Jon Heyman
Monday August 24th, 2009

It's time now to start dreaming about the best possible World Series matchups. Here are my favorites for this year.

The best matchups:

1. Yankees vs. Dodgers: Joe Torre vs. his old team. From Torre's best-selling book The Yankee Years, it's obvious there are plenty of hard feelings. While Torre called Brian Cashman to explain his criticisms of Cashman, the explanation didn't go over too well. It's pretty much unanimous now: All his former Yankees bosses are happy to have Joe Girardi. Alex Rodriguez (aka "A-Fraud," according to Torre's book) didn't fare too well in the tome, either. Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada have much warmer feelings, however.

2. Red Sox vs. Dodgers: Manny goes home. Red Sox Nation would really get up for this.

3. Dodgers vs. Angels: Freeway Series would be very warm and convenient for all involved (OK, I admit it, this is my favorite one). Torre vs. ex-Dodgers hero Mike Scioscia would make for a nice subplot, too.

4. Cardinals vs. Angels: Would love to see Tony La Russa and Scioscia match wits.

5. Red Sox vs. Phillies: Would be nice to see Pedro back in Boston. Not sure if he'd get a start, though.

6. Yankees vs. Phillies: Expect lots of home runs with baseball's two best offenses and two most offensive ballparks in an I-95 series.

7. Rays vs. Marlins: Would love to see baseball's two smallest payrolls make it in a year where the big markets are mostly ruling. A long shot at this point (but give both franchises major credit for hanging in there.)

8. Giants vs. Yankees: Giants go back to New York for their second try at a winning a title in New York since moving west (1962 was the first).

9. Cardinals vs. White Sox: It's not like the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry, but these two cities have something good going. President Obama would have a keen rooting interest with his favorite team going against a team from one of the few states that went for John McCain. Obama could throw out the first ball at Busch again.

10. Phillies vs. Angels: Power and speed. Scioscia goes home to Pennsylvania.

11. Yankees vs. Cardinals: Traditional rivalry would be appreciated by longtime baseball fans. Albert Pujols might also enjoy new Yankee Stadium.

12. Braves vs. Red Sox: Old-timer's delight. It's been awhile since the Braves left Boston, but a few folks still remember.

13. Tigers vs. Marlins: Miguel Cabrera, Jim Leyland and most of the Tigers' staff are ex-Marlins (Dave Dombrowski, Al Avila, John Westhoff, etc.). Cabrera won a title in Florida in 2003, Leyland, Dombrowski and the others in '97.

14. Yankees vs. Marlins: Girardi against the team that fired him after a season in which he was named NL Manager of the Year. Sure it's not the same as Torre going back to New York. But it's something. Repeat of 2003 would pit baseball's biggest payroll vs. its smallest.

15. White Sox vs. Dodgers: Great for nostalgia fans. This is the 50th anniversary of Dodgers' first title in L.A., which was won against the Go Go Sox.

16. Red Sox vs. Cardinals: A rematch of 1967 and '04. They can try to repeat '67 and do better than '04.

17. Giants vs. Angels: Giants try for revenge for 2002 heartbreak. Would be fourth all-California series.

18. Tigers vs. Cardinals: A rematch of 1968 and 2006. They get to try to repeat '68 and do over '06.

A couple World Series we don't particularly want to see:

1. Red Sox vs. Rockies: No need to repeat the '07 Series.

2. Braves vs. Yankees: The '96 Series was a decent one, but '99 was a complete bust.

The Yankees intend to try to bring back Johnny Damon, probably for about $6-8 million a year (that'll be the first offer, anyway), and might be willing to give him a second year. Damon's been saying in the papers all year that he wants to be back, which is quite a departure from the usual free-agent script and could mean he's that rare player amenable to a below-market contract. Yankees management loves Damon personally, too, and that doesn't hurt.

With Hideki Matsui also a free agent (not to mention Xavier Nady), the Yankees could use Damon, who's having a fine offensive season, especially for power (.286, 22 HRs, 68 RBIs and 87 runs). Yankees people also love Matsui (four home runs this weekend at Fenway) but his knees are in bad shape and the current thinking is that they'll need more DH at-bats in coming years for Jorge Posada and other aging stars. Damon, though, remains passable in the outfield.

Damon's making $13 million now, but the Yankees appear to view this case in much the same way they looked at Andy Pettitte, who took a pay cut to $5 million guaranteed to return last winter. Damon shopped himself last time when he felt he wasn't getting the respect he deserved from the Red Sox. But this appears to be a different case.

Mets owner Fred Wilpon, perhaps caught in a weak moment by the New York Post, reiterated ownership stance that embattled GM Omar Minaya is returning. "Absolutely," Wilpon told the Post, which said it was allowed only one question. The second question presumably would have been "What do you think of the job he's doing?" No time for that, though.

Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel were first given a private vote of confidence several weeks back by Mets COO Jeff Wilpon. But things have gotten worse in Flushing since that expression of faith. So the question remains pertinent.

While Fred Wilpon isn't batting 1.000 on his votes of confidence (he fired Bobby Valentine in 2003 after one), that is the team's clear intention and hope. Wilpon, a man of integrity, means it at the moment.

If Minaya does make it back as GM, one big reason will likely be the $3.5 million that remains on his three-year contract (one of the very best deals Omar made as Mets GM was his own). In any case, assistant GM John Ricco is likely to have expanded duties, and perhaps even a bigger title, though Ricco is a loyal soldier, and friends say he is very uncomfortable about all this speculation regarding him replacing Minaya.

Whatever happens, "full autonomy" is probably out the window at this point.

By pitching Billy Wagner before his waiver period is up, the Mets took a calculated gamble. If they had waited, he'd have sailed through waivers, and they'd have been able to trade him to any team.

The way it happened, Wagner threw a lights-out inning, and Boston claimed him, at least assuring that the Mets had someone to take his contract if they want. That's no small thing, as $2.7 million remains on Wagner's deal through this season. Not sure whether it was better to pitch him or not, but the belief that the Mets would like to save the money has led folks to think they're anxious to find a deal here by the Tuesday afternoon deadline.

One competing GM said Wagner's "no giveaway," and called him "a difference-maker," suggesting that the Mets should seek a decent prospect for Wagner even though it's only for a month of his services. That GM noted that Wagner has an $8 million option for next year, which could enhance his value slightly since that isn't a bad price if he has shutdown-closer stuff. While the Mets have no plans to employ Wagner next year, that doesn't mean the option isn't worthwhile for some team. Still, with his hefty '09 salary and limited usage since returning from Tommy John surgery, it's hard to imagine Boston paying too steep price for Wagner.

Wagner has a full no-trade clause, which could complicate things. Wagner made clear in an interview Sunday he wants to close, at least in 2010. He knows he's very unlikely to close games for Boston in 2009, not with Jonathan Papelbon there. So if the Mets and Red Sox work out a deal, it's possible he could request that Boston reject the 2010 option before agreeing to the trade. There are lots of interesting possibilities here.

While it makes more sense for Wagner to be on the Red Sox than the Mets, Wagner still said he doesn't expect to go. Why not? "Inside intuition," he said.

Closers don't like to give up their jobs. Or even have a threat of such change.

Papelbon issued some quotes suggesting he wasn't necessarily so anxious for Wagner to join the team. Which was reminiscent of how Papelbon felt about Eric Gagne joining the Red Sox two years ago, according to Michael Holley's book.

"What has he done? Has he pitched this year?" Papelbon said to "Is he ready to pitch or is he not? You know what I mean? I think our bullpen is good where we're at right now. Don't get me wrong. But I guess you could always make it better."

Wagner, incidentally, didn't sound too impressed by Papelbon's remarks. When he was read the Papelbon quotes by a reporter, Wagner said, "I don't have anything to say about somebody like that ... When he walks in my shoes, I'll say something. Let him be 38, and have Tommy John surgery and come back."

Presumably, Papelbon would remain the closer if Wagner is acquired. But these closers can be fairly territorial about their jobs, no doubt about that.

In the wake of Stephen Strasburg's record $15.067 million deal, commissioner Bud Selig very badly wants a real, defined slotting system for the First-Year Player Draft, to the point where he is said to be determined to make it an issue at the next CBA bargaining session. MLB also doesn't love that $160 million was spent on bonuses in the first 10 rounds, though it was pleased to see 65 percent of players agree to contracts at or below the slotting number assigned by the commissioner's office.

It's those other 35 percent of players that worry the commish.

Selig wants the slot numbers to be more than recommendations, and his office is somewhat heartened to see a bit of grumbling over Strasburg's deal from veteran players. However, union people say there's been nothing more than a grumble here or there and that there's certainly no movement afoot to overturn the current system.

Union officials may make the case to major leaguers that a cap for amateur bonuses could be the first step on a slippery slope toward caps for big-league payrolls. Though one MLB source called this a "cockamamie" argument, it still may prove compelling for players who fear their own salaries could be capped. MLB powers seem determined do something about these bonuses, so at the very least this looks like a subject to be hashed out at the bargaining table two years from now.

While Strasburg's amateur deal is a record by 50 percent over Mark Prior's 2001 $10.5 million contract, scouts see him as a future star, and very likely, a bargain. The real issue should be the tens of players who get seven-figure deals and never make the majors. History shows only about 50 percent of first-rounders make the bigs.

Lou Piniella isn't about to be fired for the current Cubs mess, one Cubs person said. That makes sense. The team doesn't want to eat the $4 million Piniella is to be paid in 2010. But Piniella not thrilled to be dealing with Milton Bradley or Carlos Zambrano, and can't be thrilled how quickly many Cubs fans seemed to have turned on him. As Derrek Lee told the Chicago Tribune, it's not as bad as it was with Dusty Baker yet, but it's heading that way. Piniella is saying he intends to return. But he has a history of knowing how to get out of contracts. He did it in Seattle, and did it again in Tampa. In Seattle, he got himself traded to Tampa for Randy Winn. In Tampa, he happily agreed to a $2.2 million buyout to leave there.

Tony La Russa's contract is up after this season, and this one should be interesting. While his relationship with the new front office isn't as warm as it was with ex-GM Walt Jocketty, he is said to love the Cardinals' tradition. And while he was annoyed at the trade of trusted pitching coach Dave Duncan's son Chris, he also should love the help the front office has given him in the form of Matt Holliday (a special request of his), Mark DeRosa, Julio Lugo and John Smoltz (another La Russa favorite). I'd guess he'll be back, but he'd be underpaid even if they raised him from $4 million to $5 million.

• Smoltz was the Cardinals' latest great pickup. With his Cardinals debut, he may have shown he's ready to be himself now. That (8.33 ERA) didn't look like him in Boston.

• The Rockies look like the strongest NL wild card contestant. But losing Aaron Cook for 15 days hurts, especially since the possible replacements are Josh Fogg (who was 2-7 with an 8.23 ERA last year) and Adam Eaton (who is 5-13 with a 6.10 ERA over the last two years).

• The Diamondbacks are going to have to hire popular Luis Gonzalez for a ribbon cutting job.

• It's time for A.J. Burnett and Jorge Posada to get on the same page, as Posada acknowledged. It's been more than four months now.

• It's become obvious that Jose Molina is CC Sabathia's personal catcher, though no one's admitted it yet. Sabathia, by the way, hit 98 on the gun Sunday night. He gets better as he goes, it seems. While he's supposedly not having a great year, he leads the AL in wins with 15.

Gary Sheffield and Omar Minaya publicly agreed that Sheffield wasn't meeting with Minaya to ask for an extension. No, no, of course, it was to discuss global warming. Yeah, sure.

• The Mets' ceremony to commemorate the Miracle 1969 team was extremely nice.

• We can't be sure how the Ricketts family will do with the Cubs. But one thing's sure, it's got to be better than Sam Zell. The Cubs front office was hamstrung this summer by their ownership situation. Zell isn't responsible for the previous 100 years of failure, but this one is on him.

• Nice unassisted triple play by Eric Bruntlett to end the Phillies-Mets game. I'd love to get excited about this, but even Bruntlett conceded that two misplays (one was called an error, one a hit) led to the two Mets base runners in the first place. Perhaps I should be impressed. Perhaps it was all one big setup by Bruntlett.

• The tweet goes on. Find me tweeting at:

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