Rumors & Rumblings

With the winter months upon us and weather temperatures declining, it is good to know that we can turn to baseball as the Hot Stove heats up for yet another off-season full of player transactions. Oh, and the MLB free agent market officially opens for business on Friday, Nov. 12, shortly after the GM meetings in Florida comes to a close.

San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean spent the past week in the warmer climates of Key Biscayne, Fla., for the annual GM meetings, but came away without duplicating last off-season's action, when he pulled off the only trade during the GM meetings in 2003.

Giants fans may recall that it was about this time, last year, when Sabean acquired A.J. Pierzynski from the Minnesota Twins for Joe Nathan and two pitching prospects. (For all intents and purposes, that will be the only time the trade will be mentioned in this column.)

This year, however, the only trade to make news out of Florida was a two-for-two deal that sent pitchers Darrell May and Ryan Bukvich from Kansas City to San Diego, in exchange for outfielder Terrance Long and pitcher Dennis Tankersley.

"I don't expect we'll get anything done here, and maybe nobody will," Sabean said on Wednesday at the GM meetings, prior to the announcement of the KC-SD trade. "With the way the market is flooded, it's going to take teams more time to put things together."

Out of the 217 potentially eligible free agents (207 have filed since Oct. 28), only two players used the exclusive window to re-sign with their former ballclubs (Deivi Cruz with the Giants and Jose Mesa with the Pittsburgh Pirates), while a handful of others had contracts options exercised.

At the very least, Sabean, along with the other general managers, were able to lay the groundwork for the next get-together for these front office architects when the Winter Meetings take place next month in Anaheim, Calif., on Dec. 10-13.

Surely by then, the Giants will know the fate of their closer situation, which many critics have suggested to be San Francisco's No. 1 priority this off-season, and whether Dustin Hermanson will retain his job or seek work elsewhere.

"Considering what he did for us last year, which was above and beyond, and what else is available ..." said Sabean. "I do believe Hermie wants to come back."

"You want to talk about pressure? Our season was hanging in the balance and he took it on his shoulders. He's our player and we control (the process) so that's where we're looking first. We know him the best."

The Giants brain trust holds Hermanson in high regard, but with the right-hander from Ohio garnering interest from his hometown team, the Cleveland Indians, San Francisco will have to formulate a competitive offer to retain him.

For the second week in a row, The Cleveland Plain Dealer has mentioned Hermanson in connection with the Indians and has speculated that he is one of GM Mark Shapiro's targets, especially since he will come cheaper than the other closers on the market.

Should the Giants fail to re-sign Hermanson, they will have no choice but to turn their attention to the other free agent stoppers. One available pitcher, Troy Percival, is coming off a season in which he missed a month due to an elbow injury, causing his strikeout ratio to drop to 5.98 per nine innings (10.43 career average).

The 35-year-old right-hander told his agent recently that he would welcome the opportunity of relocating to the City by the Bay, should the Giants be interested in his services.

"He thinks it's a great organization and a great situation," said Paul Cohen, Percival's agent. "Troy thinks there are a lot of positives up there."

Some scouts feel Percival, in addition to his injury, has been showing signs of declining and for someone seeking $8 million annually for two or three years, the Giants may be better off looking elsewhere, perhaps even internally.

"Closers are discovered most of the time out of necessity," said Ned Colletti, Giants assistant general manager. "So many of them started with a different role, and developed into it or were given an opportunity or relished the chance. There might be guys on our 40-man roster right now that are closers who just haven't had the opportunity."

On that 40-man roster, some baseball critics feel that the Giants still lack a solid run producer and could find it in right fielder Magglio Ordonez. The 30-year-old Venezuelan made a surprise appearance at the GM meetings this past week "a rare move for a player" proclaiming that his surgically repaired knee will be ready by spring training.

"I'm feeling good," said Ordonez, who appeared in just 52 games this past season. "It's going to be (100 percent) in December. Right now I'm like 90 percent. We're waiting, taking it slow. We don't want to (overdo it)."

As reported on this column last week, despite all the question marks surrounding Ordonez's rare injury, some baseball experts are speculating that the Giants will extend a contract offer to the slugger.

In an article this past Wednesday, The Sporting News' Ken Rosenthal suggests an Ordonez-to-San Francisco signing is possible: "This would take some work. The team needs to clear payroll by trading one or more players from a group that includes catcher A.J. Pierzynski, second baseman Ray Durham and third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo."

Even local sports personalities, Larry Krueger and Bruce Macgowan, between their KNBR talk shows, wrote recently in their guest columns in the San Francisco Examiner that the Giants should explore this avenue.

In an article last week, Krueger wrote, "Sabean may be wise to pursue a couple of All-Star caliber players like Ordonez and [Nomar] Garciaparra. Due to recent injuries, their price tags have dropped considerably. According to recent reports, both are interested in signing one-year deals, which may be to the Giants' liking, with the intention of testing the market again next year."

Garciaparra's name has been thrown around quite often in conjunction with Ordonez, partly because both players are coming off injury-marred seasons and might reduce themselves to one-year deals to prove their health.

With agent extraordinaire Scott Boras advising Ordonez, a discounted contract may not be feasible. Still, the Giants could certainly be involved with either Ordonez or Garciaparra should the price come down dramatically.

Despite bordering on what some may call pipe dreams, San Francisco can theoretically look into the other free agent possibilities like Edgar Renteria and/or Carlos Beltran to fill their needs at shortstop and center field by structuring creative contracts.

Considering that the Giants do not have a contract signed past the 2006 season (deferred payments notwithstanding), they could negotiate expensive contracts with back-loaded payments, allowing them to fit high-profile players into their 2005 payroll budget.

"It's an option," Sabean said. "We've done it in the past. But it will take the right player and the right fit to go forward with something like that."

However, teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies have seen the negative effects of what deferred payments can do to a ballclub, so any back-loading of contracts needs to be approached with extreme caution.

Two names that won't go away are right-hander Pedro Martinez and left fielder Moises Alou, son of Giants manager Felipe Alou. It was mentioned in this column last week that both players have obvious ties to the Giants skipper, but both come with obvious issues.

According to former Giants announcer Ted Robinson, who wrote in an article on MSNBC, Martinez needs to be in a situation where he can be free to "do his own thing," much like Barry Bonds in San Francisco. All the personal benefits Martinez enjoys might be a reason as to why he is being linked to the Giants.

"If I don't play in Boston, which is my desire, then I would like to play with a manager who respects a pitcher like me, someone like Felipe Alou, who is like a father to me,'' Martinez told Hoy, a newspaper in the Dominican Republic.

Seems like the prima donna pitcher is looking for a baby-sitter, which the Giants can ill-afford to oblige, especially for the steep price Martinez will surely command.

For what it's worth, Wagerweb.com, an online sports betting site, has set the odds at 4-to-1 for Martinez to sign with the Giants. Fortunately for San Francisco, the Red Sox are heavily favored to retain the right-hander.

Meanwhile, Moises Alou has said recently that his father would love for him to play in San Francisco and it would depend on what kind of offer the Giants can make. For his brutally weak defense, hopefully they don't make an offer at all. It would be unbearable to watch him playing right field at the ballpark on 24 Willie Mays Plaza.

ESPN Insider's Jerry Crasnick suggests that left-hander Eric Milton could prosper at the park off the shores of McCovey Cove: "The consensus is that Milton could really blossom in a place like Los Angeles, San Diego or San Francisco -- where those long fly balls could die a peaceful death rather than clear the fence."

Milton had a very respectable season in 2004 despite pitching most of his games at hitter-friendly Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia. But with Sabean citing starting pitching as his least area of concern, it would be a stretch for the Giants to sign Milton when there are other pressing needs to be addressed.

Crasnick also linked shortstop Omar Vizquel to the Giants, which would make more sense, both financially and with regard to necessity.

With free agency officially underway, the dominoes should be dropping shortly, allowing front office types to better gauge the landscape. And just in time, too. It's been awfully cold and quiet in San Francisco. Forget the Hot Stove, burn up those phone lines and get some deals done!

Around the majors

  • New York Mets GM Omar Minaya is said to be exploring ways to acquire Chicago Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa. He is dangling catcher Mike Piazza and outfielder Cliff Floyd, among others. Minaya discovered Sosa in the Dominican Republic and has established a longtime friendship with him.

  • ESPN's Peter Gammons reported that the White Sox have offered first baseman Paul Konerko and pitcher Jon Garland in exchange for Diamondbacks ace Randy Johnson. Center fielder Aaron Rowand could also be included, but reports also indicate that Johnson will eventually veto such a trade anyway.

  • The Cubs have reportedly declined an offer from the Texas Rangers that would have sent pitcher Chan Ho Park to Chicago, but Cubs GM Jim Hendry politely declined. He is instead working on a possible deal to acquire center fielder Preston Wilson and/or closer Shawn Chacon from the Rockies.

  • Hendry has also shown interest in former Giant Rich Aurilia to play shortstop, but reports indicate that the Cubs have prioritized re-signing Garciaparra as a first option.

  • According to the Arizona Republic, the Diamondbacks may be interested in signing third baseman Troy Glaus should first baseman Richie Sexson bolt elsewhere.

  • The Sporting News reported that either Austin Kearns or Adam Dunn may be available for trade if the Cincinnati Reds can acquire pitching in return. Hopefully Sabean was "laying in the weeds" on this one.

  • Reports out of New York indicate an interest from the Dodgers in re-acquiring Piazza. Smells like Tommy Lasorda around here.

  • The Atlanta Braves are said to be offering center fielder Andruw Jones and what's left of his contract. The Braves are targeting teams who are interested in Beltran and are marketing Jones as a cheaper alternative.

  • The Braves may also be dangling Jones in exchange for Georgia native Kevin Brown from the Yankees. Brown has also been linked to the Philadelphia Phillies, who would be acquiring him for much less than the $15 million price tag for 2005, considering New York has offered to pay most of it.



    Phil Delacruz was a transplanted Giants fan, buried in the Southland. After four strenuous years in College, studying (read: partying), he's back in the beautiful "City by the Bay" – San Francisco. Do you think he should move back to LALA land? Or do you like him where he is now and appreciate the good reads? Either way, send him an e-mail at phildelacruz@aol.com to air out your frustrations or, more likely, songs of praise.

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