Folks roll in to Nashville's Opryland resort by the bus loads to see the country Christmas displays, but baseball's general managers could put on a pretty good show of their own this week at the annual winter meetings. Faced with an overpriced and under-talented free-agent pool, they seem more open than in a long time to consider doing things the old-fashioned way, by making trades. And some big deals, too. Don't fret, there still will be some big-bucks signings. Ah, the season of joy!
Five things the Rays have done
1.Added a legit closer by signing RHP Troy Percival to a two-year, $8-million deal.
2.Found a shortstop and a potential No. 2-3 starter by acquiring Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza from Minnesota.
3.Created a hole in rightfield by trading Delmon Young to the Twins, opening up playing time for Rocco Baldelli, Elijah Dukes and/or Jonny Gomes, while making room to add a left-handed hitter to better balance the lineup.
4. Maintained bullpen depth by picking up Al Reyes' option.
5. Created flexibility by taking RHP Shawn Camp, C Raul Casanova, INF/OF Greg Norton, C Josh Paul, RHP Brian Stokes, LHP Jon Switzer and INF Jorge Velandia off the roster, and trading Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie.
Five things the Rays would still like to do
1. Add a left-handed bat, probably a rightfielder/DH type, and a bonus if he could play first (kind of like Greg Norton used to, but better). Darin Erstad looks like a perfect fit, but Rays are also considering free agents Geoff Jenkins, Brad Wilkerson, Cliff Floyd, Tony Clark, Mike Lamb, Mark Sweeney, Corey Koskie and, yes, Norton. Plus there are trade options.
2.Further improve their defense by upgrading from Josh Wilson and Ben Zobrist as potential utility infielders and a possible starter at third (or second) if prospect Evan Longoria isn't deemed ready on opening day. They'd similarly upgrade at catcher with a veteran (Michael Barrett? Johnny Estrada?) if the opportunity arises.
3.Find a left-hander for the bullpen better than Kurt Birkins, whom they claimed from Baltimore, or Jeff Ridgway.Ron Mahay is among the options, as are ex-Ray Trever Miller and Jeremy Affeldt.
4.Determine if oft-injured Rocco Baldelli, who missed most of last season with mysterious medical issues can be - as they are hoping in a "cautiously optimistic" kind of way - the primary rightfielder or at least DH.
5.Negotiate long-term contracts with arbitration-eligible 1B Carlos Pena and LHP Scott Kazmir, or at least work out one-year deals to avoid the volatility of going through the hearing process.
Five pitchers who will soon be rich(er)
RHP, last with Phils
It says a lot about this market that he could be considered the No. 1 starter. And for a desperate enough team (Mets?), he could be this year's Gil Meche ($55-million/5 years).
See left, and substitute No. 2 starter. Royals might be most interested, which says something, too. Dodgers and Mets could be too if other things fall through.
Livan Hernandez, RHP, D'backs
It would be a surprise if he didn't end up with Mets, reunited with half-brother Orlando Hernandez, and old buddy/GM Omar Minaya.
Hiroki Kuroda, RHP, Hiroshima
Considered a notch under Daisuke Matsuzaka and not nearly as expensive, he's getting a lot of attention. Mariners and D'backs may be favorites.
Jason Jennings,RHP, Astros
Market is so thin, even guys coming off injuries such as Jennings, Matt Clement and Bartolo Colon will cash in. Jennings may return to Rockies.
Five players who will soon be rich(er)
CF, last with Braves
He's coming off a bad year and Scott Boras is talking big bucks, but he'll be okay, may end up in Kansas City.
Aaron Rowand,OF, Phillies
It looked like a good fit for him to go back to White Sox, but talks stalled and Dodgers could be favorites.
Jose Guillen, OF, Mariners
Could be headed to Mets, who made room by ditching Lastings Milledge, or Royals if Jones goes elsewhere.
Kosuke Fukudome,OF, Japan
Latest import has speed, some power and a decent glove. Seems like perfect fit for Cubs, or Giants.
Mike Cameron, OF, Padres
He could end up back in San Diego, though Rangers (who wanted Torii Hunter), Dodgers and Giants are interested.
Five big-name players who may soon be traded
Johan Santana,LHP, Twins
If Yanks and Red Sox are truly serious bidders, this could end up being a 5-for-1 deal. Or 10-for-1. Depending on whom Hank Steinbrenner is talking to, the Yanks may give up OF Melky Cabrera, RHP Phil Hughes and another arm. The Sox supposedly offered LHP Jon Lester, SS Jed Lowrie and OF Coco Crisp, but the Twins want more. Other options include M's, Mets, Angels, Dodgers.
Miguel Cabrera,3B, Marlins
The Angels seem to really, really want the young slugger. So much so that now you have to wonder if the Marlins really want to trade him. The Angels appear willing to give up 2B Howie Kendrick, C Jeff Mathis and young pitching, or OF Reggie Willits, but they can't seem to find a match. Other interested parties include the Dodgers, Giants, White Sox and Indians.
Dan Haren, RHP, A's
The forward-thinking A's don't have to deal the '07 All-Star, but why not see what he might bring given the dearth of free-agent starters and his team-friendly contract that guarantees him only $16.25-million over the next three seasons. Even smarter, they're positioning him as a pretty good consolation prize for the teams that don't get Santana.
Miguel Tejada,SS, Orioles
Things have gotten so bad in Baltimore that the O's can't seem to give him away. Other teams are going to be much more interested in LHP Erik Bedard, but the O's would much rather dump Tejada as part of a much-needed makeover. But where? Maybe the Angels, who could move him to third if they don't get Cabrera. Bedard would also be a decent Santana consolation prize.
Joe Nathan HP, Twins
As the market soars for closers (see Francisco Cordero's $46-million, four-year deal with Cincinnati), the Twins know they have to deal Nathan. What they haven't decided yet - and it may depend on what they do with Santana - is whether they'd get more now or in July. A return to the Giants is an interesting possibility.
And five who already were:SS Orlando Cabrera, Angels to White Sox; SS Edgar Renteria, Braves to Tigers; P Jon Garland, White Sox to Angels; OF Delmon Young, Rays to Twins; P Brad Lidge, Astros to Phillies
Five players who may not be playing anywhere
Barry Bonds,OF: Might be a tough commute from his new residence.
Sammy Sosa, OF: Could be out of chances after decent '07 comeback for 600th homer.
Roger Clemens,RHP: This time he really, really, really is going to stay retired. Right?
Andy Pettitte,LHP: Not as much fun since Roger isn't going to come out and play.
Mike Piazza,C/DH: When you have to consider offers from Japan, it's time to stay home.
Five guys who've alreadygotten paid by moving on
Torii Hunter,OF: To Angels from Twins - $90-million, five years
Francisco Cordero,RHP: To Reds from Brewers - $46-million, four years
Scott Linebrink,RHP: To White Sox from Brewers - $19-million, four years
Tom Glavine,LHP: To Braves from Mets -$8-million, one year
Troy Percival,RHP: To Rays from Cardinals - $8-million, two years
Five guys who've alreadygotten paid by staying put
Alex Rodriguez,3B, Yankees - $275-million, 10 years (assuming, wink-wink, it's finalized)
Jorge Posada,C, Yankees - $52.4-million, four years
Mariano Rivera,RHP, Yankees - $45-million, three years
Mike Lowell,3B, Red Sox - $37.5-million, three years
Luis Castillo,2B, Mets - $25-million, four years