A pair of experienced GMs are wading into the free agent pool
J.P. Ricciardi and Kevin Towers will pick their next assignments carefully, and both are confident there will be a next one.
They have a total of 23 years of experience as major league general managers - Ricciardi eight years with the Blue Jays, Towers 15 years with the Padres. They saw a lot, experienced a lot, rode the roller coasters of often-rocky ownerships, and tried to adjust to payrolls that were often unrealistic from a competitive point of view.
“I’ll just take a couple of months to just sit back and relax,’’ said Towers, who attended an ALCS game with Dennis Gilbert, the head of one of three groups trying to buy the Rangers. “I’m looking forward to whatever is ahead for me, but I won’t rush into anything.
“It has to be something I think would be enjoyable to me where I can do some good and help an organization. I’ve done this for a long time and really love it.’’
Towers, who had another year left on his contract, didn’t survive the new Jeff Moorad ownership group in San Diego; Moorad replaced him with Red Sox assistant general manager Jed Hoyer. Towers found himself in the unfortunate position of having to gut the team during the divorce of previous owners John and Becky Moores, and the result was devastating to the franchise.
Ricciardi, who was trying to compete in a division with two of the highest-payroll teams in baseball, says his No. 1 regret was that he never made the playoffs. But he left Toronto proud of what the organization accomplished on his watch.
“I’m ready for the next challenge,’’ Ricciardi said. “I don’t need to be the head guy. As long as I can help out with the right place and the right team, and as long as I’m working with good people who I enjoy working with, that’s really all I’m looking for. I spent 22 years scouting and in development, so I could easily get back to that.’’
Ricciardi, who like Towers has a standing offer to work for the Red Sox, said he has received “a bunch of calls’’ but hasn’t acted on anything yet. He defended some of the moves that he’s been criticized for, including the contracts given to Alex Rios, whom he was able to dump on the White Sox (with more than $60 million due him), and Vernon Wells, who remains in Toronto with about $107 million remaining for the next five years.
“When we signed Rios, we really believed in him,’’ said Ricciardi. “That’s why we signed him to that deal. We thought he was going to be the nucleus of our team, but after a while it wasn’t working out. And we were able to get rid of the contract. Sometimes you just have to take a mulligan.
“With Wells, when we gave him the contract, he had made two All-Star teams, won three Gold Gloves, and he was only 26-27 years old, in his prime years. Vernon didn’t have a good year this year, but he’s a kid who really cares and works hard and wants to do well.
“I’d bet within the next five years he’s going to live up to that contract. He’ll be a .280 hitter with 25-30 homers and 100-110 RBIs.’’
As for a Roy Halladay trade that never came off, Ricciardi said, “We never got wowed. We talked to the Phillies. We talked to a few teams, but we never got the right deal. All of the things that have [been] presented, that we turned down all of these big packages, was total b.s.’’
Ricciardi pointed to successes such as trading for Marco Scutaro, and the development of homegrown players like Adam Lind and Aaron Hill. He thinks Travis Snyder “is going to be a phenomenal talent.’’ He mentioned the signing of catcher Rod Barajas, who hit 20 homers and knocked in more than 80 runs, and the good season Scott Rolen had, which allowed the Jays to trade him to St. Louis for two good pitching prospects.
He said the criticism he received for the contracts of B.J. Ryan, Frank Thomas, and A.J. Burnett was unfair.
“B.J. gave us 32 and 38 saves before he got hurt,’’ said Ricciardi. “Frank hit 26 homers and 96 RBIs the first year of that deal. Burnett won 38 games in the AL East, and because of it, the Yankees gave him the deal that he got.’’
Towers once employed Theo Epstein in San Diego, and his best friend is Yankees GM Brian Cashman. And the Texas situation could open up for him if Gilbert buys the team.
Towers and Ricciardi both have scouting backgrounds, so they’re different from some of the new-wave GMs who come out of Ivy League colleges and become baseball executives. Ricciardi, however, did work for many years with Billy Beane in Oakland and has a Moneyball background, so he fits into different philosophies. Towers embraces all aspects of baseball.
So they wait. Their long tenures in one place have ended, but they’ll likely surface somewhere soon.
One AL GM said, “He’s got Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell as major chips if he wants to acquire solid prospects to start rebuilding that franchise, so I would think he’d be open to making those deals this offseason.’’
Hoyer obviously knows the Red Sox talent, and the question becomes how highly he values Junichi Tazawa, Manny Delcarmen, Josh Reddick, Lars Anderson, and the other players Epstein would trade. Would not getting Casey Kelly or Clay Buchholz or Daniel Bard kill a deal?
Hoyer, 35, inherits a challenging situation, though Towers was able to deal Jake Peavy for some good White Sox arms. The AL GM said, “While the farm system lacks superstars, it has depth, and a lot of good young players are on the major league roster. This situation doesn’t look that bad compared to some others.’’
Moorad seems to be following his model in Arizona, where he hired former Red Sox assistant GM Josh Byrnes with the idea that working under Epstein in a winning environment breeds a winner.
“I think Jed is ready for it,’’ said Byrnes. “I think he’s a talented guy with a lot of access to what Theo goes through, and he’s seen everything.’’
Byrnes agrees that the San Diego situation is heading in a positive direction.
“I think all five teams in the division are set up well going forward,’’ he said. “I think nationally the division doesn’t get enough credit for the competitive aspect and the talent that’s in this division. We didn’t have a very good year, and really nothing went right for us from the start, with Brandon Webb going down so early. But we feel we have some talent, and the good news for us is many of our younger players continued to have good seasons.’’
Byrnes acknowledged that going from a deep-resources team like Boston to a smaller-market team will take some getting used to for Hoyer, but he added, “You certainly have to rely on your proficiency to develop and grow talent from within and to be able to manage a payroll.’’
While they have to act on his $7.1 million option within five days of the World Series ending, would they discuss a long-term deal to get ahead of the Twins/Joe Mauer talks? A Mauer deal could affect Martinez (above), who is older but is still considered comparable, given his production.
“I think that will be up to the Red Sox,’’ said Martinez’s representative, Alan Nero. “We’ll see how they want to go about it or whether they just want to deal with the option for now. We’re up for either scenario.
“Victor enjoys the Red Sox and he of course loved Cleveland and was so popular there. But I think the Red Sox realize what a tremendous individual he is for their team and what he brings as a player.’’
The Sox could be looking for another catcher this offseason if they decide not to stay with Jason Varitek. There are some intriguing names who might fill the No. 2 or 1A role: Barajas, Jason Kendall, Jason LaRue, Bengie and Jose Molina, Mike Redmond, and Brian Schneider. Also, there are those like Ramon Hernandez, Miguel Olivo, Yorvit Torrealba, Pudge Rodriguez, and Gregg Zaun who may not have their options renewed.
Barajas wants to return to Toronto, but the Jays might move on. Torrealba is a very good offensive catcher. Either of the Molinas can handle a pitching staff, and Bengie also has a little pop in his bat.
2. John Lackey, RHP, Angels - He is making himself some money with his postseason performance, but it doesn’t appear he’ll get it from the Angels. They feel they have a pretty good brood of starters and will perhaps earmark their money toward an upgrade on the adventurous Brian Fuentes, whom they’d keep in set-up. Lackey probably didn’t do himself any good by challenging Mike Scioscia when he was being lifted in Game 5. Look for Texas or the Mets to show an interest.
3. Pedro Martinez, RHP, Phillies - Even though he has fit in with the Phillies and he gave them the big-time performance in the Division Series, it’s going to hard for them to re-sign him. The Phillies have to think about the bottom line, and with Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, and one more year of Jamie Moyer, it’s doubtful they will dish out more money to keep Martinez. He told this reporter that if the Phillies win it all, he may retire, and if they don’t, he will entertain the idea of pitching a full season.
4. Vladimir Guerrero, DH, Angels - Guerrero, who is only 34, would love to remain an Angel, and he may if he’s willing to accept a one-year deal at low money. Guerrero, a career .320 hitter, has surprised people this postseason who considered him an easy out. Just when you think he doesn’t have a chance, he gets a big hit. “He’d have to be someone’s DH,’’ said an AL scout. “I think the Angels would prefer to sign [Bobby ] Abreu and make him the DH and maybe move Chone Figgins to the outfield and make room for Brandon Wood at third.’’
5. Retired baseball personnel - Some non-uniformed personnel found their pensions shrinking this year. One reported he was making $400 less per month, another $600 less because of the fluctuating stock market, which is the basis of the retirement fund. While some ex-players enjoy a great pension and have not seen any fluctuation, there are other levels of pensions that make it tough for some retired personnel to make ends meet. One ex-player said he’s making $4,000 a month and paying $1,500 a month for health insurance. Those who have seen decreases in their monthly pay aren’t happy about the $11 million severance package that outgoing Players Association executive director Donald Fehr received.
6. Dan Duquette, former Red Sox general manager - He was being considered for the Blue Jays CEO/president position, but it doesn’t appear that current CEO Paul Beeston is leaning in Duquette’s direction.
7. Rafael Betancourt, RHP, Rockies - This is one of Victor Martinez’s dearest friends and someone he would recommend to the Red Sox. The Rockies have a $5.4 million option on him, which may be a little rich for their blood. Betancourt was originally signed by the Sox in 1993 and spent six years in their system. Now 34, he went 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA in 32 games for the Rockies this year after going 1-2 with a 3.52 ERA for the Indians. He had some very good years in Cleveland.
8. Brad Hawpe, OF, Rockies - He disappeared the final month but he could be someone the Sox consider in a trade should they lose Jason Bay. Hawpe, a lefthanded batter, hit .285 with 23 homers, 86 RBIs, and .903 OPS. He had more homers in road games (14) than at Coors Field (9). He hits the ball pretty well up the middle and to the opposite field, which could be good at Fenway.
9. Frank McCourt, owner, Dodgers - His personal problems are being well-documented, but his staff has a heck of an offseason ahead. The Dodgers have significant arbitration-eligible players, including catcher Russell Martin ($3.9 million this season), outfielders Andre Ethier ($3.1 million) and Matt Kemp ($467,000), righthanded pitchers Chad Billingsley ($475,000) and Jonathan Broxton ($1.825 million), lefties George Sherrill ($2.75 million) and Hong-Chih Kuo ($437,000), and first baseman James Loney ($465,000).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.