Notebook: Busy Boras holds the cards
DANA POINT, Calif. – Scott Boras arrived in the St. Regis lobby around midday Tuesday, and well, it’s best we just itemize the various pitches, agendas, trends and such. Manny Ramirez and Mark Teixeira are this winter’s towering clients, followed by the likes of Derek Lowe, Jason Varitek, Oliver Perez, Eric Gagne and Ivan Rodriguez.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, for the moment, have exclusive negotiating rights to Ramirez. Boras would not say if the Dodgers have made an offer, but it doesn’t look like it. Boras would say only, “We’ve been talking, Ned [Colletti] and I.” Boras expects owner Frank McCourt, who was instrumental in the trade that brought Ramirez west at the trading deadline, to become involved again. Unless, you know, McCourt doesn’t really want Ramirez to come back. One of the issues here is the Dodgers still owe Andruw Jones, whose career couldn’t have looked more over last season, $22.1 million, including salary and deferred payments. Boras said Colletti has not revealed that the club is seeking to dump Jones and a portion of his salary in order to clear money for Ramirez, but why wouldn’t it be? “I haven’t had anyone tell me of that kind of contingency,” Boras said.
The Angels have made a priority out of, if not signing Teixeira, at least hashing through the potential Teixeira obstacles before moving on with the rest of their offseason plans. Teixeira, whose deliberate plate appearances were pronounced amid a swing-first batting order, has asked Boras to return from the GM meetings with a list of interested ballclubs, no more, no less. Like he does with Ramirez, Boras is pushing the “player who pays for himself” theme with Teixeira, who is getting play from everywhere. The Angels will be favored early, the Yankees late. In between, one team (the Cardinals, with Albert Pujols) and possibly two (the Astros, with Lance Berkman) aren’t instantly better with Teixeira. Angels GM Tony Reagins said Tuesday the Angels would make an offer to Teixeira “at the appropriate time. That time is not now. We’ve had a chance to speak with Scott, and we agreed at the appropriate time we’d discuss it further.”
The strategy on Jason Varitek is to sell the wins and the defensive element, and the model contract is Jorge Posada’s. The Yankees gave Posada, at 36, a four-year, $52.4-million contract last offseason. Varitek will be 37 in April. Boras said there is no reason Varitek couldn’t extend his career into the Carlton Fisk/Bob Boone ranges. Fisk played until he was 45, Boone until he was 42.
On a larger scale, and even as the San Diego Padres continued the process of dumping at least one big salary (Jake Peavy’s) and maybe more and all the usual clubs lined up for all the usual high-end free agents (the Brewers play on CC Sabathia being the exception), Boras said he expected baseball would be recession-proof. At least, maybe, through this free-agent class.
The television contracts are still the television contracts. The big revenue streams, he said, would continue to pay. And yes, the game did get rich again this year.
“That means there’s a lot of hay in the barn,” he said.
While it’s not as though home runs have entirely disappeared – try telling Ozzie Guillen and Terry Francona the Rays didn’t win with power before speed – there’s been a lot of discussion about the game returning to the rounded, more athletic player. It’s the steroid testing, of course, which means middle infielders are starting to look a little more like middle infielders again, and fewer of them are hitting opposite-field home runs into chilly April winds. I can’t prove that, by the way, but presumably baseball is fielding fewer cheaters, and it’s one more thing for the GM to consider.
“We’re going back to some old-fashioned baseball,” Chicago White Sox GM Kenny Williams said. “You’re going to have to manufacture runs at the top, manufacture runs on the bottom. And this is the American League, so you better be able to bang in the middle.”
Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane often is a stealth figure at these and the winter meetings. He stood with a couple of reporters who expressed amazement at a Beane sighting and replied, “Geez, I feel like J.D. Salinger or something.”
Anyway, Beane said everybody else could go with athletic players and manufactured runs.
“I’d like to have nine guys who all hit 30 home runs,” he said. “I’d rather have that. It’s still the most efficient way to score runs. Give me two walks and a home run any day.”
It is, of course, no wonder Beane pines for offense. His A’s were last in the AL in runs last season and 11th in home runs. And it is why they’ll spend the winter looking for a big bat, from either side.
General managers are the first to acknowledge their profession comes with zero long-term security, which doesn’t stop the lines from forming when vacancies do arise because a little short-term cushion is better than none at all.
In the AL East alone, recent weeks have seen Brian Cashman agree to a three-year extension with the Yankees and Theo Epstein to an extension with the Red Sox, probably for three years as well.
Meantime, Andrew Friedman, who helped build the team that won the East and the AL pennant, did not get an extension. In fact, the Tampa Bay Rays GM doesn’t have a contract so he is the only GM in the house without one. Matt Silverman, the team’s president, does not have a contract either.
“It really doesn’t concern me one bit,” Friedman said after the general managers returned from an afternoon bowling retreat. “I don’t think it’s a lack of faith, but more of a principle thing for Stu [Sternberg, the owner]. It’s a meritocracy. If you do a good job, you’re rewarded. If not, you’re not.”
And, yes, that’s right, a bowling field trip. Friedman bowled two games. His first score: 82. His second: 170. He even bowls worst to first.
After two sturdy months with the Dodgers, free agent Casey Blake is hoping for a three-year contract, which might seem like a lot for a serviceable third baseman, but he has very little competition out there.
Joe Crede, for one, hasn’t been able to stay on the field. Boras recently said Crede could be this winter’s Magglio Ordonez, a Boras client who four years ago carried knee issues into the winter of his free agency. His five-year, $75-million contract (plus option years) has worked out for the Tigers. Crede, who can’t shake back ailments, won’t get that. Not even close.
Garrett Atkins and Adrian Beltre could be had in trades, and the Angels have considered moving Chone Figgins in order to upgrade their pitching staff. Crede and Hank Blalock are injury risks. The Dodgers and Indians, Blake’s teams from last season, have shown the most early interest.
Notes: A.J. Burnett opted out of his contract with the Blue Jays. He’s sure to get big play – especially from both New York teams – after his best professional season, and he probably rates behind only Sabathia and Lowe this winter. Still, it was only a year ago when scouts were wondering if Burnett wasn’t too fragile to get through a full season. … The Yankees declined the 2009 options on Jason Giambi and Carl Pavano, bringing to an end two big contracts and two interesting journeys in pinstripes. For the moment, the Yankees spend $6.95 million on the buyouts rather than the $35 million it would have cost to have the players back. That’s more money for Sabathia and Teixeira, along with Burnett, etc. … The Dodgers have until 8 p.m. ET Wednesday to pick up Brad Penny’s $8.75-million option (and then probably flip him) or buy him out for $2 million.