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Solving division problems

Retooling on agenda for AL East also-rans

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / October 5, 2008
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Wouldn't it be fun to have $75 million coming off the books and be able to reshape your deep-pocket team with all sorts of new goodies?

This is why AL Easters should beware of the Yankees next season.

General manager Brian Cashman, re-signed for three more years, has something to prove after missing the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. While he has resisted shopping for high-priced groceries, how can he not this time? And if he does, it should make division rivals a little nervous.

While two AL East teams are in the playoffs, the Blue Jays and in particular the Yankees already are looking to fill important needs. The Orioles, who have endured 11 straight losing seasons, are trying to figure out how to compete again.

But we start with the Yankees, who will first address their own free agents. What to do with Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, and Pudge Rodriguez? Do you pick up the $6 million option on Damaso Marte? Do you place your trust again in Melky Cabrera, who was demoted to Triple A? Do you commit to Robinson Cano as your second baseman even though he was benched late in the season?

All indications are that Pettitte will return for another season. Mussina, a 20-game winner for the first time, has designs on finishing his career on top and could be talked into coming back.

The Yankees have penciled in Joba Chamberlain and Chien-Ming Wang as their top two starters. They hope Pettitte and Mussina come back and then hope to add another superstar arm. Looking into free agency, they'll have their choice of CC Sabathia, Ben Sheets, Ryan Dempster, or Derek Lowe.

Suffice to say, Cashman has another chance to build a dynasty with the right moves and a team heading into a $1.3 billion stadium.

The Blue Jays' situation could be the most compelling in the weeks to come.

President/CEO Paul Godfrey has stepped down after eight years, and now there's a search for the next leader. Will the Blue Jays go the "bean counter" route and name someone from the corporate office (Rogers Communications) or a business/stadium type guy to run things, or will they do the smart thing and bring in a person who not only can run a business but who understands baseball?

Toronto Sun baseball columnist Bob Elliott, a nominee for the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, listed about 15 possible choices who could emerge. Among them was Red Sox senior adviser Jeremy Kapstein, who would fit the baseball/business qualifications as a former CEO of the San Diego Padres, Board of Directors of the Padres and seven years as a Sox adviser. Kapstein, who handled the sale of the Padres on behalf of their ownership in 1990 to current Sox chairman to Tom Werner, was a finalist and enjoyed strong support for the Minor League presidency last September. "Excellent combination of baseball/business, plus Harvard Law," wrote Elliott. The most popular choice would be to return former GM Pat Gillick into the role, but Gillick is presiding over a Phillies team that could vy for the NL East title for the next few years.

The Blue Jays could be a mess, especially if A.J. Burnett opts out and Shaun Marcum (Tommy John surgery) can't pitch next year. The big money on Vernon Wells's contract won't be in full force until 2010, and the team also has veteran Scott Rolen for the next two years. It's a team with talent that could be turned around quickly with the right leadership.

Where do the Rays go from here?

They shouldn't fix what's not broken, but they will have the luxury of being able to trade excess to address needs. They have five starting pitchers age 27 or younger. They have to make room for 23-year-old David Price in the rotation, so teams looking for a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher, take your pick.

The Rays might be in the market for a closer to replace Troy Percival (though he has a $4 million guarantee for next season), but they might just give the job to Grant Balfour, who has the stuff and the mind-set. They could upgrade offensively and opt for a righthanded power hitter to play right field (if they feel Rocco Baldelli can't).

The Red Sox likely would seek to upgrade their starting pitching with perhaps one significant signing and/or trade. They'll try to move Julio Lugo and they'll try to add a young starting catcher like Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Kelly Shoppach.

The Orioles? There's this pie-in-the-sky idea that they can bring Mark Teixeira back to his hometown, but that would require lots of money, and you just don't see the Orioles doing that. Who knows, they might surprise us. Burnett also has been thrown into the mix because he lives near Bowie, Md.

The Orioles would like to upgrade at first base (sorry, Kevin Millar) and they need a shortstop. But in the end, they might be looking at the basement and another losing season, which is sad considering it can be an outstanding baseball city with a great ballpark.

Minaya will go back to work
If the Mets were all-in with general manager Omar Minaya, they had to be all-in with manager Jerry Manuel. It was Manuel who turned the mood positive and got the Mets playing productively after he replaced Willie Randolph in mid-June, so he was rewarded with a two-year extension.

But Minaya still has his work cut out. Top priority: closer. Could this be where Francisco Rodriguez ends up? It makes sense, considering the Mets have the resources to offer something in the $15 million- to $18 million-a-year category, but insiders say Minaya might be concerned about K-Rod's drop in velocity. He might be more apt to go for a cheaper closer like Brian Fuentes. This will not electrify the masses.

The Mets spent roughly $140 million on payroll this season but will have deductions (Pedro Martínez, Oliver Perez, Moises Alou, and others) that give them about $40 million to play with. Minaya would need to either re-sign Perez or go after CC Sabathia or Derek Lowe.

Minaya made a huge splash last offseason when he traded for Johan Santana, who was worth every bit of the outlay in talent and money. Now he'll likely be tempted by one of the free agent starters.

Minaya likely will pick up the $12 million option for MVP candidate Carlos Delgado, who a year ago would have been gone, his career likely over. Manuel played a huge role in reviving Delgado's career.

Minaya has to take into consideration that the Phillies aren't going away and are a better overall team; they also will delve into the market for a starter to augment their potent offense.

Minaya will be tempted to bring Martínez back in the hope that he can reinvent himself, but he has to be sure Martínez can be a solid fifth starter. Minaya, too, will be competing with the team across town, who like the Mets are moving into a new stadium and have a lot of money to spend.

Boras gives his side on the dealings with Ramírez
A few questions for agent Scott Boras.

Any update on Jason Varitek and his Red Sox future?
SB: "I think the negotiation of any player there has to be a mutuality between the team and the player. My job is to provide the player with extensive information so they can make an informed decision. As to when that process unfolds, normally teams want to wait to see what the free agent market is. We are under the proviso that the club must make an offer before we respond because obviously they're the ones offering the contract."

Feel the need to defend Manny Ramírez's time in Boston?
SB: "My job is to deal with objective standards, and Manny was a tremendous performer for the Red Sox throughout his career. When you talk to people outside of Boston - GMs, scouts - I think the standards applied to Manny are completely different. I certainly understand the fact that Manny wasn't comfortable with Boston. That's the fans' hometown, so they're not going to like to hear that the player wasn't comfortable playing there. You can expect there would be a lot of dissatisfaction pointed toward Manny. My job is to help the player achieve his goals and objectives, and Manny playing in LA is something we helped him achieve. Certainly the LA community views Manny as a franchise player and someone who the Dodgers have never seen in their history."

Sox owner John Henry insisted in a recent story by Dan Shaughnessy that you tried to keep Manny in Boston after the deal was made.
SB: "I don't want to make any more comments about that. All I can say is I stand by what I said when the topic was brought up at the time of Manny's trade." (Boras at the time said the conversation never happened and that he didn't speak to a Red Sox official until the day after the deal was made and that was only a "sorry it didn't work out" type of call.)

What kind of a market do you think will exist for Manny?
SB: "Before it's over, I would say five or more teams would be involved. Manny loves LA. I've had talks with Joe Torre about Manny but I haven't engaged in any talks with Frank McCourt since the deal was made."

Etc.
Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. Wonder if Brian Giles is surfing today; 2. Anytime Rays closer Dan Wheeler and White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko face each other, it's funny to think they went to the same pediatrician in Rhode Island; 3. Check out the Brad Ausmus farewell video on MLB.com - hilarious; 4. Is Mike Mussina the best old pitcher ever?; 5. It's a feeling - not necessarily hard evidence - but something tells me Roger Clemens is going to attempt a comeback next season.

Pitcher worked quickly
For those who believe Scott Boras likes to drag things out with his free agents, how do you explain Kyle Lohse? One day after the regular season ended, the Cardinals inked Lohse to a four-year, $41 million deal. Lohse was the last free agent signed (a one-year, $4.25 million deal in mid-March) and produced a 15-6 record. He cited "peace of mind" as a reason he wanted things done quickly. We wonder how many other Boras clients (Jason Varitek?) will choose the same route. "I don't think journalists really understand my track record," Boras offered. "I can point to a number of players that sign back with their own teams or sign early or sign in the middle of seasons. In addition to Kyle, which is a current example, how about Greg Maddux?"

Angels have angles
In a recent conversation with Francisco Rodriguez, it was clear he was uneasy about his future in Anaheim. The Angels want to keep their payroll close to the $110 million-$120 million that it's at, and that appears to create an either/or scenario with Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. In either case, the Angels feel they have replacements; Jose Arredondo is in the bullpen, and they could move Howie Kendrick to first base. Teixeira is the hitter the Angels always wanted, and with Vlad Guerrero, 32, showing signs of age, Teixeira could be the centerpiece of the offense for a long time. K-Rod should have no shortage of options; Milwaukee, Detroit, St. Louis, the Mets, Tampa Bay, Arizona, and Cleveland could be in the mix.

Tigers need to re-arm
The Tigers went all-in with payroll this year and wound up all-out of the playoffs. Now what? They desperately need to fix their bullpen, and though K-Rod might be perfect, there's a sense he would be too costly. They may opt for a cheaper version - someone like Kerry Wood if the Cubs can't re-sign him or Brian Fuentes - but they know they must rework their rotation. Toward that end, they liked what they saw of Freddy Garcia late in the year, so he might be back. They worry that they might have thrown a lot of money down the drain in Dontrelle Willis.

Thinking big
By next week, it should become clearer whether Randy Johnson, 45, wants to pitch again and whether the Diamondbacks want him back. He needs five wins for 300 and is coming off an 11-10 year in which he made 30 starts, had a 3.91 ERA, and struck out 173 in 184 innings. Johnson ended the season with a complete-game 2-1 win over the Rockies in which he struck out nine. After three back surgeries, he was healthy all season. His preference would be to return to Arizona, but the D-Backs, who desperately need hitting, might want to use that $10 million someplace else. He'd be a great fourth or fifth starter for a contending team.

Don't take him out yet
Tom Glavine received an encouraging report on his elbow from Dr. James Andrews late last week, which appears to solidify Glavine's return to the Braves. There's a long way to go before anything is finalized, and Glavine (2-4, 5.54 ERA) may have to settle for an incentive-filled deal, but the 305-game winner is adamant about not wanting to end his career on a low note.

Double whammy
The muscle tear in his right elbow couldn't have happened at a worse time for Milwaukee's Ben Sheets. Having his postseason wiped out is bad enough; now he has to convince teams he'll be OK as he heads into free agency. "I'm disappointed on a personal level, but I feel like I've been a big part of why we're here," said Sheets. "I feel I definitely helped us get to this point."

A take on Jake
If Jake Peavy does indeed become trade bait in San Diego, watch the line form out the door for his services. Peavy, 27, is precisely the type of pitcher the Red Sox covet. And considering the close relationship between GMs Theo Epstein and Kevin Towers, don't rule out the Sox. The Padres would want a Dan Haren-type deal, and the Sox have the chips to do it.

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck files: "Joel Pineiro ended the season 5 for 51 (.098) at the plate with 35 strikeouts. He had three doubles and four RBI. The Royals' Joey Gathright had three doubles in 279 at-bats. In 10 full big-league seasons, J.D. Drew has managed to play 140 or more games only three times. Jason Kendall appeared in 151 games - including a major league-leading 149 starts as a catcher!" Chuck, by the way, is the author of "Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs - Baseball's Grand (and Not-So-Grand) Finales" . . . Just a shout-out to the talented people at baseball-reference.com, undoubtedly the best baseball website . . . Happy 69th birthday to Dennis Bennett, 67th to Andy Kosco, and 41st to Rey Sanchez.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com

American League Division Series
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