Vlad Vatching: Week 3-4-5

As I noted last article, teams falling by the wayside limits the number of actual bidders for Vladimir Guerrero's services and a large number have fallen out of the race with little or no hope of getting back into the race. Florida is the lead horse now with Baltimore close behind its heels, but there's really no other teams really in the hunt for Vlad, other than as a backup plan if other deals fall through.

The Vlad-stakes have begun in earnest. News of continuing talks between the Orioles and Vladimir Guerrero's agents had been reported in Baltimore newspapers and was capped first by the Orioles becoming the first team to publicly announce that they are targeting Vlad as one of their key free agent signings and second by their reported offer to Vlad of 5 years at $65M, also heavily backloaded like the Expos offer was. Their signing of Tejada also punctuated the news as it made a big statement that the Orioles were serious about re-building and competing. In addition, there were Vlad rumors emanating from Florida after their I-Rod negotiations fell apart plus there has been rumors that Vlad would like to play there because it is close to home and there is a large Dominican population around there.

However, once again the other big news with Vlad is news unrelated directly with Vlad. It's George vs. Theo in a titanic dueling superpowers matchup surely leading to M.A.D.: Mutually Assured Dynasties. For in today's unbalanced scheduling, teams in the American League East are going to be up for a beating again at the hands of these two teams who has been playing a wicked game of one-upsmanship over the past couple of weeks. I see your Curt Schilling with a Javier Vasquez and raise you a Gary Sheffield, Paul Quantrill, and Flash Gordon. Then the Yanks throw in the pot Kevin Brown and Boston is thinking of seeing that and raising by acquiring A-Rod for Manny and trading Nomar nearer to his home in Southern California.

How does these two teams affect Vlad-stakes? They could take out two teams competing for Vlad.

First, most directly, any other teams in the AL East can almost forget about making the playoffs for the 2004 season, barring a massive string of injuries at one of these superpowers. And one of the teams, the Orioles, is in the Vlad-stakes. Both the Yankees and the Red Sox made the ALCS last year, playing almost to a draw, only Bud wasn't allowed to just wave his hand and call everything a tie, and they have both improved themselves immensely for their 2004 roster over their 2003 roster. The Yankees have added Javier Lopez and Kevin Brown to their rotation plus is close to adding Gary Sheffield. Boston has re-signed Derek Lowe and added Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke and is thinking of trading for A-Rod.

In addition, Toronto, the third place finisher in the AL East which was 10 games over .500 and still finished 15 games back and 9 games back for the wild card, did not stand pat either. And they would have been competing for the title in the AL or NL Centrals (only 4 and 2 games out, respectively), and would have been in the chase for the NL wild card, ending 5 games out. Toronto has signed Pat Hentgen, Miguel Batista, and Kerry Ligtenberg, and traded for Ted Lilly and Justin Speier in the off-season so far.

How can the Orioles and Devil Rays expect to compete with that?!? Their chances of making the playoffs look bleak for at least the next few years. How can any free agent sign with them expecting to get into the playoffs? One would think that they cannot compete by blowing their whole payroll wad this year on full-priced free agents this year.

If anything, you take your lumps this year, get good draft picks and save payroll for 2005 (potentially big class coming out: Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Beltran, Richie Sexson, Derrek Lee). Maybe sign two good position free agent for the future - like their signing of Miguel Tejada and their rumored deal with Ivan Rodriguez - and save the rest of the money for the stars coming out next year. For if they spend all their money this year, next year there probably won't be many Orioles going free agent and then they won't be able to pursue any big free agent in 2005.

In addition, Baltimore's pitching staff was no great shakes in 2003 and they lost their best two starting pitchers in Sir Sidney Ponson, who was not even that great a pitcher, though a good pitcher, and Pat Hentgen plus their best reliever, Kerry Ligtenberg. They still need a strong starter or two, so after they signed Tejada and perhaps I-Rod, there probably is not enough payroll to pay for both Vlad AND a strong starting pitcher. In addition, the better ones have been going pretty quickly, with Kelvim Escobar, Bartolo Colon, Andy Pettite, and Miguel Batista out of circulation now, and trades for Schilling, Vasquez, and Kevin Brown already consumated, so the Orioles may be left looking at the second tier of starting pitchers soon. With Vlad, they would have one of the most awesome lineups in the AL but it will be paired with a rotation that was only middling last year and lost their best two starters and best reliever.

So how do you sell that to any free agent prospect that you are wooing, especially one who has never made the playoffs, like Vlad has? At least Tejada has tasted the playoffs before and can wait a couple of years for the Yankee-Red Sox twin stars to hopefully go supernova and finally allow other AL East teams to be competitive. Can Vlad wait that long? Texas has shown that having a great offense does nothing when your pitching is not that good. And so having Vlad, just like Texas having A-Rod, does not mean that the offense can overcome any lack of pitching. And currently the Orioles are only a mid-league team at best in pitching, given that there has been no acquisition of additional pitching and they lost three of their best pitchers from 2003 so far.

Second, very tangentially and totally rumor based (so take this with a huge grain of salt), is that somehow Alex Rodriguez could possibly take a team off the list of Vlad's suitors. There have been rumors off and on that Boston and Texas will trade their expensive players, Manny Ramirez for A-Rod, which means Nomar Garciaparra will need to be moved. And, thus far, Los Angeles and Anaheim has been named his most likely destination, mainly because he's from that area and partly because they had the money.

However, Anaheim, by signing Bartolo Colon to a big contract, probably don't have the money to handle the deal unless Boston was willing to take an equal amount of salary back. Either way, though, the Angels probably won't be able to afford Vlad now and the signing of Jose Guillen (or at least he thinks he's signed :^) should mean an end to their interest in Vlad. And if the Dodgers pick up Garciaparra, they will probably have spent most of the money they saved from the Kevin Brown trade (on Nomar and on recently acquired and signed Juan Encarnacion).

Lastly, quite a few teams appear to be out of the race now, as I had said it would in a previous article, which reduces the odds of a bidding war. Montreal is definitely out of the race, with their decision to not offer Vlad arbitration. They could not risk getting "Madduxed" and being forced to sell off half the team to afford Vlad's salary arbitration ruling. Anaheim appears to be out of the race for Vlad now that they signed Bartolo Colon to a huge contract. Their new owner could relent and allow even more payroll but that is doubtful because it was already stretched to get Colon so it appears that any offensive help that they wish to get will have to be accomplished via trades. Atlanta is now out of the race because they just gave up a top pitching prospect to acquire J.D. Drew to play RF with the Joneses, Chipper and Andruw, but was basically out anyhow as they were actively looking at other RF alternatives than Vlad. The Giants appear to be out with the reports that they are already over their payroll target and still need to sign their arbitration eligible and non-eligible players.

Race So Far
Front Runners:
Florida - Vaults to the head of the race. Ending negotiations with I-Rod, it is now reportedly directing that commitment of money at possibly Vlad (they are also rumored to be thinking about Javy Lopez as well). Vlad had earlier expressed interest in Florida and now that interest is rumored to have been reciprocated. Florida would be attractive to Vlad because it is near his home in the Dominican Republic, there is a large Dominican population in that area, there are a number of Latino players on the team, including Dominican natives, and the scout who originally signed him for Montreal, Fred Ferreira, now works in Florida's front office.

However, Vlad is not on the top of their list of things to do. They still need a closer after letting Ugueth Urbina go and has offered a contract to Armando Benitez, according to local newspapers. They are also inquiring about Boston's Scott Williamson as a possible closer. Plus they still need a catcher after I-Rod was let go so they have been inquiring with Javy Lopez as well. So there are at least two major acquisitions the Marlins would like to do and they probably cannot do them as well as sign Vlad. And from Vlad's end, there is a question about whether there are any lingering negative feelings that he may have for Marlins' owner Jeff Luria over the ignominious firing of Felipe Alou, whom he greatly admires, when Luria owned the Expos.

Baltimore - Purportedly has narrowed their targets to Miguel Tejada, Ivan Rodriguez or Javy Lopez, and Vlad and that they are shooting for two out of the three. However, now that they already signed Tejada and are actively working on and am close to I-Rod, they remain very interested in Vlad and could end up with a trifecta. They are the only team that has had reports of meetings with Vlad's agent and that has been reported to have offered a contract to Vlad (besides Montreal), but, according to Baltimore newspapers, efforts to arrange to meet with Vlad have been rebuffed.

Reportedly Vlad's agents said that there will be plenty of time to meet with Vlad after the Winter meetings. But it's odd that there's been little movement even though the Orioles are clearly interested and Vlad appears to be interested. Could Vlad's agents just be leveraging Baltimore's interest to get a higher bid from other teams?

In any case, could Baltimore be in the Vlad-stakes much longer? If they sign I-Rod or Javy Lopez, they still would have a number of pitching needs to address but possibly not enough money to pursue pitchers and Vlad at the same time (depends on which rumor on their payroll pot o' money is correct, $30M or $40M). However, perhaps their owner Angelos could stretch the budget as another sign that they are serious about getting back in contention now.

Middle of the Pack:
LA - Has the money but do they have the will? With their ownership still in limbo, presumably any GM moves that will take on payroll will require OK from both the old and new owners, making any potential deal slower to unfold when they are adding payroll. Especially since McCourt's financing is so complex that approval might be delayed. With the trade of Kevin Brown for Jeff Weaver, two prospects and $2.6M, however, and the trade of a PTBNL for Juan Encarnacion (whom they almost immediately signed), they should still have enough money to pursue Vlad, especially since they could still slot him into CF with Encarnacion in LF and Shawn Green in RF. Or, they could always move Green to 1B, as he has been rumored to have offered to do.

However, if the rumored Nomar to LA trade pans out as a consequence of a bigger A-Rod for Manny deal, that should tap the Dodger's payroll. There is also talk about the Dodgers trying to get Magglio Ordonez via a trade, which should also tap their payroll. There is also local rumors that the Dodgers may trade for Seattle's Carlos Garcia then turn around and trade him for offense. But for now, even with zero rumors about Vlad going to the Dodgers, as long as they got the money, there's still a chance.

NYM - Has the money but, if anything, intimated in interviews that other positions required more attention. With Kazuo Matsui and Mike Cameron in hand, they may still be able to afford Vlad, although pitching is of greater concern according to some interviews as they still need a starter, closer, and some bullpen depth. There are rumors in local newspapers that Anaheim, flush with new front line starters, may try to move Ramon Ortiz and Jarrod Washburn and that the Mets would be interested in getting either one. Or they might try to trade for one of Seattle's arbitration eligible pitchers.

While they have eased some of their outfield concerns by acquiring Mike Cameron, who is currently slotted to play CF, with Cliff Floyd in LF, they are not happy with Roger Cedeno in RF and may be trying to move him and his salary. One rumor had them trading him to San Diego for Terrence Long. But for now, they seem to be looking for pitching, perhaps with Anaheim or Seattle. But, as long as they got the money and RF open, there's still a chance that they could pursue Vlad.

NYY - Always have money and Sheffield's apparent seller's remorse (that's what he gets for being his own agent) had pissed off Big George, causing the Yankees to make contact with Vlad's agents regarding their interest, though the Yankees want no part of a seven or eight year deal. Apparently this has called Sheffield's bluff for more money and negotiations have started up again with the contrite Sheffield and Sheffield will be taking over RF for the Yankees. However, one cannot count them out, really, until Vlad is signed too, as they could always move him to CF, given the rumors of moving Bernie Williams to DH full-time.

Bringin up the Rear:
Detroit - Has money, please send interested top-line free agents. Their owner reportedly said that they would be willing to overpay for Tejada but Vlad's name has not been mentioned so far. Perhaps Alou told Vlad about how he was treated there. And while they said that they were willing to overpay, Baltimore put their money where their mouth is and actually did overpay for Tejada, at $12M per year (for 6 years) when most bidding was around $8-10M (for 3-4 years). Detroit purportedly was the high bid at $11M per year for 6 years when Baltimore finally outbid them. They have signed two free agents so far, Fernando Vina and Rondell White and they supposedly have a boatload of cash that they can spend, if only a big name free agent would sign on the dotted line.

Seattle - Lost out on the Tejada sweepstakes and then, on the rebound, re-signed Carlos Guillen, signed Scott Spiezio, and traded Greg Colbrunn to Arizona for Quinton McCracken. Had already signed Edgar Martinez, Raul Ibanez, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, and Eddie Guardado and had re-signed Randy Winn and may not be done yet. There is talk about trading one of their arbitration eligible pitchers, in particular Freddy Garcia. They had let go of Mike Cameron the previous weekend, which means that they still have that money available for another free agent or two. Also, they could be interested in Nomar should Boston be looking to trade since they lost out on Tejada. So Vlad is still theoretically within their grasp but signing him would probably require backloading on his part and, in any case, is way back in the minds of Seattle's management.

Out of the Race:
Montreal - Permanently out of the race by not offering Vlad arbitration. They made one last ditch effort to sign him, offering him a 5 year, $70M contract heavily backloaded ($35M in the last two years) with the thought that a new owner would be in place by the end of the contract.

Anaheim - Most probably out of the race with their signing of Bartolo Colon to a 4 year, $51M contract, the previous signing of Kelvim Escobar, and the pending announcement of the signing of Jose Guillen to play outfield. The Angels have reported to have stretched the payroll already to sign Colon and the signing of Guillen fills their outfield hole and adds additional payroll, though trade rumors have the Halos dealing extraneous pitchers. Trade rumors also have the Red Sox sending Nomar Garciaparra to the Angels if they ever pull off the Manny Ramirez trade for A-Rod but Anaheim will now have to send an equal amount of salary back to Boston in order to afford a trade.

Atlanta - They have found Sheffield's replacement by trading for J.D. Drew. They had been reportedly talking to the Twins about both Jacque Jones and Doug Mientkiewicz. But the Twins must have been asking for a lot because for J.D. Drew the Braves still had to give up a top pitching prospect in Adam Wainwright and a 25 year old major leaguer with three years experience with some potential in Jason Marquis.

San Francisco - With the signings of JT Snow and Michael Tucker, their dwindling pot of money appears to be tapped. According to reports in local newspapers, the Giants are already above their targeted payroll figure, and my payroll spreadsheet adds up similarly, so that appears to be true. The Giants have so far denied any interest in Vlad and are pleading poverty to their fans. Any fans' hopes of signing Vlad have faded quickly and disillusionment is setting in with the only fruits of the Winter Meetings so far being the trade for Dustan Mohr, another 4th outfielder to join Jeffrey Hammonds and Michael Tucker. Barring any GM magic, they appear to have come up lame in the race for Vlad.

Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fanatic's View' for SFDugout.com when the mood and muse strikes him. He wants to teach and share his love of baseball and, in particular, his love for the San Francisco Giants. He will believe to his dying days that Bobby Bonds was robbed of being the first 40-40 player and should be in Cooperstown. Please feel free to e-mail him at BiasedGiantsFanatic@yahoo.com if you have a question or comment.

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