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Baseball notes

Gaps prompt GMs to shop

Their offseason work is filling in the blanks

Theo Epstein is bound to receive inquiries on Coco Crisp at this week's general managers' meetings in Orlando. The Red Sox are sitting pretty with Jacoby Ellsbury ready to take over, and Crisp is seen as major trade bait, with many teams in need of a center fielder.

As for the rest of the AL East, the Orioles will try to move Miguel Tejada (two years left on a six-year, $72 million deal). New president/GM Andy MacPhail also might dangle catcher Ramon Hernandez, lefthander Erik Bedard, outfielder Jay Gibbons, and third baseman Melvin Mora.

The Yankees need a replacement for Alex Rodriguez at third base, and the possibilities include Mike Lowell, Joe Crede, and Brandon Inge, as well as a deal for Florida's Miguel Cabrera. They'll be in the Johan Santana hunt if they're willing to part with two or three players from the likes of Chien-Ming Wang, Robinson Cano, Phillip Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, or Ian Kennedy.

The Devil Rays are looking for a defense-oriented shortstop and a veteran starting pitcher, and they'll try to tie up Scott Kazmir and Carlos Peña long term. The Jays probably won't do anything major with their payroll hanging around $90 million but will look to add a backup catcher and starting pitcher.

In the AL Central, look for the White Sox to dangle pitching - Jose Contreras and/or Jon Garland - to get help in center field, left field, or shortstop (if they don't pick up the option on Juan Uribe). The Indians' big decisions will be whether to pick up options on pitchers Paul Byrd, Joe Borowski, and Aaron Fultz. They are seeking a power bat in left to replace Kenny Lofton.

The aggressive Tigers have already traded prospects to the Braves for shortstop Edgar Renteria after picking up the option on Pudge Rodriguez. They also are looking for a veteran starter. The Royals need power and have about $25 million to spend. The Twins could be the most active team, at least listening to offers for Santana and then trying to replace Torii Hunter.

In the West, new Angels GM Tony Reagins will be badgered by A-Rod questions; if he doesn't get him, Reagins needs somebody with power.

The A's might blow it up and rebuild, which would make righthanders Joe Blanton and Dan Haren available, as well as first baseman Dan Johnson. The A's farm system is thin and they need to replenish. The Mariners want to move first baseman Richie Sexson's $14 million contract (and .205 average), and look for the Rangers to upgrade in center, with Hunter, Crisp, Aaron Rowand, and Mike Cameron on their radar.

In the NL East, the Braves could make a run at Tom Glavine and need a replacement for Andruw Jones in center. The Marlins will likely field offers on Dontrelle Willis and Cabrera. The Mets, who picked up Moises Alou's $7.5 million option and re-signed Damion Easley for the bench, need a catcher with Paul Lo Duca becoming a free agent; they'd love it to be Jorge Posada. Santana would be the coveted prize, and they also need a second baseman. The Mets could dip into the A-Rod pool if David Wright is willing to move to second.

The Phillies will look for a starting pitcher as well as relievers. If Rowand leaves, they'll try to replace his production with a third baseman, and Lowell would be their No. 1 choice. The Nationals will likely get into the Hunter and Jones sweepstakes.

In the NL Central, the Cubs would love to add a lefthanded-hitting right fielder who can play defense and get on base (J.D. Drew?) and may be after a center fielder if they don't commit to Felix Pie. Dusty Baker's Reds must come up with a No. 2 or No. 3 starter. They also need middle relief and can offer a plethora of outfielders. The Astros need a center fielder and a front-line starting pitcher and should be active in free agency. The Brewers will be in the market for a left fielder after not exercising the option on Geoff Jenkins. They're also be looking to retool their bullpen. They really need to re-sign closer Francisco Cordero.

The Pirates' top priority is hiring a manager, an assistant general manager, a farm director, and a scouting director. It appears that Jason Bay could be had for a package of young players. The Cardinals are seeking a starting pitcher, and decision time is closing fast on free agent David Eckstein.

In the NL West, the Diamondbacks need a starting pitcher (a Curt Schilling return?) after letting Livan Hernandez walk. The Rockies will either re-sign catcher Yorvit Torrealba or make a run at Lo Duca or Jason Kendall, and they'll try to re-sign second baseman Kaz Matsui. A-Rod and a starting pitcher (Andy Pettitte?) are in the Dodgers' sights while the Padres need a center fielder and a second baseman. The Giants may kick the tires on A-Rod, but are willing to trade young pitching (maybe even Tim Lincecum) for a stud outfielder.

Beane accounting in Oakland

A few questions for Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane:

Are you at least tempted on Barry Bonds, given the Bay Area connection and the probability that he would boost attendance?

BB: "I've never looked at it that way. I've never said I need to sign a player because he will bring us greater attendance. The way I look at it is that winning brings an attendance boost. We have to put together a good baseball team that fans like to watch."

Will you be active in the trade market?

BB: "We're waiting to see the whole direction and the prognosis for some of our injured players. So far, so good. It looks as if Rich Harden is doing great and he should be ready to go. It looks like [Eric ] Chavez is also responding well to his surgery and he should be fine. Justin Duchscherer had surgery and it looks like he's doing well. I think the direction we take will depend on how we feel things are going to go with these guys."

Do you consider this a rebuilding season?

BB: "We had so many injuries last season and there were so many things that happened that we're considering that, but when it all sorts out, we may be looking to add people. We're just not sure right now because it's so early into the offseason that we haven't heard any proposals or things that we might be able to do or not be able to do. Sometimes at the GM meetings we're so caught up in discussing some of baseball's issues that we don't get a chance to spend too much time on starting our trade discussions."

Are you surprised at all the GM changes?

BB: "Surprised that we lost the quality and caliber of some of the GMs we did. Terry Ryan was a complete surprise. I think Walt Jocketty will be back in the fold pretty quickly somewhere. I don't think he's ready to go back to Kentucky quite yet. With Bill Stoneman, there was always some talk that Bill would step down and become a consultant for the past couple of years. It sounds like John Schuerholz will still be very much involved. But it's become a job with a shorter shelf life, it seems, given all of the pressures and the hard work that so many of the GMs in the game put in now."

The Great Debate

Torre or Girardi: Who's in better position to win?

Who will have more success next season, Joe Torre in Los Angeles or Joe Girardi in New York? We asked former manager and current Braves special assistant Jim Fregosi and a National League general manager who had to speak in anonymity to answer frankly.

Fregosi: "Awfully tough to answer before you know what the full roster is. Do Posada, Rivera, A-Rod, Pettitte all come back or are they gone? My answer is a lot different if some or all of those guys aren't around. In LA, I read there were some problems or whatever, but they have a lot of good young players over there and Joe Torre will be a steady hand in guiding that team. Again, I don't know what that final Dodgers roster is going to look like, but you're talking about two very rich-in-tradition organizations where they have the resources to both build a very competitive situation, and neither will sit still until they build good teams. I get asked whether the Yankees will miss Torre; all I can go by is my own experience and all the places I've managed. They miss you for about a week and then they move on."

GM: "My gut reaction is Torre. He's got the experience to settle down that team and bring out the best in those young guys while also having control over the veterans. His status in the game will allow him to make demands for personnel to his owner and get what he wants eventually. With Girardi, he's still a relatively inexperienced manager who is being thrown into one of the toughest situations in sports. There's no such thing as rebuilding in New York, so you'd better be good right off the bat. He's joining a team that might not have the best hitter in baseball at third base. Not a great way to start. Obviously, I have no idea what either roster is going to look like, but just based on the two managers, Torre's been through everything. Girardi hasn't."

Etc.

Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. I loved hearing Hank Aaron say at the World Series that there are too many hitters who aren't embarrassed enough by striking out more than 100 times a season. He never did; 97 in 1967 was his high; 2. Major League Baseball vice president Joe Garagiola Jr., the former Arizona general manager, doesn't get enough credit for the current success of the Diamondbacks; 3. The Red Sox-Rockies World Series display opens in Cooperstown Nov. 9; 4. You don't see too many former GMs become bench coaches. Former Pirates GM Ted Simmons will be that for Ned Yost in Milwaukee; 5. What a bad break for the Pirates that John Farrell is staying put with the Red Sox. Nobody fit that job better.

Interesting developments
If Alex Rodriguez could handpick the team he plays for, Boston might well be No. 1 on his list. According to a source who has talked to Rodriguez recently, he'd love to play for the Sox because he thinks they can win multiple championships. Meanwhile, agent Scott Boras has been pleasantly surprised with the early interest in Rodriguez. "Several teams have expressed an interest and there have been a couple of surprise teams I never expected to hear from," he said. Boras would not reveal any names (one of the surprise teams is thought to be the Marlins). Asked whether A-Rod would be OK shifting to shortstop, Boras said, "I haven't really discussed that with Alex yet. I will if there's a need to." Whither the Yankees? "That's something I will keep between Brian Cashman and myself," Boras said. "I'm not making any more comments about the Yankees."

A name to bat around
If he stays healthy, Mike Sweeney might be a nice hitter in the middle of someone's order. Sweeney, 34, finished a five-year, $55 million contract with Kansas City and will likely not be back.

Best of my glove
The winners of the 2007 "Fielding Bible" awards, as selected by a panel of 10 experts, including Bill James: 1B Albert Pujols, St. Louis; 2B Aaron Hill, Toronto; 3B Pedro Feliz, San Francisco; SS Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado; LF Eric Byrnes, Arizona; CF Andruw Jones, Atlanta; RF Alex Rios Toronto; C Yadier Molina, St. Louis; P Johan Santana, Minnesota.

Whiz kids
James's 2008 Handbook came out last week, and in it he ranks the top young players in baseball (under the age of 29). No bias here from the Sox' special adviser. Dustin Pedroia is the only Sox player in the top 50, at No. 32. The Sox were ranked 18th overall in terms of young talent. The top 25 players under 29:

1. Prince Fielder, Milwaukee, age 23.

2. Hanley Ramirez, Florida, 23.

3. Fausto Carmona, Cleveland, 23.

4. David Wright, NY Mets, 24.

5. Felix Hernandez, Seattle, 21.

6. Scott Kazmir, Tampa Bay, 23.

7. Jose Reyes, NY Mets, 24.

8. Matt Cain, San Francisco, 23.

9. Grady Sizemore, Cleveland, 25.

10. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia, 23.

11. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington, 23.

12. Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado, 23.

13. Miguel Cabrera, Florida, 24.

14. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee, 23.

15. Justin Verlander, Detroit, 24.

16. Nick Markakis, Baltimore, 23.

17. Jake Peavy, San Diego, 26.

18. Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego, 25.

19. Tom Gorzelanny, Pittsburgh, 25.

20. James Shields, Tampa Bay, 25.

21. C.C. Sabathia, Cleveland, 27.

22. Curtis Granderson, Detroit, 26.

23. Brandon Webb, Arizona, 28.

24. Chad Billingsley, LA Dodgers, 23.

25. Chris Young, Arizona, 24.

A step up in St. Louis
After kicking the tires on a few young bucks, the Cardinals hired longtime assistant GM John Mozeliak as general manager. He is most likely the guy Tony La Russa felt most comfortable with. Mozeliak served eight years under Walt Jocketty, who was dismissed last month. Before reupping as manager, La Russa received a list of potential GM candidates, and Mozeliak was among those he endorsed.

Pitchers and decisions
One of the toughest decisions new Twins GM Bill Smith has to make is whether to sell off Santana now or have him pitch half a year and then deal him at the trade deadline. If Santana is around, he'll be part of one of the best young rotations in baseball, with Francisco Liriano (returning from Tommy John surgery), a rising Scott Baker, Matt Garza, and Kevin Slowey. So what if the Twins are good at midseason and they know they can't afford to re-sign Santana?

Extra bases
A few quick things: The annual Boston Baseball Writers awards dinner is set for Thursday, Jan. 17, at the Westin Waterfront Hotel, adjacent to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Tickets are available for $135 by sending a check to Boston Chapter, BBWAA, PO Box 7346, Nashua N.H., 03060 . . . There should be a trade market for Julian Tavarez, so the Red Sox were smart to pick up his option . . . Happy 74th birthday, Tito Francona.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com

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