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Baseball Notes

Not everybody met with success this past week

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By Nick Cafardo
December 12, 2010

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OK, Cliff, how about it?

You’re holding up the works. Baseball awaits your decision so that Carl Pavano and the rest of the free agents can start making theirs.

As one general manager said as he was leaving the winter meetings, “Once Cliff Lee decides what to do, there’ll be an avalanche.’’

We all understand the scope of this. It’s a lot of money. But you didn’t see Carl Crawford, the best positional player out there, obsess over his offers. Just pick a place — New York or Texas — where you’re going to be happiest, because the money is pretty good everywhere.

As we await Mr. Lee’s decision, let’s take a look at who won and who lost at the meetings.

Winners RED SOX. “I think you have to be in awe,’’ said Mets special assistant J.P. Ricciardi. “Those are the best offensive players out there, and they got both of them. That’s a great lineup. Great team.’’ The Red Sox should become a run-producing machine. Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez scored 197 runs between them last season, but Gonzalez played on an inferior offensive team in San Diego. The departed Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre produced 148 runs, but Martinez missed time with a broken thumb and toe.

NATIONALS. Jayson Werth hit the lottery with a seven-year, $126 million deal, thanks to his agent, Scott Boras. Is he worth all of that? Probably not. But he got the maximum from a team that needed to overpay to land a major free agent. Remember the Red Sox debate: Whom would you rather have, Werth or Crawford? The answer was always Crawford, so the Sox got their No. 1 choice. But the Nationals knocked down the perception that they weren’t interested in or are far away from winning.

WHITE SOX. They did a nice job putting together a tremendous 1-2 punch, signing Adam Dunn and then re-signing Paul Konerko to a three-year, $37.5 million deal. Re-signing catcher A.J. Pierzynski was a good idea, since he knows their staff so well and fits their team. This is a superb lineup that should score a ton of runs, especially at US Cellular Field.

ORIOLES. After 13 consecutive losing seasons, they have a long way to go. They have been unsuccessful in luring big names like Konerko, Dunn, Carlos Pena, and even hometown boy Mark Teixeira a couple of years ago. But they did manage to get a good-fielding, power-hitting third baseman in Mark Reynolds and shortstop J.J. Hardy. Reynolds should find Camden Yards to his liking, and Hardy had a couple of 20-homer years at Miller Park, where the ball flies out, so he may duplicate that in Baltimore.

DIAMONDBACKS. Kevin Towers builds his teams from the bullpen on out, and that’s what he’s doing here. He made the Reynolds trade with the Orioles and got a great arm in David Hernandez, and also added veteran free agent righty J.J. Putz. While he’s losing tremendous power in Reynolds, he knew he had to break up the massive number of strikeouts in the middle of that lineup.

PADRES. Any time you lose a great player like Gonzalez, it’s a sad day for the franchise, but the Padres got three excellent prospects in Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly, and Rey Fuentes from the Red Sox, which should ease the pain. They will sign one of the veteran first basemen out there (Derrek Lee, Lyle Overbay, Adam LaRoche, or Nick Johnson) and hope he makes up some of the offense lost. They picked up shortstop Jason Bartlett from Tampa Bay, and he should be a weapon in that lineup.

Losers ANGELS. The Angels can recover from the disaster of losing out on Crawford by signing Beltre. But there’s still uncertainty about that. They need a big offensive player to keep up with Texas, but even if they sign Beltre, he is not as consistent as Crawford. Crawford would have been perfect for Mike Scioscia’s philosophy of having speed on the bases and in the field. At least they signed free agent lefty Scott Downs to a three-year, $15 million deal Friday, after the meetings.

ATHLETICS. The fact that they can’t sign a major free agent is not the fault of executives Billy Beane and David Forst, who do a fine job running the team. The facility is terrible — the worst in baseball — and players simply aren’t enamored with playing there. Until the stadium issue is solved, the A’s are going to struggle to compete for front-line players. They got tired of the run-around with Beltre and finally told him they were out.

YANKEES. They will have something before all is said and done, but right now, having lost out on Crawford and mired in a tug-of-war with Texas over Lee, it’s hard to tell how they’ll come out of this. It’s imperative that they sign Lee, especially if Andy Pettitte is retiring. And even if Pettitte comes back, they still need Lee in the rotation.

METS. Not much going on right now. They need about four starting pitchers and also weren’t able to deal Carlos Beltran, even when the Red Sox were semi-interested. The Mets will likely bottom-feed for players at the end of free agency, but right now the Braves and Nationals have definitely improved, and the Phillies remain strong even with the loss of Werth.

RAYS. It’s going to be bad before it gets better, but if you had to pick one organization that might figure it out quickly, it’s the Rays. They knew they were losing Crawford, Rafael Soriano, and the remainder of the bullpen. They’ll take the hits and then start piecing things together cheaply. But for now, they’re taking the worst of it.

ON THE OTHER HAND . . .

In pitching market, backup plans needed

It’s intriguing to watch teams formulate contingency plans in the event they can’t get their first choice. The Red Sox did a ton of work on Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Beltran and also explored a deal with Washington for Josh Willingham before they were able to land Carl Crawford.

You can see the Yankees and Rangers spinning their wheels trying to come up with an alternative for Cliff Lee.

A starting pitching trade market is emerging, with a few teams trying to get Zack Greinke from the Royals. The Rangers, Nationals, Brewers, Dodgers, Phillies, and Blue Jays — who are on Greinke’s no-trade list — are trying to piece together a deal.

Carl Pavano could be in Texas’s plans if Lee goes to the Yankees. The Nationals have been aggressive on Pavano and will go three years, but it behooves Pavano to wait for the Lee saga to end and then see how much he can get when he’s the major free agent pitcher out there.

For the time being, the Twins appear to be the favorites to retain Pavano, and while the Brewers have been interested, they appear willing to go only two years, which won’t be enough.

The Rangers have already made inquiries to Tampa Bay about Matt Garza and James Shields. The Yankees could also be in that market if they were willing to deal a top-caliber youngster such as catcher Jesus Montero.

According to a major league source, Derek Lowe might be a player the Braves are willing to trade to another contender. The Yankees would have to be interested in Lowe, who is already battle-tested in the AL East.

All of this is why when Scott Boras says there’s a strong market developing for veteran righthander Kevin Millwood, one believes him. Millwood was a train wreck for the Orioles last season (4-16, 5.10 ERA), but some teams still believe he can be a middle- to end-of-rotation starter.

The White Sox will listen on lefty Mark Buehrle, who, at 31, is entering the final season of his contract ($14 million) and has 10-5 protection. Teams may be inclined to work something out long-term for him if he waives those rights.

GIMME SOME GLOVIN’

Crawford quite a catch in more ways than one

Those of us who remember Carl Yastrzemski and his seven Gold Gloves believe we’ve never seen anyone as good as him in left field since then. And Red Sox lore speaks volumes about Duffy Lewis, who in his time was considered the best left fielder in baseball because of his mastery of the 10-foot incline in left known as Duffy’s Cliff.

So where will we eventually place Carl Crawford among the greatest left fielders to play for the Red Sox?

Much the way Lewis’s teammate, Tris Speaker, played what was considered the shallowest center field ever at Fenway, Crawford may do likewise in left, negating the bloop single. He is fast enough to run back for balls hit over his head. He will have to learn the Wall, but most believe that will take him no more than 10 minutes.

“You know what really stands out when people ask me about him?’’ said Rays manager Joe Maddon. “Our dugout is on the first base side at home. So many times you’ll see a ball hit to left field that your immediate thought is, ‘Oh no.’

“But then you know it’s Carl. Then all of a sudden you see the gap close and you see the ball caught.

“Then you watch the other teams that have a different left fielder, the same ball is hit, and the ball is always dropping. Then you think about the momentum that’s been shifted just based on that play being made or not made.

“So yes, Carl stands out to me. Everybody’s talking about his offense, but what really stands out to me is what he does out there [in the field].’’

Being a left fielder with the Red Sox has always meant offense. Ted Williams, Yastrzemski, and Jim Rice are in the Hall of Fame. Manny Ramirez may get there, unless his performance-enhancing drug issues get in the way. Mike Greenwell was a career .303 hitter.

Now there’s Crawford. He is a base stealer whose power is emerging as he gets older, and he will be with the Red Sox presumably for the next seven years.

It will be interesting to see where history places him among the greats.

Etc.
Apropos of nothing 1. Not sure I’ve ever seen Jed Hoyer without a bottle of water; 2. Unsure why the Orioles had to release a statement about Luke Scott’s political comments. He’s free to have his own views, isn’t he?; 3. With all this money devoted to Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, is there any left for Liverpool to obtain a midfielder? 4. To answer a question I get asked a lot: Yes, I do believe Gonzalez will surpass anything Mark Teixeira would have done with the Red Sox; 5. I do believe the A’s need to move to Portland, Ore.

Updates on nine 1. Russell Martin, C, free agent — Never heard so many varying opinions about a player and his ability. “Can’t call a game,’’ said one team official. “Love the enthusiasm he brings to the game, and he’s not a bad receiver,’’ said another. One common theme is that he’s a player who didn’t get the most out of his athleticism. But at 27, “He still has a chance to be an important player in this game,’’ said one of his former Dodger coaches. The Red Sox, Jays, and Yankees are interested in him. Toronto might appeal to him, as he’s Canadian, but I just don’t see a team offering more than the $4 million he turned down from the Dodgers.

2. Koby Clemens, 1B, Astros farm system — Nobody took him in the Rule 5 draft, but that wasn’t surprising. The 24-year-old Clemens hit 26 homers and knocked in 85 runs while hitting .241 at Double A, but he struck out 143 times in 452 at-bats. Astros manager Brad Mills raved about him, though. “I saw him hit a home run through this incredibly stiff wind during an intrasquad game at spring training last year,’’ Mills said. “He’s got power.’’ Clemens played first base last season for the first time after being used as catcher/third baseman. The Astros still believe he can be a Brandon Inge type of player and he will get to play at Triple A in 2011.

3. Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks — Turns out the Red Sox were the only team general manager Kevin Towers ever discussed Upton with, but his insistence on Daniel Bard pretty much took Boston out of it. The Sox could have done something dramatic like Clay Buchholz, but there is no chance they will break up their young starters, even for someone with Upton’s tools. This chapter is likely over, even though the Sox, with a lefthanded-hitting outfield, could use a righthanded bat like Upton.

4. Matt Lindstrom, RHP, Astros — Another reliever who could be traded this winter. Lindstrom had a good first half but exploded in the second half. The Astros would love to dump his salary, which was $1.65 million last season and will rise in arbitration. Lindstrom was Houston’s closer, but another team could use him in middle relief. The Astros also would talk about dealing second baseman Jeff Keppinger.

5. Derrek Lee, 1B, free agent — He looks to have a market now that Adrian Gonzalez has been traded. The Diamondbacks, Orioles, Nationals, and Padres are looking at him. Lee could emerge with a decent offer, not blockbuster money but better than expected, given that he’s a righthanded power bat. Teams are doing their homework on him, both medically and from the personality point of view. He is coming off one of his worst seasons, but part of that might be the result of being traded by the Cubs to the Braves.

6. Monster99 — The man previously known as “Monster,’’ “L’Montro’’ and “Montro’’ cuts Crawford’s hair, and says of him, “Carl loves Boston and always has. I used to meet him at the hotel when the Rays came to town and he loved going to all the restaurants and walking around the city. When I was hearing Boston wasn’t his type of town, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. He loves Boston — more than he loved LA or New York.’’

7. Nick Johnson, 1B/DH, free agent — Don’t forget, he was going to be the Yankees’ full-time DH last season until he had wrist surgery. Now that he appears healthy, his name is linked to a few teams (e.g. Tampa Bay) that really like OBP-type hitters. Johnson will get some offers, probably not big ones, but he’ll be able to choose where he plays.

8. Grant Balfour, RHP, free agent — The Red Sox have looked into Balfour, who had a very good year with the Rays and is AL East battle-tested. He’s a compensation free agent (the Sox would lose their second-round pick), but worth looking into. He’s been a good seventh-inning reliever, which is precisely what the Sox need. He has several teams after him and, like most relievers out there, wants a three-year deal.

9. Matt Guerrier, RHP, free agent — The Sox are waiting to hear whether their offer to the former Twins reliever will be enough. Guerrier is durable, having made 70-plus appearances four straight years. The Sox are confident he’ll be able to withstand the workload.

Short hops From the Bill Chuck files: “Since 2002, only Juan Pierre (474) has stolen more bases than Carl Crawford (409), but Pierre has played in 151 more games.’’ Also, “Since 2002, no one has more triples than Crawford (105); second on the list is Jimmy Rollins (85).’’ And, “Every season of his career, Crawford has had at least as many stolen bases as he has had walks. He has 409 stolen bases and 293 walks, all told.’’ One more: “A stat we missed this past season: Derek Jeter surpassed Mickey Mantle in Yankee wins, 1,379 to 1,376.’’ . . . Happy 68th birthday tomorrow to Ferguson Jenkins.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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