Jon Heyman
Wednesday December 16th, 2009

A flurry of big-ticket activity in the last few days could spark a very interesting next few weeks after the hands and fortunes of several teams changed dramatically in a few-day span.

A lot happened in a very short period of time (most of it on Monday). But there's still plenty more to come. Here's a rundown of the big stories yet to play out through the big teams ...

With no quick deal for Jason Bay at hand, they are back to considering Matt Holliday, as well, and GM Omar Minaya is expected to call Holliday's agent, Scott Boras, as early as today. The Mets were hoping to have a chance to wrap up a quick deal for Bay but now seem slightly concerned that the British Columbia native might favor going to the West Coast to sign with the Angels or perhaps the Mariners (his wife is from Seattle). Some Mets people preferred Holliday from the start, but Mets ownership was hoping to avoid a protracted negotiation with Holliday.

By looking into Holliday now and expanding their middle-of-the-order targets to two, they would enhance their chances to sign the power hitter they crave, and perhaps even put a little pressure on Bay, with whom they've signaled a willingness to go to a fifth year at slightly lower dollars per year (the offers are believed to be about $65 million for four or $75 million for five).

They are simultaneously engaged in talks for catcher Bengie Molina, as well. But while they badly need Molina, it's harder to identify teams in this derby that could outbid the Mets, though the cash-infused, aggressive Mariners can't be ruled out of anything. Right now they are at an impasse with Molina, who seeks three years for about $20 million.

The Mets never loved the idea of importing John Lackey (four years was all they and several other teams considered doing), never had a real shot at Roy Halladay, and will instead try to fill their rotation opening by picking up a pitcher or two late. They have interest in Joel Pineiro, Jason Marquis, John Garland or Doug Davis, but Pineiro seeks four years and Marquis three, making the latter two pitchers more likely. By the time they are done, their winter highlights won't be Henry Blanco, Chris Coste, Alex Cora and Ryota Igarashi. At least suffering Mets fans hope not.

The day they landed international star Hideki Matsui for a bargain $6 million oddly enough turned out to one of the roughest in Arte Moreno's mostly successful tenure as team owner. Because that was also the day their longtime ace, John Lackey, went to the rival Red Sox, true target Roy Halladay went to the Phillies and yet another former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee went to the rival Mariners. Matsui is a worthy replacement for Vladimir Guerrero as a designated hitter but the Angels know they need starting pitching help. One possibility could be to consider Derek Lowe, who's being made available by the Braves. The Angels could consider trading Juan Rivera to the Braves for Lowe, then think about signing Bay to replace Rivera.

The Cardinals reportedly offered either an eight-year deal (via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) to Holliday, or five years (which would seem to be an oddly short deal for a 29-year-old free agent). In any case, a Cardinals person expressed some faith the other day that things were progressing for them. There doesn't appear to be a deadline, so there's still time for Holliday to shop. And Holliday has been in contact with several more teams in recent days in hopes of finding what he's looking for. If Holliday goes elsewhere, part of the Cardinals' Plan B appears to be signing infielders Mark DeRosa and Felipe Lopez. They're nice players, but they won't exactly be providing the type of protection Albert Pujols seeks.

Perhaps no team could use a big hitting star more, but even though the organization is doing well financially, they don't appear to be aiming as high as they could. Baseball executives keep wondering whether they'll jump in on one of the big stars, but for now it appears they are more seriously looking at Nick Johnson, Dan Uggla, Jermaine Dye, Scott Podsednik, De Rosa, Adrian Beltre and others.

Boston pounced on Lackey for a five-year deal for about $85 million immediately after hearing that Halladay was going elsewhere (to Philadelphia, as it turns out in a deal that's expected to be announced Wednesday), and then took defensively excellent outfielder Mike Cameron for $15 million over two years, but they may just be getting started. Lackey gives them a superb top three along with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester and extra depth since they remain concerned about finally-aging knuckleballer Tim Wakefield's health. Cameron provides cover as a potential left field platoon with Jeremy Hermida in case they don't work things out with Bay or take the bigger plunge for Holliday. Likely targets now would be first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who is still under contract with the Padres, or free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre. With Lackey and Cameron in the fold, they could conceivably consider a package of pitcher Clay Buchholz and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury for Gonzalez (though "it's not likely we trade Ellsbury,'' one Red Sox person said). And beyond that, the Padres have told at least a couple teams that Gonzalez is not on the market. More likely, the Red Sox will sign Beltre, who's terrific defensively and would benefit from a move from Safeco Field to Fenway Park.

They've already signed Chone Figgins, Cliff Lee is coming today in the three-team blockbuster and they have plenty of loot ("we've got money," one Mariners person said). The largesse comes as the result of Erik Bedard, Beltre, Kenji Johjima, Miguel Batista and other coming off the books. They could still be a player for Bay or Holliday, though their more immediate goal may be to lock up Lee. They'll look at Nick Johnson and their own free agent Russell Branyan for first base and generally act like the big-market team they are (their revenues are in the upper third). They seem most likely to play Figgins at third base, so Beltre doesn't seem too likely to stay.

They are shopping Lowe and if they can find a taker they may be willing to pay a few million a year on the $45-million on the four-year contract he signed before last season. If they can shed most of his salary, they may be able to aim higher in their quest for a corner outfielder if they don't get Juan Rivera back for him. Byrd and Dye seem like possibilities now.

Johnny Damon wants to be a Yankee, and the team want him back. But to this point, it's a slow go. Damon fit perfectly into the No. 2 hole behind Derek Jeter and in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Roriguez, forming the best 1-through-4 in baseball, and Damon is known to want to return. Curtis Granderson is a terrific player but he strikes out a lot, doesn't have an on-base percentage to match Damon's and doesn't always hit lefties (they could bat switch-hitting Nick Swisher second against lefties as things stand, but Swisher's better side is left-handed). Granderson is better down in the order for the Yankees. The defection of Matsui increases their flexibility but perhaps also raises the urgency to add offense. Dye and Byrd are available but both seem like fallbacks for the Yankees. There's no evidence they're chasing Holliday or Bay yet, but it can't be forgotten the move for Teixiera came mostly late (though not this late).

The three-way trade that is sending Halladay and prospects to Philadelphia, Lee to Seattle, and prospects to the Blue Jays seems to benefit all three teams, but a team that wasn't involved directly in the biggest trade of the offseason is a winner, too.


GM Ruben Amaro appears to have made magic here. He quickly determined via conversations at the Winter Meetings that he wasn't going to be able to lock up Lee long term (Amaro and Darek Braunecker, Lee's agent, didn't discuss actual figures but the Phillies got the distinct and clear impression there would be no hometown discount, which is no surprise considering Lee is already set for life, is only a year from free agency and is from Arkansas, not Philadelphia). That solidified the idea in his mind that he would try again for Halladay, the first target before he settled for Lee last summer. Halladay had a no-trade clause and a keen interest in going to the Phillies or Yankees, the two perennial winners that train within minutes of his winter home in Oldsmar, Fla., and they figured they could lock him up So Amaro arranged the three-way trade to send three prospects to Toronto and get three from Seattle while switching out Lee for Halladay, who was so thrilled Amaro and his agents got him to his favored Philly that he agreed to come for a very fair and reasonable $60 million over three years on an extension, plus a vesting option for a fourth year. So the Phillies will have Halladay for four instead of Lee for one, lengthening their window for winning. Phillies people figured they recovered comparable prospects, though some say Philippe Aumont is "erratic'' and not quite a comparable for Kyle Drabek. And to top it off, Amaro got the Jays to kick in $6 million.


GM Jack Zduriencik is batting about 1.000 in trades since his hiring a little more than a year ago, and this has to be the most popular move. It gives the Mariners a one-two punch that's the best in the game with Felix Heranndez. Lee was spectacular in the postseason last year (4-0, 1.56, and he was even more dominant than that) and makes them the favorites in the AL West.

Blue Jays

Drabek was their biggest target a year ago, and by getting Brett Wallace from Oakland (yes, there were actually four teams involved) for the Phillies' athletic outfield prospect Michael Taylor, they added a big-time hitting prospect, as well. The Yankees were disappointed to have lost out on Halladay with what they considered a better offer. But while they were willing to part with Jesus Montero as the main piece in a package, they declined to include Toronto targets Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes. In the end, Toronto was happy with its deal and its fans were happier to see Halladay go to the NL.


They love Taylor's athleticism and had enough first-base options. While one other team said they saw Taylor as a "fourth outfielder,'' Oakland, which has a keen eye, sees him as a five-tool player.

• The Astros are telling teams Lance Berkman is unavailable. The Red Sox are one team to have inquired.

• The Yankees' talks with Johnny Damon appears to be going slow. He doesn't believe he should have to take a pay cut from the $13 million he made last year after having a terrific season. The Braves, Mariners, Giants and Nationals are seen as possibilities in the even the sides can't work it out.

• The Yankees like Ben Sheets very much but believe Sheets will wait weeks to sign, after he has had a chance to hold a tryout for interested team. So far he's asking for $10-million plus, a price that would only work after he shows he can regain his ace stuff.

• Of Igarashi, the Japanese reliever who's about to go to the Mets, one Japanese scout said, "I've seen him great but he wasn't great last year.''

• Rangers owner Tom Hicks picked the team of Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan to sell the franchise to. Greenberg seems like a nice fellow (I met him briefly at the Winter Meetings) and helped his caused by promising a role to Hicks and a bigger role to Ryan (who is treated like a deity in Texas by the media and constituency) in the new regime. Greenberg now gets a negotiating window to try to close the deal. MLB and several high-ranking executives within the game wanted longtime baseball agent and executive Dennis Gilbert to get the team. Of the three who sought the Rangers, Texan Jim Crane is thought to have the most money, but his approval would have ultimately been jeopardized by his spotty rep among baseball owners by pulling out of an Astros deal.

Bud Selig's idea to form a marquee committee to suggest on-field improvements isn't a bad one at all. Rather than just assume they are doing everything right, it's better to take a good hard look at the game and enlist the expertise of folks like Tony La Russa, Joe Torre and John Schuerholz to help with the issues of scheduling, umpiring and pace of game. This season's postseason had to put scheduling (Mike Scioscia was right that there were too many off days) and umpiring (that issue is obvious) at the forefront of Selig's thinking. Good call.

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