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Eight teams struck out this winter by not spending enough

Not every team can be a winner in winter. These eight clubs have been losers, at least for the months of November through February, and while a couple of them may have had a slight problem or two with execution, the real common denominator is that they didn't spend enough money to fill their holes. Some of them are still very good teams (Cubs, Dodgers and Giants for instance), but they should all be better.

There's still time to do a little shopping, though probably not enough to rewrite these winter scripts.

Even Mets great Darryl Strawberry chimed in with an assessment of the Mets' offseason Tuesday night, diplomatically summing it up by saying it "could have been better.''

No kidding.

While the Mets signed the big hitter they sought in Jason Bay on a reasonable $66-million price (at least compared to Matt Holliday's $120-million deal), they mostly imported a collection of backup catchers like Henry Blanco and Chris Coste, comfortable old friends like Alex Cora and Fernando Tatis and question marks like Kelvim Escobar. The result is that they will take a paper-thin rotation into spring along with a slew of unproven catchers and tons of other questions.

They could have had Joel Piniero for $18 million over two years and surely Bengie Molina for $10 million over two (Molina was the bigger loss in my estimation, since he's a catcher with power and a rep for handling a young staff), but they played hardball with each and are left lacking at both key positions.

They were also stuck with Luis Castillo at second after spending weeks trying to trade him so they could make a run at Orlando Hudson. But the topper to a soap-operatic offseason has to be their public fight with star center fielder Carlos Beltran for having a knee surgery all sides agreed was a good idea. Now that's not a good idea.

It's never going to be a great winter when the big goal is to undo the biggest move of the winter before. They did finally get rid of Milton Bradley but had to take Carlos Silva, poster of an impossibly bad 8.60 ERA last year and one of the worst pitchers in baseball since signing for $48 million over four years, in return from Seattle. Marlon Byrd's acquisition allows them to move Kosuke Fukudome to right field, where he's excellent, although Byrd isn't exactly a Gold Glover in center. John Grabow was overpaid at $7.5 mil for two years, and Xavier Nady seems similarly fortunate to get $3.3 million (plus $2 million in incentives) given that he didn't play after April last year and needed a second Tommy John surgery. But the bigger issues were beyond their control. Ted Lilly's injury could be a big blow, and Alfonso Soriano proved to be even more untradeable than Castillo. No matter, they remain very talented and still have an excellent shot to get back to the playoffs.

The newly divided Dodgers and their divorcing owners couldn't afford to risk going to arbitration with Randy Wolf, couldn't quite afford Piniero and could do no better or their staff than bring back Vicente Padilla and Jeff Weaver, leaving plenty of rotation questions. Veteran infielder Jamey Carroll, solid-hitting infielder Ronnie Belliard, utilityman Alfredo Amezaga, catching pro Brad Ausmus, underrated outfielder Reed Johnson and rotation longshot Ramon Ortiz were signed, all useful players that are less than marquee men for the storied franchise. GM Ned Colletti wisely locked up their best young players, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Chad Billinsgley and Jonathan Broxton, avoiding any more bitterness for an organization that's run by baseball's version of the War of the Roses.

They brought in a collection of hitters -- Mark DeRosa, Aubrey Huff, Juan Uribe and Bengie Molina -- but ignored the two true middle-of-the-order threats that were out there (Bay and Holliday) and were badly needed. Their incredibly talented rotation should give them a chance again, but just a little more hitting could make them a real threat. Adam LaRoche inexplicably turned down a $17-million, two-year deal, leaving them with second choice Huff, whose rep is that he can be a bit of a prickly clubhouse presence. Molina became a necessity when it was determined that top prospect Buster Posey isn't quite ready for fulltime catching duties. The Giants' baseball bosses also quietly instituted two new policies that won't help their hitters one iota: 1) don't overwork, and 2) pull the ball more. Neither is an especially good idea.

Wasn't the big reason they had to trade Victor Martinez and Cliff Lee that they wouldn't be able to make any moves this winter if they kept them both? Well, good thing, because otherwise Mike Redmond wouldn't be an Indian today. In retrospect, it's safe to say that excising Martinez and Lee was just part of a rebuilding/cost cutting effort that means 2010 should be a very long season.

I love this franchise from top to bottom. But there's no getting around the fact that they lost their ace pitcher (John Lackey) and lineup instigator (Chone Fggins), two major defections for a team that's been built around pitching and speed ever since Mike Scioscia got there. Hideki Matsui ably replaces Vladimir Guerrero as DH, Fernando Rodney upgrades a beleaguered bullpen and Piniero again gives them as much rotation depth as anyone. Still the AL West favorite. But they'll miss Lackey, and especially Figgins.

Their streak of losing seasons -- 17 and counting -- appears sure to continue. Akinori Iwamura is a magician at second base, Ryan Church is an OK outfielder and Octavio Dotel still throws hard. It is possible three players could turn the Pirates around, but the three would have to be Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer and Roy Halladay, not these three. There is hope for the future, thanks to Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez. But this is not their year. Again.

They were remarkably cheap this winter, and the result is a rotation diminished by the loss of Javier Vazquez and a lineup that still needs another big hitter. Melky Cabrera was the only immediate help received for Vazquez, who was brilliant last year. Troy Glaus could prove to be a $2 million bargain, and Eric Hinske seems to be a lucky charm (he played for the AL champion the past three seasons). They also got former All-Star closer Takashi Saito. Meanwhile, the real goal had been to trade Derek Lowe so they could free up money for the much-needed impact bat. Unfortunately for them, there were no takers. Billy Wagner is a fair replacement for Rafael Soriano (though at this point, I'd take Soriano). But overall, there was no discernible improvement.

Incredibly, the Giants have made no one-year offers for superstar pitcher Tim Lincecum, who's scheduled for a knockdown/drag-out arbitration war sometime this month if no agreement can be reached. A two-year concept was reportedly broached that was said to be nothing serious, but one way or another, the Giants need to avoid going to arbitration with their franchise man.

There's still time to do a deal for one or more years in advance of the scheduled hearing. But so far the Giants aren't acting like they're anxious to avoid the fight.

It was nice to see new managing partner Bill Neukom and longtime club president Larry Baer at the New York Baseball Writers dinner (plus Lincecum's agent, Rick Thurman, and father, Chris Lincecum) where Lincecum received his second straight N.L. Cy Young award. Giants executives also turned out in force the previous year when Lincecum won his first national award.

Yet, a good attendance record doesn't mean the new Giants owner won't play hardball with their franchise pitcher/player. There's been little contact and no evidence of common ground since Lincecum submitted his $13-million salary arbitration request and the Giants submitted their $8 million figure. At this point, there appears to be a decent chance they'll be headed to a hearing, a possibility that never would have occurred in the player-friendly era of former Giants managing partner Peter Magowan, who treated his stars like stars.

Beyond the possibility of fraying their most important relationship, the Giants would be taking an awfully big chance to battle it out with Lincecum in a hearing room. Forget the obvious issue that an arbitration fight would be ugly, a Lincecum victory at $13 million would almost exactly triple the former record for a first-year arbitration-eligible pitcher ($4.35 million that both Dontrelle Willis and Cole Hamels got) and set him up for ridiculous salaries in subsequent years.

The case is a toss-up, too. Ryan Howard made $10 million as first-year arb-eligible player following a Rookie of the Year and MVP, whereas Lincecum is slightly ahead of him with two straight Cy Young awards in his only two full seasons. It's not hard to see an arbitrator saying $11 million is the right price, in which case Lincecum would win his case since $11 million is above the $10.5-million midpoint.

To take him to arbitration and win would be a mistake. To take him to arbitration and lose would be a colossal mistake.

Of all the teams reported to have interest in Johnny Damon, the Tigers may actually be the most logical since they lost both their leadoff hitter (Curtis Granderson, who went to Damon's ex-team, the Yankees) and No. 2 hitter (Placido Polanco). While there are no reports of Damon's agent, Scott Boras, talking to Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski yet, the Tigers have done a lot of deals with Boras in recent years that no one expected, including ones for Magglio Ordonez, Ivan Rodriguez and Kenny Rogers.

Damon has shown a knack for hitting in Comerica Park, where his .363 batting average and .961 OPS there are the highest totals at any stadium where he has at least 15 at-bats (he has 171 there). His numbers at new Yankee Stadium, which is tailor-made for him, are .279 and .915.

The A's, Reds, Rays and Jays all reportedly have shown some interest, as well. The A's are a team full of surprises (see Ben Sheets) and may have money left from their failed attempts to sign Marco Scutaro, Adrian Beltre and even Aroldis Chapman. The Reds freed up a little loot by getting rid of the underperforming Willy Taveras (though they did spend some by recently signing Orlando Cabrera). The Rays understandably aren't happy with Pat Burrell, who slumped last year and has always been a questionable clubhouse presence -- although, it's going to be impossible be rid of Burrell and they aren't exactly flush with cash. The Jays make some sense, as well.

But the Tigers appear to be a real possibility. They have discussed it at length internally and certainly have not ruled it out.

One option Damon is not considering is retirement. "I don't think the game's ready for me to retire,'' Damon said by phone. "I think I have way too much to give.''

Justin Verlander and the Tigers are seriously discussing a five-year contract for just under the $78-million, five-year deal Felix Hernandez signed with the Mariners, as Yahoo! first mentioned. Verlander has been seeking a sixth year. But the five-year deal is fair. He should fall in just below King Felix.

Joe Mauer could have a deal perhaps as early as spring reporting date if things continue to progress between him and the Twins. Both sides are extremely motivated, and the guess is that a fair deal, perhaps just south of Mark Teixeira's $180-million, eight-year deal could get it done. The sides are believed to be talking about contracts for seven and eight years for in excess of $20 million per year.

• While Astros owner Drayton McLane announced that no bid to buy the team was made before the 30-day negotiating window expired, it is believed he team led by Harvey Schiller and Marc Isaacson will still have a chance to meet the asking price that is said to be at least $600 million. McLane's intention appears to be to act like he has little interest in selling. But this is the second foray in recent years into a possible sale, and this one seems serious. Schiller, who was recently the head of the International Baseball Federation, is a formidable candidate.

• Rumors of trouble in the Rangers' deal to sell the team to the group led by Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan are surfacing, but sources close to Greenberg say he remains unworried. The highly-leveraged outgoing owner Tom Hicks is getting $570 million for the team but owes about that much to creditors and has a big tax bill due considering he bought the team for $250 million in 1998 ($2 million less than he paid or A-Rod a few years later), and so the banks need to be satisfied they are getting their just amount from the sale.

• There's a chance Toronto brings back former Blue Jays great Carlos Delgado, who by all accounts has hit great in the Puerto Rican winter league.

Kevin Gregg's going to accept a Blue Jays deal that'll guarantee him $2.75 million and also includes two options that could bring the deal to nearly $12 million over three years.

• Some scouts suggest Pedro Martinez is best equipped for a half-year deal like the one he did last year, though considering his stellar performance for the Phillies, it's a wonder more teams aren't lining up for him.

Jarrod Washburn is being eyed by the Mariners, Twins and maybe the Royals.

• The Mets are thought to be falling behind in the John Smoltz derby.

Chien-Ming Wang is said to be progressing and may do a showcase in April with a May return possible. He is said to be getting the most interest from the coasts. The Mets and Dodgers could certainly use him. How about a reunion with former Yankees manager Joe Torre?

• One player overlooked in this market has been Jermaine Dye, who was talking about a deal for about $3 million with the Cubs before they signed Nady. Dye has averaged 33 home runs the past five seasons, the most of any American League outfielder.

Orlando Hudson hasn't been satisfied with the Nationals' offer (which is reportedly not too different from the incentive-laden $3.38-million guarantee he signed last year) and is still looking around. If Hudson goes elsewhere, Adam Kennedy would be their next call. The Indians, Padres and Twins all have considered Hudson, but the Twins may stick with the second base-third base triumvirate of Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert and Brendan Harris.

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