So long, Indianapolis

Indy_capitol INDIANAPOLIS—So the 2009 baseball Winter Meetings are finally complete and a lot of us got to cross off Indiana from our “been-there, done-that” lists. By my count I’m up to 30 of the 48 contiguous states and don’t see any scenario in the near future when I will knock off the two other states, Puerto Rico and Guam.

But Indiana, yes, been there. Unfortunately there was only time to stay within the downtown sector of Indianapolis near the capitol. Nice area, if I say so my own self (and I guess I just did). However, one of the joys of business travel is squeezing in the opportunity to see what a place has to offer.

This year we got to stand on the South Lawn of the White House just below the Truman balcony, and I was able to see the scene at Chateau Marmot in Los Angeles; snow in Denver, the first World Series game in the new Yankee Stadium mixed with a late-night drink at Elaine’s; the gravesite shrine for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta; the Fonzie statue in Milwaukee; the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and had my order messed up by the counter help at the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago.

That last one made me feel like I was in an old SNL sketch, which could have happened because former cast members Jim Belushi and the heroic Bill Murray were in the press box for Phillies games this year, too.

I got to talk to Reggie Jackson, Fernando Valenzuela and Pedro Martinez. Twice I was at a baseball-related event where the President of the United States also attended.

I don’t mean to brag, but…

In other words it was an interesting year that we closed out in Indiana today.

So what did we learn at this year’s version of the Winter Meetings? Well, let’s take a look:

• It gets cold and blustery in Indiana and the wind will go right through you because there aren’t a lot of really tall buildings and the entire state is as flat as a pancake. Furthermore, Larry Bird does not greet visitors at the airport, French Lick is the name of a city, and no one has seen Scott Rolen in these parts in a long time.

More notably, I got to see where the Baltimore Colts snuck off to, and frankly, the nickname and the colors still belong in Baltimore. Sure, they have Peyton Manning and all, and they haven’t lost a game this year, but I don’t know what the hell the Indianapolis Colts are.

• General managers of Major League Baseball teams practice the craft of misdirection and doublespeak better than any of those spies James Bond tried to capture. After going through the linguistic exercises with the Phillies GM this week, maybe it’s time for him to serve the country as a snoop with the CIA. Sign him up.

• The Phillies are very much in the mix for Roy Halladay. In fact, they never dropped out nor has their interest in the Blue Jays’ big ace waned since they tried to deal for him last July. Moreover, it seems to be very realistic that potential Hall of Famer John Smoltz could be pitching in the late innings for the Phillies in 2010.

Oh yes… John Smoltz.

• And speaking of pitchers like John Smoltz, expect the Phillies/Pedro flirtation to pick up as the off-season winds down. Pedro is perfect for the Phillies’ needs and no, I’m not just saying that because he is the greatest quote in sports since Muhammad Ali. Pedro for 25-to-30 starts a season at the back of the rotation might not be all that bad.

• Hanging out in the lobby of a hotel with baseball people is a good place to catch a cold. If it’s contagious and can get airborne, those people probably have it or are passing it on. Mix that with the 50-mph winds and sub-freezing temperatures and expect to spend the week coughing up and blowing out all sorts of fun stuff.

Yeah, ew.

• Finally, are the Winter Meetings really all that necessary? Sure, it’s nice to have everyone under one roof, but are the winter meetings one of those anachronisms baseball and baseball folks like to hang onto until it has overstayed its welcome by a decade or two? Hey, I like hobnobbing and hanging out as much as the next guy. Truth be told, I’m pretty damn good at hanging out—in the top 10, at least.

But in a digitalized world where news is reported instantly and old-fashioned things like newspaper deadlines are beyond silly, does all that “face time” matter? Oh sure, I’m pleased as hell I got to see Indianapolis. Better yet, I was lucky enough to learn about the state’s fascination with the concept of “eugenics” at the turn of the last century, but couldn’t I have just looked all that up on Wiki?

And do I really need to see Rosenthal and Heyman punch in their linkless tweets from stage right?

No, not really.

Please disregard the motion to retire the Winter Meetings when they are moved to a warm-climate city with palm trees and night life that sometimes serves as the setting for those “Girls Gone Wild” videos. In that case we’ll see you next December in Orlando…

Yep, Tiger Woods’ hometown.

Day 3: One more lap around

Matt INDIANAPOLIS—This afternoon’s trip (or traipse?) through the lobby here in snowy and blustery downtown Indy was met with an intriguing question from my old pal, Matt Yallof. Matt, as regular readers of this site know, is one of my favorite people on the planet and he also happens to work for the MLB Network.

More importantly, Matt also happens to have one of the wickedest senses of humor of anyone I know. You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but Matt is a funny, funny man.

But that’s not the point. No, Matt also is a pretty smart baseball guy. He really knows his stuff. Though he has the inability to sit still for longer than 10 seconds, Matt can bring up a lot of astute baseball points in a snap.

So when I traipsed (or was it tripped?) through the lobby this afternoon, I found Matt making some notes (or was it applying another layer of foundation?) before he cornered me with a good question.

“What are the top few surprises for you during these winter meetings,” he said

I should add that I probably cleaned up that quote a bit.

“Hmmm,” I said. “How about Randy Wolf’s contract, or the fact that Roy Halladay hasn’t been traded.”

Matt liked those and added that two other surprising developments during our stay in Indianapolis was that he did not hear Adrian Gonzalez of the Padres mentioned once in trade talks. That prompted me to add that until he brought it up, I hadn’t heard Gonzalez’s mentioned in a long, long time.

Most importantly, Matt said the biggest surprise was that his cholesterol level remained below 200 even though he went out for steak every night during his stay. Lucky him, huh? Maybe he ought to try the Thai noodle house I stumbled upon while walking down Maryland St.

Least surprising was the fact that the Yankees got into the marquee trade of the week. It ain’t a baseball event if the Yankees don’t try to hog all the attention. Additionally, I thought there might be a little more talk about Adolis Chapman, the lefty Cuban defector with a big fastball who is shopping his wares to the highest bidder.

Still, Phils GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said that the Phillies are interested in Chapman, but they aren’t interested interested.

Get it?

“Talking to the agent about an agent about a guy like that and having interest are kind of two different things,” Amaro explained. “I talk to agents and it doesn’t mean we’re talking about a guy like that. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re trying to sign him. Would we have interest in the talent? Of course. It would be silly for me to say we don’t have interest in the talent. What the demand and what the circumstances are that surround it, that’s an entirely different issue and I don’t see us being a player in that type of guy.”

That said the Phillies will send a scout to Houston to watch Chapman in a workout session next week.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t send anybody,” the GM said. “We send somebody because it’s important to have the knowledge of what this talent is.”

The End

Anyway, I’m not a huge fan of the movement of time, but I’m ready to go home. No, that’s nothing against the good people of Indiana, but I haven’t had a break or a vacation since July of 2008 and I’m whipped. Maybe even a little sleepy, too.

Indiana is nice and all, but it’s time to go.

Day 3: What are words for?

Nixon INDIANAPOLIS—When I was a kid I believed nearly everything adults told me. Well, I believed almost everything they told me until I was about 10. After then, I questioned everything because that's about the time I learned about Richard Nixon. I figured if the President of the United States could be less than forthcoming, maybe other adults could, too.

That's also about the same time I learned about Santa Claus, though truth be told the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy never made any sense. That's especially the case with the Tooth Fairy because that just sounds a little too Uncle Eddie-ish to me. Really, what kind of a person or fairy wants little kids' ripped out and bloodied teeth? Do they make necklaces out of them like those sharks' tooth ones people wore in the ‘70s and stuff? Remember Turk Wendell, the Phillies' former relief pitcher? Yeah, well he had a necklace made out of elk's teeth and other wild animals he may or may not have shot. Actually, the necklace was kind of gaudy, but not in a P. Diddy kind of way.

Perhaps Turk Wendell was the tooth fairy for the Marlin Perkins set?

Anyway, the point is that I believed what adults told me, but then I stopped and then, for some reason, I believed them again. At least I believed what adult general managers of Major League Baseball teams told me. Seriously, why would they make up stuff? They weren't after my teeth (as far as I knew) and they weren't going to bring me or my family gifts every December under the cover of darkness. Better yet, I don't think there is a single baseball GM who secretly bombed Cambodia or was less than forthcoming about the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate back in '72. Based on that criterion, baseball GMs are a reasonably trustworthy lot.

That doesn't mean they tell the truth all of the time. For instance, I recall a time when Ed Wade revealed that a slumping Marlon Byrd was the team's centerfielder and leadoff hitter for the foreseeable future — who would have guessed that Byrd was living in the future and was to be optioned to Triple-A after a game in which he served as the centerfielder and leadoff hitter? Hey, I'm not saying Wade didn't make the correct move, I'm just saying that if the end of the game was as far into the future as he could see, then he needs to re-do that Lasik surgery.

So what's this have to do with anything?

Well, it doesn’t. I just like writing about it. Plus, it's a nice little segue way into the whole modus operandi thing, here at the winter meetings. It is here in the Downtown Marriott in Indianapolis where a little patch of real estate has turned into the most unbelievable place on earth outside of Capitol Hill.

Anyway, Nixon bombed Cambodia, Marlon Byrd was sent to Scranton and Ruben Amaro Jr. told us that it was unlikely the Phillies would do anything here at the Winter Meetings. Actually, when asked if the Phillies expect to close any deals or sign any players before these meetings end Thursday, Amaro said, “Probably not.”

OK, that doesn’t mean no. It also doesn’t mean that they flew from Philadelphia to Indianapolis in order to sample the night life capital of Indiana or the room service in another Marriott. Far from it. In fact, Amaro pointed out that he had “three or four offers out there” for various players. Not to argue semantics, but “probably not” is GM-speak for, “We hope so!”

Take the notion over whether the Phillies can get a bullpen piece before they beat a hasty exit out of Indianapolis on Thursday… regarding that, Amaro said on Wednesday, "I don't think that's likely."

Then his Blackberry buzzed and he smiled, jokingly, "Although with this call, though…"

Hilarity.

Parsing a GM’s words in a place like the Winter Meetings is tricky business at best. I liken it to dancing with a circus bear wearing a Shriner's hat after it just pedaled a tricycle 50 yards. Or attempting to rub the belly of an alligator that was just fed ostrich burgers for a mid-afternoon snack. Certainly those are two very daunting tasks that require a lot of wisdom and ability to speak a certain language. Generally though, baseball execs like to speak in broad, sweeping statements that are common amongst politicians and large retailers in order to homogenize us and maybe us feel all warm inside.

In other words, they really don’t mean anything at all.

Apparently that was the case when Amaro stated he would have been reluctant to sign Placido Polanco if he had been a Type-A free agent. When all the ratings were finished, Polanco was neither a Type-A nor a Type-B free agent and would not require any type of compensation from the Phillies other than a bi-weekly paycheck. This made sense considering other more attractive third basemen were also free agents, but were labeled as Type-A.

It’s not wrong to assume the reason why the Phillies got Polanco instead of Chone Figgins or Mark DeRosa, nor does it make one a “mind-reader.”

But here's the question I ask every off-season, and especially at the winter meetings: Why the subterfuge? Why all the little cat-n-mouse games? Doing stuff like that is going to give a guy a reputation. It's going to make the honest, chaste and diligent folks in the local sporting press to not know anything. Up will be down and down will be up. They're going to think that when Amaro says, "No, no, no," he really means, "Yes, no, yes!"

I don't know much about poker or the game's colorful jargon, but I do know bad bluffing when I hear/see it. As a well-known horrible card player at the neighborhood games, I’m an awesome bad bluffer. So based on this knowledge, the Phillies should swoop in and steal away Roy Halladay from the Yankees and/or Red Sox at any minute.

Or then again, maybe not.

Day 3: Time keeps on slippin’…

Dali clock INDIANAPOLIS—Time moves fast here at the Winter Meetings. With everybody running around like the building is on fire hoping to get the teensiest morsel of information, an hour feels like an eternity and a day feels like forever.

Five minutes is still five minutes, though.

So while we were throwing around names like Joe Blanton, Ross Gload, John Smoltz, Brandon Lyon, etc., etc., as if they snowflakes into the gale-force winds here in Indy, one name kind of disappeared for a bit. Actually, for that hour or two when nothing was blogged, tweeted or whispered about Roy Halladay, it was like he fell off the face of the earth.

Oh, but he’s back now.

The scuttlebutt before the carnival hit the Downtown Marriott was that the Red Sox were the favorites to land Halladay in a trade. And if the Red Sox are interested that means the Yankees’ spidey senses get tingling by default.

Yet because the Yankees and Red Sox get into it, perhaps it’s automatically assumed that no other team can compete with the cash and the high price those teams are willing to pay to make a trade for the best righty on the market.

Where is the report, tweet, blog or whisper that the Phillies’ interest in Halladay has waned? As far as I can tell, the pieces the Phillies would have had to offer the Blue Jays last summer are still there. Besides, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has done a pretty damn good job so far in assembling the pieces for his team this winter. If any one can pull it off, why not Super Rube?

No, this doesn’t mean the Phillies will get knee-deep in trying to wrest Halladay away from the Jays. After all, who really knows what goes on inside of that mind. My guess most thoughts are at least PG-13 and that’s not including the ratings for the folks reading things to him.

When asked if the Phillies could get involved in a deal for a "high-profile American League right-handed pitcher," Amaro spoke in GM-ese.

"Is there anyway possible? I guess there is. Uh, is there a likelihood of us getting involved in something that big? Probably not," he said.

Hey, he didn't say no.

Nevertheless, if the Phillies come out these meetings with a pitcher of some sort, then the people who give out trophies for being a good organization ought to just give one to the GM. At least it’s something, right? After all, the trophy that really matters isn’t handed out for making a good move in December in Indianapolis.

That gets back to an old running adage us geeky, over-the-hill marathoners liked to trot out—they don’t give awards for workouts. Sure, doing the ground work is a necessary and important thing, but winning the big race has more to do with how well the workouts compliment talent and luck. If Amaro is lucky enough to get into position to swing a deal to get Halladay, then maybe it will come down to the talent part.

Day 2: McGwire is going to have to talk about the past

Mark_tony INDIANAPOLIS—Tony LaRussa was in the media room on Tuesday afternoon for his shift in front of the media and for the most part things went rather smoothly. LaRussa has a pretty keen baseball mind whether or not his methodology jibes with you.

Give credit where it’s due, the folks like to say.

But there was one topic that the Cardinals’ manager had to discuss for longer than he probably cared to during Tuesday’s session in the media room. Needless to say, LaRussa likely knew it was going to be a hot topic when he decided to give the hitting coach gig to Mark McGwire.

And clearly LaRussa knows there is many more coming.

For those who merely halfway followed baseball during the past few years, ex-slugger Mark McGwire went from national hero during the Summer of ’98 to pariah following his embarrassing testimony in front of the congressional House Government Reform Committee. Since then when McGwire repeatedly stated that he was not there “to talk about the past,” he has not given a single interview and has largely stayed out of the public eye.

There’s good reason, too. Though he has admitted to using androstenedione during his playing career, a steroid that was once sold over the counter in the U.S., McGwire has also been tied to more explicit steroid use during his playing days. Not only has Jose Canseco chronicled his steroid use with McGwire, but also the ex-Cardinals’ star was named in the infamous Mitchell Report.

However, hitting coaches in the Major Leagues talk to the press. In fact, it’s nearly unavoidable for them not to have many interactions with the media during a typical day at the ballpark. In a story that came out yesterday, newly-elected Hall-of-Fame manager, Whitey Herzog stated that he believes McGwire may quit his job because dealing with the press and the questions might not be worth it.

“He's going to be asked questions about steroids, he's going to be asked so many things, and he's got to be open and he's got to answer,” Herzog said. “And Tony can't get mad about it. He's got to put up with it.”

Yes, Tony knows this. Moreover, he says he would not have put McGwire in the position of being a distraction if the old slugger wasn’t up for the job.

“I know how seriously I've personally considered it before I presented it to our owner and general manager and our coaching staff, and I know the seriousness of my conversation with Mark, and I know how seriously he thought about it before he accepted,” La Russa said. “I think it's going to work, and I think he has demonstrated to some of us that he has a lot to offer as a hitting coach.”

McGwire worked privately with several Major League hitters privately from his home base in Southern California, but has no other coaching experience. Meanwhile, LaRussa said that McGwire will address the media regarding his new job and whatever other questions the press may have for him sometime in the near future.

So far that hasn’t happened because LaRussa says no one wanted to steal the spotlight from the World Series, awards season or winter meetings.

“I talk to him a lot,” La Russa said. “I talk to him about hitting. He's already had conversations with some of our guys. He's worked with guys over the winter in the past. He's studying tape. I mean, I'm the beneficiary of those conversations. I know what he has to offer and how excited he is about it.”

He might not be as excited to talk about the past, though.

Day 2: Challengers in the NL East

Manuel INDIANAPOLIS—For the past three trips to the Winter Meetings, the rest of the teams in the NL East have shown up with plans they hope will derail the Phillies atop the division.

Obviously it hasn’t gone that well.

This time around, however, the Mets and Braves are making some changes and additions that just might help their chances in 2010. For the Braves it has been a few upgrades in the bullpen with the addition of Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito, and the return of Rafael Soriano. What makes this news significant is that the Braves had the best starting pitching in the Majors in 2009 (3.52 ERA) and a relieving corps that was sixth best (3.68 ERA) in all of baseball.

Typically it works the other way around and the bullpen posts better numbers than the starters, but for the Braves it seems as if a few more runs from the offense would have made life much more difficult for the Phillies.

As far as the upgrades to the hitters go, the Braves are said to be discussing Johnny Damon and Nick Johnson—two hitters that can make a difference at the top third of the batting order.

Needless to say, the Braves want to add a piece or two to the offense before the start of the season.

The Mets, on the other hand, say they want to change up things a little bit. After learning something or two about their new, cavernous ballpark after its inaugural season, Mets’ manager Jerry Manuel says his team needs to “set a different philosophy.”

“Everyone puts an emphasis on pitching and defense, but with our ballpark we really have to put an emphasis on it,” Manuel said. “If you’re a pitcher that throws strikes, you really have a chance in our park.”

The Mets still have uber-ace Johan Santana, and they were in the hunt for Randy Wolf before it became apparent that Wolfie will land in Milwaukee. Additionally, the Mets have been tied to John Lackey and Joel Pineiro in an attempt to bolster the pitching staff.

Offensively, Manuel believes he has some hitters whose repertoires fit into the configurement of their ball yard, specifically with Jose Reyes. At CitiField, the Mets will pick up a few triples with the big gaps and interesting angles. In fact, last season the Mets hit 49 triples—32 of them in the home park.

Home runs though… yes, the Mets need to deemphasize that. Judging from David Wright’s homer totals, CitiField had an effect on the team’s power. After hitting 63 homers in the two seasons prior, Wright clubbed just 10 last year. Needless to say the drop from 33 bombs to 10 was a pretty big deal.

Still, it remains to be seen how long Manuel will be around to stand charge over the Mets’ new philosophy. After a dreadful 2009 and two big September collapses in 2007 and 2008, the Mets just might have to be pro-active regarding their management. Besides, with the addition of ex-big league managers Bob Melvin, Terry Collins as well as Wally Backman to the team’s staff, Manuel will be wise not to look over his shoulder.

“I think those are all good baseball people, good baseball minds,” Manuel said Tuesday. “I think for any organization to move forward, you need those types of people in place. You know, perception would say, ‘Hey, Jerry, turn around.’ But Jerry isn’t turning around. I’m just going to go do my thing and do the best I can. We have the means to acquire and have a good team, and I think if you’ve got a good team you should be OK. So I don’t have a problem with that.”

Very true. Besides, with the way the last three seasons ended no one would wish the Mets' gig on an enemy.

Day 2: Some stuff happened

Pudge INDIANAPOLIS—Just because a guy goes to sleep at night doesn’t mean the world stops spinning on its axis. That’s especially the case here at the baseball Winter Meetings where every old baseball anachronism still holds true.

Oh sure, nearly everyone here as a Twitter and/or Facebook account where updates or musings about the local flavor here in Indianapolis (a bit more about the local history later), and it’s difficult to imagine Jimmy Cannon hunched over his Blackberry with his thumbs racing to tweet some little nugget of news while talking shop with Horace Stoneham.

Go look it up on Wikipedia, kids.

Sure, things have changed a bit when it comes to the media and the coverage of sports (for the better), but even with all the technology things still only get done and reported the old fashioned way. That’s where a little mingling, a hotel lobby and a whole bunch of beer comes in. Gently mix those elements and then back up and watch the tweets fly.

So when I woke up this morning to the sound of a shovel scraping across concrete from beyond windows and walls as thin as graham crackers and the red light blinking on my Blackberry like a lantern or far off beacon, I was able to deduce a lot.

For one, it snowed last night. If it hadn’t, why shovel? And two, something went down in the lobby of the Downtown Marriott.

Oh boy!

From all the tweets and modern plays on the smoke signal, we learned that future Hall-of-Fame catcher (is he?) Ivan Rodriguez agreed to a two-year deal with the Washington Nationals. This is quite interesting considering how bad the Nats are, how old Rodriguez is, and the two years he was offered. Plus, since the Phillies play the Nationals 18 times a season, it means we will see Pudge a lot.

In 2003 when the Marlins slipped past the Phillies to capture the wild card and then the World Series, Rodriguez was integral capturing the MVP of the NLCS as his club upset the Yankees. Better yet, 10 years ago Pudge was the best catcher on the planet. In 1999 he was the MVP of the American League and has posted numbers that align with the likes of Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter.

Still, Rodriguez turned 38 last week and will get a significant raise to be the Nationals’ catcher for the next two seasons at $3 million per year. Just what were the Nats thinking?

Conversely, the fact that Rodriguez is clearly in the twilight of his career, has won an MVP, a World Series, gone to the playoffs with three different teams and the World Series with the Marlins and Tigers while earning well more than nine figures in salary during his career, what in the hell is he doing signing with the Nats?

Really, what the hell is Pudge thinking?

A story from the Washington Post with the headline, “Why Pudge? Why two years?” kind of sums it up.

Meanwhile, one of our all-time favorite guys, Randy Wolf, reportedly has a three-year offer on the table from the Brewers. Three years for a pitcher—particularly one like Wolf—is about the max that any team will go. In fact, Phils’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told us yesterday that he feels, “less comfortable going more than three years on any pitcher.”

Obviously the Brewers really want Wolf, but so do the Mets. Reportedly the offer from the Brewers is approximately $30 million, which means Wolf’s agent Arn Tellem will go back to the Mets and get the auction going.

History All things being equal, I’d go to Milwaukee if I were Wolfie. A guy like him could run that town pretty quickly.

*
Now back to the local history of Indianapolis, or, more specifically, the historical markers sprinkled around town… yeah, they are wacky. Better yet, here in Indianapolis the historical society in charge of posting some rather dubious moments in time aren’t into the whole “window dressing” thing.

It’s as if the subtext of the two markers (directly across the street from the capitol, I might add) photographed and posted on this site are saying, “Some stuff happened a long time ago and, well, it was kind of stupid. But sometimes bad stuff happens, too.”

So to the folks of Indiana, thank you for the transparency. Speaking for all of the old students of American history (if I may be so bold as to take the rostrum), we appreciate your candor.

Meanwhile, tomorrow I will seek out the marker for mass genocide of natives peoples or maybe a plaque for the spot where little Scott Rolen had his SuperGoose BMX bike stolen.

Other people’s managers

Tito INDIANAPOLIS—One cool thing about the Winter Meetings is the daily little thing each manager does with the press. For some guys it's the first (and only) chance they get to catch a glimpse at someone like Don Wakamatsu or Dave Trembley and hear what they have to say.

Other times, it's nothing more than another mass media session for the popular managers of the big-market teams. For instance, this afternoon, Terry Francona of the Red Sox and Ozzie
Guillen from the White Sox held they media sessions in front of pretty large crowds. Then again, Ozzie and Tito usually gather larger than average crowds simply because they are so quotable. In the case of Ozzie Guillen sometimes he's so quotable he can't be quoted because of his choice in different types of words he likes to use.

It makes me wonder if Ozzie learned English from listening to Redd Foxx records when he came to the U.S. from Venezuela.

Nevertheless, today Francona relived the end of the 2009 season and how even though the Red Sox won 95 games, they weren't quite good enough.

"Everybody remembers how you finish," Francona said, acknowledging that despite all those wins, the Red Sox didn't even challenge the Yankees in the AL East.

With World Series title No. 27 in the bag, the secret to the Yankees success is pretty simple to hear Francona describe it.

"They have a lot of money and they have a lot of smart people running things," he said.

Lethal combo.

Meanwhile, across the ballroom here in the Indy Downtown Marriott, Guillen talked about his club, specifically how veteran Andruw Jones fits in.

Jones, of course, has been THE center fielder in the Majors over the last decade. However, now that he going into his 15th season in the league and closing in on his 33rd birthday, Jones will have to get used to playing left field for the White Sox, because, as Guillen said, "Right now he doesn't have a choice."

Five-year veteran Alex Rios is Guillen's choice to play centerfield in front of Jones.

"Rios is a better center fielder," Guillen said. "Ten years ago, Andruw Jones was the best center fielder on Earth."

He's still pretty good, but not good enough for the South Side of Chicago.

As far as the Phillies go, Charlie Manuel did not make the trip to Indy with the approximately 30 other members of the team's traveling party. Because the season lasted into the first week of November, Manuel was excused. Last year in Las Vegas, as some remember, Manuel spent the entire week in his room at the Bellagio ridden with the flu. Until the last day of the winter meetings Charlie only surfaced to sign his contract extension before going back to bed.

This year he's probably playing a little golf in Florida.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

Ruben INDIANAPOLIS–The last thing Ruben Amaro and the Phillies want to do here at the Winter Meetings is to go out and do something like make a trade. The way things stand now, Amaro likes the way his team looks. Oh sure, there are pieces to add here and there–big pieces, in fact. But as far as the core base of the club, the Phillies look good.

Nevertheless, Amaro and the Phillies are here looking for pitching. They want a couple of relievers and a starter to hold down the No. 4 or No. 5 spot of the rotation.

Ideally, Amaro wants those additions to come through free agency.

Since the team needs pitching and other teams want pitchers, it would be kind of silly for the Phillies to trade pitchers for pitchers…

Right?

"It's kind of like robbing Peter to pay Paul," Ruben said before adding the caveat that it really gets down to whether Peter is a better player than Paul.

Still, Amaro was pretty good at finding the guys the Phillies needed at the right time last season. Raul Ibanez was a pretty good pickup last winter and he's hoping that Placido Polanco at third base can be the same type of coup this year.

The only thing the Phillies had to give up to get either player was a first-round draft pick because Ibanez was a Type A free agent. Interestingly, the GM said if Polanco was a Type A guy the Phillies would have been reluctant to have gone after him, and he does not see the team going after any other players that would result in the Phillies giving up some type of compensation.

Third baseman Chone Figgins was a Type A free agent while Mark DeRosa, Adrian Beltre and Melvin Mora were Type B guys.

"I would not do it unless it was a guy who could make a huge impact, and frankly, those guys aren't out there right now," he said.

But John Smoltz is out there. So too is Randy Wolf, Jarrod Washburn, Jason Schmidt, Ben Sheets, Mark Prior, Brad Penny, Rich Harden, Jon Garland, Jose Contreras, Bartolo Colon, and Erik Bedard amongst the starters.

J.J. Putz and Chad Cordero are a couple of the relievers out there that would not require the Phillies to give up anything other than a paycheck.

In other words, if Ruben and the Phillies want to get this done on the cheap, it's doable. All it will take is a little bit of creativity. Certainly that was on display last July when Pedro Martinez was added for the playoff push.

But don't look for Pedro to be added back into the fold any time soon. Oh sure, he started three of the Phillies' last 10 postseason games, including two during the World Series. However, if Pedro returns to Philadelphia it will be after everything else is taken care of or there are not too many other options.

Just like last season, inking Pedro is something that will "develop later."

Nevertheless, Pedro has expressed an interest in another dance with the Phils and Ruben has stashed that info away for now. Still, from friends that have talked to him Pedro is preparing to pitch a full season if the right team will have him. In the short term, one of his friends says Pedro is back in the Dominican preparing for his celebrity golf tournament featuring the likes of David Ortiz and Ryan Howard.

We would have chatted a little longer with Ruben on Monday, but he had to run off to his second trade meeting of the afternoon…

Anyone want to guess if Peter, Paul and Joe Blanton's names come up?

Trolling the lobby

Lobby INDIANAPOLIS—Just did my first serious troll through the veritable Star Trek convention that is the Baseball Winter Meetings, and to describe the scene by paraphrasing a line from Bill Hader in the marvelous opening scene in the epic film, Pineapple Express, "One: lots of dudes… "

Truth be told, I've quoted that movie twice already this morning by using the always versatile phrase, "What happened to your eye?"

Regardless, the first trip proved to be quite fruitful when the rumor du jour involved ex-Phillie Pat Burrell. According to the reports, tweets and scuttlebutt, Burrell was said to be involved in a threeway deal.

Yeah, too easy…

The report was the Rays were going to trade Burrell to the Cubs for Milton Bradley and then the Cubs would turnaround and send Pat The Bat to the Mets.

Wouldn't it be awesome to see Burrell 18 times a season in a Mets' uniform? Just think about how much fun that would be aside from it underscoring the mercenary nature of baseball. Ah, but to be a wet blanket — according to the terms of his contract, the Rays would have to pay Burrell cash if he were to be traded. Sure, the Rays got to the World Series in 2008 and are no longer the doormats of the American League, but that doesn't mean they are so flush with cash that they can go around making trades and signing free agents.

Leslie Gudel sent a message to Burrell on whether or not he heard about the rumor and (not surprisingly) he had not. Burrell wasn't known to follow the hot stove back when he was playing for the Phillies and he, said back then, he didn't even own a computer. Chances are he hasn't changed his media diet all that much in the year since he has been gone.

But when asked by Tim Brown of Yahoo!, a Rays' representative dropped the ol', "That's news to us," line on Brown.

In other words, the Burrell to the Cubs and Mets rumor was too good to be true.

Another good one had ex-Phillie Brett Myers headed to either Houston or Texas…

Burrell_rays Yes, there is a joke somewhere in there, too. Go ahead and make up your own about Brett Myers, Texas, his penchant for going to the gun range, Ed Wade, and, of course, Brett Myers in the state of Texas.

Meanwhile, the Phillies didn't appear to be too busy on the first day of the Winter Meetings here at the Downtown Marriott. At one point, key front-office types Charley Kerfeld, Gordon Lakey and Howie Freiling were all in the lobby mingling with the scribes. While this was going on, Ruben Amaro Jr. and a bunch of the rest of the Phillies' brass were standing along the railing overlooking the lobby where they were undoubtedly making wise cracks about the show down below.

Like shooting fish in a barrel.

For what it's worth, the Phillies are said not to be willing to part with the money in order to get Brandon Lyon. Last season for the Tigers, the reliever earned $4.25 million and is in line for a raise this year. Still, he is the type of player the Phillies are looking to add before spring training.

Perhaps this is the off-season where the economy of the U.S. really comes into play.

Little pink houses…

Bad_history INDIANAPOLIS—Why don’t we just roll up our sleeves and go ahead and get the rudimentary crap out of the way now…

For the news and analysis stuff from here at the baseball Winter Meetings, go to our site, CSNPhilly.com. That’s where Leslie Gudel, Rob Kuestner, and our new guy, Jim Salisbury, will drop the comings and goings of the week here from the Marriott in downtown Indianapolis.
 
Yes, I know… another Marriott.

This place, this so-called, “Food,” is for the little ancillary things. You know, kind of like the DVD extras. For instance, walking to the winter meetings this morning I happened across a historical marker that chronicled a rather Draconian time in Indiana state history.

And no, it had nothing to do with Larry Bird or Scott Rolen.

So why don’t we just get started already?

Here’s what we have… there’s a lobby full of agents, managers, front-office types and baseball writers. Oh yes, it’s a geek fest. Additionally, a large (or as they say, “Venti”) coffee costs $2.85 in the lobby Starbucks. When Leslie complained that her skinny vanilla latte cost $20, she was told that it was because there is a 10 percent sales tax in downtown Indy.

 “It’s kind of like being in an airport,” the barista said.

Anyway, this just might be the first mass Twitter-ed baseball winter meetings. Last year in Las Vegas Twitter hadn’t bore itself into the middle ear of the consciousness of the baseball world. If I can remember correctly, I’m pretty sure I dropped a whole bunch of stuff onto my Twitter feed last year in Vegas, but back then it was kind of like a dorky conversation with a bunch of people who actually knew what I looked like.

To be honest, it was much more fun back then.

Oh, the old days… sigh!

Ya want some rumors? Try these out: Pat Burrell might get traded to the Mets; Little Sarge Matthews might get traded; and Roy Halladay will get traded. and

Meanwhile, the Phillies are looking at a whole bunch of pitchers. One of those guys in the lobby gave me some names: Fernando Rodney, J.J. Putz, Brandon Lyon. That’s it so far.

As far as the Phillies go, it might be a quiet week. Last year the Phillies left Vegas with Ronny Paulino, Raul Ibanez and were almost finished with signing Chan Ho Park. Plus, Charlie Manuel got a contract extension in between sessions where a whole lotta tires got kicked.

Regardless, you can’t go to Indianapolis and leave empty handed, right? Expect Ruben Amaro to do something or at least talk a whole lot about something.

A whole lotta talkin’ going on

Cletus INDIANAPOLIS—If you’re like me, you have the tendency to talk a lot of trash. There’s probably a more apt phrase to use in the place of “trash,” but since I’ve been away from the baseball folk for about a month, we’ll keep it clean for another 12 hours or so.

Like the people who work for the traveling carnival, sailors, or those who root through the bags here at the airport, baseball folk live a hard life. Oh, it’s completely by choice, mind you. As stated previously, baseball folks act like they have some sort of link to history or Americana, but the truth is you wouldn’t let any of them hold your car keys.

But none of this has anything to do with my boastful countenance. In fact, I don’t even need a reason to let loose with the trash talk. Hey, think I’m gonna let someone bust up my party? No way, man. Put me in a room with the baseball carnys and I’ll keep a hand on my wallet and keep them off guard with a little yapping.

It’s all I got.

So we’re off to Indianapolis for the annual baseball Winter Meetings. Last year they held the event in Las Vegas, which was like putting the Star Trek Convention at Cannes. Watching the writer types mill around the high-roller room at the Bellagio with their lanyards and name tags all in place and those Dockers fitted just right, was disturbing and clearly ruined the vibe of the entire town. Some establishments decided to take preventative measures by turning off all the glittering lights and boarded up the windows as if a hurricane was on the way. Baseball scribes in Las Vegas? Yeah, imagine Estelle Getty in the Victoria’s Secret runway show.

Needless to say, the Vegas Chamber of Commerce and/or convention bureau won’t be drawing up a petition to have the gang back.

Indianapolis seems like the appropriate place to hold the baseball Winter Meetings. Actually, Branson, Missouri is probably the most perfect place, but both the Charlie Daniels’ Band AND The Osmond’s are performing this week. Why ruin the buzz of the hot stove?

Whether or not that stove will be hissing and burning on the Phillies side of the convention center remains to be seen. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. already took care of the biggest need of the off-season when he inked Placido Polanco to play third base, Brian Schneider to be the backup catcher, and Juan Castro to fill the role previously held by Eric Bruntlett.

That’s the brunt of the holiday shopping right there for the Phillies.

But it’s not Santa riding into town with a sleigh full of the big-ticket items. And needless to say we shouldn’t be listening for the pitter-patter of hooves on the roof this year. Oh sure, there still is a chance Pedro Martinez could return to the fold, which truly is the gift that keeps on giving. Oh sure, sometimes predicting the results on the mound from Pedro are a bit of a crapshoot (yes, we already miss Vegas), however, to ball scribes he’s like a three-day weekend in the middle of July. One time when I was looking for something to write about I walked over to Pedro in the clubhouse and said (essentially), “Hey Pedro, can you just talk and I’ll go to my computer and write it all down.”

Pedro_ruben Pedro filled it up.

My promise is that if Pedro returns I will write lyric poems about him. Hell, why not a feature on the Louis Vuitton man-purse he carries around.

Outside of Pedro, it seems as if the Phillies will target current Mets flop, J.J. Putz as the addition to the bullpen…

Hey, sorry about that flop crack. That wasn’t fair considering Putz was injured and it was the fault of one man for the Mets’ suckitude in 2009. That was a total team effort from the front office on down. The truth is Putz would be a big-time “get” for Ruben, the Phillies, and smart-alecky types that enjoy making fun of other people’s surnames.

I don’t like the last group of people I mentioned.

When he pitched for the Mets, Putz wasn’t very good. However, in 2007 he saved 40 games for the Mariners and posted a 1.38 ERA. Needless to say, that’s the guy the Phillies want to get.

Anyway, whether its Vegas or Indianapolis, I’m not going to be the only person talking trash this week. The truth is it will be piled high and deep in the lobby of some very nice hotel filthy with baseball types. Wear a cup.

Anyone know if Mellencamp is in town?

It’s not me, it’s you

Scott & TonySo the Phillies went to the Opryland Resort in Nashville for the Winter Meetings and came back empty handed (though I bet one of the guys in the travelling party swiped a towel or two and all of the sample bottles of shampoo and soap… they know who they are), which really isn’t much of a surprise. After all, just a few weeks ago general manager Pat Gillick told the local scribes to stay home to save them from the boredom.

Then he said he wanted to leave Nashville with a pitcher. In between all of that he called Randy Wolf a jerk for choosing his family and sunny California over dreary Philadelphia and its bandbox of a ballpark.

Nevertheless, the Phillies and… well, the nothing they left with was hardly the most interesting part of the Winter Meetings. Instead, the most interesting part of the Winter Meetings was Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa’s verbal thrashing of ex-Phillie (and soon to be ex-Cardinal) Scott Rolen in which he ripped the gold glove third baseman a new one before adding, “But of course we’d like to have him back… I don’t understand why he wouldn’t want to come back.”

Then he looked to the side, flashed his lashes coquettishly with his hands jammed into his pockets as he shyly twisted his foot into the ground. Seconds later, a balloon cloud appeared adjacent to the halo above La Russa’s head with, “I’m a li’l stinker,” written in it.

Tony La Russa is, indeed, a little stinker. He’s also a hypocrite and a jackass, but we’ll get into that soon enough. Let’s backtrack to the stuff he said about Rolen for a second.

Here’s the Greatest Hits version from La Russa’s diatribe at Opryland on Wednesday:

“It was unanimous that everyone was for me except him. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t care. What I care about is that he re-establish his stature as a major league productive star.”

“Scott’s got a lot of goodness to him. … I think he has been a team man. He plays a team sport. I don’t think he’s going to want to be the one guy and the 24 guys on the other side of the room.”

“There’s absolutely no intention to accommodate Scott. I mean, that’s not how you run an organization. The idea is to accommodate the St. Louis Cardinals, our team, our responsibility to our players and to the competition. So, no, I don’t want to accommodate Scott. But somebody doesn’t want to be part of the situation, you investigate it.”

“Nobody has more often said that I don’t think Scott should be traded than me. I think he should be with our club. I think we need him. We need him to reassert himself as an impact player. I don’t care what anybody wants in a trade. We need him and we expect him to be productive.”

“It’s very clear that he’s unhappy. And I’m making it clear that I don’t know why he’s unhappy. I can make a list of 50 respect points that this man has been given by our organization. It’s time for him to give back.”

“He’s got a contract to play, and we need him to play. And he’s going to be treated very honestly.”

“If he plays hard and he plays as well as he can, he plays. And if he doesn’t, he can sit. If he doesn’t like it, he can quit.”

“I think he’s strong-minded enough that I don’t see his opinion changing on a personal basis. And it’s gotten to the point that I don’t care. What I care about is that he re-establish his stature as a Major League productive star. And that’s one of the points I’ve tried to make to him.

“We’ve had issues where guys are saying, ‘What’s going on with Scott?’ And he needs to understand that he’s slipped, not in his play, but just in the way he’s perceived as being the Scott we’ve known for a few years. And I think that means a lot to him. He can play mad every day if he wants to. It’s OK.”

“He asked to be traded, so under normal circumstances if a guy doesn’t want to be part of your situation, then you consider that. So inquiries have been made. There hasn’t been anything happening so far that would make the guys in charge pull the trigger . . . I’m just saying from a manager’s point of view, I consistently say don’t trade him. And I say that because one of our important needs is to have somebody who can hit behind Albert [ Pujols].

“I think he has put some things together in his mind and I think he needs to understand that the Cardinals have given him a lot since he’s gotten here. He’s been given a contract, a world championship, and he’s given back some. And so, we need him.”

So yeah, La Russa told Rolen he’s a bad teammate and that everyone else likes the manager but him so he should just shut up and play for a guy he does not like. I don’t know otherwise, but I’m also guessing there isn’t much respect for La Russa either. Sure, he’s a good manager and all of that and Rolen had problems with his last manager before the Phillies sent him to St. Louis.

But I don’t think Rolen ever had to go to court to plead guilty for being drunk and asleep behind the wheel of his car in the middle of an intersection. I also dug around and can’t find any YouTube videos of Rolen flunking a field sobriety test.

I found one of Tony La Russa, though. Here it is:

Two months after this event occurred in Florida, one of La Russa’s pitchers (Josh Hancock) was killed when he was driving drunk. Actually, it was reported that in the days prior to Hancock’s death La Russa had a meeting with the pitcher about drinking.

But really, that isn’t La Russa’s problem. Nor does he set the agenda that Major League Baseball is in business with companies that push the last legal drug. Instead, La Russa’s job is simply to win baseball games and if it takes tearing down Scott Rolen in order to do so, that’s part of it.

Tony La RussaYes, his job is to win baseball games and it’s something he does very well. Better yet, La Russa seems to have a laser focus on winning games to the point that nothing else matters. It’s all about La Russa and winning ballgames.

For instance, La Russa has been an ardent defender of Mark McGwire and the allegations of performance-enhancing drug use during the former player’s assault on the single-season home run records. In 2006, after McGwire’s infamous showing before the Congressional House Government Reform Committee, La Russa continued to maintain that his former player was “legal,” which is a bit semantically. McGwire admitted to using then-legal steroid, androstenedione.

“I have long felt, and still do, there are certain players who need to publicize the legal way to get strong,” La Russa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in March of 2006. “That’s my biggest complaint. When those players have been asked, they’ve been very defensive or they’ve come out and said ‘Whatever.’ Somebody should explain that you can get big and strong in a legal way. If you’re willing to work hard and be smart about what you ingest, it can be done in a legal way.”

Nothing has dissuaded La Russa from believing McGwire was clean.

“That’s the basis of why I felt so strongly about Mark. I saw him do that for years and years and years. That’s why I believe it. I don’t have anything else to add. Nothing has happened since he made that statement to change my mind.”

La Russa managed the Oakland A’s when McGwire and Jose Canseco were the most-feared slugging duo in the game. Canseco, of course, detailed his (and McGwire’s) steroid use in his book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big. But when he played for La Russa, Canseco was something of a “steroid evangelist,” as Howard Bryant wrote in his book, Juicing the Game:

He talked about steroids all of the time, about what they could do and how they helped him. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Canseco put the A’s in a difficult position. The question of his steroid use and the possible use by another teammate, budding superstar named Mark McGwire, grew to be an open suspicion.

Deeply compromised was Tony La Russa. Canseco often spoke unapologetically about steroids, yet La Russa did nothing about it. … La Russa knew about Canseco’s steroid use because Canseco had told him so. Under the spirit of baseball’s rules, La Russa could have contacted his boss, Sandy Alderson, who in turn could have told the Commissioner’s office. That’s how the chain of command was supposed to work, but Canseco was a superstar player, an MVP, and the cornerstone of the Oakland revival. Turning him in would have produced a high-profile disaster. La Russa, knowing that his best player was a steroid user, did nothing.

In fact, La Russa did more than nothing. He not only did not talk to Alderson, but actively came to Canseco’s defense. …

But perhaps the best example of La Russa’s unwavering focus on winning baseball games at the sacrifice of everything else came when he was just beginning as Major League manager for the Chicago White Sox in 1983. Just as the White Sox had broken camp and were to begin the ’83 season that ended with the White Sox winning the AL West, La Russa’s wife, Elaine, called from Florida to tell her husband that she and their 4-year old and 1-year old daughters would not be joining him in Chicago because she had, as detailed in Buzz Bissinger’s 3 Nights in August, been diagnosed with pneumonia and required hospitalization.

According to Bissinger:

La Russa responded to the news with a fateful decision, one that would cement his status as a baseball man but would define him in another way.

Based on a strong finish in 1982, the expectations were high for the White Sox in 1983. But the season got off to a wretched start, mired at 16 and 24. Floyd Bannister was having trouble winning anything. La Marr Hoyt had a record of 2 and 6 and Carlton Fisk was a mess at the plate. In the middle of May, the team had lost eight of nine games. Toronto swept them; then Baltimore swept them. La Russa found himself fighting for his life, or what he mistook for his life. He had a team that was supposed to win, that had spent money on free agents and had good pitching and still wasn’t winning. The only reason he was still around was because of the vision of White Sox owner Reinsdorf, who continued to stand by him. So he did what he thought he had to do: He called his sister in Tampa and asked whether she could take care of the kids so he could take care of baseball.

Bissinger writes that La Russa regretted the decision and has never forgiven himself, but a pattern of behavior that put baseball before anything and everything else was in motion.

So yeah, maybe Rolen does have a problem with La Russa, though the manager just can’t seem to figure it out.

“I keep saying it, I don’t understand. I told him this. He’s never given me an explanation,” La Russa said. “I don’t understand why he can be down on the Cardinals, and I don’t understand why he can be down on me.”

Maybe people just don’t get along? Maybe there is no explanation? Or, perhaps, maybe some people don’t want to be judged by the company they keep. Either way, it doesn’t seem as if Rolen is going to change his position and it appears very certain that La Russa hasn’t done anything different than he had done in the past.

Pickin’ and Grinnin’

Minnie PearlIn doing some research last night I learned that the television program “Hee Haw” was taped at Opryland. Actually, it was just accidental research – I was really looking for pictures of the famous “Hee Haw girls.”

I didn’t find those pictures, but then again I didn’t look too hard. I guess I was struck by the idea that Roy Clark, Buck Owens and Minnie Pearl strutted their so-called “stuff” in the general vicinity where the Tigers traded for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, thus knocking the balance of power in the AL Central completely off kilter.

But Hee-Haw… come on. Back when we had only 12 channels, Hee-Haw was on one of them. That means someone must have liked it. Someone in Kornfield Kounty was doing something right.

On an unrelated note, I listened to an interview by Terry Gross with John C. Reilly this morning on the ol’ podcaster and it was revealed that Reilly viewed a lot of adult-themed movies in preparation for his role in Boogie Nights. Reilly then cleared up the facts and pointed out it wasn’t just for Boogie Nights that he watched a lot of adult-themed films. In fact, he joked (was it?), he watched a lot of those movies to prepare for every role he played.

These days though, Buck, Roy and Minnie don’t have the run of Opryland. At least until Thursday, the world of organized baseball is the talk of the complex. And in that regard, there is a lot of interest amongst the baseball establishment in what kind of stunt the Phillies and general manager Pat Gillick will pull off next. So far the Phillies have left a bit to be desired in the pursuit to bolster the club for another run at the NL East in 2008. They whiffed on Mike Lowell and Randy Wolf and then pulled the ol’ “blessing in disguise” guff afterwards.

That’s mostly because the “I know you are but what am I,” schtick didn’t apply. Hey, that’s about all they have to work with.

In regard to Wolf, though, the Phillies comments/behavior seems especially childish, which for our purposes is fantastic. When Wolf spurned both the Phillies and his ex-GM Ed Wade and the Astros in order to sign an incentive-laden deal to sign with the San Diego Padres, Gillick took a little backhanded swipe at the fan (and media)-friendly lefty.

Gillick said:

“Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. We went after him a couple times, and it didn’t work out last year and this year. So, it’s pretty evident that he doesn’t want to play for our team. If someone doesn’t want to be part of the team, it’s better if he plays somewhere else.”

Frankly, Gillick sounds like a spurned teen-aged boy who after a good-looking girl tells him gently that, “I’m sorry, it’s not going to work out. Your ballpark is much too small and I have my ERA and sanity to look out for,” in turn calls the girl, “ugly.”

So which is it, dude? I thought you liked her (or in this case, Wolfie).

It also seems that Gillick was more interest in his needs and desires and not what someone else might want or need. If a person is genuine and compassionate, they would understand that Wolfie needs to be in San Diego. After all, he is a Southern California kid whose mom can easily make the trip south from Los Angeles to see her son pitch in San Diego. Plus, the Padres have a starting rotation that has Greg Maddux, Jake Peavy and Chris Young. That’s five Cy Young Awards and definitely one Hall of Famer. Warming up for the ninth is Trevor Hoffman, who is known to blow a few from time to time, but he’s saved at least 37 games in every complete season he’s pitched since 1996. That adds up to 524 saves, which is more than everyone ever.

Should we continue on about San Diego? No, well we’re going to anyway. In San Diego it’s a sunny 70 degrees every stinkin’ day of the year. In fact today, as the snow and wind whipped around and made travel and outdoor activities miserable, it was sunny and nearly 70 degrees in San Diego.

San Diego…

Forget the fact that the Phillies’ ballpark is slightly larger than the one in Williamsport, San Diego’s park was the toughest in which to score a run in during 2007. It was also the most difficult to get a hit in and the second most difficult in which to club a homer.

So there’s that, too. But listening to the Phillies it sounds like they are tired of people telling them, “No way… not in that ballpark.”

Or are they?

Tadahito IguchiApparently the Phillies and Tadahito Iguchi met up at the ice cream parlor the other day. It also seems as if those kids had a few things to discuss, too. The Phillies, badly in need of a third baseman (as well as a pitcher or two and a center fielder), could be willing to make a deal with Iguchi for 2008 and beyond. Iguchi, for his part, hit the open market and learned that all the second base slots for the good teams were spoken for. But third base in Philadelphia looks wide open.

But it’s not as easy as it sounds. Because the Phillies released Iguchi after the season (as he wished) and did not offer him salary arbitration or sign him to an extension by Nov. 15, Iguchi would not be able to play for the team until May 15. Iguchi’s agent, Rocky Hall, believes the parties can find a loophole and some juggling and wrangling in order to get by the rule, but then there is that whole collective bargaining thing.

If Iguchi does it, then someone else will do it and then everyone will do it and all we’ll have is anarchy. Is the destruction of labor-management practices in the United States worth all of that just to allow Tadahito Iguchi to play third base?

Sure, the Phillies need a third baseman better than Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs, but I’m siding with the American way.

All this for just a little information

Tony Orlando & DawnThe first places most folks look for when they are on the road and far from home and need a little action are the bars and/or the hotel lobby. Everyone knows what goes on in a bar so there isn’t much need for explanation there, but the hotel lobby – specifically if it also has a bar – is like Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, Times Square during rush hour, and Broad Street during a parade.

At least that’s the way it is during the baseball winter meetings.

Essentially, that’s what the winter meetings are… it’s like Spring Break only no one goes topless. Or, it’s like the South by Southwest Music conference in Austin, Tx. only not cool. Come on, think about it – how cool could it be? A convention in at a resort that bumped Tony Orlando (but not Dawn) so a cavalcade of baseball writers, general managers, those hep cats from ESPN, and a bunch of job-seeking wannabe baseball flaks all under one roof… do we have to get into why that’s the epitome of uncool?

OK.

First there are the baseball writers, who easily are the angriest and most frustrated group of people on the planet. They’re all burnt out from long hours spent at the ballpark and ridiculous travel itineraries for eight months. Better yet, the best way to really drive one of those guys crazy it to say: “Hey, at least it beats a real job, right?”

It's Good to be the KingAs far as the hipness factor goes, I can only speak reasonably knowledgably about the Philadelphia crew and let’s just say TMZ.com doesn’t have a group of photogs staking the gang out. For one thing, one of the guys used to be an actor in Renaissance Faires and, no, he wasn’t even something somewhat cool as the knight on horseback in the joust ring. Nope, he was a pawn in the chess game and it wasn’t like the chess game in Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part I.

But, scarily enough, it gets much worse than that. But in the interest in protecting the guilty… aw, forget it. The geeks love online poker, one dork is into long-distance running, another went by the stage name “Todd Cougar,” and still another is pining for a long-ago shorn mullet.

What sane person would agree to spend a summer surrounded by a group like that? But there they are — trolling the lobby in Opryland listening to the tall tales and truth stretching that goes on whenever baseball folks get together. Actually, it’s really not all that different than any other time spent during a summer afternoon only there isn’t a game to be played later in the evening and no one has to drive anywhere, which heightens the stakes a bit. Think about it – who goes to Spring Break and rents a car? Probably no one.

So if the plan is to get the scribes, GMs, job seekers and hangers on all under one roof it will lessen the load for the local law enforcement and make the scene into how it must have been to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race in the desert around Vegas in the early 1970s.

Raoul DukeIf Raoul Duke and his Samoan attorney roll into the lobby at Opryland, everyone should leave – or keep tabs on the grapefruits.

Anyway, the GMs are the reason why everyone gets together for the week. Really, what other reason is there? In a baseball organization, the GM is where the proverbial buck stops. Actually, it’s better than that. The GM is where the information originates and information (not knowledge) is the commodity everyone has traveled to Nashville and camped out in Opryland for. Think about it – is there another resource more important than information. It’s better than gold and almost as good as oil and it’s the reason why ESPN and Yahoo! are snapping up all the top hunter/gatherers in the info set for a premium. It’s also why ESPN has set up something of its own little Green Zone inside of Opryland – information.

It’s the king.

That means the GM-types are the kingmakers. And like any good crowner of things that get crowned, the GM is coquettish as all get-out. You know how the scribes like to cite “sources” in all those rumor mill-type stories folks wolf down like hamsters and their pellets? Well, apparently those “sources” have access to the inner sanctum. They might actually know the GM well enough to collect crumbs of information here and there before running off to feed it to the gluttonous writer-types and their panting public.

SpudsYet even though the general managers from all across baseball are making the scene at Opryland, it’s not as if their presence boosts the hipness factor. Actually, unless one thinks those Hawaiian/Tommy Bahama-type shirts are “cool,” then rollin’ with the GMs is the way to go. After all, this is a set of people who take their cues on coolness from Spuds McKenzie.

Imagine that… instead of covering South by Southwest where one could hang out at the hotel and talk shop with Deerhoof, the writers are left to chase down old men who look as if they just got in from the hunt. Instead of Elvis Costello they get a guy dressed like Elvis.

Incidentally, why is that Elvis impersonators are usually always the fat Elvis?

Apparently, though, there is one GM who is considered cool, but that’s because at 33, Theo Epstein is approximately 40 years younger than all of his counterparts. Epstein is also considered cool because he plays guitar in a cover band called Trouser or something ambiguous like that. Come to think about it, the band’s name could be the most undetailed thing happening with Epstein. After all, a name like Trouser (if that is, in fact, the name) doesn’t befit a devotee of Sabermetrics. Sabermetrics, of course, is the baseball philosophy that likes to take all the life and intrigue out of a sport and assign it cold, hard spots on a sheet of graph paper or an excel spreadsheet. Enough of the thinking, they say, give me data.

ElvisNothing ambiguous like human nature… we need undeniable information!

Nevertheless, Trouser is a cover band that plays cover songs of cover songs, which, frankly, is about as low on the musical food chain as one can go. In fact, it’s the Renaissance Faire of the musical word – the pawn in the chess game instead of the knight in the phony joust.

But really, the baseball winter meetings are all just a phony joust. Oh sure, actual work gets done and trades/deals are made. In fact, Pat Gillick, the GM of the Phillies, says he hopes to leave Nashville and Opryland with a pitcher to add to the roster. Meanwhile, a few of the scribes hope to leave Opryland with one of those Hee-Haw girls.

Winter Meetings: Cleaning up

Who would have guessed that the team that made the biggest splash at the winter meetings was the Phillies?

Anyone?

But unless Barry Bonds decides to snap his fingers for that mysterious deal to conjure itself from thin air, it appears as if the trade to bring Freddy Garcia to Philadelphia was the thunderclap of the week.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t all sorts of stories floating around. Like that one that has Jon Lieber on his way to the Brewers in a trade that may or may not include both reliever Derrick Turnbow and slugger Kevin Mench.

Or the one that has the Phillies in the mix to make a deal with the Blue Jays for Vernon Wells or the Nationals for Ryan Church.

Finally, how about the one in which Aaron Rowand – even though he didn’t wind up back in Chicago – could be on the move to Texas for one of the Rangers’ relievers.

According to a story by Joe Cowley in the Chicago Sun-Times, Rowand has mixed emotions about the trade talk:

Now hearing that the Phillies have been shopping him this week during the winter meetings, with both the Sox and the crosstown-rival Cubs as possible suitors, Rowand is doing his best to keep his emotions in check.

“There is reason to speculate that I could be traded because [the Phillies] have a guy in Shane Victorino that can fill my spot and comes a lot cheaper than myself,” Rowand said Tuesday. “And I know they wouldn’t mind bringing in another pitcher to try and make the club better.”

Sox general manager Ken Williams often talks with Phillies GM Pat Gillick, and Williams said of Rowand: “Would I be interested in somebody like that? Yeah, I would.”

Gillick told Philadelphia reporters that trading Rowand would leave the Phillies short on outfielders, but he said he would like another starting pitcher — of which the Sox have a surplus.

The major stumbling block in a Rowand reunion? Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.

“I love Aaron Rowand,” Guillen said of the trade talk. “[But] I wouldn’t trade Rowand for one of my pitchers. Hell, no, he’s not that good. And I love Aaron, and he knows that.”

So for now, Rowand sits and waits.

“I was a rumor for five years before [a trade] happened,” he said, “so I’m not going to get emotional over rumors one way or the other.”

Sorry, Freddy
Jayson Stark had a great quote from White Sox GM Kenny Williams on the Garcia trade:

“Man, Freddy Garcia was so great,” the White Sox GM said, his voice literally quivering with emotion, Wednesday night, “he thanked me for the opportunity to come over and win a World Series. He asked me, if he saw me in a bar, could he sit down and buy a drink for me. By the end of the conversation, he had me apologizing for trading him.”

One man’s opinion
I’m not a big fan of overweight right-handed pitchers. I figure that if a person’s job is to be an athlete, being fit is the easiest thing to do. That’s especially the case with baseball, football, basketball and hockey players who have the best facilities and the best health care in America. Get in shape… how hard is that?

I’m funny like that, I guess.

Nevertheless, when Jon Lieber is healthy and pitching well he’s tough to beat. In fact, the Phillies might be a better team with Garcia and Lieber… if Lieber is fit.

But relief pitchers aren’t free. Sometimes they cost a lot.

Add Brett Myers into that mix, too. Aside from his legal trouble, Myers’ fitness was a serious question mark as well. Plus, Cole Hamels has pitched just one complete season of professional ball – is he headed for an injury?

Along those lines, when has Adam Eaton ever been healthy?

It’s kind of funny that the guy in the best shape (Jamie Moyer) in the Phillies rotation is the team’s weakest link.

Elsewhere

  • Barry Bonds to the Cardinals? If that happens would there be a team that Philadelphia fans dislike more this side of the Cowboys?

    The funny thing is that when asked if the Cardinals were interested in Bonds, GM Walt Jocketty said, “No.”

    It’s hard to read anything else into that.

    According to a report on ESPN:

    The Giants appear to be the only option for Barry Bonds at this point. The Cardinals are out of the running, and the A’s, Angels, Dodgers, Padres, Rangers, Orioles, Red Sox, Devil Rays and Mariners — all teams loosely considered open-minded — did not take a meeting with the seven-time MVP when he was in Florida for the winter meetings, the San Jose Mercury News reports.

    Bonds is seeking a one-year, $18 million contract with a vesting option that could bring a similar salary in 2008. The Giants don’t want to pay that much and are offering around $10 million in guaranteed money, so the two sides remain far apart on a deal.

    How funny would it be if the only offer Bonds gets is from the Devil Rays?

  • Could Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens be on the way back to the Yankees? It seems possible.
  • Three years and $34 million for Vicente Padilla?
  • Gillick standing pat no more

    Just when it looked as if the Phillies were settling in for a quiet time spent in a posh resort in Disney World, general manager Pat Gillick pulled off a deal.

    Make that a big deal.

    In an announcement late Wednesday night, Gillick finally landed that top-of-the-rotation starter he coveted since he took over the gig in late 2005. In exchange for top pitching prospect Gio Gonzalez and former first-round pick Gavin Floyd, the Phillies received two-time All-Star Freddy Garcia.

    Just 30 years old, Garcia is 116-71 in eight seasons with the Seattle Mariners and Chicago White Sox. Aside from an injury-plagued 2000 season, Garcia has pitched no fewer than 201 1/3 innings in every one of his seven full seasons in the Majors, including 444 1/3 for a 31-17 record during his past two years in Chicago.

    “I think the Phillies just acquired a 17- to 20-game winner,” White Sox GM Kenny Williams said. “We’re going to miss Freddy Garcia.”

    Better yet, Garcia is 6-2 in nine postseason starts, including a four-hit gem in the clinching game of the 2005 World Series. Featuring a big fastball, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound native of Caracas, Venezuela has averaged 6.58 strikeouts per nine innings with just a tad more than two walks per nine innings.

    “Getting a veteran guy who has been in the heat of a pennant race and done the things Freddy has done, we just felt it was the right move to make,” Phillies assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle said.

    In 2006, Garcia went 17-9 and earned $9 million in salary. In 2007 he is slated to earn $10 million.

    “We’re very pleased to acquire Freddy,” Arbuckle said. “He’ll fit very nicely into our rotation. He gives us innings and is a proven winner.”

    The trade could be just one in a series of moves for the Phillies. The chatter from the Winter Meetings at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Resort during the past two days was that the Phillies were hoping to land Garcia so that they could deal away oft-injured starting pitcher Jon Lieber for bullpen help. Initially, reports had the Phillies sending Floyd and outfielder/fan-favorite Aaron Rowand to the White Sox for Garcia, with Lieber heading to Milwaukee for reliever Derrick Turnbow.

    Instead, the Phillies get to keep Rowand, who they acquired, along with Gonzalez, from the White Sox in the deal for Jim Thome.

    Now, with six starters with bona fide big-league experience on the roster, it remains to be seen if Lieber will be on the move.

    “It gives us more options,” Arbuckle said. “It gives us the opportunity to do more things.”

    With Garcia in the fold, using Lieber for bullpen help seems like it’s elementary. Sure, Lieber won 20 games once upon a time for the Cubs, and he won 17 for the Phillies in 2005. When the big right-hander is healthy, he’s a steady and consistent a pitcher capable of turning in seven innings every time out. But Lieber has been plagued by injuries during his 12 seasons. He has pitched 200 innings just four times, missed a full season after Tommy John surgery, and looks as if he’s a step away from a pulled hamstring or groin.

    And frankly, the Phillies are a little concerned about Lieber’s growing waistline.

    According to published reports, Phils manager Charlie Manuel said Lieber’s fitness – or lack thereof – was (and is) an issue.

    “He did let himself go, and he knows it,” Manuel told reporters on Tuesday morning. “I think probably he’s tired of hearing it.”

    Manuel had talked to Lieber about his fitness during the 2005 season, too, though the pitcher didn’t seem to be paying attention then.

    “From here, it’s up to him,” Manuel told reporters.

    Then again, Lieber could be another team’s problem in 2007.

    That’s the case with Floyd, the frustrating 23-year-old righty who was the fourth overall pick in the 2001 draft. Though he showed flashes of brilliance during parts of three seasons with the Phillies, Floyd’s record indicates otherwise. In 2006 he was 4-3 with a 7.29 ERA in 11 starts for the Phillies and 7-4 with a 4.23 ERA in 17 starts at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after being demoted in June.

    Though he cracked the opening day roster in 2005 and 2006, Floyd went from one of the team’s top pitching prospects to a pitcher that no longer figured into the team’s plans. That’s a severe 180-degree turn from where the Phillies were with Floyd after they gave him a $4.2 million signing bonus in 2001 to lure him away from enrolling at the University of South Carolina.

    Once in the minor league system, Floyd’s ascent was quick with very few challenges. His domination in the bushes – one that included a no-hitter in Single-A ball – got to the point where team insiders and observers said that it appeared as if the tall right-hander was bored.

    The difficult part, some offered, was hoping that Floyd became engaged in a game, or that his interest was piqued. Still, no one ever doubted Floyd’s talent, which is why the Phillies were loath to simply give him away.

    “I think Gavin’s going to be a little bit of a late bloomer,” Arbuckle said.

    That very well could be the case, but in his stead the Phillies got someone who is already ripe. With Garcia joining Brett Myers, Cole Hamels, Adam Eaton and Jamie Moyer and Lieber as a lure for even more pitching, the Phillies’ troublesome rotation has come a long way since last April.

    Hangin’ in the lobby

    So what really happens at Baseball’s winter meetings? Try hanging out and talking – kind of what happens when the season starts.

    The only difference is that every team from the Yankees to the lowest level minor-league affiliate turns up for the winter meetings no matter where they hold them from year to year. This year, of course, the meetings are at a Disney World resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, the little burg conjured up by Walt Disney for his park. Last year baseball showed up in Dallas, and before that it was Anaheim, New Orleans and Boston.

    It doesn’t seem as if baseball is going back to Boston for the winter meetings any time soon. In fact, next year they head to Nashville before going to the place the ought to just permanently stage the meetings:

    Vegas, baby. Vegas.

    Of course they follow Vegas with Indianapolis. That hardly seems fair for the good folks in Indiana’s biggest city.

    Still, the winter meetings aren’t just a place for job seekers, back slappin’ and grab assin’. In the old days it seemed as if the winter meetings were where teams were assembled. Check out the small print on the top portion of the back of an old baseball card. Next to the agate type reading, “Acquired:” the date that follows usually coincides with the winter meetings.

    That’s hardly a coincidence.

    Sometimes nothing happens, too. During the past six years for the Phillies, the winter meetings have been places where things get squashed. Like in 2001 when Scott Rolen was traded to Baltimore before the Orioles backed out when they decided they probably weren’t going to be able to re-sign the third baseman.

    Another year a member of the Phillies media contingent was shoved off an elevator by a colleague as it stopped between floors. Because of that incident there hasn’t been a day at the ballpark where a writer hasn’t attempted to push a fellow scribe off an elevator when the doors open on the way to another floor.

    What, you were expecting tweed and elbow patches with that bunch?

    Nevertheless, it seems as if there is another quiet stay at a warm-weather resort for the Phillies’ contingent at the winter meetings. Of course that could all change over night when the GMs head to another luau full of drinks with umbrellas, colorful leis and a limbo contest for guys dressed in wacky summertime shirts.

    That’s not so different from the old days when GMs would wake up where they fell during the early morning hours with a trade scratched out on a crumpled up cocktail napkin.

    Winter Meetings: Naming names

    The names leap off the page so quickly that they make you dizzy.

    Freddy Garcia.
    Derrick Turnbow.
    Akinori Otsuka.
    Octavio Dotel.
    Rod Barajas.
    Preston Wilson.
    Rondell White.
    Kevin Mench.

    According to reports there is a good chance that at least one of those players could be with the Phillies by the close of the Winter Meetings in Disney World this week. More interestingly, all of the players listed fit one or more of the team’s needs. Garcia, of course, is the top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher that general manager Pat Gillick has coveted since the first day he took the reigns with the Phillies.

    Turnbow, Otsuka and Dotel are relievers who meet the team’s criteria of a set-up man, which, according to manager Charlie Manuel, means they have all been closers at one point or another.

    Barajas is a catcher who could take over the starting job, while Wilson, White and Mench are veteran hitters/outfielders that provide a little depth.

    In a nutshell, the Phillies would be smart to get any one of those players.

    But everything has a price. In this regard the names that pop off the page are equally as compelling.

    Jon Lieber.
    Gavin Floyd.
    Aaron Rowand.

    According to the dispatches from Florida, Lieber could be dealt to Milwaukee for Turnbow. To get Garcia from the White Sox, it could cost the Phillies Rowand and Floyd.

    Yikes… on Rowand.

    Losing Lieber, if Garcia is acquired, is no big deal. Oh sure, Lieber won 20 games once upon a time for the Cubs, and he won 17 for the Phillies in 2005. When the big right-hander is healthy he’s a steady and consistent a pitcher capable of turning in seven innings every time out. But Lieber has been injured a lot during his 12 seasons. He has pitched 200 innings just four times, missed a full season after Tommy John surgery, and looks as if he’s a step away from a pulled hamstring or groin.

    And frankly, the Phillies are a little concerned about Lieber’s growing waistline.

    Floyd, simply, is a huge disappointment. Yet for as much as the Phillies don’t feel as though Floyd is a part of the team’s future, they also don’t want to simply give him away.

    Rowand is the tough one. Yeah, he gets injured a lot, and yes, his offensive numbers aren’t stellar. But it’s hard to deny Rowand’s influence in the Phillies’ clubhouse. Plus, it’s so clear how much the guy loves baseball. No one needed him to smash his face into a fence to see that.

    Nonetheless, if the Phillies can get Garcia, the relievers they need and the extra bat or two, Rowand might have to be the casualty.

    Baseball is tough like that.

    ***

  • On another note, the best blog from the Winter Meetings is Scott Lauber’s.