The coils of the Hot Stove are heating up, and you can be sure plenty of trades and free-agent signings are forthcoming.
Here’s something else you can be sure of: Some teams are going to screw up. They’ll screw up by throwing too much money at a mediocre vet, or failing to fill a gaping hole in the roster, or letting someone walk who’s essential to the future, or making an ill-advised trade, or … well, there are any number of ways for teams to spend their winter getting methodically worse. So in the interest of helping teams help themselves, Dayn Perry is here to recommend 10 offseason moves that need to happen before Opening Day 2010.
1. The Twins should sign Joe Mauer to a contract extension.
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Consider Joe Mauer’s merits: He’s the AL MVP in waiting, he’s a skilled defensive catcher, he has won three batting titles, he’s a career .327 BA/.408 OBP/.483 SLG hitter, and he’s still just 26 years old. It so happens the American League’s best player will be eligible for free agency after next season — unless, of course, the tight-fisted Twins sign him to a contract extension. This should not be a difficult decision. Besides being such a gifted and accomplished talent, Mauer is also a Minnesota native who came up through the Twins’ system. Starting next season, they’ll be moving into a new park — one built largely with tax dollars — and that means additional revenues. The Twins, now on the dole, owe it to their fans to sign Mauer long-term. Failure to do so will hurt the team on the field and damage the brand.
2. The Mets should trade for Roy Halladay.
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There’s making personnel decisions, and then there’s performing triage. In the Mets’ case, it’s the latter. The Mets fell to pieces in 2009, but they still return an enviable core (Johan Santana, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Francisco Rodriguez). The challenge, then, is surrounding that enviable core with something other than dreck. Enter Halladay. When he’s healthy (and once you adjust for strength of opposition), Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball. He’s also bound for free agency, and that’s why the Jays are willing to trade him. The Mets can send Fernando Martinez and Wilmer Flores to Toronto, and — just as critically — they can take Vernon Wells’ contract off the Jays’ hands (wings?). That’s a hefty cost for the Mets, but for their troubles they’ll trot out one of the best one-two punches ever.
3. The Giants should sign Matt Holliday.
If the Giants are going to contend in a deep NL West, they must improve a woefully weak offense. For starters, they could use help at the outfield corners. Gunning for Holliday would be a bold move for San Fran, but its lineup needs such a signature addition. Holliday will be good for a .900-plus OPS for the next handful of seasons, and he’ll thus greatly improve the Giants’ attack. He’ll be expensive, but regional charms, a return to the NL West, the promise of contention and lots and lots of money should get it done. The Giants’ rotation deserves a hitter like Holliday. And unlike fellow free agent Jason Bay, Holliday can play a little defense.
4. The Braves should trade for Adrian Gonzalez.
Atlanta will return one of the best rotations in the NL, but last season the offense let the Braves down. At first base, Adam LaRoche played exceptionally well but over his head, and he might land elsewhere this winter. Gonzalez constitutes a nifty upgrade. The Padres may be looking to “sell high” after Gonzalez’s career year in 2009, and they’re perpetually in cost-cutting mode. Atlanta won’t part with Jason Heyward, but a package built around Freddie Freeman and/or Jordan Schafer should get it done. In return, the Braves would get a devastating left-handed bat who’s cheap and under club control through 2011.
5. The Yankees should worry about Johnny Damon and not Hideki Matsui.
The reigning champs have some decisions to make. They need to coax Andy Pettitte into pitching one more year, and they need to re-sign Johnny Damon. Damon — when not throwing the ball — gives the Yanks plus defense in left, and he has maintained his offensive skills quite nicely. Damon needs a platoon partner, but he’s still a valuable regular against right-handers. So long as he’s willing to settle for a two-year deal or two plus a team option, the Yankees should make the necessary overtures. Matsui, meanwhile, is replaceable. Plenty of DH types on the market — Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, Russ Branyan, Vladimir Guerrero — can come close to Matsui’s numbers at perhaps a lesser cost.
6. The Phillies should sign Adrian Beltre.
The two-time NL champs are poised to lose third baseman Pedro Feliz to free agency. Feliz is an outstanding defender at third, but he can’t hit. Beltre, meanwhile, is every bit the fielder Feliz is, and he has the added benefit of being able to produce at the plate. Healthy again (in 2009: elbow, shoulder, Bruised. Right. Testicle.), out of Safeco and in Citizens Bank (and out of the superior AL), Beltre should be good for 30 homers and stellar glovework at the hot corner. That’s an upgrade for Philly and a fine start toward a fourth consecutive NL East title.
7. The Dodgers should sign Pedro Martinez.
Thanks to a looming divorce that could get uglier than Don Mossi, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt may not be inclined to lay out much cash this offseason. If that’s the case, then expect L.A. to look for short-term solutions. Future HoFer Martinez is about as nifty as short-term solutions get these days. Martinez carries with him age and injury concerns, but his renaissance in Philly was for real. Pedro wasn’t the force of nature he was 10 years ago, but he kept runs off the board and thrilled us at times. As a Dodger — the team that first signed him back in 1988 — Pedro would likely solidify the back of the rotation and thrive in a home park that cuts down on home-run rates.
8. The Cubs should sign Mark DeRosa.
This one’s easy. The Cubs have a sinkhole at second base, and DeRosa is still effective and still beloved on the North Side of Chicago. He’s a solid defender at the keystone, and his right-handed pop should play well in Wrigley. And that’s to say nothing of his positional flexibility. On another level, the Cubs’ failure to resign DeRosa last winter angered many fans, especially once the team began circling the drain. The Ricketts family could, in one move, fill a hole and distinguish itself from the Tribune era.
9. The Tigers should sign Billy Wagner.
You can make a compelling case that the Tigers haven’t had a consistent shutdown closer since ’84 AL MVP Willie Hernandez roamed the mound. Detroit is in contending mode, so the wise play would be to resist the temptation to sell off and instead take calculated risks. Since the AL Central is so winnable (and since the Tigers came within a hairsbreadth of a division title this past season), tweaks at the margins might be enough. One tweak could be adding Wagner. Wagner, when healthy one of the best closers ever, is coming off major elbow surgery. However, he thrived in limited action last season (1.98 ERA, 22 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings), and he showed characteristic velocity and movement on his pitches. In a related matter, the great Bill James tabs Wagner for 62 innings and a 2.18 ERA in 2010. That’s just what the Tigers need. Plus, Wagner’s age and health history mean he’ll be affordable.
10. The Cardinals should sign Mike Cameron.
Given the likely market for Matt Holliday — something in the neighborhood of $100 million-plus — the Cardinals may not have enough filthy lucre to bring him back and address their true offseason priority: signing Albert Pujols to a contract extension. And let’s face it, keeping Pujols in the fold is far more important to the future of the franchise. That means the sensible middle ground is to sign a less expensive proxy and focus energy (and money) toward locking up Pujols. That brings us to the terminally underrated Mike Cameron. Cameron strikes out a lot and doesn’t hit for high averages. That leads too many of us to overlook what he does well: hit for power, get on base, play defense and run. He’ll almost certainly end his career with 300-plus homers, 300-plus steals and season after season of Gold Glove-caliber defense in center. Cameron is aging, but in 2010 he should still be good for 20-plus bombs and an above-league-average OPS. As well, put Cameron in a corner and pair him with center fielder Colby Rasmus, and the Cardinals will have one of the best outfield defenses in all of baseball. They’ll also be able to devote more resources to Pujols.