CD's Connect the Dots..."Big Easy" Deals

New Orleans… the "Big Easy" is famous for many things. Bourbon Street. Jazz. Bayou country. Mardi Gras. Yet for baseball buffs around the nation it is likely to become famous for something else. This weekend's Winter Baseball meetings are likely to see a change of address for many of baseball's most rich and famous. Indeed, teams are looking to make the big easy deal… all of them born on the bayou.

It is almost a rite of passage for real baseballs fans… the anticipation of the off-season Winter Meetings. It is a place where rumor becomes fiction and fiction became fact, almost overnight. For our Philadelphia Phillies, fresh off of some of the best and boldest moves seen in years, are likely to be less than active participants.

Oh, they could sign a lefty or two, now that ancient left-handed reliever Dan Plesac has announced his retirement. They could even attempt to fortify a seemingly thin catcher corps with a pick up or two. Even more surprising, the Phils might even dive into the Rule 5 minor league draft on Monday, December 15, for the first time in several years.

But face it Phillie fans… with Wagner, Milton, Worrell and Pratt in tow and Millwood a mere acceptance speech away, the Phils big off-season hunting expedition is basically over. Much like a television personality ready for prime time viewing, the Phils are but some touch-ups away from center stage. While we can always speculate on another potential Phillie move… and we will, it is quite apparent that the real fun this weekend will be taking place among other teams.

The mind fairly boggles at the list of big name players that may have new addresses within the next three days. Bourbon Street hasn't seen this much action since the heyday of Al Hirt and his famous trumpeters! Truth be told, the greater the player, the higher his salary, the more likely he is to be changing zip codes before the sun sets on a Bayou swampland Monday night.

Care to watch superstar Alex Rodriguez display his wares next season? Don't plan a trip to Texas unless the Red Sox are in town, because it says here that A-Rod will be sharing a locker room in Beantown with our buddy, Curt Schilling, by Tuesday.

Hope to catch a Gary Sheffield line drive in the spring? You'll have to change your Delta Airlines reservation from Atlanta to New York because there is no way King George of Yorker lets Sheff slip away from the Yankee clutches.

How about Nomar Garciaparra, shortstop par excellence? No way you can watch him from the home of the Green Monster, Fenway Park! Chances are brilliant that you will have to go west, young man, to see Nomar perform, as a Southern California change of address seems likely.

These are but a few of the names of players that appear certain to be wearing new uniforms next season… and they all may be made in the "big easy" deal… born on the Bayou. After a sleepwalk through November, baseball promises to awaken with a passion at the Winter Meetings this weekend.

As many executives predicted after the GM meetings ended last month, deals would be slow until the Winter Meetings, as teams assessed their needs, processed their budgets, and made their cuts. With players like Greg Maddux, Pudge Rodriguez, Sidney Ponson, Javy Lopez and Vlad Guerrero suddenly let loose into the free market last Sunday, the list of future Hall of Fame talent is almost unmatched in the annuals of baseball history.

Many will find new homes this weekend. Care to indulge in a rumor or two? Great, because rumor-central is right here at CD's corner and although the locations may change, chances are the players mentioned will end up soon on the transaction page of your local daily sports page.

Starting from West to East, look for the Angels to attempt a swap of one of their starting pitchers, either Jarrod Washburn or Ramon Ortiz for a solid bat, and Garciaparra still may end up making the Magic Kingdom his future home.

The Los Angeles Dodgers will be busy attempting to pry a hitter from either the White Sox or Cardinals. They have shown interest in Paul Konerko, Maglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee, Frank Thomas or JD Drew of the Cards. Chances are excellent that at least one of the White Sox foursome will soon have a new residence. Drew has been rumored to be on the market as well.

The Seattle Mariners may look to trade disappointing pitcher, Freddy Garcia, as they attempt to move salary so they can sign Miguel Tejeda. Speaking of Tejeda, watch for his former team, the Oakland A's to resign reliever, Rich Foulke, to a new four-year deal this weekend. Also, watch for the A's to make their typical low cost, high return pickup of a player, either as a free agent or in a trade.

The Angels may also choose this weekend to announce the signing of first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, while the San Diego Padres will be busy attempting to lure in a pitcher, with Maddux the prime prospect.

As for the Giants, they, along with most other teams out West (save the Angels and Padres), are in a cost cutting mode so price tags will be prime when making a trade.

Texas. The Lone Star State, and the future home of one Manny Ramirez? Quicker than you can say Davy Crockett, watch for the A-Rod-Ramirez deal to culminate this weekend, and send shockwaves that could reverberate all the way to King George's private box in New York. The Rangers are looking to remove the albatross of A-Rod's monster contract from their backs and have found a welcome suitor… the Boston Red Sox. This deal seems as inevitable as catching catfish in a Louisiana fishing hole, another "big easy" deal… born on the Bayou!

Speaking of fishing, the Astros lured in a huge one when they made their pre-Bayou catch of one Andy Pettitte, former lefty wunderkind of the Yanks. This deal shocked the baseball world, yet may appear only in small print once the wild, wacky weekend of transactions is finished in New Orleans.

One team taking particular interest in the Pettitte signing is the Windy City boys, the Chicago Cubs. Another team with money to spend, rumor has them tossing millions in the direction of resident World Series hero, Pudge Rodriguez, in hopes of eliminating forever the Curse of the Billy Goat.

Even with the addition of Pettitte to an already strong Astro staff of Roy Oswalt, Wade Miller and Jerome Robertson, the Cubs appear to be the team to beat in the NL Central if Pudge is calling pitches for Kerry Wood and Mark Prior after this weekend is over. One Cub player who could draw considerable interest is righty reliever, Kyle Farnsworth. A talented pitcher on a pitching rich team, he could bring the Cubs some much needed outfield depth.

As for the other resident powerhouse in the NL Central, the St. Louis Cards, they are looking for pitching and have their eyes on Maddux, Sidney Ponson, Garcia or newly acquired Dodger righty, Jeff Weaver. The Cards will use either Drew or rehabbing outfielder, Jim Edmonds, as bait to catch a pitcher.

Midwest teams like the Brewers, Reds, Royals and White Sox will attempt to use players like Junior Spivey, Ryan Dempster, Jason Grimsley and the aforementioned White Sox hitting quartet as bait to catch a live one… with probably little relief.

One player who will be popular at the meetings is star center fielder, Carlos Beltran of the Royals. One year removed from free agency, and with Scott Boras as his agent, Beltran is sure to be moved before the '04 season is over, though a winter move is considered unlikely. However, given his agent's high profile, it is certain that Beltran's name will surface in trade rumors this weekend.

Heading East, the talk will be of the impending trade of A-Rod to the Red Sox and the pinball-like reaction it will cause. Sheffield will formally be introduced as a Yankee, and Garciaparra will have to be moved. It still says here that a Garciaparra-Troy Percival trade is a possibility, though the Angels prefer to move Washburn or Ortiz.

The Red Sox will also attempt to trade center fielder Johnny Damon, and have even hinted at moving arbitration eligible Trot Nixon. If moved, the Sox will look to add relief help to a group that may soon be without Scott Williamson or Byung-Hyun Kim. It is almost a forgone conclusion that Kim will be traded or non-tendered, as his antics last fall guaranteed a swift and final removal from Beantown.

Whither Vlad Guerrero, the reigning free agent king of this year's crop? Smart money says Baltimore, but a last ditch effort by the Dodgers, if they could move catcher Paul Lo Duca would surprise no one. Speaking of the Orioles, watch for them to sign slugging catcher, Javy Lopez, before the Bayou sunset on Monday.

The Orioles are an interesting club to watch, as they still have a beautiful park in Camden Yards and money to burn. If they are unsuccessful in luring Guerrero or Lopez to Baltimore, then they may make a renewed effort to wisk Pudge away from the Cub's clutches. The rumors are also hot and heavy that pitcher Sidney Ponson longs to return to his roots with the Orioles, and it would surprise no one if Baltimore made several "big easy" deals… born on the Bayou this weekend.

As for the World Series combatants, the Yanks and Marlins, they will no doubt have separate agendas this weekend. The Yanks will push for the Sheffield announcement, and if it somehow falls through, watch for the Yanks to bring in Juan (King Kong) Gonzalez or attempt an end run on Guerrero. King George, even after his acquisition of Kevin Brown, is always on the look out for another pitcher, and it is likely he will at least inquire about lefty Washburn from the Angels.

The Marlins, content with re-signing Mike Lowell and Luis Castillo, may look for some bullpen help or another catcher to replace Pudge. It is not inconceivable that they could make a run at Lopez if he is willing to sign a one-year contract.

With players like Lopez, Maddux and Sheffield taking their talents elsewhere, many have taken this opportunity to once again lay their burial wreathes at the door of the Atlanta Braves. One should never count out the organizational wizardry of Schuerholz and Cox. Although downsizing their payroll, they are odds on to add a solid outfield bat this weekend, either Juan Guillen as a free agent or Jacque Jones in a trade.

What about our wonderful Philadelphia Phils? Will Ed Wade, flush from a successful run unmatched in his tenure as General Manager, even bother to make a Bayou venture? He not only will be in New Orleans but he may be in the market for a left-handed reliever after the surprise announcement on Thursday of the retirement of Dan Plesac.

Speculation on names would be premature, but with Jeff Fassero recently released by the Cards, he might be a tidy fit in the Phils bullpen. Speaking of former Cardinal pitchers, it is well known of the Phils fancy for righty Mike Dejean, a former Brewer reliever. It may not happen this weekend, but sooner or later, the Phils will inquire into the interest of Dejean coming to the City of Brotherly Love.

Special interest should be taken to the Rule 5 draft on Monday. Usually this is a dark day for the Phils as their deep minor league system has taken recent hits in the loss of pitchers Derrick Turnbow and Miguel Ascencio. This year could see the loss of a few more young arms like Yoel Hernandez, Greg Kubes or Rob Tejeda.

However, the Phils may just return the favor this year and actually bring in a player to fill the role of the departed Plesac. Although more of an improbability, the Phils could also draft a young catcher to nurture, under the guidance of veterans Mike Lieberthal and Todd Pratt. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to watch for this years Rule 5 draft, as the Phils may be proactive for the first time since Dave Hollins was picked in 1991.

New Orleans has long been known by its adopted name, the "Big Easy". Perhaps major league baseball officials had this in mind when they decided to make the city below sea level their choice for the 2003 Winter Meetings.

Regardless of the thought process involved, one thing is as sure as the Blues on Bourbon Street, and it is that "big easy" deals… born on the Bayou will be the resident theme of this years baseball ballfest bonanza.

Columnist's Note: I welcome suggestions, questions and comments. Please send them to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond! CD from the Left Coast.

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