While the New York City transit strike has ended just in time for a newly shorn Johnny Damon to make his triumphant entry into the Bronx for this afternoon's press conference at Yankee Stadium (chariot optional), the Red Sox remained in motion yesterday, at least by telephone, exploring trade and free agent possibilities.
Outside of reaching an agreement with backup catcher John Flaherty, making his second go-round with the Sox, nothing appeared imminent yesterday, though the Sox, according to an industry source, have expressed significant interest in free agent pitcher Kevin Millwood, the American League's ERA leader in 2005, who had a 9-11 record with a 2.86 ERA. There were indications last night the Red Sox were trying to arrange a visit for Millwood, though CEO Larry Lucchino is in San Diego for the holiday and principal owner John W. Henry was said to be visiting relatives.
At the moment, Boston's most serious competition would appear to be the Texas Rangers, who yesterday made an offer for the righthanded Millwood, who turns 31 tomorrow. Millwood's agent, Scott Boras, is seeking a five-year deal for Millwood, who last season was paid $7 million by the Indians.
The Orioles and Washington Nationals also have interest, though a couple of teams have dropped out of the running for Millwood's services, including the Seattle Mariners, who signed Jarrod Washburn earlier this week. The Dodgers reportedly had interest in Millwood, but that is not the case. In fact, the Dodgers are looming as a potential trading partner with the Red Sox for lefthander David Wells, with the Sox looking for bullpen help in return.
Millwood has had elbow and shoulder issues in the past. When Cleveland signed him to a one-year deal last January, there was contract language stipulating he would earn an additional $4 million signing bonus if he spent 20 days or fewer on the disabled list with a pitching-related injury to his elbow or shoulder. He collected the bonus and made 30 starts, becoming the first Indian since Rick Sutcliffe in 1982 to lead the league in ERA.
Millwood's record was primarily due to poor run support. A two-time 18-game winner with the Braves, Millwood received an average of 3.98 runs, the ninth-lowest average in the league.
The Sox, with money to spend after not re-signing Damon, envision featuring Millwood as no worse than a No. 3 starter in a rotation that also would feature Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling. The addition of Millwood would allow them to absorb the loss of Wells and to use Matt Clement and/or Bronson Arroyo as bargaining chips to address needs at shortstop, first base, and center field.
The Sox yesterday were closely monitoring the Miguel Tejada situation in Baltimore, where the Orioles were engaged in serious talks with the Cubs about the former MVP, also coveted by the Sox.
The Cubs have proposed a package, according to industry sources, that includes ace pitcher Mark Prior, center fielder Corey Patterson, and other players and prospects. The Cubs have told the Orioles if they give up a top pitcher, they want pitcher Erik Bedard from the Orioles. The Orioles are believed to want pitcher Carlos Zambrano as the centerpiece of any deal with the Cubs, as well as top outfield prospect Felix Pie.
The Sox, who have tried to interest the Orioles in a deal that would send Tejada to Boston for Manny Ramírez, who, like Tejada, has said he wants out, remain on the periphery with Baltimore. The Orioles have told the Sox they would not do a Ramírez-for-Tejada deal; they want pitching as well, and more than just a No. 4/No. 5 starter type like Arroyo. That presumably means one of the Sox' top young pitching prospects, too, such as Jon Lester or Jonathan Papelbon.
For now, the Orioles' talks with the Cubs are more advanced than with anyone else, though sources on both sides said nothing was imminent last night. There has been talk, as there is wont to be in these matters, of various three- or four-team scenarios, the most ambitious rumor one in which the Orioles would wind up with Ramírez and White Sox pitcher Jon Garland, the Cubs would get Tejada, the White Sox would get Bedard, and the Red Sox would receive Prior. That sounds like it belongs in the ho, ho, ho category, however.
There could be ramifications for the Red Sox even if the Orioles send Tejada elsewhere. One industry source said if Tejada is traded, he expects the Orioles to snatch up free agent shortstop Alex González, who also has been on the Sox' list. That could send the Sox back to Tampa Bay in search of a deal for Julio Lugo.
If Patterson goes to the Orioles, the Sox might have interest in incumbent Baltimore center fielder Luis Matos. All of this, of course, remains conjecture until someone pulls a trigger.
There was another report yesterday that the Sox were engaged in serious talks with Arizona for infielder Troy Glaus, with Toronto the other heavy bidder. But two industry sources said the Sox were an unlikely match for Glaus unless the price came way down. ESPN's Peter Gammons reported last night the Blue Jays were close to a deal for the 29-year-old Glaus.
Ramírez's future with the Sox remains as unsettled as ever, with multiple industry sources insisting they still believe Mets general manager Omar Minaya, who has shown a keen interest in Ramírez in the past, will make another run at Manny. Given the stealth-like fashion with which the Yankees made off with Damon, it should surprise no one that Minaya might just be waiting for the opportune time to strike.
After Damon came to terms with the Yankees, Damon and Boras said another club had offered a six-year deal. It had been widely assumed the Orioles were that team, but an Orioles' official told the Baltimore Sun last night the Orioles never made an offer for Damon, who agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal with the Yankees.