Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Busiest Baseball Week of the Year

With the Winter Meetings to start on Monday in Las Vegas, this week will be one of the busiest weeks of the baseball offseason. There is when most of the groundwork for offseason deals is laid and when a lot of the free agents get a chance to see what teams are interested in them and at what price. Last year at the winter meetings is where the Detroit Tigers pulled off the blockbuster trade they thought would help springboard them to the playoffs and a possible World Series berth (it didn't). It was also last year when Chicago Cubs fans were teased almost daily that they were on the verge of acquiring Brian Roberts from the Baltimore Orioles for prospects (they didn't). This year doesn't appear to be any different, especially if you're fans of the Cubs.

The free agent market has been slow to develop for most players so far this offseason, mostly due to the slumping economy. Teams are reluctant to spend the money on players when they aren't sure what the attendance is going to look like for next season and whether baseball fans will be able to afford to go to games. Sure, teams like the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox expect to be big spenders as always, but teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, which play in the #2 or close to the #2 TV market in the US are reluctant to try and over commit themselves on the players out there. The Angels are looking at CC Sabathia, the top starter on the market, but are reluctant to offer Mark Texiera a contract, the top hitter on the market, until their offer for Sabathia plays out, afraid that they cannot afford both. But things are expected to pick up this week for certain.

On the south side, Chicago White Sox GM Kenny Williams might be looking to offload some hefty contracts in order to get younger and faster, trying to bring the team closer to the "grinder" team that won the World Series in 2005. But in order to do that, they're going to have to find someone willing to take on the massive contract of Paul Konerko, who has a no-trade clause or Jim Thome, who can really only play DH. A rumor that was swirling around earlier had the White Sox offloading Jermaine Dye to the Cincinnati Reds for former #1 pitching prospect Homer Bailey, but that's been shot down by both teams as of right now. It doesn't mean that there isn't the groundwork for that deal laid out already, it just means that both teams are still trying to figure out how they can fleece the other team so it looks like they win the deal. I would still expect that deal to happen sometime before Thursday of this week. As for the White Sox moving Konerko or Thome, I can see them moving closer Bobby Jenks before they are able to move either one of them and actually expect Jenks to be wearing another uniform by next season. Some teams value the closer way, way too much in this age of baseball and it would be stupid for a team to not make the deal if they are blown away by an offer.

As for the Cubs, I don't expect them to be able to pull off the deal for Jake Peavy from the San Diego Padres at all this week, if ever. Right now, the Cubs have the advantage in the market, even if they don't have the pieces needed to get the deal done right now. Once the top starting pitchers from free agency start to get snapped up, the advantage swing back to the Padres as they will be able to court the teams that missed out on the pitcher they wanted with arguably the best trade option available. However, if the Cubs can find a team willing to take Jason Marquis and his almost $10 million dollar contract off of their hands, the Cubs might again find themselves ready to pull the trigger on a series of deals to pull in Peavy. But in all honesty, I don't expect the Cubs to make much of a splash during the meetings unless it's to pick up the left-handed hitting RF they want. Unfortunately, none of the players available are all that attractive.

Any way you look at it, starting Monday, rumors and news will be starting to flow hot and heavy and hopefully jumpstart a slow offseason thus far.

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