Not that most of us already didn't know...
Pitchers and catchers report in a little over a month, yet as the plights of these seven teams suggest, so much unfinished business remains.
For all the talk of Johan Santana, the Mets still seem more likely to sign free-agent right-hander Kyle Lohse than trade for the Twins' left-handed ace. The Twins, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, want both of the Mets' top outfield prospects, Carlos Gomez and Fernando Martinez, in addition to pitching. The Mets view that price as excessive.
Should they? One rival executive points out that star outfielders are easier to acquire than No. 1 starting pitchers, who almost never reach free agency. Gomez, 22, still must prove he can hit major-league pitching, but the Mets are much more reluctant to trade Martinez, who reached Class AA last season at age 18. Martinez could develop into an offensive machine, and the Mets surely would prefer to keep at least one of their young outfielders after trading Lastings Milledge earlier this off-season.
The Mets remain the team most likely to sign Johan Santana. (Jim McIsaac / Getty Images)
Then again, Santana is just what the Mets need, an ace for a rotation that includes Pedro Martinez, Oliver Perez, John Maine and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. Lohse, 29, likely would cost more than $40 million over four years, a price that no rational team wants to pay. Still, Lohse performed well under pressure for the Phillies in the final two months last season, and his stuff and durability are appealing.
The Mets could rationalize that, by acquiring Lohse instead of Santana, they could back up their veteran starters with youngsters Mike Pelfrey, Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey — and keep Gomez and Martinez, too. But none of those pitchers is expected to become a No. 1, and the Mets need an ace not only for this season, but also beyond.
Santana, who turns 29 on March 13, is four months younger than Lohse.
It's difficult to argue with general manager Brian Cashman's reluctance to acquire Santana. The acquisition cost would be exorbitant, and the size of Santana's contract extreme. The problem is, the Yankees rotation without Santana might not provide enough innings.
Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina are the veterans; Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy the youngsters. Mussina, 39, has averaged 173 innings the past four seasons. The younger pitchers likely will follow prescribed innings limits. An injury to Wang or Pettitte would mean immediate trouble.
But the Yankees, after using 14 starters in 2005, 12 in '06 and 14 last season, are accustomed to summoning reinforcements. Their alternatives include the relatively experienced Kei Igawa, Jeff Karstens and Darrell Rasner, as well as youngsters such as Jeff Marquez, Alan Horne and Steven White.
Other teams are in a similar position, relying on younger pitchers for rotation depth, but the Yankees boast unparalleled resources. Cashman will look short-sighted if the Yankees come up short on pitching — a distinct possibility in the offensive-oriented American League.
Wanted: Infield bat
The Angels will compete for a World Series title — if they can find an experienced infield bat. Here are the career statistics for the four projected infield starters:
Games Avg. HR RBI
Figgins 662 .293 25 265
Aybar 113 .239 1 21
Kendrick 160 .306 9 69
Kotchman 251 .267 19 111
The addition of right-hander Jon Garland further bolstered the pitching, but take a look at that infield: Chone Figgins, who is not a prototypical offensive third baseman; Erick Aybar, who has started only 13 major-league games at short; Howie Kendrick, who has played the equivalent of one full season; and Casey Kotchman, who has put together only one healthy season at first.
The Angels' front office is divided about how aggressively they should pursue White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, because their greater need is at third. Kotchman had a nearly identical OPS to Konerko last season, and Kendry Morales, a switch-hitter, also should figure into the first-base/DH mix.
Figgins, the Angels' best leadoff man, needs to be in the lineup, but the addition of a third baseman would enable manager Mike Scioscia to move Figgins around, which was the plan if the Angels acquired Miguel Cabrera. Rather than pursue Konerko — and possibly give up Kendrick, a future batting champion — the Angels should revisit the trade market at third base.
This would be the perfect team to take a flier on Bartolo Colon or another pitcher coming off an injury. Jose Contreras, who posted a career-high 5.57 ERA last season, is the No. 3 starter, and the unproven John Danks and Gavin Floyd occupy the Nos. 4 and 5 spots. The White Sox need better to compete with the Indians and Tigers.
Youngsters Lance Broadway, Charlie Haeger and Jack Egbert all could contribute, but the White Sox's pitching questions are amplified by their plan to play Nick Swisher in center field. The Sox believe that Swisher improved last season and will benefit from playing in a smaller outfield, but let's not confuse him with Torii Hunter.
The physically questionable Edmonds takes over for Mike Cameron in center, and the Padres' current plan is to use Scott Hairston, a right-handed hitter, and Chase Headley, a switch-hitter in left. Such a platoon could work, but the Padres would benefit from more proven offense and better defense in left.
The pitching, first in the NL last season, could be even better if Randy Wolf and Mark Prior make successful returns from injuries. However, the Padres ranked only ninth in the NL in runs last season, and Cameron and Milton Bradley were two of their best offensive players. Run production again could be an issue.
Signing Francisco Cordero was nice, but the Reds haven't done much else. (Doug Benc / Getty Images)
OK, they spent $46 million on free-agent closer Francisco Cordero, but what else have they done to improve upon 72 wins for their new manager, Dusty Baker? Outside of trading center fielder Josh Hamilton to the Rangers for right-hander Edinson Volquez and minor-league lefty Danny Herrera, almost nothing.
The Reds want another quality starting pitcher to go with Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo, and they're willing to move right-hander Homer Bailey and first baseman Joey Votto to get the piece they need. Their problem is that they can't land an Erik Bedard without giving up their top outfield prospect, Jay Bruce. And Bruce is too valuable to move with Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. entering the final years of their contracts.
Both Bedard and second baseman Brian Roberts are two years away from free agency, so the Orioles could hold off trading them until the July 31 non-waiver deadline or even next off-season. Then again, it would be just like the Orioles to keep Bedard and then watch his value diminish due to an injury.
For the moment, the Orioles' staredown with the Mariners continues; the O's want a monster package for Bedard, or they won't do the deal. Fair enough, but the Orioles need to get on with the rebuilding plan that began with the trade of shortstop Miguel Tejada. After they move their most marketable players, they can start trying to purge their less attractive parts, starting with third baseman Melvin Mora.
At the moment, the Orioles have no idea who their shortstop, center fielder and closer will be, but who cares? They might lose 100 games if they trade Bedard and Roberts, but at least they would be adding to their young foundation and pointing toward a better future. Their fans are tired of seeing Jay Payton, Aubrey Huff and Co.
Top remaining trade candidates
Johan Santana (Twins, LHP); Erik Bedard (Orioles, LHP); Joe Blanton (A's, RHP); Brian Roberts (Orioles, 2B); Coco Crsip (Red Sox, CF); Bill Hall (Brewers, CF); Brandon Inge (Tigers, 3B); Joe Crede (White Sox, 3B).
Recognizable names remaining on the free-agent market
Pitchers: Kyle Lohse; Livan Hernandez; Josh Fogg; Bartolo Colon; Jon Lieber; Kris Benson; Freddy Garcia; Jason Jennings; Brett Tomko; Steve Trachsel.
Relievers: Jeremy Affeldt; Akinori Otsuka; Shawn Chacon; Octavio Dotel; Armando Benitez; Ron Villone; Trever Miller.
Catchers: Rod Barajas; Johnny Estrada; Mike Lieberthal; Mike Piazza.
First basemen: Sean Casey; Tony Clark; Shea Hillenbrand; Eric Hinske; Doug Mientkiewicz; Mike Sweeney.
Second basemen: Tony Graffanino; Jerry Hairston Jr.; Jose Valentin.
Shortstops: Alex Cintron; Royce Clayton.
Third basemen: Pedro Feliz; Morgan Ensberg; Jeff Cirillo.
Outfielders: Barry Bonds; Sammy Sosa; Corey Patterson; Kenny Lofton; Shannon Stewart; Luis Gonzalez; Trot Nixon; Bobby Kielty; Brad Wilkerson; Shawn Green; Orlando Palmeiro.