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By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / December 7, 2008
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Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin runs a baseball team in middle America. The economy is tough, yet he waits to hear whether CC Sabathia will accept their $100 million offer or whether he'll have to move on to Plan B.

As baseball's winter meetings get underway tomorrow at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, Melvin expects there will be a lot of teams in the same boat - going to Plan B or perhaps no plan at all.

"Because the market has been slow, it's got a chance to where agents may dominate the meetings trying to get a feel for what they can get," said Melvin. "We all have to be aware of the economy - even the big-market teams, from what I've seen.

"We're in a situation where the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays have had to lay off employees. So we have to be mindful of that. There are projections we made a few weeks ago that have already changed. There's that, and also the fact that there are teams who spent south of $100 million on their payroll who made the playoffs and played in the World Series."

Might there be some bargains?

"Don't know what that is, but I suspect there might be a few players out there at the end," Melvin said.

Here's a look at what teams might be looking to do:

American League

BALTIMORE: The search for an identity continues. Two big free agent prizes have Baltimore ties - Mark Teixeira, who grew up in the suburbs, and A.J. Burnett, who lives in the suburbs - but the feeling is they won't get either. They need a shortstop, but Orlando Cabrera seems too old. Brian Roberts may again be trade bait because he's due to become a free agent after 2009.

BOSTON: Coco Crisp has been dealt for Kansas City reliever Ramon Ramirez, and they have signed Japanese amateur pitcher Junichi Tazawa. They have also tied up AL MVP Dustin Pedroia for six years at $40.5 million. Teixeira has been the apple of their eye, but that would squeeze out Mike Lowell. A late market could be there for Lowell, who is coming off hip surgery. The big negative is the two years at $24 million left on his deal. The Sox have dabbled in both Burnett and Derek Lowe but may not wind up with either. The big need is catching. Jason Varitek could be brought back for two years. Texas (Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden, or Gerald Laird) remains a fertile ground for a trade, but don't discount a deal for a veteran like Bengie Molina. Julio Lugo remains major trade bait.

CHICAGO: They traded Nick Swisher to the Yankees for Wilson Betemit and pitching prospects Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez and signed 19-year-old Cuban power-hitting third baseman Dayan Viciedo. They traded pitchers Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan to Atlanta for a package of younger players. Could Jermaine Dye be heading to the Reds for Homer Bailey and others? It appears less likely that closer Bobby Jenks will be dealt now that other moves have been made. The White Sox would love to move Jim Thome and/or Paul Konerko simply to add more speed and youth.

CLEVELAND: With little money to spend, they're focusing on an affordable closer, which is why Trevor Hoffman is on their radar. They could really use a No. 3 starter, with Jake Westbrook (Tommy John surgery) not expected back until after the All-Star break. And they need a third baseman, but it probably won't be Casey Blake.

DETROIT: Shortstop, catcher, and bullpen are the priorities for a franchise where money is tight and a turnaround is necessary after a disappointing season. Shortstop Jack Wilson is high on their list after they decided not to pull the trigger on Lugo for Nate Robertson or Dontrelle Willis. But that could be revisited. They've talked to the Rangers about Laird and to Arizona about Miguel Montero, and they may consider Varitek. They're looking at second-tier relievers: Hoffman, David Weathers, Arthur Rhodes, Joe Beimel, Darren Oliver. A deal for J.J. Putz is possible.

KANSAS CITY: GM Dayton Moore has acquired Crisp from Boston and first baseman Mike Jacobs from Florida and has given up valuable relievers in Ramirez and Leo Nunez. He will make outfielders Jose Guillen ($24 million over the next two years), David DeJesus, and Mark Teahen available in trade (hoping to get bullpen help) in an attempt to pare payroll. Righthanded starter Zack Greinke could be available for a high price.

LOS ANGELES: The Angels could be one of the heavy hitters at the meetings. Their first major decision was not bringing back elite closer Frankie Rodriguez. Signing Teixeira is a major priority, with CC Sabathia also on their radar. If Teixeira signs elsewhere, they could consider free agent outfielders Manny Ramírez, Adam Dunn, or Pat Burrell. Don't discount them as a player for Jake Peavy, with the chips - young shortstop Brandon Wood, righty Ervin Santana - to give to San Diego. They'd love to use Chone Figgins as their Tony Phillips, playing various positions, so Colorado third baseman Garrett Atkins could be on the radar. Catcher Jeff Mathis is trade bait.

MINNESOTA: To this point, the Twins have been on the sidelines. They need upgrades at third, short, and second. They're talking to Blake and may explore an Atkins deal with the Rockies, Lowell with the Red Sox, or Adrian Beltre with the Mariners. With four outfielders, they could deal Delmon Young or Michael Cuddyer or use one of their starters (Kevin Slowey or Glen Perkins) in a package for someone such as Milwaukee shortstop J.J. Hardy. They may also keep Cuddyer and consider him for third base. The Rays might consider bringing back Young in a deal.

NEW YORK: The Yankees have cleaned their house (Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, Pudge Rodriguez, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Carl Pavano). They could sign anyone. Sabathia is sitting on a six-year, $140 million Yankee offer. If not him, then maybe Burnett or Lowe. The Yankees have met with Teixeira and could be a player for Mike Cameron or Willy Taveras. Their current outfielders - Johnny Damon, Xavier Nady, Melky Cabrera - could be available, as could second baseman Robinson Cano.

OAKLAND: The A's made the biggest offseason move so far in acquiring Matt Holliday from the Rockies. But free agent shortstop Rafael Furcal reportedly turned down a four-year, $35 million-$40 million offer. After dealing Huston Street in the Holliday deal, they're looking for bullpen help and a hitter like Giambi or Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson. They are also eyeing Randy Johnson.

SEATTLE: A new GM (Jack Zduriencik), a new manager (Don Wakamatsu), and a new coaching staff are in place, so now comes the hard part - how to rebuild it. Beltre and Putz are the major trade bait. Putz, a Michigan native, could go to Detroit, while Beltre, one of the finest defensive third basemen in baseball, will have a few suitors, including Minnesota, Cleveland, and possibly the Angels. The Mariners will also try to deal Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista, and Carlos Silva. With Raul Ibanez likely gone, they need a cheap bat (Gabe Kapler?).

TAMPA BAY: Still budget-conscious, the Rays would like to upgrade their offense but have let Rocco Baldelli slip into free agency. They would love to sign a big run producer like Giambi, or a right fielder like Juan Rivera or Burrell, or trade for Florida's Jeremy Hermida. Righthanded pitchers Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine are trade bait, along with righty Jeff Niemann, outfielders Justin Ruggiano and Jonny Gomes, and shortstop Reid Brignac. The Twins are always a good trading partner.

TEXAS: Sitting pretty with a glut in the catching market, they could revamp their pitching staff by dealing two from Saltalamacchia, Teagarden, and Laird. Boston, Florida, Detroit, and the Mets are possible trade partners. They'd like to re-sign Milton Bradley and are willing to deal veteran starters Vicente Padilla and Kevin Millwood.

TORONTO: The Jays are trying to keep Burnett after he walked away from two years at $24 million remaining on the contract. They are gearing up for 2010, when they believe they will have a new wave of very good pitching. They would deal B.J. Ryan if overwhelmed by an offer. They're looking for a catcher to split time with Rod Barajas. Forget the rumors that Roy Halladay is available. "We will not trade Roy Halladay," said GM J.P. Ricciardi. The Jays will shop for bargains in free agency.

National League

ARIZONA: Biggest news is that they couldn't bring back Randy Johnson (five wins short of 300) or free agent second baseman Orlando Hudson. They need to replace Hudson, and the most likely choice is Ramon Vazquez, who would come cheap, or someone like Mark Loretta, Adam Kennedy, or Alex Cora. They'd love to move Eric Byrnes's $22 million over the next two years. Catcher Miguel Montero could go to the Tigers, Mets, Marlins, or Red Sox.

ATLANTA: The Braves have traded with the White Sox for Javier Vazquez in their quest to rebuild a starting rotation decimated by injuries and uncertainties. They'll make a hard run at free agent righty A.J. Burnett, willing to go four years plus an option. Having been frustrated in their Jake Peavy talks with San Diego, they need a top-flight guy and would also consider Derek Lowe. They may also be in the hunt for Jermaine Dye; they brought up his name to the White Sox in the Vazquez deal. They'll try to get a power-hitting corner outfielder, with free agent Adam Dunn a possibility, as is a deal for St. Louis's Ryan Ludwick.

CHICAGO: They got starter Ryan Dempster signed and decided to let closer Kerry Wood go, but obtaining reliever Kevin Gregg from the Marlins allows them to save money on Wood, as they feel Carlos Marmol is ready to close, with Jeff Samardzija also in the mix. Though the Cubs are five-deep in their rotation, Peavy is still in play. Manager Lou Piniella wants hitting, hitting, hitting and toward that end, free agents Raul Ibanez and Bobby Abreu and/or a trade for Kansas City's Mark Teahen are possibilities. If Peavy comes, Jason Marquis and Rich Harden are trade bait. Do not discount Jim Hendry's undying love for Baltimore second baseman Brian Roberts, and the possibility of rekindling trade talks.

CINCINNATI: You mean, after lefty Jeremy Affeldt signed with the Giants, you're not sure what the Reds are up to? They need a lefty to replace him, plus a power-hitting left fielder or center fielder. So they could be in the mix for free agent outfielders Ibanez, Abreu, and Pat Burrell, or a trade with the White Sox for Dye. The Reds would deal young righthanded bust Homer Bailey and possibly third baseman Edwin Encarnacion. In the right deal, Bronson Arroyo could go, and to a lesser degree Aaron Harang.

COLORADO: They obtained lefty Greg Smith, outfielder Carlos Gonzales, and reliever Huston Street from Oakland in the Matt Holliday deal. The next shoe to drop could be trading power-hitting third baseman Garrett Atkins, who will have a healthy market that could include the Angels, Twins, Indians, and Dodgers, among others. They would like to deal Willy Taveras (Marlins, Yankees, White Sox have interest). But they may hold him until spring training as insurance in case Todd Helton isn't healthy. There's a possibility they flip Street as well.

FLORIDA: First baseman Mike Jacobs, outfielder Josh Willingham, reliever Gregg, and starter Scott Olsen have all been traded as the rebuilding continues. Outfielder Jeremy Hermida is drawing interest from the Reds, Rays, and Giants. The Marlins are in the market for a veteran catcher (a return of Pudge Rodriguez? Jason Varitek?).

HOUSTON: They want to keep their payroll at $100 million, so they're pinching pennies. They got Mike Hampton for one year at $2 million. Miguel Tejada, Jose Valverde, and Ty Wigginton could be had in deals as salary dumps. They'd love to add a veteran lefthanded-hitting catcher (Gregg Zaun or Toby Hall).

LOS ANGELES: They may let Lowe go as a free agent and have offered Manny Ramírez a two-year, $45 million deal with a third-year option. The McCourts, who own the team, are talking about the tough economy, so the signals aren't favorable for a big signing. If they can't get Ramírez, they'll turn to Abreu, Burrell, or even entertain a deal for Dye. Peavy could be a possibility, and they could make a big offer to Sabathia. They have offered free agent Rafael Furcal a two-year deal but are exploring other shortstops, including Pittsburgh's Jack Wilson and Oakland's Bobby Crosby.

MILWAUKEE: They've replaced the retired Salomon Torres in the bullpen with Jorge Julio, but have no answer yet for Sabathia or free agent Ben Sheets, whose injury history has kept teams away. They could deal center fielder Mike Cameron and move Rickie Weeks to center or deal shortstop J.J. Hardy for pitching help.

NEW YORK: As a big-market team, the Mets will always have their hands in every cookie jar. Question is, will they capture the most flavor or will free agency crumble in their hands? They're trying to get a "reasonable" price on free agent closer Frankie Rodriguez, their top need, and they'll keep Colorado free agent Brian Fuentes on speed-dial. They would love to get two starting pitchers - one being Lowe - as well as re-sign lefty Oliver Perez. But they might opt for a second-tier pitcher like Jon Garland or even trade for Andy Sonnanstine or Edwin Jackson with Tampa Bay. They need an outfielder, and while they prefer a righthanded hitter, they love Ibanez. They will try to deal Aaron Heilman for bullpen help and upgrade their catcher (don't rule out free agents Varitek and Rodriguez or a trade for Texas's Gerald Laird).

PHILADELPHIA: Longtime assistant GM Ruben Amaro has taken over for the venerable Pat Gillick, so we'll find out soon enough whether there's any change in the way business is done for the World Series champs. The Phillies are not yet lamenting the loss of free agent Burrell, and the door is still ajar for a return. They have made an offer to Lowe, who would be their No. 2 starter behind Cole Hamels, bumping Brett Myers. If not Lowe, they'd go after another starter who can be a No. 2 or 3. They would need a bat to replace Burrell, and they'll consider Ibanez or a return of Abreu. Re-signing Jamie Moyer will also be on the burner.

PITTSBURGH: Rebuilding, Year 17. The Pirates might have a trade partner in the Dodgers for Wilson, and the Tigers have also inquired. They are listening for any interest in second baseman Freddy Sanchez, first baseman Adam LaRoche, lefty reliever John Grabow, and catcher Ronny Paulino for power hitting or pitching prospects. They're eyeing starter Paul Byrd in free agency.

ST. LOUIS: The Cardinals got their shortstop by dealing reliever Mark Worrell to the Padres for Khalil Greene. They'll likely go after a third or fourth starter in free agency (a Jon Garland type). They could make Ryan Ludwick and/or Rick Ankiel available in a deal for pitching help. They're trying to move second baseman Adam Kennedy, who has requested a trade.

SAN DIEGO: D-I-V-O-R-C-E. Padres owners John and Becky Moores are splitting, and it has turned this into a nightmare, with the team having to cut some $70 million of payroll. GM Kevin Towers dumped Greene to the Cardinals and has been trying to deal Peavy for weeks. Watch Milwaukee as a dark horse for Peavy, and the Angels as well.

SAN FRANCISCO: Brian Sabean has started to rebuild the back end of his bullpen by signing lefty Affeldt and righty Bob Howry, and he inked shortstop Edgar Renteria to a two-year, $18.5 million deal. He'll try to upgrade at third base. He's been in talks with the Marlins on Jorge Cantu but he'd also consider a deal for Adrian Beltre. Sabean would also like a power-hitting outfielder; Burrell, possibly Ramírez, and Ibanez could be on his list. The hometown tug on Sabathia is also there. If that should happen, it would be the only way Sabean makes righty Matt Cain available in a big deal for hitting.

WASHINGTON: Jim Bowden has been busy, obtaining lefthander Olsen and Willingham from the Marlins for three minor leaguers. Willingham will be the everyday left fielder. Bowden is thinking big and would love to lure Mark Teixeira or Dunn to Washington to be the centerpiece and/or the player to build around. Don't discount Ken Griffey as a possibility here.

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