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12/04/08 10:00 AM EST
GMs have their work cut out for them
Winter Meetings will give general managers a chance to wheel and deal
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
The Dodgers are heading to Las Vegas for the Winter Meetings next week and will perhaps go younger rather than re-sign Manny Ramirez. The Yankees will open the meetings on Monday wondering whether left-hander CC Sabathia is in their future and if not, who is? The Padres will continue their quest to trade right-handed ace Jake Peavy. And who knows what the A's have up their sleeves after snagging Matt Holliday from the Rockies in what's turned out so far to be the biggest trade of the offseason?
The Phillies and Mariners will face the music with new general managers: Ruben Amaro Jr. and Jack Zduriencik, respectfully. No matter. It's three weeks before Christmas and the 30 GMs have to begin stuffing their rosters because the start of Spring Training is fewer than two months away.
"We've got holes to fill, no question," said Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, who's going into the last year of his contract and will be judged by what his club does in 2009. "We also have a young corps of players and some on the verge, so we're not looking at replacing as big a group as it looks with 14 free agents."
The Dodgers, who won the National League West last season after trading for Ramirez at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, have holes all over the field and are still trying to re-sign shortstop Rafael Furcal and/or third baseman Casey Blake. The Yankees have holes in their pitching staff with the retirement of Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte still unsigned.
The Padres have been trying to deal Peavy and are reported to have a deal to send shortstop Khalil Greene to the Cardinals, but they can't afford to go into the 2009 season without a representative roster.
"Pitching is our big focus, trying to add bullpen depth and adding to the rotation," Padres GM Kevin Towers said. "If we move Jake, we hope we can plug three or four holes."
The Mets have been playing it low-key this offseason, but they're still in the market for a top-notch closer. How about free agent left-handers Francisco Rodriguez or Brian Fuentes? How about newly acquired Huston Street in a deal with the Rockies?
That will make Colletti, Towers, Yanks GM Brian Cashman, Mets GM Omar Minaya and Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd hot commodities as clubs meet next Monday through Thursday. Oakland's Billy Beane is also always a factor on the periphery.
The Yankees must do something significant since they are moving into the new $1.3 billion Yankee Stadium next year after missing the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons. Aside from Sabathia, who they reportedly offered six years at $140 million nearly three weeks ago, they've also discussed making offers to veteran free agent pitchers A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe.
But talks with the Padres went nowhere because the Yanks were rebuffed by Peavy, who owns a blanket no-trade clause and doesn't want to play in New York.
Still, Cashman sounds like a man ready to deal.
"I consider coming off a season where we didn't reach the playoffs for the first time since 1993 as a personal challenge," he said just after the end of the regular season. "I've never been one to run from a challenge, and I look forward to having the chance to go after this thing again."
The Mets are also moving into a new ballpark of their own, $800 million Citi Field. They are coming off two disappointing years in which they were knocked out of the playoffs by the Marlins at Shea Stadium on the final day of the regular season. Their closer, Billy Wagner, is gone for 2009 and probably for good after Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. His contract expires at the end of the '09 season.
Thus the Mets, who also have said goodbye to veteran starter Pedro Martinez and may lose Oliver Perez to free agency, are deep in the market for backend and frontend pitching, but have done nothing yet.
"Right now we're talking with the agents," Minaya said recently. "But we are getting a pretty good idea as far as what terms they're looking for. Once we get an idea of the terms they're looking for, we have a better idea what we think it's going to take to get these guys done -- understanding that markets do change, and they fluctuate.
"Right now we're in the early stages. My understanding is a lot of clubs are reevaluating this market, more so because of the unfortunate financial strain that is going on not only in baseball but throughout the world."
Beane, who does not discuss free agents as a matter of policy, said his agenda is virtually the same at every Winter Meetings, although all the players he unloaded after the 2007 season -- Dan Haren, Mark Kotsay, Nick Swisher, Rich Harden and Joe Blanton -- happened well after this annual gab fest.
"Whether you're looking at free agents or trades or both, the idea is to improve your club every winter," he said. "That never changes."
What has changed for the A's is their financial flexibility, which became evident after the deal last month that netted Holliday for Street, Greg Smith and Carlos Gonzalez. Although Holliday will make $13.5 million in the final year of his contract this coming season, Oakland, for the first time in the Beane era, has a considerable amount of cash available.
"It's not something we're used to, but it's something we've been working toward for the past year or so," Beane said. "When we traded Dan Haren and Nick Swisher and Mark Kotsay [for prospects last winter], when we traded Rich and Joe, those things were done not just to replenish the farm system, which they did, but also to put us in the position we're in."
And suddenly they are offensive players rather than sitting back on defense.
The Padres are coming off a 99-loss season and owner John Moores has vowed he will not finish in last place again with a $72 million payroll, thus he wants to significantly lower it. Ditto the Mariners, who spent $118 million to lose 101 games and finish 39 games out of first place.
The Mariners have now changed managers three times since the middle of the 2007 season and Zduriencik is the team's third GM since Pat Gillick left after the 2003 season.
Zduriencik, the former Brewers director of player personnel, knows he has his work cut out for him, fixing the Mariners, who haven't been back to the playoffs since their record 116-win, 2001 season.
"There are areas on this club that we need to improve," he said. "How we get those addressed is a little uncertain right now. We've had conversations and there are players on our club that other clubs are inquiring about, but it takes two to tango. The discussions we've had are in the infant stages."
Speaking about Gillick, Amaro, 43, just replaced the master, who retired after the Phillies vanquished the Rays in a five-game, rain-delayed World Series.
It's not as if Amaro hasn't been around. He was Gillick's assistant for the past three seasons and has been in that role for the Phillies since he turned 33 in 1998. So he may be more than ready for the task ahead, which isn't an easy one.
Just a little more than a month after winning the second World Series in franchise history, the Phillies are not the same.
Pat Burrell and Jamie Moyer are free agents. Pedro Feliz (back surgery) and Chase Utley (right hip surgery) may not return until well into the 2009 season.
"We have things to deal with," Amaro said last week. "We're trying to improve our club, and we will look at every option."
So are the other 29 general managers, who will all try to step it up to another level when the Winter Meetings begin on Monday.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.