Recommended recipes for contenders in hot stove season
While the course of action for some contenders this offseason is simple -- the Rangers and Yankees would both benefit from signing that Cliff Lee fellow, for example -- it's less clear for many of the other elite teams in baseball.
The Red Sox, for instance, could so drastically remake their lineup that they'll receive their own story here on Friday, but for several of baseball's best, herewith is some unsolicited advice -- some of it a little unconventional -- for the hot stove season:
While signing both Beltre and Carl Crawford would be ideal, the third baseman is the better fit if the Angels can only sign one, because their infield was in tatters last year. It wasn't just Brandon Wood's failure, either, as no one in the rotation of Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo had an on-base percentage better than .321. Only Kendrick had more than five home runs, an average better than .253 or a slugging percentage that topped .363 for the Angels. Kendry Morales' return to first base will secure that position, but the infield could still use an offensive boost.
Meanwhile, the Angels have a starting outfield of Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter and Peter Bourjos, with Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli as options at DH. Los Angeles also has Mark Trumbo -- the minor league leader in home runs in 2010 -- as another corner outfield alternative.
Though Ramirez is best-suited to the AL, where he can DH most of the time, if there's any NL team that should consider the temperamental left fielder, it's the Braves, a team that for years has been desperate for more offensive production from its outfielders. And in 2010 Atlanta's light-hitting left fielders didn't play defense much better than Ramirez.
Last season, the Braves' left fielders collectively put together a batting line of .242/.302/.385 with just 14 home runs. Three left fielders played more than 350 innings, and their defensive abilities ranged from average -- Matt Diaz, who had a 0.1 Ultimate Zone Rating -- to poor: Eric Hinske (-3.6) and Melky Cabrera (-7.0). When prorated for 150 games, the three had a UZR/150 of 0.2, -22.4 and -20.8, respectively.
Ramirez, meanwhile, batted .298/.409/.460 with nine homers in only 90 games. His UZR was -5.7, which computes to a -20.9 UZR/150 -- in other words, no worse than two of Atlanta's three options from this past season.
While Ramirez's attitude has been a problem in the past, his behavior -- though not his production -- was the best in the season's final five weeks with the White Sox when he was playing for a contract and had a bilingual manager in Ozzie Guillen. The Braves, who'll undoubtedly only offer a one-year deal, also have a manager who can speak Spanish in new hire Fredi Gonzalez and have strong veteran leadership from Chipper Jones and an old Ramirez teammate in Derek Lowe.
This would be a tall task for pitching repairman Dave Duncan, as he would need to help Harden not only reacquire his lost effectiveness but also tweak his mechanics enough to keep him healthy. Duncan has revived the careers of -- among others -- Chris Carpenter, Brad Penny, Joel Piñeiro, Kyle Lohse, Jason Marquis, Brett Tomko and Woody Williams. Retaining Jake Westbrook will be more expensive than signing Harden to a contract with minimal guaranteed money and extensive incentives.
St. Louis needs to do business a little on the cheap in order to ensure that it has enough money for its forthcoming extension offer to Albert Pujols. To help their offensive productivity, the Cardinals could look at free-agent second baseman Orlando Hudson and at couples therapy to fully resolve the rift between manager Tony La Russa and center fielder Colby Rasmus.
It's an admitted longshot, but would make perfect sense for the Giants, provided they can manage the boost in payroll -- the World Series run ought to have boosted revenue and fan interest. General manager Brian Sabean has stated that he would like to add a lefty bat and try to improve the athleticism of his lineup this offseason. San Francisco's left fielder during the stretch was free agent Pat Burrell, who was exposed in the World Series (0 for 13 with 11 strikeouts) and was regularly being replaced for defensive purposes. And the Giants would benefit from a No. 3 hitter to bat in front of Buster Posey.
Crawford would fill all of those needs simultaneously: 1) left fielder; 2) lefty bat; 3) No. 3 hitter; 4) improved athlete. A team already built on its pitching would benefit from the improved defense. Such a signing would more than likely mean an inability to re-sign first baseman Aubrey Huff, but Sabean has noted that first base prospect Brandon Belt could be in the mix to make the team's Opening Day roster. The infield offense should already be improved if Juan Uribe is re-signed to play shortstop and Mark DeRosa is healthy and ready to be the starting third baseman.
There's no need to reinvent the wheel. With top outfield prospect Domonic Brown a left-handed hitter and perhaps a year or two away from being an everyday starter, the Phillies are looking for a power-hitting righty bat that can play right field. Well, the best one available has been on their roster since 2007.
Yes, Werth will require a lot of money to keep, but given that the Phillies are in their prime window of contention, revenues are at an all-time high given their three straight trips to the NLCS or World Series and that a huge chunk of payroll is scheduled to come off the books after 2011, Philadelphia should make a play to retain Werth.
Among those whose contracts expire after next season are Roy Oswalt, Raul Ibañez, Brad Lidge, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Madson -- a quintet who will make more than $53 million in 2011. Thus, in a year the Phillies will receive payroll relief and an open corner outfield position for when Brown is ready to assume it.
Tampa Bay won't be able to afford the contract that free-agent closer Rafael Soriano will command on the open market, but re-signing Benoit ought to capably fill that void at a much lower salary. Benoit was a revelation for the Rays as a setup man last year, leading all AL relievers who pitched at least 50 innings in ERA (1.34), batting average against (.147) and WHIP (0.68); he was third in strikeouts per nine innings (11.2). He has just nine career saves in nine seasons but has all the tools to be a great closer.
That the Reds need an ace became apparent when they resorted to starting Edinson Volquez -- he of the PED suspension and minor league demotion last year -- in NLDS Game 1. With Aaron Harang's hefty contract coming off the books, Cincinnati should try trading for the Royals' ace, who has stated a preference for playing outside one of the game's biggest markets.
The Reds aren't likely to increase payroll much, but they've been relieved of the burden of Harang's $12.5 million, while Greinke is scheduled to make an affordable $13.5 million in each of next two seasons. The club will face some hefty arbitration raises for Joey Votto, Johnny Cueto and Volquez, but surely that money can be found somewhere. The Reds already picked up starter Bronson Arroyo's $13 million option for next season, but a deal for Greinke would allow them to scrap costly extension talks.
Cincinnati also has some young positional talent it can trade, while managing a small hit to an offense that led the NL with 790 runs last year. In Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs and Chris Heisey, it has three outfielders for two positions, and top minor league hitting prospect Yonder Alonso -- a first baseman and corner outfielder -- is blocked at the major league level, so a package with Alonso and Stubbs could go a long way toward landing Greinke.
Admittedly, Alonso's top three AL positions -- first base, left field and designated hitter -- are projected to be filled in years to come by the Royals' cadre of Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Kila Ka'aihue and, eventually, Eric Hosmer, but that ought to be less of a concern for a team like Kansas City, which isn't knocking on the door of the playoffs yet.
After two straight postseasons of being swept by the Yankees -- the Twins mustered just 13 runs in those six games -- it would behoove Minnesota to shake up the lineup. Signing Konerko to be its new full-time DH instead of Jim Thome would add a needed right-handed bat to break up lefties Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel; provide insurance at first base for Morneau, who missed 108 games in the past two seasons; and weaken the White Sox, their chief rivals in the division. It's not likely that Konerko, who has a strong bond with Chicago owner Jerry Reinsdorf, would leave for a division rival, but for Minnesota the worst-case scenario of showing interest in Konerko is simply driving up the price that the Sox have to pay to keep him.
No matter how tempting or affordable it might be to sign a player like Nick Johnson, as the Yankees did last year, they ought to keep the DH slot open to rotate aging hitters Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. (Presuming, of course, they re-sign Jeter.)
With Johnson's injury last year, manager Joe Girardi filled his lineup card with Marcus Thames (34 starts), Posada (28) and Lance Berkman (21) as his most regular DHs, but with Thames and Berkman gone, Girardi should more strictly use the spot for his longtime veterans. Tuesday's Gold Glove results notwithstanding, neither Jeter, Posada nor Rodriguez are the defenders they used to be. Infielder Eduardo Nunez, a Double-A and Triple-A All-Star the past two seasons, and catcher Jesus Montero appear ready for regular playing time.