As Major League Baseball folded up the tents and filed out of Nashville, Tenn., on Thursday, the general managers of most teams could have checked out of the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center with a sign taped to the backs of their suits: “Still Under Construction.”
The Detroit Tigers (Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis) are built for 2008 and the Florida Marlins (a half-dozen top-shelf prospects for that duo) are set to rebuild. Otherwise, bricks will continue to go in the walls.
The lobby chatter has ended, so talks return to where they belong — around the Hot Stove.
The immediate prologue of the 2007 Winter Meetings appears to have three focal points:
• Where, and when, will Johan Santana go?
This is where we came in, of course. The status of the nonpareil Minnesota left-hander remains unresolved. As the last team openly left in the Santana Stakes at the end of the Meetings, the Red Sox are preaching patience.
However, Boston’s lack of urgency could lead to a number of developments. For instance, a change of heart by the Yankees, who dismounted from the Stakes when a deal couldn’t be struck by the end of Monday. Or, a new offensive by the Dodgers, blessed with a spare outfielder following the signing of free agent Andruw Jones.
GMs Brian Cashman of the Yankees and Ned Colletti of the Dodgers both sounded like they were just waiting for an opening to resume talks with Minnesota’s Bill Smith.
“There’s some limited choices in the relief market — trade/free agency — and almost no choices in the starting market,” Cashman said before departing Nashville.
And after wrapping up Jones — who joins Juan Pierre, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier on a team that plays in a league without the DH — Colletti said the center fielder “makes our quest for starting pitching even more focused, perhaps even more possible.”
Also unchanged is Santana’s roadblock on the rest of the limited pitchers’ market: Top guns such as Baltimore’s Erik Bedard and Dan Haren and Joe Blanton of the A’s aren’t likely to move while Santana remains out there.
The Orioles at least may have reached the stage of trying to establish their price for Bedard: According to the Boston Herald, the price asked of the Dodgers was a package of Kemp, third baseman Andy LaRoche and lefty Clayton Kershaw.
• Who will be the Giants’ next centerpiece outfielder, Hideki Matsui or Alexis Rios?
While that question itself appears to make the outlandish assumption that it will be either, San Francisco GM Brian Sabean’s interest in both is intensifying. Furthermore, neither the Yankees nor the Blue Jays symbolically slammed the door in his face.
Toronto’s J.P. Ricciardi, in fact, has made a specific offer awaiting the Giants’ response: According to the Toronto press, they have offered Rios for Tim Lincecum — not appealing to Sabean, who looks to upgrade without having to sacrifice either of his two young rotation anchors, Lincecum and Matt Cain.
Offering that possible option are the Yankees, who are turning their attention to restocking their bullpen. Cashman hasn’t flat-out denied having gotten a preliminary feeler from Sabean — quite preliminary, when one considers the no-trade clause in Matsui’s contract that would be another hurdle.
Citing a Giants executive, the San Jose Mercury News said talks are “substantive enough that the two clubs planned to speak again in the coming days” and that the Yanks’ interest is in left-handed reliever Jonathan Sanchez.
• The post-Cabrera third-base market
Considering Cabrera wound up going to a team which wasn’t even in the original scrum looking for a third baseman, the development merely stepped up the scramble to fill holes at hot corners.
The usual suspects — Scott Rolen, Joe Crede, Miguel Tejada — have of course been joined by Brandon Inge.
So do not expect to hear the Tigers’ reasoning for being so anxious to have Cabrera replace Inge — not while they are trying to move him and the $19.1 million, for three years, left on the 30-year-old’s contract.
Inge dives into the pool of available third basemen, which continues to be circled by the Giants, Angels, Dodgers, Phillies and White Sox.
Elsewhere around the Hot Stove, from people to places …
Yankees: Their search for bullpen help, while opening their ears to the Giants, also has them talking to free agents (Luis Vizcaino, Ron Mahay, Jeremy Affeldt, Trever Miller) and other teams (Pirates, concerning lefties Damaso Marte and John Grabow).
But the Bombers could be farthest along with LaTroy Hawkins, according to the New York Daily News, having offered him a one-year deal worth almost $3.5 million. Also reportedly interested in the veteran right-hander are the Tigers, Orioles and Rangers.
Rockies: Colorado is bearing down on both David Eckstein and Tadahito Iguchi in its search for a second baseman to replace departed free agent Kazuo Matsui. The Denver Post reports a pending trade of veteran reserve infielder Jamey Carroll and his $2.3 million contract to Cleveland would help fund a signing of Iguchi.
Coco Crisp: The agent for one of the two Boston center fielders, Jacoby Ellsbury being the other, prominent in trade talks, cautioned the Red Sox that they had better deal one or the other. “Being in a situation where he would be looking over his shoulder at Ellsbury would be unacceptable,” said Steve Comte.
Paul Lo Duca: The Blue Jays appear hot on the trail of the former Mets catcher, but are being detained by his agent, who is still trying to stimulate the market for him. Andrew Mongelluzzi tells Toronto reporters that he hopes to draw at least a couple more teams into the fray.
Barry Bonds: Even as Bonds began his journey through the justice system with his plea appearance Friday in a San Francisco courtroom, the feeling grew that he would be prolonging his playing career with the 2008 Oakland A’s. One unidentified MLB executive tells the San Francisco Chronicle, “There is no doubt in my mind that Oakland will sign Bonds. I’d be shocked if it didn’t happen.”