Three Questions Worth Caring About Heading into 2007

Will Roger Clemens pitch again? Will Barry Bonds eclipse Hank Aaron in all-time homeruns or will he be indicted before he gets the chance? Will Matsuzaka and his gyroball live up to the hype? These are, without a doubt, the most talked-about questions of the offseason. But honestly, is there a single person out there that gives two shits about baseball and wants to hear anymore about Clemens, Bonds, or Matsuzaka? Don’t get me wrong, I’m as excited as any other shmo for the MLB debut of the Demon Miracle Pitch. But can we please slap a two-month moratorium on all questions relating to these three? Pretty please?

With pitchers and catchers reporting to camp in a little more than two weeks, here are, in no particular order, three genuinely intriguing questions to ponder as the 2007 offseason draws to a close:

1. What are the Devil Rays going to do with all that young talent in the outfield?

Carl Crawford: 25 years old

Rocco Baldelli: 25 years old

Delmon Young: 21 years old

Elijah Dukes: 22 years old

Count ‘em. Tampa Bay has four very cheap, very talented, very young outfielders. Wait, did I mention Jonny Gomes and B.J. Upton? Because they’re pretty good too and might find their way out to the outfield for the Rays this season.

Tampa has a surplus of young talent in the outfield. Both Jerry Crasnick and Buster Olney (baseball gods before whom this penitent man kneels KNEEELS) addressed this recently, but I couldn’t resist taking it on myself. How could I? We’re talking the D’Rays here!

In all seriousness, this is a fascinating situation. The Rays are in desperate need of pitching. Tampa “ace” Scott Kazmir has yet to recover from shoulder and elbow injuries incurred last season. According to espn.com, Kazmir was throwing at just eighty percent velocity in a bullpen session as of four days ago. Behind Kazmir, the Rays’ opening day rotation looks like this: Casey Fossum, James Shields, Jae Seo, TBA. Never heard of any of them? You wouldn’t be the first. If you have, then you know they’re not exactly Cy Young material (Casey Fossum, James Shields and Jae Seo, listen up: if any of you wins the Cy Young this year, I will print out this blog, eat it, and kneel before your Alexandrettan death wheel too).

Lackluster starting pitching. Tons and tons of outfielders. Smell a trade? Olney and Crasnick do. Busta Bus thinks the Rays might ship Baldelli for a young hurler, which would make a lot of sense. Although he’s cheap and essentially locked up until 2011 with club options, Baldelli has been plagued by knee and elbow issues as of late. Because of his affordability and in spite of his injury issues, his trade value remains high, as does interest in him. Crasnick agrees on Baldelli, but while Olney foresees a possible deal with the Red Sox, Crasnick is thinking the Dodgers’ Chad Billingsley or the Angels’ Ervin Santana.

The likelihood of the Rays moving Baldelli or another of their outfielders strikes me (and Olney) as relatively low. After all, what’s the point in trading away one of your affordable rising stars for pitching help when you still have to compete against Goliath (New York), Goliath II (Boston) and Goliath Lite (Toronto) in 2007. Still, if a deal does go through, it deserves attention; Baldelli, Crawford, Young, and Dukes are four of the best young position players in the game, and stand to make an impact on any team they might be traded to.

Moving on…

2. What exactly is Kenny Williams up to in Chicago?

First, he dumps Freddy Garcia for Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzales. Now I’m not exactly the biggest Gavin Floyd fan, but I see the logic of the move. It creates flexibility in the payroll, opens up a spot in the rotation for the up-and-coming Brandon McCarthy, and, assuming you can get into Floyd’s head and turn him around, provides you with a potentially solid starter for the not-so-distant future (not to mention Gonzales, a surer bet, in the slightly-more-distant future).

Then, he trades away McCarthy. Alright… McCarthy gave up a lot of homeruns last season–his first real season in the majors, by the way–and the Cell isn’t going to get any bigger. In return, the Pale Hose get John Danks, Nick Masset and Jacob Rasner–three young pitching prospects that use their sinkers and power-arms to keep the ball on the ground or out of play. Okay, I see the logic of this one too, even though I don’t agree with it.

The moves Kenny Williams is making this offseason aren’t crazy, or dumb, but they are unorthodox, especially when compared to the free agent-splurging of clubs like the Giants, BoSox, and that other team in Chicago this winter. From the trades he’s been making to the words coming out of his mouth, it is clear that Kenny’s number one priority is to ensure that the Sox can compete in years to come. But will they be able to compete this season?

Moving on…

3. Ichiro (?)

An Unrestricted Free Agent come October, it is very, very possible that 2007 will be Ichiro’s last season as a Seattle Mariner. The M’s have yet to work out a contract extension with their all-star right fielder, and the likelihood of his departure at season’s end (or even sooner) only grows with each passing week.

My guess is that the M’s will ultimately make a competitive offer to Ichiro sometime before the trade deadline. The real question is, will Ichiro accept?

Ichiro has openly expressed dissatisfaction (albeit tempered, ever-respectful Ichiro dissatisfaction) with the management and general management of the organization and with the work ethic of his teammates in recent years, something he never did in his first four seasons in Seattle. The Mariners have finished at the bottom of the heap in the AL West three consecutive seasons now, avoiding a third consecutive season of 90-or-more losses by just six games. Given the moves–and by moves, I mean missteps–made by GM Bill Bavasi this offseason (more on this below), it’s hard to believe the M’s will be any better in 2007, much less 2008 or 2009. It’s also hard to believe that a player as driven as Ichiro isn’t seriously considering cutting ties and moving on to a more competitive club.

Let’s also not forget that Ichiro’s future, at least for the time being, is in the hands of the worst, most incompetent major league GM in Bavasi. In terms of totally boning over his organization in the short and the long term, he’s only about a half step behind Isaiah Thomas and the Knicks. This is the man who is doling out a combined $27 million dollars in 2007–nearly a third of the M’s payroll–to Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre.* This is the man who traded away a young power-arm in Emiliano Fruto who could have been a role-player in the bullpen this season and another prospect for the privilege of watching Jose Vidro’s kneecaps disintegrate over the course of the next two seasons. And guess what, Mariners fans? He’s paying near-full admission–13.5 million of your baseball team’s dollars over the next two years–to the disappearing knee show! This is the man who is going to give Jeff Weaver 8 million plus just to pitch like Jeff Weaver (in case you forgot just how bad he is, please see my esteemed colleague Mike’s column). The point is this: if there is a way to screw up the Ichiro deal and make his own organization worse in the process, Bavasi will sniff it out and make it a reality. And rest assured, failing to re-sign Ichiro (assuming it’s not A-Rod money or years) will make the Mariners worse.

The best part is that Bavasi has said he’s not even in that much of a hurry to address Ichiro’s situation. “It’s a top priority,” said Bavasi, “but the timing is not that important.”

Honestly, if you were Ichiro, what would you do?

We’ll just have to wait and see what happens with Ichiro. And in Chicago. And in Tampa’s outfield.

Stay tuned.

 

*Food for thought, Phillies fans: Pat Burrell was paid $9.75 million to hit .258, slug .502, and get on base .388 in 2006. In 2006, Beltre was paid $12.9 mil to hit .268, slug .465, and get on base .328. And he’s under contract through 2009! Life ain’t so bad, right?

 

 

 

Unrelated Note: Was reading a Gammons (third and final baseball god in the Holy Trinity) column on espn today when I noticed this tidbit in his bio:

A gifted musician, Gammons’ debut CD, “Never Slow Down, Never Grow Old” was released on Rounder Records. With the assistance of a crack band of Boston rockers, Gammons trades in his typewriter for a Stratocaster and delivers a rousing set of vintage classics, originals, and rock obscurities — all to benefit Theo and Paul Epstein’s Foundation to be Named Later, a charity which raises funds and awareness for non-profit agencies serving disadvantaged youth in the Greater Boston area.

“Gammons’ vocals and guitar are featured, along with guests such as Theo Epstein, Juliana Hatfield, George Thorogood, Little Feat’s Paul Barrere, Kay Hanley, and an all-star chorus consisting of Red Sox players Jonathan Papelbon, Kevin Youkilis, Trot Nixon, Lenny DiNardo and Tim Wakefield, former Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo, and NESN broadcaster Don Orsillo. Get more information from Rounder Records.”

What??? This album actually exists! Check it out here. Kevin Youkilis, Theo Epstein and George Thorogood guesting on a Peter Gammons rock record. Words… can’t… even describe… so sooo happy. And bewildered.

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2 Responses

  1. KAAAAZMIIIIR! Freakin’ Mets.
    Last season Tampa had to trade Joey Gathright to KC as Baldelli came back, now they’re talking of trading Baldelli.
    Gomes should primarily be slotted in at DH. The infield is a mess with players that can fit in at more than one position (5 guys can play 3B) and prospects looking for a late call-up or playing time in 2008.
    TB and KC are two teams loaded with hot prospects (check out the KC corners, Ryan Shealy and Alex Gordon). It’ll be interesting to see which team takes advantage of their youth and makes a Marlinian rise to the top of their division first.

  2. I was going to agree with thaddeus. Tampa seems to have the talent on the field, but yes, no pitching, and also, remember, they are in the NL East (place where every Tampa hitter is outmatched by a Yankee/Toronto/Boston (sans Baltimore) counterpart. To be good they have to first set their sights on Baltimore and that can definitely be accomplished by pitching. However, it’s a long mountain to climb to get out anywhere in that division.

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