- The Reds traded 1B Sean Casey to the Pirates for pitcher Dave Williams. My first reaction to this deal is that the Reds got fleeced by the Pirates. Then I stopped and thought about it. I looked up Williams' major and minor league stats. And I changed my mind. The Reds really got fleeced by the Pirates. I understand the Reds wanted to get Casey's $8 million salary off the books, but they could have gotten something in exchange for him. In case you don't know Dave Williams, he's basically a 5th-starter, minor-league replacement-level type of pitcher. His major league totals include a 4.25 ERA (with only one season above-average in ERA), an unimpressive 211 K in 334.2 IP against 140 BB, and nothing else to suggest that he's even a league-average guy. He's never thrown more than 138.2 IP in a major league season, that coming last year. He will be 27 years old on Opening Day, meaning he's likely not going to develop into anything more than he is. It's really rare for the Pirates to be the ones doing the fleecing, but then we're talking about the Reds here. There are two bad developments that go along with this deal: 1) The Reds will likely move either Adam Dunn or Austin Kearns to first base, solving their outfield problem and meaning that they won't be making any more trades to get pitching and 2) Sean Casey was probably the most popular player on the Reds, even moreso than Griffey. This is not just with his fellow players, but especially with the fans. Casey is more involved in the Cincinnati community than most other players combined. Now you're not about to hear me step in and defend the idea of team chemistry, but I do think that if you're going to trade your most popular player, further pissing off an already disgruntled clubhouse and fan base, you'd better get something really good in return. The Reds did not. And with the Bengals better than the Reds for the first time in years, they shouldn't be surprised if the Great American Ballpark is a bit empty next season.
- I'm running out of funny ways to talk about the Marlins' fire sale, but that doesn't mean the sale itself is stopping. Florida shipped catcher Paul Lo Duca to the Mets in exchange for spare parts. Lo Duca really isn't that good, hitting 338/421/286 and 334/380/283 in 2004 and 2005, respectively. He's not a bad defensive catcher, but he doesn't really make up for his hitting. He's not an awful solution, don't get me wrong. And he probably comes cheaper than a free agent like Bengie Molina, but people still think of him as the guy who had a career year in 2001, not as the guy who hasn't hit nearly as well since.
- The Marlins also traded center fielder Juan Pierre to the Cubs for some more spare parts. Pierre isn't anybody's idea of an MVP, but he's a pretty cheap and efficient solution to the Cubs' CF problem. He's also a good leadoff hitter (if he can hit .300) who steals bases. He's an exciting guy who should sell some T-shirts. The Cubs do have a big CF prospect in Felix Pie, but my understanding is that Pie isn't quite major-league ready. And with the Chicago outfield a work in progress, they can easily shift Pierre to left when Pie arrives at the big-league level.
- The Red Sox are reported to have traded backup catcher Doug Mirabelli to the Padres for second baseman Mark Loretta. It's a day for fleecings, truly. Loretta is in the last year of his contract, for which he makes $3 million. Loretta is easily the best $3 million player in baseball. He missed good parts of 2005 due to injury, but he was one of the best all-around players in the NL in 2003 (372/441/314) and 2004 (391/495/335). Those were probably career years for the 34-year-old, but consider that Loretta is a career 365/408/301 hitter. He was playing in the greatest pitcher's park in baseball, and now he's moving to the American League to play in Fenway Park. This will be one of the biggest steals of this offseason, with the Sox losing a solid backup catcher in Mirabelli, but nothing else. I really don't have a clue why the Padres would trade one of their best players for nothing when it looks like they're trying to contend in 2006. Maybe Boston should just keep the "GM by Committee" it has going right now.
- The Braves traded catcher Johnny Estrada to the Diamondbacks for two relief pitchers (Lance Cormier and Oscar Villarreal). It's tough, as a Braves fan, to see Estrada go, but the Braves have a younger, cheaper backup in Brian McCann who really isn't any worse than Estrada. McCann is still young and doesn't project to be any great hitter, but then Estrada wasn't such a great hitter, either. The Braves got two solid, young (neither pitcher is 26 yet) relief arms, which they really needed. Neither pitcher looks like a possible closer, as they have fairly low strikeout rates and high walk rates for the job. But the Braves come out on the better end of this deal. The D-Backs don't do so bad, either, since they've finally got a warm body to fill their hole at catcher, and they had a pretty good bullpen to begin with.
- Rumors about A's pitcher Barry Zito swirl. The speculation now, though, is that since the signing of A.J. Burnett to a silly-ass deal by Toronto (5-years, $55 million), that Zito's asking price just shot up big-time. And no team is going to pay through the nose to get Zit0 only to find that they can't afford him and have to let him walk after the season as a free agent. Unless a team feels sure they could sign him to a contract extension, they won't trade for him. With a lot of teams now thinking twice about him, it looks like Oakland GM Billy Beane might just keep him. Beane is in a position of strength, as he can wait for the right deal to come along, and even if it doesn't, he can just keep Zito and lose him as a free agent after the season. If he does keep him, it gives the A's a dynamite rotation (Zito, Rich Harden, Danny Haren, Joe Blanton, Esteban Loaiza) that is likely the best in baseball.
- Rumors are that the Phillies are anxious to trade high-price RF Bobby Abreu for a front-line pitcher. It looks now like they won't be able to get the ace that they want in return, as Abreu is a very expensive player who's also going to be 32 next season. It's possible they may still trade him for a #2-level starter, but the Phils need to make sure they know what they're doing in trading one of the best players in the NL.
- With Prince Fielder arriving in Milwaukee, it's possible that GM Doug Melvin will trade away resident 1B Lyle Overbay. This gives Melvin a high-impact 1B bat in a market starved for such players. Overbay (who turns 29 in January) is a career 367/449/276 hitter. The Blue Jays are working on a deal that would send Shea Hillenbrand and Dave Bush, filling Milwaukee's hole at 3B and at the back of the rotation. The Blue Jays are really going to regret throwing all this money around. And if (when) they don't make the playoffs this year (or next) many jobs will be lost.
- Rumors are running hot about a 3-way trade between the Braves, Devil Rays, and Red Sox. The Braves would get Edgar Renteria, the Red Sox would get Julio Lugo, and the Rays would get Braves 3B uber-prospect Andy Marte. I really don't know why the Braves wouldn't just trade straight-up for Lugo. He's not quite as good as Renteria, but he's significantly cheaper.
There are many more rumors, but these seem to be the most substantial. Get baseball people in one hotel, and the deal start a-flyin'. More to come later.