Cooking with Chas: A Weekly Look at What’s on the MLB Hot Stove

In the second installment of this new weekly series, I’ll be looking at some of the off-season decisions facing a couple of teams near and dear to the hearts of Clipboard readers and contributors.

Following the Rockies’ trade of Matt Holliday to Oakland, the biggest name on the hot stove trading block is, of course, the San Diego Padres’ Jake Peavy. With the Padres clearly in rebuilding mode, having recently rescinded a contract offer to all-time saves leader and San Diego lifer Trevor Hoffman, there appears to be no chance that they’ll hang onto Peavy. The Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs are the current front-runners in the Peavy sweepstakes.

Peavy apparently is trying to have his cake and eat it too. Since he has a no-trade clause, and can veto any deal, he wants to make sure that his new team doesn’t give up too much in the process. The Braves seem to be the team that is working the hardest to get a deal done, with shortstop Yunel Escobar’s name being mentioned most frequently. San Diego will be looking for more than Escobar, though, and it doesn’t seem likely that Atlanta is willing to part with the young pitching–i.e. Tommy Hanson–that the Padres want.

Chicago, on the other hand, seems to have the pitching–although they’re certain to be stubborn about the availability of Jeff Samardzija–but no position player of Escobar’s caliber. It may turn out that, if either team wants to land the biggest fish on the trade market, they may have to include a third team in the deal. Otherwise, Barry Axelrod, Peavy’s agent, may have to turn to the other teams on his short list. So, it doesn’t appear right now that there’s any certainty as to where Peavy will end up.

What does seem certain is that the Cubs are ready to place a greater emphasis on starting pitching in their off-season pursuits following yesterday’s acquisition of Kevin Gregg from the Florida Marlins. With Gregg and Carlos Marmol, the Cubs have two potential candidates for closer, and have informed Kerry Wood that they won’t be attempting to re-sign him. Look for the Cubs to be serious about bringing back Ryan Dempster, but don’t rule out the possibility that they could still acquire Peavy or pursue the relatively under-valued free agent Ben Sheets instead.

Speaking of Sheets, one comparison I’ll be keeping an eye on this off-season, and in the seasons to come, is his relative value to A.J. Burnett. Baseball executives seem to have short memories, but other than this past season, Burnett’s health is not any less suspect than Sheets’ is. Plus, I’m a big fan of strikeout-to-walk ratio, and Sheets’ career mark of 3.85 is vastly superior to Burnett’s 2.25. Also, Sheets’ career ERA+ (park/league adjusted ERA) of 116 (16% better than average) tops Burnett’s 111. If I were a GM, I would be much quicker to sign Sheets to 2-3 years at $30-40 million than I would be to pay Burnett $65-75 for 4-5 years.

Who doesn’t need pitching?

I don’t really intend to answer this question. I’m not sure if there, in fact, is an answer, but the Cleveland Indians certainly aren’t it, even after Cliff Lee’s remarkable season that landed him the AL Cy Young Award yesterday. Following Lee in the Tribe’s rotation is Fausto Carmona, whose sub-par 2008 can’t be blamed entirely on injury problems. After that, it’s a crap-shoot, with Anthony Reyes, Jeremy Sowers and Aaron Laffey among the top candidates to hold down the fort after the departures of CC Sabathia and Paul Byrd, and with Jake Westbrook out until at least mid-season due to Tommy John surgery.

While starting pitching is certainly a need they can’t afford to overlook, the bullpen seems to be the current focus of Cleveland’s off-season plans. Jensen Lewis finished last season as the Indians’ closer and, while he’s a candidate to maintain that job, there are also rumblings about interest in free agent Trevor Hoffman and the Rockies’ Huston Street, one of the players they acquired in the Holliday deal. Despite a down year in 2008, don’t count Rafael Betancourt out of the Tribe’s bullpen plans, and Rafael Perez should be back in the mix as well.

The Indians could also use another infielder, preferably a second baseman who would allow them to move Asdrubal Cabrera to shortstop and the defensively challenged Jhonny Peralta to third. Brian Roberts’ name has been mentioned in trade rumors, and his addition would also allow Grady Sizemore to be moved out of the leadoff spot, but don’t expect him to come cheaply. Colorado’s Garrett Atkins has been mentioned as a third base option as well. If neither of these deals happen, don’t be surprised to see the return of Casey Blake.

The catching position is considered to be where Cleveland has a surplus of talent. One option would be to deal Kelly Shoppach to fill one of the aforementioned needs, and stick it out with Victor Martinez as their full-time catcher. An even more ambitious move would be to trade Martinez, and possibly fill more than one of their major needs. Neither of these players will be easy to part with, especially Martinez, but this may be what it’s going to take for this team to enter 2009 with anywhere near the level of optimism they had going into 2008.

Last, but certainly not least, as far as the Cleveland Indians are concerned, is the question of what to expect from Travis Hafner in 2009. Can we expect anything approaching his 2005-06 level of performance, or is Hafner’s career on a steep decline? I promised last week that I would not use a particular dirty word in this column, so I’m not going to speculate as to why Hafner is no longer the player most of us thought he was going to be. I haven’t completely given up on him yet, so I’m going to predict that his performance will return to a level that approximates what we saw from him in 2007 (24 HR in 545 AB, .266 BA, .385 OBP).

Other Items on the Burner

Of course, you all know that Evan Longoria and Geovany Soto were named AL and NL Rookies of the Year, respectively, and that the Cy Young Awards went to Cliff Lee (AL) and Tim Lincecum (NL), all deservedly so. Also, it came as no surprise that Joe Maddon won the AL Manager of the Year Award, and there was no major controversy with the NL Award going to Lou Piniella.

A few other notable hot stove developments from late this week:

  • The Yankees are expected today to make an offer of 6 years and in the neighborhood of $140 million to CC Sabathia.
  • The Yankees acquired the versatile Moneyball-darling Nick Swisher, who achieved the dubious distinction of the lowest batting average in the majors in 2008 (among players with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title).
  • Randy Johnson filed for free agency, after being unable to reach a contract agreement with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Johnson is 45, and has 295 career wins, but don’t expect him to remain unemployed.
  • Milwaukee Brewers closer Salomon Torres announced his retirement, at age 36, after recording a career high 28 saves in 2008.

Thanks for reading. See you next week.

11 Responses to "Cooking with Chas: A Weekly Look at What’s on the MLB Hot Stove"

  1. Casey   November 14, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    I’ll be interested to see where Kerry Wood lands. For all his arm problems he had 84 ks in 66 innings of work this year. Had over 4 strike outs to walks on the season. A change of scenery might do him some good.

    Randy Johnson – on the other hand – would it be crazy to suggest a move to the pen for the lefty? I’m thinking his price tag has to have dropped a little.

  2. Chas   November 14, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Interesting thought about Randy Johnson, but considering his only motivation is to reach 300 wins at this point, I doubt it he’ll want to do it. I wondered about the price tag issue. Obviously, he has some expectations, otherwise Arizona wouldn’t have had difficulty resigning him.

  3. Casey   November 14, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    How did the Phillies sneak up on everybody. With the exception of Burrell, they are probably gonna stand pat…and be none worse for the wear.

  4. Rey   November 14, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    If I’m not mistaken, hasn’t Victor Martinez seen some time at first base? Why not move him there, where you’ll keep some of the mileage down on him. He’s too much of an offensive threat for the Tribe to deal away. Leave Shoppach at catcher and Hafner can DH, or sit on the end of bench wide-eyed chewing sunflower seeds. That leaves Ryank Garko the odd man out, but if Hafner does not come around, put him back and have Martinez DH. Probably won’t get much Garko and it doesn’t clear much space (he makes less than $500,000). Honestly, and this is why I am not a GM, ship out Hafner and his $8 million contract. The guy DHs – all he has to do is hit! He had some absolutely atrocious at-bats all year long. If we can find a team dumb enough to take his contract, I say go for it., just as long as we don’t trade for freakin’ prospects.

    I hope – HOPE – Carmona’s year is because of his injury. He got our hopes up in 2007. Love Betancourt and think he’ll have better showings in 2009. I got shivers when you mentioned Hoffman in an Indians uni (good shivers).

  5. Casey   November 14, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    Rey

    Should we get you a blanket? Are you done with the shivers?

  6. Chas   November 14, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    Yeah, Martinez has spent some time at first base in each of the last three years.That’s why keeping them both is even an option, but it’s still an area where they have depth. 1B/DH types who can hit are easier to come by than catchers.

    The Phillies aren’t going to be able to stand pat if they lose Burrell. That lineup’s not deep enough, unless Jayson Werth takes another step forward, which is certainly possible.

    The Yankees apparently made a huge offer to Sabathia today as expected.

  7. Casey   November 14, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Yeah – and reports are the Yanks will make huge offers to DLowe and Burnett before next week.

  8. Smitty   November 14, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    It is interesting that off all of the big named pitchers, the reports are out there that none of them want to pitch in New York. I know it is reports, but it is interesting that none of them want to come here.

    It will be interesting since if it is true that Sabathia wants to be out West near his hometown. So does he take the big bucks from the Yankees or take less for happiness. Plus, after the high pitch counts, countless pitching on 3 days rest at the end of the year – isn’t anyone concerned about throwing $150-160 million at this guy? How do you spell Carl Pavano??

    I think that the Red Sox are going to land Tex and not Tek. Too bad, but at the price Boras is asking, I think most teams are going to balk. Would love to Tek finish a Red Sox, but Boras ( and yes, I am blaming him) seems dead against it.

    I also think that the Red Sox are going to try and land Junichi Tazawa. Considering that he would have Oki and Dice-K as mentors (even though he probably won’t start in the majors) you have to think the draw is great.

    I am curious to see if Derek Lowe ends up back in Boston. Seems that he wants to go back and there appears to be interest from the Sox. Could be a nice fit.

    Did anyone catch Boras’ slam of the Dodgers offer? Somehow I see Manny signing in January…

    Isn’t Jeff Samardzija considered to be the future closer for the Cubs? Can’t see them dangling him in front of the Padres. Plus, considering the age of Hoffman, can anyone see him going to someone other then a contender? He and Papelbon in the bullpen would be a nice fit.. I am just dreaming, i know.

  9. Chas   November 14, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    Come on Smitty. Don’t you think comparing Sabathia to Pavano is a major stretch? Sabathia could still turn out to be not nearly worth the money he eventually gets, but he’s in a completely different league altogether. Pavano had one good year prior to free agency, and he’s further evidence of what I said about baseball execs and their short memories, because I believe another Northeastern big market team was hot on his tail as well.

    Which brings up an interesting point: Does anyone else agree that the Yankees’ excess has saved the Red Sox from some seriously bad moves in recent years (Pavano, Contreras)?

    I haven’t heard anything about these guys saying that they don’t want to play in New York, other than hearing that Sabathia prefers the west coast.

    Samardzija was a relief pitcher last year for the Cubs, but I think they still like his potential as a starter. Maybe Wally knows better. Of course the Padres are going to ask for him, though, if they’re trading Jake Peavy.

  10. Smitty   November 14, 2008 at 10:42 pm

    Sorry Chas, the Sabathia/Pavano comparison is a stretch and was meant as a joke. I do think that you have to worry if he is going to breakdown because of Milwaukee riding him to the playoffs last year. He will still be good, but I think you have to worry.

    It is funny that you say that about the Pavano/Contreras thing. The question is how much of an interest the Red Sox really had in both. I believe they were genuinely interested in Contreras because he was an unknown commodity loaded with oodles and oodles of major league potential. Did the Yankees do them a favor.. Oh yeah. As for Pavano – not sure what to make of that one.. For awhile, they were the two highest bidders with any free agent. How much were they in it to raise the price on the Yankees ( a la Johan Santana ? ) and how much were they really interested.

    As for reports – I have read that Burnett doesn’t want to play in New York – probably an accountability thing since he seemed to pitch well when the Jays were out of it. I have also read that Lowe would like to return to Boston and wasn’t enamored with the Yankees. Again this could be negotiating ploys – I don’t know. But it will be interesting to see how things play out.

  11. Chas   November 15, 2008 at 12:08 am

    I think the notion that the Yankees and the Red Sox enter into the bidding for players simply to drive the price up for the other is over-stated. Both of them wanted Santana, but decided to draw a line in the sand with respect to what they were willing to give up. Simple as that. They made competitive offers, and would have made the deal if it was accepted. In doing so, yes, they ensured that the other wouldn’t get Santana for nothing, but the idea that they did it just for that reason is exaggerated, in my opinion.

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