It's been a long, long time since we've had a baseball winter like this.
A winter dominated not by dollar signs, but by buzzing phone lines.
A winter in which a two-time Cy Young Award winner (Mr. Johan Santana, ladies and gentlemen) might get traded.
A winter in which a four-time All-Star who is only 24 years old (the precocious Miguel Cabrera) might get traded.
A winter in which, potentially, the winningest active pitcher under 26 years old (Dontrelle Willis), a seven-time Gold Glove third baseman (Scott Rolen) and a former MVP (Miguel Tejada) could all get traded.
Will it all happen? Will they all get dealt? Uh, dubious. But "I know one thing," says a high-ranking official of one deal-itchy club. "I can't remember the last hot-stove season that went like this one is going. I think you'll see a lot of trades at the winter meetings, because a lot of groundwork has already been laid."
But some of that groundwork has felt like an episode of that ever-popular hot-stove game show, "The Price Isn't Right," because to get players of that stature, our contestants definitely won't be paying Costco prices.
So how much will it cost? We've canvassed numerous baseball precincts to get a feel for the asking prices. Here is what we've heard:
The Twins played it cool on the Santana front for a while, as they explored what it would take to re-sign their ace. But now, there are rumblings that they're beginning to zone in on interested clubs and exchange lists of players.
The price: either three or four big-time young players, at least two of whom the Twins could plug into their big league mix on Opening Day 2008.
There isn't a team on earth, from the Yankees to the Chunichi Dragons, that wouldn't be interested in Santana. But the list of clubs that conceivably could meet that price would have to start with the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers.
The Mets seem prepared to talk about the likes of Fernando Martinez, Mike Pelfrey and possibly even Carlos Gomez if the grand prize is Santana. And the Yankees would be so hot in pursuit, they'd be likely to discuss anyone but Joba Chamberlain.
There have been indications that the Red Sox might be willing to trade one, but not more than one, of their three studs -- Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester. And the Dodgers would at least have to do some serious mulling about whether to give up one of baseball's best pitching prospects, 19-year-old left-hander Clayton Kershaw.
The trouble is, those four players wouldn't be all it would take.
Any team that would give up that kind of young talent for Santana would want to sign him to an extension, too. And the latest rumor is that he's looking for seven years, at $18-20 million a year, on top of the $13.25 million he has coming in 2008.
So that's another $140-160 million that the winner of this sweepstakes would have to fork over, plus the best players its system has to offer. Yikes.
When you add up all that, it's safe to eliminate, say, the Pirates and Royals -- not that Santana's total no-trade rights wouldn't have done that, anyway. What isn't safe is naming a favorite here. But one NL executive says: Watch out for the Mets, given the pressure on GM Omar Minaya to win now.
"Omar seems determined to make a huge splash," the exec says. "And I think that's the guy they've had earmarked all along."
He has more career hits than Milton Bradley or Doug Mientkiewicz -- but he's younger than Hunter Pence or Andre Ethier. So what would you give up for a 24-year-old hit factory like Miguel Cabrera? That's the question the Angels, Dodgers, White Sox and Giants are pondering these days.
Well, here's the Marlins' asking price: Four players, none of them with more than three years of big league service, all with a similar profile to the young future superstars the Twins are asking for Santana.
There is one major difference between Cabrera and Santana, however: Cabrera is two years away from free agency. So a team trading for him wouldn't also have to throw 150 million bucks at him -- yet -- because the Marlins have no plans to allow any negotiating windows.
But the price in talent is still so steep that the Angels would probably have no choice but to include Howie Kendrick and their top pitching prospect, Nick Adenhart. The Dodgers would almost certainly have to build their deal around Kershaw and James Loney.
The Giants would be likely to have to give up either Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum, but might not have enough position-player prospects to get this done. And the White Sox have the opposite problem. Center fielder Jerry Owens and third baseman Josh Fields would be a good fit for Florida's needs, but the Sox might be short on the arms the Marlins are looking for, especially after dealing away Jon Garland this week.
That Garland trade could still be a prelude to a deal for Cabrera, though. Just not with the White Sox.
The Angels appeared to need one more arm to assemble the kind of package Florida is after. So now that they've added Garland to their inventory, they just might have solved that pesky little dilemma.
"When I heard about that [Garland] deal, I said, 'Watch out for the Angels,'" says an official of one team that has been involved in the Cabrera talks. "If [new GM] Tony Reagins can bring in Garland and Cabrera, he'll have done a hell of a job in a real short time."
There was a time, a year or so ago, when a Dontrelle Willis auction would have turned into a stampede. But after a rough 10-15 season, Dontrelle isn't the same certifiable ace he used to be.
So the Marlins' price is about half of what they're asking for Cabrera: two young players instead of four. That's the good news. The bad news is that the Marlins still are telling teams they'd have to be "blown away" by the two players they'd be getting back.
The Mets, Mariners and Diamondbacks all seem to be on the trail -- but not necessarily at those prices. So the Marlins are sending signals they're very content to wait until the 2008 trading deadline, or even next winter, to give Willis a chance to rebuild his value. Which means Dontrelle isn't likely to go anywhere, at least for now.
Speaking of players whose value has faded, Tejada couldn't be more available these days if he were hanging from somebody's closeout rack down at the mall.
"They are dying," says an official of one team that spoke with the Orioles, "to move that guy."
Then again, judging by the price, "dying" might not be the right word. Tejada has $26 million coming over the next two years, and the Orioles haven't exactly offered to eat $25 million of it. So they'd like the bidders to eat the money and give them two "quality" players back, according to clubs that talked with them.
That price could shrink if they're really that anxious to move him, though. And since this is a team willing to talk about pretty much anyone on the roster, the Orioles are also listening to offers for their ace, Erik Bedard.
They want what one team described as "a boatload" of young players in return -- preferably power bats and power bullpen arms. So there's no instant match. But it's possible some team that loses out in the Santana sweepstakes could charge in to make a run at Bedard. Stay tuned here on both of those guys.
Rolen has a full no-trade clause. So he can't be traded just any old place. But with his relationship with Tony La Russa at an all-time low and the Cardinals looking like a team that wouldn't mind accumulating prospects to help it retool, there is a greater chance Rolen would waive that no-trade now than ever before.
St. Louis Cardinals
So far, the Cardinals have taken such a hard line, though, they've made that just about impossible.
"They're not picking up one penny of the [$36 million left on the] contract," says one executive who spoke with them. "And let's just say they're not giving him away."
Rolen probably would have wound up with the Yankees if A-Rod hadn't had Warren Buffett's cell number. But the Cardinals apparently were insisting on Those Young Guys the Yankees Won't Trade (Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy). So that conversation never made it past the back burner.
Now it looks as if the Cardinals are going to bide their time until Cabrera gets traded, then reposition Rolen as the best third-base option out there. And there are all kinds of possibilities, depending on the Cardinals' willingness to digest some of the dollars. The Dodgers, Brewers, Reds and Indians, for instance, all make sense on varying levels.
So we'd bet that one of these days, Rolen will become the first seven-time Gold Glove-winning third baseman in history to get traded. It just won't happen in the next 15 minutes.
But in a winter in which Brad Lidge, Edgar Renteria, Jon Garland, Orlando Cabrera and Jacque Jones have been traded already, you never know who might get traded in the next 15 minutes. It's a beautiful thing. The good old-fashioned baseball trade is back.
The Rumbles in the Offseason Jungle
• The Reds are so convinced that minor league player of the year Jay Bruce could be ready for the big leagues by June, they're actively marketing outfielders to clear space. Don't figure on Junior Griffey or Adam Dunn changing zip codes. But the Reds are aggressively dropping Ryan Freel's name. And maybe most surprisingly, they've told other teams Josh Hamilton is also available in the right deal. "It really makes you wonder about his health," said an official of one team that spoke with them, "and whether all that time he missed took more of a toll than we thought."
• Johan Santana might not be the only starting pitcher the Twins move this winter. Clubs that have spoken with them say that in a deal for the right young center fielder, they might be willing to trade the much-coveted Matt Garza. But if they do deal Santana, they'd ideally come away from that extravaganza with a center fielder, making the need to trade Garza a moot point.
• One of the recurring themes of this offseason has been teams' floating the names of all kinds of pitchers you'd never think they'd trade, just to see what sort of response they get. Well, here's another one: Pittsburgh's Ian Snell. Teams that have talked to the Pirates say they're in the midst of a monstrous internal debate about whether they'd be willing to at least dangle Snell, a major 26-year-old talent who had more quality starts this year (22) than Santana or Roy Oswalt and a better strikeout rate (7.66 per 9 innings) than Carlos Zambrano or Ben Sheets.
• Has there ever been a $100 million player who wasn't even a Type A free agent? We ask because Scott Boras continues to throw out numbers in that range for Andruw Jones, even though Jones was ranked as only a Type B.
"The big worry on Andruw is, his body is starting to scare people," said an official of one team that went into the winter shopping for center fielders. "You look at the body type, and you wonder: What are you getting? The question we were asking a few months ago was, 'Torii or Andruw?' But now Torii has gone way by him. I go back to bodies and conditioning. And based on that alone, I'd bet on Torii as the guy more likely to give you more productive years than Andruw, even though Andruw is younger."
They were interested in re-signing Wolf last winter, but he took a one-year deal with the Dodgers over a two-year offer in Philadelphia. Now that the Dodgers have moved on and Wolf is recovering from minor shoulder surgery, he's high on the Phillies' rotation shopping list. Other names on that list: Matt Clement, Kris Benson, Mike Wood and Japanese free agent Hiroki Kuroda.
• Although there were lots of reports that the Phillies made a four-year offer to Mike Lowell over the weekend, that isn't quite true. They were prepared to make that offer if Lowell had told them he wanted to be a Phillie. But instead, Lowell was so intent on going back to Boston, he called the Phillies and told them it wouldn't be right to even ask for an offer. Just one more example of how one of the classiest humans in baseball operates 24/7.
• Here's the evaluation of a scout who got to know Brad Lidge well over the years, on whether Lidge and Philadelphia are a good match for each other:
"It wouldn't be a surprise if the Phillies got more out of him [than the Astros did]. For one thing, his mechanics should be better, just because he got his knee fixed [surgically]. The only thing that would worry me is if he has 'one of those games' right away. I just wonder, if he loses that town, can he win it back? Brad's a worrier. But Charlie Manuel is exactly what he needs in a manager. Charlie's style fits Brad Lidge to a T."
Incidentally, how about this amazing stat:
Opponent batting average against Lidge in 2005, when he was looked at as the best closer in the National League: .223.
Opponent batting average against him this year, when he was looked at as some kind of monumental bust: .219.
• Other teams continue to question why the Astros were in such a hurry to trade Lidge. But the Astros have been telling people who've asked that they'd had surprisingly little interest in Lidge. And they'd already determined Lidge's time in Houston had come and gone. So when they had a chance to trade for center fielder Michael Bourn, a longtime favorite of new GM Ed Wade, they decided there was no point in waiting around.
Virtually everyone we've surveyed on that deal thinks the Phillies got the better of it. But one NL executive disagrees. "I think Houston has got something there in Michael Bourn. I think that guy has great ability. I know I'm out there on an island about that, but that's OK. I'll be out there. I think Michael Bourn will be a real good player."
• The acquisition of Bourn also allowed the Astros to turn around and trade center-field prospect Josh Anderson to the Braves for reliever Oscar Villarreal. If the Braves had to start the season today, Anderson would be their center fielder. But one scout says, flatly: "He's no more than a borderline everyday guy." And the fact that the Braves are still shopping tells you they agree.
• We're big instant-replay fans here at International Rumblings Headquarters. But if baseball really wants to get home run calls right, we have a suggestion that will cost a lot less money than hiring a staff to monitor the replay machines. How about painting yellow lines at the top of every fence in the big leagues? How come that isn't standard procedure in every park? "Compared to what we'd be spending on replay," says one assistant GM, "that's a bargain."
• With the Angels now looming as the favorites to deal for Miguel Cabrera, one baseball man said this week: "Put Cabrera in the middle of that lineup, and he and Vlad [Guerrero] would have to be damned close to Manny [Ramirez] and Big Papi, wouldn't they?" Hey, good point. Here are the 2007 stat lines of those two tag teams:
Ramirez-Ortiz: .315 avg., .419 OBP, .561 SLG, 55 HR, 205 RBIs
Cabrera-Guerrero: .322 avg., .402 OBP, .556 SLG, 61 HR, 244 RBIs
• On the other hand, it would be a shame if the White Sox didn't land Cabrera, just so they could have one Cabrera at third base, and another (Orlando) at short. "They'd be Cabreras 'R Us," quipped one front-office man.
Readers alert: Anybody recall a left side of any infield where the third baseman and shortstop had the same name? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Factoid of the week
The 2006-07 Phillies are just the third franchise in history to produce back-to-back MVP seasons from two different players despite the slight technicality that they failed to win a postseason game in either season. The other two teams:
• The 1938-39 Reds (Ernie Lombardi, Bucky Walters) -- finished fourth in 1938, got swept in the '39 World Series.
Box score line of the week
That recently completed World Cup baseball tournament isn't going to go down as Thailand's finest sporting hour. The Thais went 0-7, got outscored 108-7 and produced this epic stat line by reliever Chanati Thongbai:
6 IP, 22 H, 24 R, 19 ER, 9 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 4 HR.
If you forgot to calculate along at home, that computes to a 5.17 WHIP, a .537 opponent batting average, a .608 on-base percentage and a 1.584 OPS. Youch!
Contract clause of the week
• As part of his new deal with San Diego, the Padres renewed Greg Maddux's Del Mar Country Club membership.
The only active pitcher who won a game in his teens is (who else?) Seattle's Felix Hernandez, who won four before turning 20. (Closest call: Edwin Jackson beat Randy Johnson on his 20th birthday, but that doesn't count.) And the only pitcher to win more than 10 games as a teenager in the division-play era was (who else?) Dwight Gooden, who won 17 of them. Hey, you were expecting maybe Satchel Paige?
Headliner of the week
• From the "news" scroll of the always-entertaining online parody site, the Ironic Times:
HUNDREDS OF PLAYERS INDICTED
FOR STEALING BASES
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and is now available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.