Excess, redundancy, call it what you will. There will be teams this offseason that will face needing to get rid of excess to make room for younger players. These moves are never made without some holding of breath, second-guessing, and remorse.
But that’s the reality.
Theo Epstein still is upset with himself for dealing Bronson Arroyo to the Reds for Wily Mo Pena. At the time, Epstein felt Arroyo was an extra pitcher on a deep Red Sox staff, and he wanted to take a gamble that Pena would be a power hitter in the majors. The thinking would have been sound had Pena done his part, but he didn’t. And Arroyo went on to an excellent career with the Reds, and will soon be a free agent again, hitting the market at 36 as one of the most dependable pitchers in baseball.
The Tigers, Red Sox, and Dodgers may face similar circumstances this offseason. The Tigers would love to see Drew Smyly make their rotation. Smyly has had an excellent season in the bullpen, but general manager Dave Dombrowski believes Smyly’s future is as a starter. And the Tigers do not have a lefthander in the rotation.
But how do you make that happen with a staff that includes Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, and Rick Porcello? It means someone will get moved.
Last offseason, there was talk of the Tigers trading Porcello, but Dombrowski wisely hung on to him, and Porcello came back from a shaky 2012 with a decent 2013. Porcello is only 24. The Tigers need less-expensive players because their payroll is getting so high, though Fister made only $4 million this season and is first-year arbitration eligible. Yet he would be a candidate to go in a trade.
The Dodgers are going to have a cramped outfield. Carl Crawford is untradeable, but they also have Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, and Yasiel Puig. Ethier is perpetually the outfielder everyone thinks is going elsewhere, but what if this offseason GM Ned Colletti starts getting calls on Kemp knowing that Ethier can play center?
The Dodgers’ rotation also will add a comebacking Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley (the projection is by mid-May), also leaving them with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu, and Chris Capuano (who may retire). Ricky Nolasco is a free agent they’d like to re-sign.
“Yeah, you have excess until the first guy gets hurt. Everybody told us we had excess in our pitching last year, and we went through nine of them before April 22d,” Colletti said.
The Red Sox have a crop of young pitchers ready to make the leap to the majors. They have six veteran starters in Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster, and Felix Doubront. Allen Webster, Brandon Workman, Henry Owens, and Rubby De La Rosa are knocking on the door for starting jobs.
Who is the most likely to be traded? The Red Sox will pick up Lester’s option at $13 million for 2014 and likely continue to negotiate with him on a long-term extension. Lester, who is pitching well after a six-start slump, could demand a deal that would pay him close to $20 million a year. Would the Red Sox want to go there? They had a chance to consider a Wil Myers deal for Lester a year ago, and passed.
Any of the Red Sox’ veterans would be desirable in a trade. Lackey has pitched well above his record. He also has two years remaining on his deal, and the last year is at minimum salary because he had to miss a season because of Tommy John surgery.
Peavy has a year remaining on his contract. There was plenty of interest in him at the deadline, and there would be again this offseason based on how he’s pitched for the Red Sox.
Let’s face it, the free agent market lacks top pitchers. Other than Ervin Santana in Kansas City, Matt Garza in Texas, and Nolasco, the rest are aging pitchers in the final year or two of their careers, or reclamation projects such as Josh Johnson and Tim Lincecum. That makes Fister, Lackey, Peavy, Doubront, and Lester attractive.
The Rangers also know that something has to give with Jurickson Profar and Elvis Andrus at shortstop. They signed Andrus to a long-term deal, but he’s hardly lived up to the money or hype, yet he’s still very young, as is Profar. The Rangers might be able to fill another area of need (outfield or pitching) by dealing one of them.
The Pirates are going to have a lot of pitching depth as well, provided Wandy Rodriguez is OK. A.J. Burnett will be a free agent, but could re-sign short term. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Pirates move someone among Charlie Morton, Rodriguez, or even Jeff Locke. It appears that Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Brandon Cumpton, and Jameson Taillon are keepers.
Also, look at the Cardinals, where there’s some corner infield depth. Allen Craig is obviously the first baseman, but Matt Adams could be a trade chip in the offseason.
Do the Marlins move Giancarlo Stanton with Christian Yelich, Jake Marisnick, and Marcell Ozuna all top outfield prospects, not to mention the haul they could obtain for Stanton?
“The Marlins would solve four or five other needs with a Stanton deal,” said one National League GM. “They need a draw, but even with him, they’re not drawing.”
And the Diamondbacks have a few center field types with Cody Ross, A.J. Pollock, and Adam Eaton.
CHANGE OF SCENERY
Epstein, Cubs take a chance on Bard
Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Jason McLeod were all with the Red Sox in 2007 when Daniel Bard had his first meltdown of not being able to throw strikes. He got out of that one to become one of the top setup men in baseball. So, why wouldn’t he be able to do it again?
That’s what Epstein and Co. are banking on. By claiming Bard on waivers, the Cubs took on an additional $275,000 in salary, the remainder of the $1.86 million Bard is earning this season. The Cubs, obviously, won’t be able to make an evaluation of Bard this season, so they’ll likely work out a pre-tender offer in a split contract for 2014, under which he’d make a certain amount if he makes the major league team or another amount if he’s in the minors.
So, the question is, how does Bard fix his problem? Well, how did it he do it in 2007?
Bard broke through it on his own. There was the help of psychologists and pitching coaches, as there has been during this latest bout. It hasn’t worked, but a change of scenery coupled with working with new people may work.
Epstein is excited to have pitching coach Chris Bosio working directly with Bard. Sometimes a pitching coach and pitcher can click and make all the difference.
The Sox believed they were close to getting Bard straightened out after the experiment of him as a starter was scrapped. Ex-manager Bobby Valentine said he was against Bard being a starter, but took orders from the front office. Valentine said that only team psychologist Bob Tewksbury and bullpen coach Gary Tuck were allowed to work with Bard during his difficulties.
“He’s a terrific young man and I hope he straightens it out,” said Valentine, now the athletic director at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. “He is a terrific setup man. I know when he got back to being a reliever he looked me in the eye and rather matter-of-factly told me this is what he was meant to do. And I couldn’t agree more.”
Apropos of nothing
1. On the subject of expanding 40-man rosters, I agree with Brewers GM Doug Melvin and others who think baseball shouldn’t alter its rosters during the most crucial month of the season. In no other sport does this happen. Melvin has argued for years that it gives big-market teams an unfair advantage of being able to call up so many players that may impact a pennant race. In any given year, one team may have a better farm system than another. The compromise may be that teams will still be allowed to recall as many players off their 40-man, but only five can be active per game, giving managers 30-man rosters.
2. After two columns about the 3,000 or so fans per game the Red Sox are down this season, think how bad it is Cleveland. With the Indians and Orioles battling for a wild-card spot, they drew only 9,962 at Progressive Field, the smallest September crowd at that ballpark.
3. The checklist of complaints about Fenway you all sent my way: 1. tickets cost too much; 2. parking is crazy expensive at $40-$50; 3. seats are uncomfortable; 4. concessions cost too much; 5. would rather watch it on NESN.
4. Some still believe that one of the dumbest things done this season was the Angels paying Mike Trout only $500,000. Trout likely won’t forget when the time comes to leave.
5. Never knew that it was Bobby Valentine who fired Mets clubhouse and reputed steroid distributor Kirk Radomski, whose testimony was key in the Mitchell Report.
6. When will a DH be elected to the Hall of Fame? David Ortiz probably has as good a chance as any. If Ortiz keeps up his current level of play through next season, he should have more than 460 homers and more than 1,500 RBIs, with an OPS around .930. Frank Thomas will likely get in, and he was a DH for more than 1,400 games (more than 900 games as a first baseman).
7. Yes, I was serious about eliminating the intentional walk. I couldn’t care less about the strategy. You’re blatantly telling the pitcher to throw four bad pitches. And no, it’s not like a sacrifice bunt. A sac bunt is advancing a runner, and a player is in motion, trying to beat a throw.
Updates on nine
1. Grady Sizemore, OF, free agent — Sizemore tried to get back playing this season, but needs more time for his knees to heal. It looks like Sizemore will be ready for a major league camp next spring, and will likely work out for teams this offseason to show he’s healthy. If OK, he’ll likely get a few teams wanting to take a look. There’s a real feeling he can get make it back.
2. Tim Hudson, RHP, Braves — Hudson, even at 38, wants to return from the ankle fracture he suffered in July. He should be OK by mid-December and able to resume normal baseball activities. Hudson will be a free agent who would prefer to stay in Atlanta. It all depends on the money. Hudson, a Brave for nine seasons, is earning $9 million in 2013. He’s 205-111 for his career, and was 8-7 with a 3.97 ERA when he got hurt.
3. Justin Masterson, RHP, Indians — The Indians have an easy schedule the rest of the way, with the Mets, Royals, White Sox, Astros, and Twins. But it doesn’t help that Masterson is down with an oblique strain, and that he will miss at least one start, and perhaps the remainder of the regular season. “Of course it’s tough, he’s our best starter,” manager Terry Francona said. Masterson was on his way to his third straight 200-inning season.
4. Michael Cuddyer, OF, Rockies — Cuddyer and Atlanta’s Chris Johnson are battling for the National League batting title, with Cuddyer attempting to become the eighth Rockie in the franchise’s 21-year history to win it. The only other teams with multiple batting titles in that stretch are the Padres (Tony Gwynn, 1994-97) and Giants (Barry Bonds, 2002, ’04; and Buster Posey, 2012). Cuddyer was asked about a lot prior to the trading deadline, but the Rockies wouldn’t budge. Johnson, meanwhile, a throw-in in the Justin Upton deal and the son of former Red Sox first base coach Ron Johnson, has fulfilled a potential that his father always thought he had.
5. Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies — After bouncing back from a slow start, Ruiz is suddenly desirable again. He will be a free agent, and now the Phillies are perking up about re-signing him. It may not be that easy once Ruiz gets to the open market. He’d be a cheaper alternative to Brian McCann or Jarrod Saltalamacchia and more consistent than Dioner Navarro, who has had a good year with the Cubs.
6. Mike Napoli, 1B, Red Sox — According to agent Brian Grieper, there have been no contract talks with the Sox. It appears they will play it out and decide about a qualifying offer, and that’s also what they’re going to do with Xander Bogaerts. Will they commit to him at shortstop or third? And if it’s third, does that move Will Middlebrooks to first and take Napoli out of the equation? Entering Saturday, Napoli was tied for 11th among righthanded hitters in the majors with 82 RBIs.
7. Juan Pierre, OF, Marlins — One of those guys you easily forget, but Pierre entered Saturday with 2,211 hits, tying Willie McCovey for 177th all-time and three shy of Joe DiMaggio. Pierre also has 613 steals, which is 18th all time. “To have the running game during the steroid era, I was right in the bulk of it, and most teams didn’t want to run,” Pierre said. “I was fortunate to play here for Jack [McKeon]. He was an old-school manager and was like, ‘Go. What are you waiting on? Run.’ That helped a lot to be able to maintain it during an era where it was three-run home runs. Don’t move, don’t run yourself into an out or run us out of an inning. That was pretty cool.”
8. Francisco Liriano, LHP, Pirates — Neal Huntington has to win the executive of the year based on this move alone. Liriano entered Saturday at 15-7 with a 2.98 ERA, and didn’t have an ERA of less than five the past two seasons. Liriano has been brilliant in his career, and also awful. The Pirates got the good one, and got him for $1 million. The option year goes to $8 million next season.
9. Chris Johnson, 3B, Braves — Frank Wren gets credit for this one. Not bad to obtain a player who is battling for the league lead in hitting, and playing a decent third base. Red Sox infielder John McDonald, who played with Johnson in Arizona, always told him he needed to learn to let go from one at-bat to another. “This game is hard enough, you can’t bring your last at-bat into your next at-bat. Chris has learned a lot and now he’s just letting his talent take over. I’m happy for him,” McDonald said.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Edwin Encarnacion is the only player with double-figure homers (36) and more walks (78) than whiffs (58).” Also, “Roger Clemens in 2001 and Mike Mussina in 2008 are the only 20-game winners without a complete game. Max Scherzer doesn’t have a complete game in 161 career starts.” . . . Happy birthday Steve Barr (62), Don Aase (59), and Bob Wolcott (40).Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.