- The Yankees traded disgruntled outfielder Gary Sheffield to the Detroit Tigers yesterday for three minor league pitchers. Sheffield, who expressed a strong dislike for many MLB teams, will apprently find temporary happiness in Detroit, where he'll be reunited from the management team (Jim Leyland, Dave Dombrowski) of his Florida Marlin days. Sheffield says that he's happy with the deal, and he's not the kind to hide his true feelings.
This is a fine deal for the Yankees, who are able to trade excess offense (and $13 million) for some much needed minor league pitching depth. Of the three prospects the Yankees received, Humberto Sanchez is the closest to the majors. Sanchez has very strong minor league numbers and could break into the Yankee rotation as soon as 2007, depending on what happens on the free agent market. He's no superstar, but he's a very valuable young player who gives the Yanks a BIG (and cheap) insurance policy in case Mussina, Johnson, Wright & Co. don't fare very well. The other two pitchers are in the low minors, but even that is a victory; the Yankees don't have too many promising arms anywhere in their system, and any deal that gives them more young options is a good deal.
As for the Tigers, my feelings are mixed. The three prospects the Tigers lost aren't so much the problem; while Sanchez may turn into a valuable guy, the Tigers are blessed with redundancy in the starting pitching department, and were able to let these guys go. What they needed was offense -- especially a patient hitter with a big OBP. That's Gary Sheffield in a nutshell. Sheffield will give the Tigers a big boost in patience and even more power.
The only question is how Sheffield will perform. If Sheffield has a big year with Detroit, then you could consider it to be a good deal even if Sanchez does develop well. But that's a big "if;" Sheff is coming off an injury-plagued season that saw his offensive numbers suffer and, at age 38, isn't likely to get much better. It's a big gamble for Detroit, and you have to admire their guts (and their honest evaluation of their problems), but we'll have to wait and pass judgment after we see how healthy (and productive) Sheffield still is.
- The Cardinals re-signed outfielder Jim Edmonds to a two-year contract extension. The club had an option on Edmonds for 2007 but decided to ink him to a new two-year contract. With no center fielder in the system ready to take his job, the Cards apparently decided to take a risk on Edmonds in return for a two-year guarantee of center field stability. The deal will pay him $19 million over the course of the next two seasons. The analysis here is pretty simple: Edmonds will be 37 next year. If he plays up to his reputation, or even slightly below (i.e. his 257/350/471 2006), he'll be worth the money. But if his health deteriorate and injuries start to sap away his skills, it will be a mistake. Knowing what we know now, it's hard to fault for the Cards for locking up Edmonds. But the Cards may be exacerbating their problems by committing more money to a risky, aging player.
- The most puzzling deal so far this offseason is a trade that sent San Diego 2B Josh Barfield to the Cleveland Indians, in return for 3B/OF Kevin Kouzmanoff and pitcher Andrew Brown. This is a total steal for the Indians, who didn't really have a position for Kouzmanoff and had a hole to fill at second base (mission accomplished).
For the Padres, though, it's more problematic. I can't really pull out my trusty "bone-headed trade" label here, but it's close. The Padres did desperately need a third baseman, and Kouzmanoff fits the bill (offensively; defense may be a stretch). But it seems to me that they traded one problem for another. They filled their hole at third base and created a hole at second base. There's no one ready to step up and replace Barfield. In fact, you could easily argue that Barfield is the more valuable player; he's younger, plays a more valuable position, and already has a good year of major league service under his belt. Kouzmanoff has yet to spend a lot of time in the majors, so we can't get a consistent read on what his offensive capabilities are. He's shown a lot of promise, but it may be a lot to ask for him to play third base everyday.
The most puzzling thing about all of this is that I didn't know Josh Barfield was on the trading block, nor do I know why he was on the trading block. I know that the Padres needed a third baseman, and yes, GMs already say that "no one is untradeable," but realistically speaking, Barfield is the sort of player you just don't trade, unless you're getting something overwhelmingly superior in return. Barfield is a good hitter at a key defensive position with the potential for improvement. He's still amazingly cheap, with only one year of major league service time. This means that he'll be making the minimum for two years yet and won't be eligible for free agency for another five seasons at least. He's not an MVP or anything, but this is usually the type of player you keep to build a team around. As I said, I could understand trading him for a big-time improvement (say, as part of a deal for A-Rod), but the fact that such a cheap, productive player was sent of for relatively little is puzzling. It's possible that the Padres know more about Kouzmanoff (and Barfield) than I do. It's also possible that Kevin Towers is smoking the same junk that made him trade for Vinny Castilla last year.
This is what I mean when I say that a GM should "keep his ear to the ground" in regards to trades. A lot of times a previously unavailable player will become available, and it behooves a GM to be the first one to know this. It's also possible to talk another GM into making a player available through gentle persuasion. Kudos for Indians GM Mark Shapiro for apparently doing just that.
- Dodger outfielder J.D. Drew exercised an option that allowed him to opt out of his current contract and become a free agent. I didn't mention Drew's option in my previous blog entries for a simple reason: I didn't know about it. I had read a reference to the clause before, but for some reason, thought it was in a later year of the contract. It's puzzling as to why the Dodgers put this clause in there (just as it's puzzling as to why the Cubs did the same for Aramis Ramirez). But it enabled Drew to cash out and hit the free agent market when he felt he could get more money. And, as the only left-handed power hitter on the market, he should easily top his previous annual salary of $11 million. He's also a true right fielder with good defense; most of the other top hitters on the market are of marginal defensive value, stuck in the 1B/LF/DH role (Carlos Lee, Frank Thomas, Barry Bonds, Alfonso Soriano). Even though the Dodgers have a nice batch of young talent coming up, this puts a big damper on their 2007 plans.
- Met pitcher Tom Glavine declined his player option for 2007, and the Mets are planning to do the same. I can understand that Glavine would want to be a part of this big-money free agent market; but I'm not sure why the Mets would let him go. Because without Glavine, their 2007 #1 starter is John Maine. Even with Glavine, they had some spending to do to improve the starting rotation, and his departure won't help matters at all. Word is that Glavine will be heading back to Atlanta to finish his career (and likely record his 300th win) as a Brave. This warms the cockles of this Atlanta fan's heart.
- The bidding process has been completed for Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. It will soon be revealed which team submitted the highest bid (the bids were sealed), and that team will get exclusive bargaining rights with Matsuzaka. If the team cannot agree on a contract with him, the bid money is refunded and Matsuzaka becomes (I'm pretty sure) a free agent. But I seriously doubt that will happen.
Early speculation was that the Yankees would have the highest bid, but rumors now have the Red Sox in the lead. This is just hearsay, and we won't know for sure for a couple days now. Other teams (reportedly) bidding on Matsuzaka include the Rangers and Diamondbacks. Matsuzaka is easily the best pitcher available this off-season. He's 26 years old and has pitched like a Cy Young winner in Japan. Even if he's "only" an All-Star in the USA, he'll be great to have at such a young age.
- Two new managers have been hired since I last spoke. Ron Washington, former Oakland A's coach, was hired to manage the Texas Rangers. And Bud Black, former Angel pitching coach, was hired to manage the Padres. Both men have good reputations within the game, having been considered management material for a while now. I really have nothing else to say in comment, since neither man has managed in the big leagues. But everything I've heard is that they're nice people and should work out. But then, when's the last time you read a story about a new manager, and the reporter said, "Johnny Jones is considered to be a poor clubhouse presence and an indifferent leader. His skills on the field are marginal, and most people in the league make fun of him." Reporters in the off-season tend to ac-cen-tchu-ate the positive.
"Sources" are also reporting that longtime coach Manny Acta will take over as Washington Nationals manager. This is not official, but will probably be announced next week.
- Espn.com is reporting that the Yankees have discussed a deal with the Orioles involving starting pitcher Jaret Wright. The deal would send Wright to Baltimore in exchange for prospects.
I can understand why the Yankees would want to get rid of Wright; he's expensive and not very good. Granted, they don't have a lot of options to replace him, but if they can re-sign Mike Mussina (which sounds likely), they'll have a front three of Mussina-Wang-Randy Johnson to go with prospect Phillip Hughes and perhaps a free agent. It would be a good deal for the Yankees, even if they only got a few B prospects from Baltimore.
I can't think of any reason why the Orioles would want Jaret Wright. It wouldn't be so bad if the Yankees pick up part of his salary, but even then, they're not getting a whole lot. The O's are already committed to Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera, Kris Benson, and Rodrigo Lopez for their 2007 rotation. Granted, that's about as scary as an episode of Mr. Rogers, but there's really no more room for marginal, expensive pitchers. And the Orioles aren't in any position to give away prospects, even mid-level ones.
- The Mets' new ballpark will not be called Shea Stadium. It will be called CitiField, after CitiBank. This shows the growing urge to sell naming rights to parks instead of simply dubbing them with the name of the owner/executive who built them. I think that "Turner Field" will be the last of its kind in this regard.
And is there some unwritten rule that ballparks must be named after banks and telecommunications companies?
Chase Field (Arizona)
The Great American Ballpark (Cincinnati)
Comerica Park (Detroit)
Edison International Field (Los Angeles-A)
CitiField* (New York - N)
Citizen's Bank Park (Philadelphia)
PNC Park (Pittsburgh)
AT&T Park (San Francisco)
Safeco Field (Seattle)
U.S.. Cellular Field (Chicago-A)
McAfee Coliseum (Oakland)
Ameriquest Field (Texas)
Rogers Centre (Toronto)
This means that once the Mets' new stadium comes, 13 of 30 ballparks will have sold naming rights to companies in these industries. Does this make sense? Why not name a ballpark after a fast food chain? Or a pharmaceutical company (Welcome to GlaxoSmithKline Field)? It won't be long before the Durham Bulls become the Merril Lynch Bulls, or the Toledo Mudhens move into Jackson Aluminum Siding Park, or the Astros move into Enron Fie-- oops, too late.
Let's just hope they have the decency to name the new Yankee Stadium "Yankee Stadium." I very much respect the fact that the new Busch Stadium is indeed Busch Stadium, at least for now. I was really pleased when they first opened the stadium in Texas called simply The Ballpark at Arlington. But that was too simple; it had to be Ameriquest Field.
If you're going to go with those industries, at least pick a name that lends itself to the game. The Great American Ballpark is a fabulous name for a baseball park. Even Safeco Field isn't too bad; take off that "co" and you've got "safe," which is a generally positive word. Although it does sound a bit too much like "Safeway," and we'd rather not think of buying groceries while we're at the park.
And try to pick a company that's not about to merge or get bought out. I think we're all tired of following the Giants from Candlestick Park to 3Com Park to the new Pacific Bell Park to SBC Park and now to AT&T Park. Even though it's a completely different stadium, I'd probably still call it "Candlestick," if only because that name actually registers something in the long-term memory.
And let's all thank heaven that Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, and Dodger Stadium have remained intact for so long. The name of Busch Stadium survived the move into a new park; the name of Shea Stadium will not. Let's hope that the name of Yankee Stadium will (and I just can't imagine that it won't).
The hot stove season is heating up. I'll continue on with my look forward at American League clubs, and I'll stop by with occasional free agent updates as well.