Off Season Winners In Retrospect

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Let’s look at the teams whose off-season moves are paying off so far in 2012.

Tampa Bay Rays:

Acquired:  Jose Molina, Hideki Matsui, Luke Scott, Carlos Pena, Fernando Rodney

Subtracted: Johnny Damon, Kelly Shoppach, Casey Kotchman, Juan Cruz, John Jaso

The Rays did what the Rays always do. They cut out the players that were getting too expensive or had been signed as a short-term veteran stopgaps and replaced them with youngsters or other veteran stopgaps.

Molina hasn’t hit; Pena is doing what Pena does with a low batting average, good on base percentage and power; Rodney has been brilliant. None of the players they dispatched—Damon, Shoppach, Kotchman, Cruz, Jaso—have been missed or are doing much with their new teams.

Baltimore Orioles

Acquired: GM Dan Duquette, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Matt Lindstrom, Wilson Betemit

Subtracted: GM Andy MacPhail, Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott, Vladimir Guerrero

The Orioles have played over their heads but Dan Duquette got rid of Guthrie and acquired Hammel and Lindstrom who are under team control and have pitched well. Chen has been very good.

Chicago White Sox

Acquired: Manager Robin Ventura, Kosuke Fukudome

Subtracted: Manager Ozzie Guillen, Mark Buehrle, Sergio Santos, Carlos Quentin, Juan Pierre

Getting rid of the volcanic and tiresome personality of Guillen and replacing it with the laid back Ventura has been exactly what the White Sox needed. They cleared salary by getting rid of veterans Buehrle, Quentin and Pierre. They’re not as good as they look right now, but the AL Central is wide open and they have enough starting pitching to stay in the hunt. They underachieved horribly in recent years under Guillen and are overachieving now under Ventura.

Texas Rangers

Acquired Yu Darvish, Joe Nathan

Subtracted: C.J. Wilson, Darren Oliver, Endy Chavez, Matt Treanor

Darvish has been as brilliant as I expected. Nathan is having a good season. They haven’t missed Wilson on or off the field.

Seattle Mariners

Acquired: Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi, John Jaso

Subtracted: Michael Pineda, Josh Lueke, David Aardsma, Jose Campos

For Michael Pineda (disabled list), Jose Campos (hot prospect and on the disabled list), the Mariners got a top hitting prospect in Jesus Montero who’s still finding his way and showing flashes of immense power and a young starting pitcher who’s also learning his craft in the big leagues in Noesi. They got rid of the troublesome Lueke for Jaso who’s been contributing big hits of late.

Oakland Athletics

Acquired: Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Collin Cowgill, Bartolo Colon, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, Seth Smith, Kila Ka’aihue, Manny Ramirez

Subtracted: Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey, David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Ryan Sweeney

Reddick has 14 home runs and is heading for the All Star Game. Cespedes was a silly signing for a team like the A’s, but there’s no denying his talent. We’ll see what Manny does and the young pitchers Millone and Parker are high-end arms.

Washington Nationals

Acquired: Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Ryan Perry, Mark DeRosa, Brad Lidge

Subtracted: Ivan Rodriguez, Todd Coffey, Jonny Gomes

Gonzalez has been terrific across the board and might deserve to start the All Star Game. Jackson has been consistent despite not accumulating wins.

Miami Marlins

Acquired: Manager Ozzie Guillen, Carlos Zambrano, Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle

Subtracted: Javier Vazquez, Chris Volstad, Clay Hensley, Burke Badenhop

Zambrano showed up in shape, has kept his temper in check and is showing why the Cubs gave him that contract in the first place (the majority of which they’re paying for him to pitch for the Marlins). Reyes is getting hot and Buehrle is a leader off the field and innings-eater on it. Bell’s been a disaster, but it pitching better lately.

Guillen was hired to draw attention and he did so negatively when he started trouble almost immediately with his idiotic comments praising Fidel Castro. Jeffrey Loria is under investigation for the stadium deal and looked silly using Muhammad Ali as a human shield to protect himself from getting booed at the regular season opener of the new stadium, but apart from Bell they’re getting what they paid for for the most part.

San Francisco Giants

Acquired: Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Clay Hensley, Gregor Blanco

Subtracted: Carlos Beltran, Jonathan Sanchez, Andres Torres, Ramon Ramirez, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross

Cabrera’s not going to maintain this pace, but he’s still a good player and they got him for Sanchez who’s been hurt and had worn out his welcome with the Giants. Pagan is batting .314 with 10 stolen bases and has contributed several big hits to go along with his usual array of space cadet maneuvers. Blanco and Hensley have been solid, cheap pickups off the scrapheap.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Acquired: Trevor Cahill, Jason Kubel, Craig Breslow

Subtracted: Micah Owings, Ryan Cook, Collin Cowgill, Jarrod Parker

The Diamondbacks are struggling because they’re not getting the same above-and-beyond performances from the players that carried them to a stunning division title in 2011. That doesn’t diminish the work that Cahill, Kubel and Breslow have done. If the Diamondbacks don’t right the ship, it won’t be because of the players they acquired over the winter.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Acquired: Chris Capuano, Jerry Hairston Jr., Mark Ellis, Aaron Harang, Matt Treanor

Subtracted: Jon Garland, Jonathan Broxton, Jamey Carroll, Hiroki Kuroda, Casey Blake, Rod Barajas, Vicente Padilla

Capuano is pitching about 20 miles over his head; Hairston is hitting about 20 miles over his head; Ellis and Harang are respected, under-the-radar veterans.

The Dodgers didn’t spend a lot of money this past winter, but are getting far more than they paid for.

Off season losers and incompletes will be in forthcoming postings.

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The Red Sox Freed Up Money To Sign…Cody Ross?

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There’s a strange enthusiasm about the Red Sox signing of Cody Ross.

Here are the facts:

Unless they have another acquisition or deal on the burner, exchanging Marco Scutaro for Ross made no sense.

It’s easier to find an outfield bat for $3 million or less than it is to find a shortstop that can catch the ball and is as productive at the plate as Scutaro was.

The Scutaro trade was a salary dump. Those suggesting that the Red Sox saw “something” in Clayton Mortensen are hedging their bets in case Mortensen gets to Boston and becomes useful—they don’t want to have their words flung back at them. He’s on organization number four—a journeyman—who walks as many batters as he strikes out. He’s an inexpensive long-reliever with a minor league option remaining.

Basically, the Red Sox took half the money they saved on Scutaro, weakened shortstop and signed an extra piece in Ross. They’d have been better off signing Kosuke Fukudome or Rick Ankiel.

And I say this liking Cody Ross because he’s a tough player with pop.

He’s just an odd fit for a Red Sox team that needs another veteran starting pitcher more than exchanging Scutaro for Ross.

This is what the Red Sox just purchased.

Ross is a mistake hitter who, when a pitcher gives him a fastball in a spot he can handle, will take it over the Green Monster. For the most part, he hits the ball back up the middle and his main claim to fame is that he hammers Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels.

Halladay and Hamels aren’t pitching in the AL East.

Ryan Sweeney hits lefties really well, so one would assume that Ross and Sweeney will share right field.

I would not have traded Scutaro for Ross, and I definitely wouldn’t have traded Scutaro for a Ross who’s only going to play against left-handed pitchers.

They paid $3 million for a fourth outfielder who’s going to get 300 at bats.

If payroll constraints weren’t affecting the Red Sox maneuverings, I’d say go ahead and sign Ross as an extra bat; but they are affecting the Red Sox maneuverings and the money should’ve been allocated elsewhere since Scutaro was traded specifically to free up half of it.

Ross is an okay player. He plays good defense in the outfield, can play all three positions and is a feisty competitor. He doesn’t walk and strikes out a lot.

If they decided that he was more valuable than Scutaro—playing a harder position to fill—then I have to question where they’re getting their metrics and scouting judgments…or who’s making these determinations.

Back to the Duquette days.

New GM Ben Cherington began his career with the Red Sox under former GM Dan Duquette and worked closely with Epstein.

I seriously doubt he would choose the Duquette method of fill-in veterans around stars rather than a deep, strong foundation in building his club, but that’s what’s happening and it has the fingerprints of Larry Lucchino all over it.

The Red Sox are not giving Cherington the blank check or the freedoms his predecessor Epstein had. Epstein accumulated the cachet to go to ownership and get the budget expanded to acquire expensive veterans if he said he needed them. After the debacle of 2011, Cherington does not have that ability. He also has Lucchino meddling in team construction and was nudged to hire a manager, Bobby Valentine, he clearly didn’t want.

Let’s call this what it is.

The Red Sox are no longer operating with a plan in place, but are doing things based on haphazard edicts and a regression to the dysfunction that was a hallmark of the club before Epstein took charge.

This is not a good thing.

Duct tape and glued, divergent blueprints

The Red Sox have enough talent to maintain competitiveness, but there’s an air of desperation to “do something” along with financial demands and overt interference from the non-baseball people as if the crumbling fortunes from 2011 were a signal that the baseball ops had lost their collective abilities to do their jobs.

It’s easily forgotten that Epstein never wanted to spend, spend, spend to keep up with the Yankees; the demands of winning evolved to its logical conclusion as anything short of a World Series win became known as failure and the baseball people reacted accordingly and mistakenly.

They spent and overspent on “names”, shunning or dispatching the farm system that was one of the keys to putting the championship teams together in the first place.

Now, rather than intelligently repairing what ails them, they hired Valentine; they traded more young players for Andrew Bailey and Sweeney; they signed Ross.

They’re using duct tape in an attempt to patch the flaws and return to their winning ways.

But there’s nothing coherent. They’re filling in the potholes without fixing them. Multiple factions are gluing together separate blueprints—and that’s very hard to navigate successfully.

They’re all over the place in their decisions and implementations.

It shows on their roster and, unless they have some diabolical scheme ready to be unleashed, it’s going to show on the field as well.

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Thome Talk Is Sentimentalist Nonsense

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Jim Thome would help any team he joins whether it’s the Indians, White Sox, Yankees, Phillies or whichever other team that puts in a waiver claim for him; but for the two teams that have been most prominently associated with him—the Indians and White Sox—it’s an acquisition that’s more about sentiment than reality. For both of those teams, their only hope to make the playoffs this season is if the Tigers totally collapse and either goes on unlikely hot streaks. It would help the Indians and White Sox because it might bring a few extra fans into the park down the stretch, but that’s it.

The Indians have played far above what was predicted for them at the start of the season, leaped into first place and were 15 games over .500 in late May. Since then, they’ve been 15 games under .500. They’re still in contention because of the weakness of the AL Central, but the Tigers have taken command and currently lead by 6 games. The Indians have been aggressive with trades for Kosuke Fukudome and Ubaldo Jimenez; they could use Thome especially with another season-ending injury to Travis Hafner, but if you think that Thome will be the catalyst for a Major League-style Indians run, you’re deluding yourself. It would be a pleasant story for Thome—after hitting his 600th homer as a Twin—to return to his first baseball home in Cleveland where he’s still immensely popular, but that’s all it would be.

With the White Sox, why would anyone suddenly think they’re going to be anything more than the disappointment they’ve been all year long? They got off to a terrible start; have endured an embarrassingly disastrous year from Adam Dunn; have been screamed at, ridiculed and threatened by their manager and general manager, have played well for spurts and settled back into a helpless mediocrity.

The White Sox and Indians have six games each with the Tigers, but are playing each other eight times; the rest of the Tigers schedule is filled with the Athletics, Twins, Royals and Orioles. They’re not blowing it this time.

Thome, at 40, is still a productive player; but he’s been injured and wouldn’t even be playing regularly for the Twins had they not been beset by injuries; he’d be a welcome addition to any team, but he’s not a deciding factor for those that need a lot of help, a lot of luck, a major improvement in play or all three to make the playoffs.

Sentimental moves are generally either meaningless or wind up being mistakes. So enough with the Thome talk because on the field is where it counts and on the field it won’t make much difference one way or the other.

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Hating Frenchy—The Jeff Francoeur Experience

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The Royals signed outfielder Jeff Francoeur to a 2-year contract extension worth $13 million. This eliminates a $4 million mutual option he had with the club for 2012; he’d signed a 1-year guaranteed deal for $2.5 million this past winter.

The responses to the Francouer extension were clear the moment it was announced—and that was before the dollar amount was disclosed.

HATE!!!!

It returned to the loathing he engendered from his days with the Braves and Mets; the way he never “got it” that he was supposed to learn to play a different way from what he’d been his whole life and was enabled by the Braves to do; that he rejected a contract extension with the Braves because he wanted more money; that he complained about being platooned by the Mets; that he turned down offers from better clubs like the Phillies to sign with Royals, where he’d have more of a chance to play.

The hatred of Francoeur is visceral, intense, irrational and absurd.

Before getting into what he was and railing against him due to past transgressions, how about looking at the year he’s having with the Royals?

Francoeur’s well on his way to having nearly 70 extra base hits and close to 30 stolen bases; his batting average is a respectable .277 and his on base percentage is acceptable (for him) at .329. Along with his defense and arm in right field, is this not good enough?

If it was anyone other than Francoeur, it would be; but because it’s him, anything he says and does becomes fodder to rehash what’s happened in his career.

Is 2-years and $13 million out of line for that production?

Francoeur isn’t going to suddenly learn patience and become a hitter who can get on base at a 35% clip. If you know that going in, why complain about it when he fulfills the expectations of what he is.

Considering the Royals future is so bright with offensive players Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon in the lineup, is it so awful to have Francoeur as a background player at the bottom of the lineup?

Would the Royals have been able to find someone who would put up markedly better numbers at that price in this winter’s free agent class?

The available outfielders via free agency who are viable alternatives are the following: Josh Willingham; David DeJesus; Michael Cuddyer; J.D. Drew; Lance Berkman; and Kosuke Fukudome. You can see the entire list here.

Via trade, presumably Ichiro Suzuki, B.J. Upton and Andre Ethier will be on the block. Going for the deep strike, they could look at the likes of Jay Bruce, Nick Markakis or Logan Morrison to see if their respective clubs are looking to do something drastic.

But examine all those players.

Are any of the free agents going to be worth the money that they’d cost in comparison to Frenchy? Getting the players I mentioned in trades either won’t be a major upgrade or are going to be ridiculously expensive in terms of what the Royals would have to give up to get them.

So why shouldn’t the Royals keep Frenchy?

As for the other criticisms, attacking him for turning down the Braves contract offer and costing himself a lot of money was his decision; he felt he could’ve gotten more than their offer; he invested in himself and lost.

He was a limited player with the Braves and Mets and appears to have found a home in Kansas City. It’s not affecting either of his former clubs with whom he spent substantial time; nor is it bothering the Rangers.

The Royals take him for what he is; he’s played well this year; and he’s signed what’s an affordable contract. If anyone has an issue with that, the problem is with them and not Jeff Francoeur.

Get over it.

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Indians Get Ubaldo Jimenez And Go For The Deep Strike

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In trading star pitchers CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee at the trading deadlines of 2008 and 2009, the Indians acquired 1st round draft picks Zach Jackson and Matt LaPorta; they also acquired Michael Brantley (7th round pick), Jason Knapp (2nd round), Carlos Carrasco (a touted amateur free agent), Jason Donald (3rd round) and Lou Marson (3rd round).

In retrospect, they would’ve been better off keeping both Lee and Sabathia and taking the compensatory draft picks when they left as free agents.

But they didn’t know that then.

It’s short-sighted to let a few deals that didn’t work out in a club’s favor influence future moves so heavily, but it gives some background to the Indians thinking—given that experience—when they acquired Ubaldo Jimenez (pending a physical) from the Rockies for Alex White, Joe Gardner, Matt McBride and Drew Pomeranz.

White and Pomeranz were 1st round picks; McBride a 2nd round pick; Gardner a 3rd round pick.

The Indians gave up a lot, but they’ve seen first hand what can happen with “blue chip” prospects and building for a “future” that may never come. They have a right to be hesitant. A natural response would be that all players are different; all deals are different; and that experience shouldn’t factor so heavily into trading for a young pitcher in Jimenez who hasn’t pitched particularly well since a brilliant start to his 2010 season and whose availability should give some pause to the pursuing teams.

But the questioning glances stem from paranoid rumor-mongering (contingent on that physical). Apart from unattributed speculation, there haven’t been any concrete statements about Jimenez being in poor health or whining about his contract.

Sometimes there’s no smoking gun. Sometimes players are traded because they’re traded and both sides feel it’s the right thing to do.

The Indians are in a terrible division and in a pennant race; they needed a starter and got one in Jimenez days after bolstering their lineup with the underrated Kosuke Fukudome.

Jimenez is not a rental as Sabathia was; he’s not going to be able to demand over $100 million in a year-and-a-half as Lee was; he’s going to be with the Indians through 2013. The players they gave up weren’t going to help them now, if at all; the Indians are supposedly still trying to improve via trade.

The Rockies are fading in the NL West race, shed some salary and brought back a few cheap, young players.

The Indians are going for the deep strike—something I’m an advocate of when the opportunity presents itself.

Go for it.

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Relief Hungry Teams Should Call The Cubs About Carlos Marmol

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The Cubs are going nowhere and looking to dump any and all big contracts that won’t be of assistance to them when they begin to turn things around.

They have some good young talent and aren’t as far away from that end with a new cast of characters as the Cub-bashers would have you believe. But they have to get rid of some big salaries first.

Ryan Dempster, Carlos Pena, Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano all fall into this category.

No one is taking Alfonso Soriano.

But if the Cubs are truly looking to get multiple pieces for one player, they can forget that plan with the above-mentioned names. In order to do that, they need to look at their valuable and controllable assets and consider trading them.

Their most marketable asset might be closer Carlos Marmol.

Last night he reverted into his frightening displays wildness as he blew the game against the Marlins. But that gack aside, Marmol still has major strikeout numbers (52 in 42 innings pitched); his walk numbers are about what they’ve usually been for his career (26); he’s only allowed 2 homers; and his ERA has been bloated by two atrocious games, one in late May against the Astros and last night.

He’s been undone a great deal by the Cubs porous infield defense, an issue that would be repaired if a team like the Phillies or Rangers made a move on him because both play excellent infield defense. The Cardinals can use him too, but I think we can count out the idea of the Cubs sending anyone to the Cardinals unless they get truly desperate, the Cardinals get stupid, or both.

The Phillies are going to need a closer after this season. It’s hard to imagine them rolling the dice with their star-studded starting rotation and using Michael Stutes in the role; Antonio Bastardo is still new to closing; Brad Lidge has a contract option that isn’t going to be picked up. Trading for Marmol is better than signing Jonathan Papelbon because he’s cheaper and probably more effective.

The Rangers could use him as a set-up man for the rest of the season and be free to move Neftali Feliz into the rotation next year secure in the fact that they have someone proven to take over in the role.

Marmol’s signed through 2013 and any team acquiring him would be on the hook for slightly over $17 million. For a proven closer at age 28, that’s great value for a strikeout machine.

The Cubs are ready to do business. If they’re willing to listen on Marmol, teams should make a bid.

It’d take a lot to get him, but he’s highly underrated and could very well be worth it in 2011 and beyond.

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Brewers Get K-Rod—And They’re Not Done

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At least they’d better not be done.

With their current issues, the bullpen was probably the last place the Brewers needed to upgrade for a legitimate run at a championship. First was defense; then there was a lefty specialist to deal with the Phillies; then there was bullpen help.

Considering the money and personal conduct problems from last season surrounding Francisco Rodriguez, it’s a bit of a surprise the Brewers chose to get him first.

Perhaps they were concerned that someone—specifically the Cardinals—were going to go after K-Rod and wanted to preclude that from happening while simultaneously bolstering what’s been a moderate strength.

There are two ways to go in making deals to improve: enhance a strength or fix a weakness.

The Brewers bullpen has been serviceable with John Axford closing and will be better with K-Rod either setting up for Axford or taking over as the closer. (It isn’t clear as to what they’re doing, but I’ll guess that, for now, Axford will hold onto his job.)

Was this a smart move for the Brewers?

Well, it was aggressive. K-Rod is mostly reliable in the regular season and while he’d like to have the contract kicker worth $17.5 million come into effect by finishing 55 games this year, he’ll get a good contract somewhere if he does enter free agency this winter. The Mets have sent some money along with K-Rod and are receiving two players to be named later.

As a closer, K-Rod was never a lockdown arm in the playoffs. He was notoriously unreliable for the Angels, always seeming to fail at the hands of the Red Sox. He’s not a guarantee to be a help to the Brewers setting up/closing now or in the post-season. He’s wild and is prone to the home run ball. His strikeout numbers are still solid though not as massive as they were earlier in his career. He’s a different pitcher relying on control of his fastball, a great curve and good changeup more than he did when he was young.

He will help the Brewers now.

It’s not hard to figure out what the Brewers have to do next.

Their infield defense is awful. Looking at Axford’s numbers in comparison to a pitcher like Kyle Farnsworth—who’s functioning with a fast and rangy infield with the Rays—and the difference is shocking. Axford’s BAbip (batting average on balls in play) for ground balls is .273; Farnsworth’s is .153.

This is no coincidence nor is it a stat taken out of context to prove a point. It’s a problem.

With the addition of K-Rod and the great starting pitching, they must-must-must improve the defense by finding a slick-fielding shortstop to replace Yuniesky Betancourt. That means J.J. Hardy, Jason Bartlett, Brendan Ryan or Jack Wilson—someone who can catch the ball. They won’t hit much worse than Betancourt has and they’d improve the defense markedly.

Casey McGehee hasn’t hit either and his defense at third base is mediocre. The Brewers could go after a historically solid defender who has some pop like Kevin Kouzmanoff of the Athletics or Casey Blake of the Dodgers.

To accompany the “go for it” mentality that GM Doug Melvin is exhibiting and contingent on getting a shortstop, they could do something drastic like trade for an outfielder and move Ryan Braun back to third base for the rest of the season. Braun wasn’t a good defensive third baseman, but he won’t be much worse than what they have now and they’d augment the offense with a Carlos Beltran or Kosuke Fukudome.

When discussing the Brewers trading deadline needs two days ago, I said they had to try and win this year. Prince Fielder is leaving as a free agent and their window of opportunity is short. Trading for K-Rod is reflective of that—Melvin knows what the Brewers are and he’s going for it in 2011.

But if they want to truly go all-in, they can’t stop at K-Rod.

And they won’t.

I’ll post about how this affects the Mets later today.

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Trade Targets For National League Contenders

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Let’s have a look at the National League contenders, what they need to improve and whom they should target.

The word “contender” is defined by teams that I think are contenders based on current position and whether they can make a legitimate run towards the playoffs. Being over .500 or overachieving based on pre-season predictions (my own included) are not factored in.

Philadelphia Phillies

What they need: Bullpen help; a versatile defender/bat, preferably right-handed.

There are the popular bullpen names like Heath Bell. Bell’s going to get traded. Kerry Wood, Grant Balfour, Mike Gonzalez, Jon Rauch and Hong-Chih Kuo could be had; the Mets wouldn’t hesitate to trade Francisco Rodriguez anywhere and they’d give him away.

They’ll get bullpen help from somewhere.

For a bat, if Casey Blake is healthy he’s a veteran righty bat who can play multiple positions; he’s got a team option for $6 million with a $1.25 million buyout at the end of the year and might be rejuvenated by a shot at a ring.

Atlanta Braves

What they need: A bat.

Chipper Jones is out for at least a month after knee surgery and center field has been a toxic wasteland.

The A’s are going to clear out the house so that makes Coco Crisp, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus available. The aforementioned Blake could be acquired cheaply; they could go after Carlos Beltran who would undoubtedly love to go to the Braves.

The Padres’ Chase Headley plays third and has played the outfield before. Aramis Ramirez has said he’s not waiving his no-trade clause, but I’m not buying it. Why wouldn’t a veteran player want to go to the Braves?

The question with Beltran is whether he can play center field for a couple of months or if the Braves felt comfortable shifting Jason Heyward over from right for the remainder of the season.

Maybe they should re-acquire Jeff Francoeur. Not because he’d help but: A) he’d fit neatly into hitting coach Larry Parrish‘s aggressive!!! approach; and B) it’d be funny!!

Milwaukee Brewers

What they need: A good fielding shortstop; a lefty for the bullpen; an extra outfielder who can play center field.

There was talk about J.J. Hardy being reacquired, but he wants to stay with the Orioles.

Jason Bartlett would be perfect.

Carlos Gomez isn’t going to hit. That’s clear. Michael Bourn is available. Crisp could be had for very little.

Would they make a move on Beltran? GM Doug Melvin has been super-aggressive in the past and with Prince Fielder halfway out the door as a free agent and their brilliant starting pitching, the Brewers have to win now.

Brian Fuentes as a lefty specialist is an idea even though his splits in 2011 are ghastly against lefties. Sean Burnett and Kuo are options.

St. Louis Cardinals

What they need: Pitching.

They need a starter and could use bullpen help.

The Cardinals are in a bit of a box as to what they can do both practically and financially. They don’t have many prospects to deal for a Ricky Nolasco or Anibal Sanchez of the Marlins; nor do they have the money to fit Ted Lilly or Wandy Rodriguez into their long-term payroll.

If they felt confident that K-Rod wouldn’t reach his 2012 incentive based on appearances, they could get him for almost nothing.

They’d probably be better off leaving the rotation as is rather than do something stupid; I’d go after a Balfour, Fuentes or Bell.

Pittsburgh Pirates

What they need: A power bat.

If I’m the Pirates, I say screw it and go for it. Now.

The division is winnable, they’ve hung around with pitching and defense, but can’t hit.

Would Aramis Ramirez be willing to go back to Pittsburgh? How about Kosuke Fukudome? Beltran? Willingham? Hunter Pence? Luke Scott? Carlos Quentin?

Throw the bomb, Pirates. Why not?

Cincinnati Reds

What they need: Starting pitching a shortstop bat.

They need to watch the Marlins to see if they’re going to sell. Nolasco and Sanchez would help the Reds drastically. The Cubs’ Ryan Dempster has a $14 million player option that will undoubtedly scare off the majority of the league.

Rafael Furcal has a $12 million club option and a limited no-trade to certain teams. Ask about Hanley Ramirez. The Marlins might’ve had it with him and be willing to drop a bomb in the clubhouse for a lot of pieces.

San Francisco Giants

What they need: A bat. Any bat.

They’re linked with Beltran, but this concept of it being fait accompli that he’s going to San Francisco is stupid.

The Giants were supposedly after Jose Reyes, Reyes is on the disabled list and not getting traded.

How about Hanley Ramirez? They have the prospects to get him and he’s signed.

They could use a catcher, but there aren’t any available. One thing I was thinking the other day was if the Rockies fade, why not ask about Chris Iannetta?

Arizona Diamondbacks

What they need: A first base bat; bullpen help.

They could trade for Aramis Ramirez and shift Ryan Roberts to first base.

I don’t think Carlos Pena is as useful as others do with his feast or famine style; they released Russell Branyan who does pretty much the same things that Pena does.

Bell, Wood, Fuentes, Balfour—the usual bullpen suspects should be considered.

Here’s an interesting thought: K-Rod. It’d be a role reversal from the grand plan of the Mets in 2009 with J.J. Putz as the set-up man and K-Rod as the closer and they wouldn’t have to worry about the contract kicker if K-Rod is setting up for Putz.

Colorado Rockies

What they need: A starting pitcher.

Once they’re healthy, the Rockies will hit enough and the bullpen is okay.

Their starting rotation has been hurt badly in losing Jorge de la Rosa. It’s doubtful they have the money for Wandy Rodriguez or Lilly, but if the Marlins sell, Nolasco and Sanchez are targets. Jason Marquis isn’t any better than what the Rockies currently have, but he’s a functioning arm—for what that’s worth.

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