibition games in Tokyo and Los Angeles, upon our return, allow for pitch counts and workloads to gradually build at a natural pace. While some adjustments to our daily work schedule will be required, due to international travel, we are confident that all pitchers will be afforded ample time to prepare."
It would seem a six-man rotation would be hard to do because you'd be limiting your ace, Josh Beckett. Have you found a way where it could be practical?
JF: "Our goal is for all of our pitchers to be as healthy and physically strong to pitch effectively through the month of September and beyond. The use of a six-man rotation has been discussed very informally as a way to meet our objective. The remainder of the offseason and spring training provide us with ample time to further investigate an approach that is best for our team and individual pitchers.
In order for Daisuke Matsuzaka to be the next Josh Beckett, what would he have to do next year?
JF: "First and foremost, we want Daisuke to be himself and pitch by using all of his pitches as he demonstrated for much, if not all, of the season's first half. During the second half of the season, he had a tendency to not use his full repertoire of pitches. I feel with increased command of his fastball, along with use of his entire pitch mix, he will be a more consistent performer - one that will pitch at a very elite level. We are fortunate to have a pitcher, not only with his physical abilities, but who also possesses an undeniable work ethic and competitive spirit. I can tell you he wants the ball in the most critical games!"
Any second thoughts about not interviewing for the managing job in Pittsburgh?
JF: "No second thoughts regarding that decision. I feel my commitment to John, Tom, Larry, Theo, Tito, and the Red Sox needs to be greater than one year for the faith shown in me when I was hired. It is possible that the opportunity to interview may never come again; if that is the case, I am completely comfortable knowing that my decision was based on what I felt was the right thing to do."
the great debate
Barry Bonds and the Hall of Fame: Three sides to this argument
Does the Barry Bonds indictment sound the death knell for his chances of making the Hall of Fame? We asked Stanford Law professor William Gould (former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board and a longtime Red Sox fan), Indians special assistant to the general manager Ellis Burks (a former Bonds teammate who remains a close friend), and
Gould: "If this case shows positive testing as well as independent evidence of steroid use, I think that it would disqualify him. If he is convicted, denial of the Hall of Fame is a slam dunk!"
Burks: "The indictment shouldn't affect whether he gets into the Hall of Fame. For one thing, it doesn't mean he's guilty because the trial hasn't happened yet. This is definitely going to keep teams away as far as Barry resuming his career. I'm sure teams will back off him now. If he's found guilty, it'll be tough for the writers to vote for him.
"I stay in touch with him. I spoke to him about three weeks ago and he was excited about playing again and said there were a couple of interesting places he might wind up. I feel sorry for the guy. I feel bad everything has fallen down on him. It's sad with all of that ability, to go down like that and not be recognized as the home run champ."
Brown: "Ten years ago, presumably before he knew Stanozolol from Stan Javier, Barry Bonds was a first-ballot, head-of-the-line Hall of Famer. I wonder, and I'll always wonder, why that was good enough for everyone but Barry Bonds. Now it appears Bonds is officially on the Hall of Fame clock, his five-year cooling-off period likely commencing with the news of Thursday's indictment. I would not have voted for Bonds on Wednesday, nor would I vote for him - or those like him - today. Perhaps he did not violate the rules of the game at the time, or the code of the clubhouse that exists still, but he violated the spirit of the game, or whatever he's left of that."
Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. Johnny Damon made the call on Alex Rodriguez returning to the Yankees at the general managers' meetings. A little inside info? (He also has Scott Boras as an agent); 2. If Wrigley Field is included in the sale of the Cubs, the price tag could be $1 billion; 3. The last Cleveland Indian to win the Cy Young Award prior to C.C. Sabathia was Gaylord Perry in 1972. Perry started 40 games, had 29 complete games, and went 24-16 with a 1.92 ERA and 342 innings. His offseason conditioning program: riding a tractor; 4. A National League playoff team gave its scouts a whopping $200 bonus for their good work. We will not embarrass them by identifying the team; 5. How incredible that Joe Nuxhall, a wonderful man who died last week, was 15 when he broke in with the Reds.
A would-be reliever in Wood
An interesting pitcher on Boston's radar is Cubs free agent righthander Kerry Wood, who made the transition from oft-injured starter to reliever. Wood is trying to work out something with the Cubs, but if it doesn't happen, he could be precisely the type of power arm the Sox like to have late in the game - the role they envisioned for Eric Gagné.
He hopes to close in on a job
Speaking of Gagné, Boras will look for a closer job for him, but it might be difficult given his poor performance with the Sox. There's a possibility that he returns to Texas, or replaces Brad Lidge (traded to Philadelphia) in Houston. The Tigers are in need of another late-inning reliever, with Joel Zumaya on the shelf for more than half the season.
Changeup in Cincinnati
The Reds organization is changing rapidly, with the resignation of chief operating officer John Allen, who was a huge force in moving the team from Riverfront Stadium into the Great American Ball Park. While early indications are that he will not be replaced, this could be an opportunity for owner Bob Castellini to bring in a business/baseball president or chief operating officer to oversee the entire operation.
Tigers haven't been tame
The Tigers are kicking the tires on veteran starters Livan Hernandez and Carlos Silva. They aren't likely to spend the dough on Silva, who could get four years and $40 million. The Tigers, who have been aggressive in trading for shortstop Edgar Renteria and outfielder Jacque Jones and re-signing Todd Jones, would like to bring Kenny Rogers back for another year.
Even if the Twins and Red Sox don't get deep into Johan Santana talks, Minnesota is very interested in Coco Crisp. He's someone the Twins believe could replace Torii Hunter for less than half the cost. Crisp is a major chip for the Sox in any trade discussions. The Rangers and Braves also are interested in him.
Fixer-uppers for sale
There's going to be a market for three rehab guys: Bartolo Colon, Kris Benson, and Matt Clement. Benson, whose $7 million option was not picked up by the Orioles, is drawing a lot of interest, while Clement is being sought by at least the Padres and Royals. Colon is unlikely to return to the Angels, but teams looking for a fifth starter (Giants, Cubs, White Sox, Phillies) might take a flier on him.
Dipping into Wells again
David Wells has told his agent that he'd like to pitch again. Wells felt his performances late last season proved to him that he could still help a team for another year. In his post-Boston years, Wells has restricted his options to the West Coast, but he would return to New York. He'd prefer to stay in the National League.
A few things: Pawtucket is expected to have a new hitting coach and pitching coach next season. PawSox pitching coach Mike Griffin has been moved to Lancaster. Gary DiSarcina is expected back to manage Lowell. The Sox have hired Carlos Febles to be a full-time coach at Lancaster; he was part time at Lowell this past season . . . When Glenn Hoffman played for Pawtucket in the late '70s, he often had his little brother Trevor with him. Trevor was a mischievous little fellow. Joe Morgan watched him throw and said, "That boy has quite an arm." PawSox owner Ben Mondor affectionately called him "Trouble" instead of "Trevor." Trevor Hoffman did OK for himself . . . Yes, that is the Tony Fossas (The Mechanic), of Red Sox fame, who is the new pitching coach at Florida Atlantic University . . . Happy 32d birthday, David Ortiz.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com