I never really understood why there aren't more "swap meet" type deals in baseball. As in, "You take what I can't use and I'll take what you can't use."
There was a consensus among the general managers I spoke to last week that they wouldn't mind making those types of deals, but they rarely happen.
Anyway, may I suggest we set up a few tables for a swap meet at this week's GM meetings in Dana Point, Calif., with the items consisting of players who are overpriced, underperforming, too old, or not useful to their present teams?
Table 1, starting pitchers: Barry Zito (Giants); Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson (Tigers); Adam Eaton (Phillies); Carlos Silva, Miguel Batista, and Jarrod Washburn (Mariners); Daniel Cabrera (Orioles); Jeff Suppan (Brewers); Ian Kennedy and Kei Igawa (Yankees); Scott Olsen (Marlins).
Table 2, relief pitchers: Mike MacDougal (White Sox); Aaron Heilman and Scott Schoenweis (Mets); Jason Frasor (Blue Jays); Luis Vizcaino (Rockies); Kevin Gregg (Marlins); Justin Speier (Angels); Brandon Backe (Astros).
Table 3, infielders: Julio Lugo (Red Sox); Jack Wilson and Freddie Sanchez (Pirates); Scott Rolen (Blue Jays); Miguel Tejada (Astros); Melvin Mora (Orioles); Rickie Weeks and Bill Hall (Brewers); Mark Teahen and Ross Gload (Royals); Nick Johnson and Dmitri Young (Nationals); Luis Castillo (Mets).
Table 4, catchers: Yorvit Torrealba (Rockies); Ramon Hernandez (Orioles); Bengie Molina (Giants); Kenji Johjima (Mariners).
Table 5, outfielders: David Dellucci (Indians); Eric Byrnes (Diamondbacks); Nick Swisher (White Sox); Dave Roberts and Randy Winn (Giants); Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano (Cubs); Gary Sheffield (Tigers); Gary Matthews Jr. (Angels); Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena (Nationals); Jeremy Hermida and Josh Willingham (Marlins); Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, and Melky Cabrera (Yankees); Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones (Dodgers); Willy Taveras (Rockies); Jeff Francoeur (Braves).
One National League owner encourages his GM to make these types of deals because owners hate dead payroll. They'd rather swap bad contracts to see if a change of scenery works. But GMs fear they'll be ridiculed if the deals flop.
Matching salaries is the hard part. But the Red Sox, for instance, could deal Julio Lugo ($18 million left on his contract) to the Tigers, who need a shortstop, for a lefthander such as Robertson ($17 million) or Willis ($22 million). Could John Farrell straighten out those guys? Sanchez, Mora, or Hall would seem to fit as third basemen in Minnesota, but what could go back the other way? Could Lugo go for Tejada?
Molina might be a nice fit for the Sox if they can't work something out with Jason Varitek. But Lugo might be a hard sell to the Giants even if there was some enhancement with the money.
Could the Angels do something with Fukudome and perhaps rid themselves of Matthews's remaining three years at $30 million? Matthews, who just had knee surgery, had a good end to the season and might help the Cubs. Byrnes, at two years, $22 million, and recovering from hamstring injuries, brings a lot of energy and might be a good fit for a team like the White Sox.
Who needs a change of scenery more than Jones, who is 31 and has one year left at $19 million? Those closest to him indicate there's no way Jones wants to return to Los Angeles, where the fans were tough. He had knee surgeries early in the year and late in the year and he wasn't around the team at all during the playoffs.
One NL scout said, "Is he done? I wouldn't say that. But he's probably not the guy who hit 50 home runs. He can still play the outfield and he needs to get in shape."
Mike Easler, Jones's hitting coach for the first half of the year with the Dodgers, said, "Andruw is a very sensitive guy, and once everyone started getting on him, it was tough on him. He has to change his approach to hitting. He was trying to hit everything out, but he would be someone worth taking a chance on because he's not done and he has a lot to prove to people."
Fukudome (three years, $38 million left) is a very sensitive kid who doesn't seem to fit with Lou Piniella's hard-nosed style. Fukudome, according to one baseball official, "has much more talent than he's shown. He has ability and he plays the game right, but that's not a good place for him."
There are risks, but if you're trading your risk for someone else's risk, why not?
"I think change of scenery is key," said an NL scout. "So many guys just don't play well in a certain market. Jones is a good example. He was very comfortable in Atlanta and he goes to LA and he just can't take it."
Networking worked for him
A few questions for new Milwaukee manager Ken Macha:
You've been out since 2006. Were you beginning to think you wouldn't get back?
KM: "I did. As a matter of fact, I just spoke to Willie Randolph, and he'd like to work again, so I gave him some advice. Last year there were six openings and I didn't get an interview. So this past year I went out to spring training and got myself out there. I spoke to five GMs and a few team presidents and I made sure they knew I was available and I wanted back in. That's what you've got to do. You've got to make sure people know you want a job again. You have to be persistent."
I know you had to answer a lot of questions about players turning on you in Oakland, but you don't believe that was the case.
KM: "We had been swept by the Tigers in the playoffs and there was a lot of frustration from everybody. I've always respected players. You can ask [Barry] Zito and all the guys who played for me, they enjoyed it. It was tough at times with external forces at play. You have to be able to manage your team."
You're inheriting good young talent, but the top two guys in the rotation, CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets, might be gone.
KM: "In all likelihood, Sabathia is going to receive a big-money offer and Sheets is testing the waters. [General manager] Doug [Melvin] said we're going to offer them contracts and we certainly have a staff of some other pitchers who have performed at a high level in the majors. Certainly one of my concerns is the bullpen, so we need to take care of that."
Can't believe you left NESN for this.
KM: "Loved doing it. The people treated me very nicely."
Thinking outside the Sox on offseason strategy
It's always interesting to hear how other people around baseball think the Red Sox will approach their offseason.
The perception of a few baseball officials is that the Sox' priority is to come up with a catcher, whether it's bringing back Jason Varitek or going another route. One scout said, "They'll try to take care of the catching first and then see what's out there and explore a guy like [Mark] Teixeira or [Jake] Peavy or [CC] Sabathia or [A.J.] Burnett. They might even explore Prince Fielder because they know the Yankees will. But think about it; they don't have to do a whole lot. They came within a game of going to the World Series."
There are teams looking to see what the Sox do with Mike Lowell, who told team officials after his hip surgery that it's the best he's felt in three years in terms of range of motion and lack of pain. The real test will come in spring training.
The other speculation revolves around Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo.
A National League general manager said, "Crisp has value. He played very well, he's fast, a great defender. Lugo is a tougher sell because of his contract and the fact he's coming off an injury. But just look at the shortstop market and you can see there'd be a limited market, but a market for him nonetheless."
Who's the one guy teams would love to pry from the Sox?
"Justin Masterson," said an American League GM. "I'll bet you the Red Sox hear that name called a lot in their trade talks. I think the other guy is Jacoby Ellsbury. The hope is the Red Sox are down on him and would move him. That's probably just a hope."
Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. Are the Pittsburgh Pirates still in the league?; 2. Orlando Cabrera is still the best free agent shortstop out there; 3. Great to hear that the late Ed Kenney will be inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame next Friday night; 4. I'd love to be Cole Hamels right now; 5. Mark Mulder would be the one injury guy I'd take a chance on signing.
The only way the Indians would part with catcher Kelly Shoppach is if they got a young closer in return. Which means the Sox would have to part with someone like Justin Masterson. Third base is another need in Cleveland, with Houston's Ty Wigginton on the radar. The Rangers have catching depth but probably aren't parting with prospect Taylor Teagarden, and the Sox are pretty split organizationally on Gerald Laird, who has matured quite a bit from his younger days. But the best bet continues to be Jarrod Saltalamacchia, whom the Sox could groom while a veteran - Jason Varitek, Bengie Molina, Pudge Rodriguez - keeps the seat warm for a year or two.
Changes at the top
A couple of ownership/ management things to watch: In San Diego, John Moores looks to be seeking a buyer for his share of the team. Moores is going through a divorce, and his wife shares control of the team. The Blue Jays, despite naming Paul Beeston as interim CEO/president, are trying to find a permanent person and are interviewing two fairly well-known baseball people with experience in other markets, according to a major league source.
Wheeling and dealing...
The Yankees have been very aggressive in calling teams to see who might be available. They called the Astros about Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman and were told they were not going to be dealt . . . The Mets are still eyeing Mariners free agent Raul Ibanez. They need a consistent hitter in the outfield, and Ibanez seems to fit what GM Omar Minaya is looking for . . . Don't rule out the Dodgers as a possibility for Jake Peavy. Apparently there are no qualms about trading within the division. The Dodgers certainly have the young players that San Diego would desire, including young pitching (Jonathan Broxton seems to be a target). The Braves are also still very much in the hunt, and don't be surprised if the Phillies get into it if Peavy waives his no-trade . . . The Angels have made signing Mark Teixeira their No. 1 priority and Teixeira himself would love to stay there. But here's the problem: The Angels' management style is to go in hard and get it done quickly, while agent Scott Boras would rather allow the market to develop and get other teams involved. For that reason, the Red Sox have a chance.
Tigers ready to change stripes
One of the most interesting teams to watch at the winter meetings will be the Tigers. If it's true they are looking to cut payroll, then someone like Magglio Ordonez could become available. Ordonez, a .312 career hitter with seven 100-RBI seasons, will be paid $18 million in 2009 and has options for 2010 ($18 million) and 2011 ($15 million). If the Tigers are looking to regain some of the younger talent they lost in the Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria deals, this is the player who can fetch them. Another player the Tigers are dangling is setup man Fernando Rodney. They are desperately looking for someone to close.
Suitors may be lacking
One NL official thinks there's a limited market for Varitek and doesn't buy Detroit as a destination for him. "With the Tigers trying to cut payroll and with Jason getting up there in years, I think the best bet is staying in Boston," said the official. "He's more valuable to them than he is to anyone else. He knows the pitching staff. If he goes someplace else, his great ability to work with pitchers won't come into effect until he learns a whole new staff. Especially if he goes to the National League."
"Boo: A Life in Baseball, Well-Lived," by Rick Cleveland, is the story of former Red Sox hurler Boo Ferriss. The foreword is by John Grisham, who was cut by Ferriss when Ferriss was the baseball coach at Delta State in Mississippi . . . Terry Francona, who has not yet had his back surgery, will be honored by the Rhode Island Italian-American Hall of Fame as its Man of the Year Nov. 22. For ticket information, go to riiahf.org . . . From the Bill Chuck files: "Has Pedro Martínez pitched his last game? If the answer is yes, his last regular-season start was Sept. 25 against the Cubs. Pedro went six innings and gave up five runs, but struck out nine. The last batter he faced was Ryan Theriot, who he walked. Pedro started 400 games and has a lifetime record of 214-99 and a 2.91 ERA. Of all the pitchers with at least a .684 winning percentage, only Whitey Ford won more games than Pedro. Whitey had 236 wins and a .690 W-L pct. and 2.75 ERA." . . . Happy 34th birthday, Orlando Cabrera; happy 45th, Sam Horn; happy 50th, Willie McGee; happy 53d, Greg Harris.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.