Saturday, November 7, 2009

By Brent Hubbard - Columnist

Ladies and Gentleman, it’s Hot Stove time.

With the Yankees purchase of the World Series Championship concluding on Wednesday, the other 29 teams get things cooking officially today. I kid about the purchase of the World Series Trophy, but the Yankees have committed one billion dollars to free agents over the last few seasons, their own and others, and while they do pay a significant luxury tax, they never seem to be irrelevant for long.

Will they stand pat? I don’t think so. Will they go on a shopping spree as they have the last few off-seasons? No. They have about $35 Million coming off their books in 2010, leaving them with a still high payroll of $166 Million, not including any free agent signings or their own arbitration cases of Chad Gaudin, Cheng-Ming Wang, Sergio Mitre, Melky Cabrera and others.

Their possibility of a repeat World Series Championship is being pegged at about 50/50, as though they certainly looked like the best team this season; they aren’t a young team either. Part of the reason their payroll is so high is that they depend heavily on higher paid veteran players.

Their pitching staff is led by CC Sabathia, ($24 million), AJ Burnett ($16.5), and free agent to be Andy Petite ($5.5). Wang and Joba Chamberlin round out the rotation, but both could be in the pen, or in Wang’s case, non-tendered for the 2010. The Yankees will likely need to add at least one starting pitcher to the back end of the rotation, and the market is sparse. Will they go after the top pitcher on the market in John Lackey? I don’t think so.

They need to get their young pitchers like Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy starts, but the Steinbrenner purchase power cannot be denied. Hughes excelled in the pen during the latter half of the season, but I really think his future is in the rotation.

They are set in the infield, with Hall-Of-Fame Candidates at every position, except second base as Robinson Cano is still a young player, but is among the best players at his position in the league.

Derek Jeter wants to play another 7-8 seasons, chasing the all-time hits record, and his contract is up after next season. He won’t leave New York, but they also have to keep their spending in check in regards to Free Agents this offs-eason, so they can keep him. Even the Yankees have limits...don't they?

Their Outfield and DH spots are full of free agents, Johnny Damon, Xavier Nady, and Hideki Matsui, plus Jerry Hairston and Eric Hinske. Some of these guys will be back, or the Yanks could look at guys like Matt Holliday and Jason Bay…plus our own Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu, and Vladimir Guerrero. Internal options would be guys like Brett Gardner, or AAA-OF Austin Jackson.

Needs: Back End Starting Pitching, Relief Pitching, OF.

Biggest Free Agent Target: Jason Bay, Matt Holliday.

Biggest Free Agent Decision: Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.

Trade Bait: None.

Moving on to their opponent in the World Series, the Philadelphia Phillies. The Fightin’ Phils looked to give the Yanks pretty much all they could handle in this year’s Fall Classic, but ultimately couldn’t get it done. The Phillies are absolutely loaded in the Minor Leagues, including OF prospects like Michael Taylor and Dominic Brown, currently tearing up the Arizona Fall League.

Their 2010 payroll commitment is right around $100 million, before any off-season activity including arbitration hearings, free agent signings, or picking up the options of ace Cliff Lee ($8M, $1M buyout) and third baseman Pedro Feliz ($5M, $500k buyout)

Whether or not they bring back Feliz is up in the air, but Lee’s option will be exercised as soon as possible. Brett Myers heads the list of their free agents to be, along with Chan Ho Park, Scott Eyre, Matt Stairs, Pedro Martinez, Paul Bako, & Miguel Cairo.

Shane Victorino heads their arbitration cases, and he almost certainly will get a raise from his $3 Million salary in 2009. Catcher Carlos Ruiz is likely to get one as well in his first year of arbitration. Left-handed pitcher Jack Taschner and right-handed starter Joe Blanton are their only other arbitration cases, though I expect them to be back at near their 2009 salaries. Blanton could be non-tendered or traded.

The Phillies can bring back five starters, including 46 year-old Jaime Moyer – not including free agents Myers and Martinez. They also have to figure out whether Myers figures into their rotation or bullpen plans, possibly supplanting or supplementing veteran, but also sometimes shaky, closer Brad Lidge.

At third base, Feliz is certainly a valid option. But Angels third baseman Chone Figgins fits here well, as does Cardinals third baseman Mark De Rosa or the Mariners former Gold Glover Adrian Beltre. All are free agents. So is Twins Shortstop Orlando Cabrera, who could also be a fit, if he wanted to move to third.

They could add a starter, let Blanton go, move Happ and/or Myers to the pen, solidifying their bullpen. Do they have the resources to add a guy like John Lackey? Probably not. I think they stay with their own guys, bringing back Martinez.

Their payroll, even if they decide to use Gregg Dobbs at third and let Feliz go, likely exceeds the $118 Million it was in 2009.

Exercising Lee’s option, then bringing back Myers, Eyre or Park, adding a veteran backup catcher (one of their own free agents or someone else) and a third baseman of any repute will command at least $18 Million. Then if they bring back all of their arbitration eligible guys you can add another $12 Million. At least.

Thinking long-term extensions to their arbitration guys or players like ace Cliff Lee and power-hitting OF Jason Werth, probably put them over their limit to add anyone of value. And they don’t really need to after two straight World Series appearances.

They may not be able to keep everyone on their current roster unless they use their depth in the minors to get other clubs to take some of their mid-payroll guys Moyer, Werth, or reliever Ryan Madson.

I think the Phillies are a good fit for several Angels Free Agents. Lackey would fit right in, as would Chone Figgins. But I don’t see the financial resources to do so without a few serious maneuvers and wheeling and dealing.

Needs: Relief Pitching, Third Base.

Biggest Free Agent Target: John Lackey, Orlando Cabrera, Mark DeRosa.

Biggest Free Agent Decision: Brett Myers, Pedro Feliz (Option), Joe Blanton (Non-Tender Candidate).

Trade Bait: Jason Werth, prospects Michael Taylor or Dominic Brown, J.A. Happ.

Next up are the Phillies NLCS opponent, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers have been in the spotlight quite a bit since their NLCS loss, but it is for the wrong reasons. Owners Jamie and Frank McCourt are in a heated divorce battle, and starting pitcher Vincente Padilla was shot in the leg at a shooting range.

The Dodgers have a young team, but their weak starting pitching was exposed in the latter half of the season and the playoffs, and they definitely need to add a frontline starting pitcher. They have already declined the 2010 option on pitcher John Garland but he could be back. They also declined the option on Will Ohman, and are waiting on Manny Ramirez to exercise his. It’s a safe bet that he will.

The Dodgers have a ton of Free Agents Jason Schmidt, Jim Thome, Padilla, Randy Wolf, Orlando Hudson, Guillermo Mota, Ronnie Belliard, Mark Loretta, Brad Ausmus, Juan Castro, Eric Milton, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Jeff Weaver. This is in addition to Ohman and Garland.

Thankfully, they have plenty of youth, including young superstars Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Both are arbitration eligible this off-season, as well as other young Dodgers James Loney, lefty Chad Billingsley, catcher Russell Martin, left-handed reliever George Sherrill, Closer Jonathan Broxton, outfielder Jason Repko and pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo.

It’s safe to say that the Dodgers Hot Stove League is going to be an eventful one, and the off-the-field drama surrounding the McCourts is going to be a circus as well. The decisions made this off-season will shape the young club for years to come. The McCourts better understand that the off-the-field drama will hurt the club and their pocketbooks for years if they don’t figure things out quickly. That doesn’t figure to happen, so Ned Colletti will seemingly be left to dealing with his own players, and not really able to add a free agent of any merit.

The Dodgers are set in the Outfield with Kemp, Ethier and Manny Ramirez. While they want to sign the two young guys long-term, they’ll probably be limited to one-year deals that supplant the arbitration process. That is in the interest of both parties.

Their Infield has a hole at 2nd base, and they have too many options to list to fill it. Blake DeWitt is the cheapest option, but is he a realistic one? They are set at Catcher, though they’d like to see Russell Martin improve his offense, instead of continuing to decline in that area. Defensively he is excellent. Third base is covered by Casey Blake and first is covered by Loney.

Their biggest need is a veteran starter, meaning a guy like John Lackey has to be on their radar. They also must bring back Randy Wolf. Clayton Kershaw is a young stud pitcher, but they need to add a veteran leader to take the pressure off him as well as other young aces-in-waiting Chad Billingsley and Scott Elbert. Wolf will team with Hiroki Kuroda (if healthy), and two of the three youngsters and Hong-Chih Kuo to form the rotation

They probably would like to move Juan Pierre, but only if Manny exercises his option, and they would use that money to pursue a starter. Their bench is almost all veterans, and while some will be back, others won’t, meaning pursuing depth is not a bad idea.

Their payroll heading into 2009 was just over $100 million, down from a high of $118 million the year before. They added contracts throughout the season, but nothing was a serious commitment for 2010 or beyond, leaving just $65 million committed to 5 players for 2010 including Manny’s option. Three players that are no longer with the team, or are free agents due buyout money, are also figured into that total.

The arbitration estimates for the 9 players who will most certainly all be back would likely be around $25 million to $30 million dollars.

Randy Wolf should be offered a multi-year contract, but will certainly be offered arbitration as he is a Type A Free Agent, so he figures to be back regardless, at likely close to $8 to $10 million. Orlando Hudson is also a type A, but will the Dodgers bring him back? My guess is no. Eric Milton and Jeff Weaver could be back, but at minimal salaries, and Ronnie Belliard might have played himself into a two-year deal with the Dodgers, though I can’t see him getting more than Orlando Cabrera received with the A’s this past off-season ($3.5M) I can’t see the Dodgers bringing anyone else back, except possibly Brad Ausmus or Mark Loretta. They should run from Vincente Padilla. The rest of the bench and bullpen will be made of their own club-control or minor league guys, or cheaper free-agents.

If everything goes down as I’ve stated above, they will have plenty of room to add a few players, including a front-line starter. They should be right back around the $100 million mark.

Their biggest target this off-season should be John Lackey or Chone Figgins. I don’t think either is likely. They could also try to trade for Roy Halladay, and they have to be the favorites here. They could center the package on minor league pitcher James McDonald or pick from their other really good prospects, and could include catcher Russell Martin. If they do so, look for them to add a player like Bengie Molina.

Needs: Front-Line Starting Pitcher, Second baseman, Quick Divorce Settlement

Biggest Free Agent Target: John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Marco Scutaro, Orlando Cabrera

Biggest Free Agent Decision: Randy Wolf, Ronnie Belliard

Trade Target: Roy Halladay

Trade Bait: Juan Pierre, Jonathan Broxton

The final team for today is your own Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Most of the readers here at are pretty familiar with the club and it’s off-season priorities. The Angels have just under $68 Million committed to 8 players, have several key free agents, and several arbitration candidates.

As I was writing this article, the Angels signed Bobby Abreu to a two-year deal with a vesting option for a third. That takes away the speculation of some of their off-season dealings, but they still have key free agents in John Lackey, Vladimir Gurrero, Chone Figgins, and reliever Darren Oliver. Injured pitcher Kelvim Escobar and backup infielder Robb Quinlan round out the group.

I’ll save the speculation on who (else) they will sign, and focus next on the arbitration cases.

Mike Napoli heads the arbitration eligible players, followed by fellow catcher Jeff Mathis. Infielders Howie Kendrick, Macier Izturis, and Erick Aybar are all eligible, as are pitchers Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver. I expect all of these players to be back, but I also think OF Reggie Willits, eligible for the first time is a non-tender candidate.

I’d estimate that the group of 7 arbitration cases to be settled, either via one-year deals, mulit-year deals, or the unlikely prospect of an actual arbitration hearing, for around a total of $20-$25 Million.

This would bring the total to around $88-93 Million. If the estimate at $9 M for Abreu is correct, that would bring the total payroll to between $97 and $102 Million. The 25-Man roster would then have 16 spots filled.

The Angels are set in the rotation and the pen should be better with Scot Shields return to form in 2010. I can’t see them adding an arm unless they move one of their young guys in a trade or they don’t bring back Darren Oliver. Kevin Jepsen, Matt Palmer and Jason Bulger all pitched well this season, even if Jose Arrendondo did not. They still have a pen full of hard-throwers under control for a quite a while. Bringing back Kelvim Escobar is also an option, even if it is a minor-league deal.

The only question pitching wise then, would be whether or not to offer John Lackey a large multi-year deal. The Angels will offer him a deal, but whether it is similar to Jason Schmidt’s 4 year 52 million dollar deal, AJ Burnett’s 5 year 82.5 million dollar deal, or CC Sabathia’s 8 year $161 million dollar deal, remains to be seen. I legitimately see options elsewhere for Lackey, but no competitive team has the triumvirate of financial resources, stability, and a competitive team. The Phillies and the Dodgers have to be the favorites to go after Lackey, the Mets and the Rangers, will likely offer as well. But ultimately the Angels are the best fit.

In the Infield, the Angels have a glutton of middle infielders in Aybar, Kendrick, and Izturis. One could be trade bait, if the target was right, but most likely all will be back. They also have SS/3B Brandon Wood, who figures to get the starting third base job should they fail to re-sign Figgins, or even if they do and do some shuffling in the OF. Wood is out of minor league options, which means he will be with the big club next year. Even if he isn’t a starter. They have minor league capable bench guys as well, in Matt Brown and Freddy Sandoval. One of these two likely will also replace FA Robb Quinlan on the roster, who is better suited to a National League club, or will head home to Minnesota.

They are set at Catcher, with Napoli and Mathis, plus youngsters Bobby Wilson and Hank Conger in the mix. Conger will likely start the season at AAA. This leads me to believe that the Angels will carry three catchers most of next season, though Wilson does have options, and could be back and forth to AAA. This equates to more DH at-Bats for Napoli, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The Outfield is anchored by CF Torii Hunter. They have a good portion of their payroll tied up in him, Juan Rivera, Gary Matthews Jr and the newly signed Bobby Abreu.

Matthews wants out, but he may not be the only one to be moved. Juan Rivera’s production and salary is a good trading chip for those teams looking for Outfield help. Matthews will likely only be moved if he is moved for another bad contract, or if they can get something of value back for him and eat some of the contract. There are several interesting contracts out there that could be a fit, but signing Abreu today does hurt the Angels leverage in any trade talks. If they choose to bring back Vlad or Figgins before they move Matthews, they will have nearly zero leverage here, and I’d guess GMJ is ultimately released.

Chone Figgins is going to be the most sought after free agent the Angels have, with as many as a dozen clubs looking at him to fill one of their open spots. Figgins speed, hitting, and OBP jump last season really helped him, but for some statistical reason (ie lack of Home Runs) he is a type B Free Agent. And that means more offers.

While the Angels could bring him back, they also could decide that he is too expensive. They have a replacement at third, but do they have a replacement at the top of the order?

Finally, we come to the decision on whether or not to bring back DH/RF Vladimir Guerrero. He was hurt for part of this season, but he also manages to be a Type A Free Agent. He wants to stay, and will certainly take a pay cut to do so, but if he does not, he will have options as a DH in the American League, especially if the Angels decline arbitration. I hope they bring him back, because Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu don’t really inspire fear the way that Vladimir does, but will they have a spot for him?

Unfortunately, I think it is probable that only Figgins or Guerrero returns. I do expect the team to look similar to this year’s 97 game winner, but they also could be active on the trade market, looking at pitchers like Roy Halladay, or Barry Zito, or outfielders like Jayson Werth. Many Angels fans hope for a free agent splash like Matt Holliday or Jason Bay, but I don’t see it. They have a lot of money tied up in the OF now, and while they don’t have a stud prospect pushing in the OF for a starting gig, they do have a pretty solid group.

Needs: Front-Line Starting Pitcher (Lackey), Veteran Reliever (Oliver or a FA)

Biggest Free Agent Target: Rafael Soriano. Randy Winn, Garrett Anderson

Biggest Free Agent Decision: John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Vladimir Guerrero

Trade Target: Roy Halladay

Trade Bait: Jered Weaver, Gary Matthews Jr., Juan Rivera, Macier Izturis.
Love to hear what you think!


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