Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The Line that is Dead

Wow, busy day on the site yesterday. Surprisingly, 2 of 3 from New York (accurately predicted in this space, I might add) has a way of spiking interest. A more enterprising unpaid columnist would've seized the opportunity and pieced together a boffo column for all the new readers to faun upon, this one however got the afternoon off because of computer problems at the office, so went home and ate some chinese food. Eddie Andelman would've been proud. If he were still alive. Anyhoots, the Sox took another last night behind a very good Pedro start (rain and Terry Adams ruined his line), great two-out hitting, and balanced production from the entire lineup. Sounds a lot a group I like to call the 2003 Red Sox. The club seems to be getting it together, and if they can hold on through this insane road trip and get into the creamy filling that is their August schedule, who knows what could happen. My one hesitation: doesn't it seem just a little too Hollywood for this all to be started by a fight with the dreaded Yankees and the billion dollar poster boy that Boston couldn't afford? I mean, that's the beginning of the third act in Major League 6, not the turning point in an actual baseball season. Right? We'll see.

For now, there are more pressing matters. Saturday is July 31st, which we in the baseball world know better as: the 506 year anniversary of Columbus discovering Trinidad. 505 was sweet, but 506 will be even sweeter. In celebration of Trinidad's being invented, Major League Baseball has declared that all player trades must cease on such day, and therefore it will be. With Trot Nixon down and out for an unknown period, Boston is going to have to redirect its pitching inquiries for outfield help, and they'll have to get something done. Gape Kapler has been good, but he has a rich history of playing well for two weeks then stinking it up, so we shouldn't get carried away. He's a very nice 4th outfielder, but doesn't have the consistent offensive ability to be a nice 3rd one. So, much like women, Theo be shoppin'.

Problem is, and we've all heard this plenty, very few are sellin'. While there are a good number of clubs that aren't likely to make the playoffs, that aren't many that are so far out that they're comfortable admitting it. The National League especially is loaded with teams that are having their first decent season in years (Milwaukee, Cincinatti, New York, etc), and, even though they're not really going anywhere, they think the PR of finally keeping a team together is worth the couple prospects a trade would bring. And you know what, they may be right. But it's screwing with the Annual Trinidadian Mining of the Losers, and that's no fun. So here's a list of players that might be out there, broken down by team that is accepting failure. They might not all be on the block, but RJ isn't coming, so we have to do a thorough search. Be advised, I do think there is one gem in the bunch.

Tampa Bay: Having a surprise season, but not so surprising that they wouldn't move some players. Problem is, and we'll see this a lot, their real quality is in young, cheap, talent, and that's the last thing they would ever trade. In terms of pricey veterans, you have Tino Martinez and Jose Cruz Jr. both drawing a bit of interest. With Millar getting hot I think Boston would prefer to leave him at 1st and focus on outfield, so Tino would be out. Which is why I don't get the Meintkiwicz talk. Wouldn't Millar hurt the outfield as much as Dougie Fresh would help the infield? And he can't hit. Anyway, Jose Cruz is great defensively, and probably an upgrade over Kapler, but not by much. Has never really put it together offensively, and really let San Francisco down in the playoffs last year with an 0-for-ALDS. An option, but not a great one.

Toronto: Who knows what's going on with Frank Catalanotto? One minute he's available, the other he's not. Often he's hurt, sometimes he's not. The guy can definitely hit, and could be a super-sub if or when Trot returns. But he has an abdominal tear that will require surgery after the season and is causing him chronic pain. And it's not clear whether J.P. really wants to move him in the first place. A lot of question marks here, but Frank is certainly Theo's kind of player. One to watch.

Baltimore: I guess if you were really desperate you could trade for Jerry Hairston who's been playing right and could give some backup at second base, but who really wants to do that?

Detroit: Not much of quality here that isn't a young pitcher. Dmitri Young is the best hitter on the club and can get it done, but coming off a leg injury may not be able to play outfield. Making 7 million this season and next, which isn't too bad if you can find a place for him start, but does this team really need another 1B/DH/OF? With the leg injury, don't see this happening. There's also Bobby Higginson, but he boasts the rare combination of not being better than Gabe Kapler and yet being much more expensive. Rondell White is having a very nice year, but he might be cheap enough (2 yrs, 6 mil) for Detroit to keep.

Kansas City: Matt Stairs. In right field. Again. No thanks.

Seattle: Randy Winn would be a nice fit in the second whole, and can play the position. He's at cheap money this year, but he's signed for 3.75 mil in '05 which is high for the 4th outfielder he'd have to become. Boston would really prefer a guy who's booked for only this season. A quality player though and a capable option.

Pittsburgh: Their players are young and cheap. No need to trade.

Montreal: Their players are horrifying.

Cleveland: Now this is where it gets interesting. Matt Lawton is in the midst of a career year for the Indians and has legitimate five tools. He'd be a great hitter in front of Tizzle and Manny, and has enough speed to cover the Fenway right field. Before this season Indian GM Mark Shapiro would've lit himself on fire to unload Lawton, but now it's unclear. Sure Cleveland likes to dump payroll, but with a team around .500 they might think a veteran or two is worth holding on to. The biggest problem is his contract, which has him at about 7.5 for this season and next. Just like with Randy Winn, that's ok for a starting outfielder, but what do you do later in the season or next year when Trot is 100%? But is .300, 16 HR, 52 RBI so far worth it to Theo? If they could find a way for the money to work, I think this would be a great choice, but that's a big "if".

Arizona: Danny Bautista is another outfielder in the midst of a career year. A hot April has a lot do with it (1.041 OPS), but he's had a few injury problems of late. A free agent at the end of the season, Arizona would probably be more than happy to part ways. Not a guy that will change the face of the lineup, but a more qualified hitter than Kapler, and made some nice contributions for the Dbacks in the '00 series.

Colorado: Ok, I mentioned one gem in the rough, and here it is. The best player realistically available, in my opinion, in terms of both cost and return would be.....not.....Larry Walker.....but.....Jeromy Burnitz. I know, I know, he was a mess in '02 in New York. And yeah, he's playing in Colorado which screws everything up. But the .959 OPS, the 21 HR's, the 71 RBI - that's not all fake. When players leave Colorado, they do not automatically regress to their road statistics (.249/.325/.480 for JBurn) as many people suggest. Because the Colorado air flattens out curve balls so severely, Rockie players are more susceptible to them when they go on the road, giving them unusually lousy away numbers. This makes their home stats look even more ridiculous. But in reality, when they leave, this normalizes some. Simply, they're not as bad as they look on the road, or as good as they appear at home. It's somewhere in the middle. And that I'll take from Burnitz. Especially because he's making 1.5 million, will be a free agent, and plays a good right field. And has always wanted to come to Fenway. Remember the All-Star game in '99 where Jeromy seemed to be going out of his way to tell everyone how much he loved Boston? Every interview he did was like a Dad making a pitch to his kids for a vacation. Wouldn't that be a great fit? Maybe he's excited to get to Beantown, pumped to be in a pennant race for the first time ever, and slugs some. Worst case scenario he's an ok hitter with occasional pop who has a cannon in right and can platoon with Kapler. And he'd be cheap, so cheap in fact that Colorado might not see any point in dealing him. But if I were Theo, looking at the other options, I'd give this a try. He's having the hottest month of his season now (1.185 OPS), and maybe he can bring some of that with him. And you know he'll bring great clubhouse presence. Go for it. They don't need a star, they need a solid pro who has a chance in the playoffs. Any other ideas?