Offseason Activities

As dismayed as I am that the baseball season is over, there is a very interesting Hot Stove ahead with plenty of player movement and intriguing stories both within the Detroit Tigers’ organization as well as baseball at large. The general managers meetings are just three days away and will continue through the 17th of November with the awards announcements beginning on the same day and lasting through New Year’s Eve. Ok, I’m kidding, they don’t last that long, but they might as well. The final award announcement, the AL MVP, is November 21st. The winter meetings are December 4th-7th.
Though it presumably helps the Tigers from a competition standpoint, I hated the news about Francisco Liriano undergoing Tommy John surgery. Not only is a marvelous talent to watch as a baseball fan, but he was the centerpiece of a midseason trade I made in my fantasy league and because we keep so few players, I have no choice but to cut ties with him. Worse yet is I relinquished one of my favorite players, Ichiro, to get him. Lirano will miss the 2007 season.
Some more divisional news includes the Cleveland Indians strengthening their infield with the acquisition of Josh Barfield from the San Diego Padres. Barfield, son of former major leaguer Jesse, had an impressive debut campaign that included a .280/.318/.423 line with 13 home runs and 21 stolen bases. The Indians sent infielder Kevin Kouzmanoff and right-hander Andrew Brown to the Padres to complete the exchange. Kouzmanoff obliterated minor league pitching at the AA and AAA levels this season with a .379/.437/.656 line with 51 extra-base hits. Brown was solid in 62.1 innings of AAA work with a 2.60 earned run average and 1.41 WHIP.
The Padres stayed in the headlines by replacing former manager Bruce Bochy with Los Angeles Angels pitching coach Bud Black. Black, a former major-leaguer, had finished his seventh season as the pitching coach in Anaheim before getting a chance as a manager. Black was a player for the San Diego State Aztecs so he is no stranger to the area.
Sunday marks the start of legitimate free agent contract discussions meaning the hot stove is officially ready to begin. Thursday marked the final day for Daisuke Matsuzaka bids, so now we wait for the biggest pitching chip to fall that should set the others in motion. With the depth at pitching in the majors and more on the way (in the form of Humberto Sanchez and Andrew Miller), the Tigers no doubt sat on the sidelines for Matsuzaka, but they should be players for a key hitter though the left-handedness that they desire within a big-time hitter is lacking for the most part. Here is a quick look at the top five free agents:

1. Matsuzaka – If for no other reason then the fact that teams have to bid on the rights just to talk to him. The mystery surrounding the gyroball and the general fanfare that always surrounds the imports from the Far East make D-Mat very intriguing. The primary candidates in the bidding were the usual suspects–both New Yorks and Boston–with the Cubs and Rangers alleged to have joined in on the fun as well.

2. Barry Zito – Even without a dearth of pitching talent on the market, Zito figured to be paid handsomely. A left-hander with a nasty curve and a Cy Young Award under his belt and only 28 years to his name makes him a prime candidate for a hefty contract in a big market. A career-high in walks (99) led to his worst WHIP ever at 1.40.

3. Alfonso Soriano – How do you make people forget that you refused to go field your new position in Spring Training because you were unhappy? You can start by acquitting yourself in said position over 159 games and oh yeah, become the fourth player in the history of the game to go 40-40. His destination is unknown, but reports have him seeking Carlos Beltran-like money for his services.

4. Aramis RamirezReports indicate that as many nine teams are interested in Ramirez, including the Tigers. Where would this put Brandon Inge? Given Inge’s defensive ability at third and his power source at the bottom of the lineup, I don’t see Ramirez as a fit in Detroit. I wouldn’t kick his bat out of the lineup, but there appears to be better fits on the market for the team. Of note, should he find himself in a Detroit uniform, is that he is a notoriously slow starter with 50 home runs and a .349 on-base percentage in 942 pre-All Star Break at-bats during the 2004-2006 season while smashing 55 home runs in 662 post-All Star Break at-bats with a .376 on-base percentage in the same span.

5. Carlos Lee – Being an outfielder and very DH-worthy, he is a more likely candiate to wind up in the English D than Ramirez. Lee was rumored in with Detroit during the deadline in July, but many signs are pointing at him landing in Houston. They had a terrible last year, cleared tons of money off the books and he fits the mold of someone that could underperform and then be released only to end up helping a competitor stave off his former team in a pennant race. See also: Wilson, Preston.
I’ll be updating the bookcase to include a host of great books I’ve picked up for off-season reading, including the one I just finished entitled Baseball: A History of America’s Favorite Game by George Vecsey. It’s a great little book that covers a lot of history in a breezy 272 pages. I especially enjoyed the parts about Branch Rickey‘s contributions to the game, which I first began learning about in Alan Schwarz‘s fantastic book The Numbers Game. Some of the history from both overlapped, but I found Baseball to be quite enjoyable and highly recommend it.

Next on my list is The Mind of Bill James by Scott Gray. I’ve ordered far too many books lately and there is no doubt that Amazon will be bankrupt me eventually, but I just can’t help myself. With my Bill James Handbook 2007 firmly in hand, I now eagerly await Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster and The Hardball Times 2007 Annual both set for release in the coming weeks.


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