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Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Updated: November 26, 10:07 AM ET
Deal could entice Johnson

By Peter Gammons
Special to

Nov. 24

There were several rumblings throughout baseball this week that the Yankees want to make a Thanksgiving surprise similar to the one that brought Curt Schilling to the Red Sox over Shonda Schilling's cooking. The deal primarily would involve Javier Vazquez and would be enticing to Randy Johnson because the Yankees would guarantee at least one more year on the Hall of Famer's contract.

But what makes no sense is Arizona taking on Vazquez. Wink, wink -- we know the Yankees would take on some of the money, but Vazquez has $25M guaranteed in 2006 and 2007. Now, the Diamondbacks likely will be worse than any of Vazquez's Expos teams, so he'll demand a trade at the end of the '05 season. If he has a good year, Arizona will be embarrassed. If he has a bad year, he will be virtually untradable at that price. Then there's the matter of Diamondbacks owner Jeff Moorad being the agent Vazquez fired.

Since the Yankee farm system is thin near the top, one talent solution is for the Diamondbacks to get Tom Gordon and Kenny Lofton, then spin Gordon off to either the Indians or Cubs, two of the richest organizations in young talent, and Lofton to the Phillies or Giants for a third prospect.

The D-Backs have looked at other alternatives, in St. Louis, Anaheim and Los Angeles, to name three. The White Sox were the most aggressive early with Paul Konerko, Jon Garland and minor-league center fielder Brian Anderson, but it is highly unlikely Johnson would go to the South Side of Chicago.

Reading between the lines

Pedro Martinez's open begging to George Steinbrenner is unseemly at best, and - well, to recall Peter Townsend's greatest song ("I see right through your plastic mac") -- is such an obvious attempt to get the Red Sox to negotiate against themselves after making an offer than guarantees $27.5M for two years and likely will be moved to three and $39M if he agrees. Martinez was quoted as equating his salary to respect, which is far, far away from the Pedro Martinez values that build schools, churches and housing for his neighbors in Montaguayabo in the Dominican Republic.

As Vazquez makes little sense for the financially bereft Diamondbacks, so New York is the absolute worst idea for Martinez. He is a Hall of Famer, but he is also extremely sensitive, and in New York, once the season starts, he will be simply treated as a mercenary and subject to far greater criticism and scrutiny than he's ever experienced in Boston. But if it's only about money, then agent Fern Cuza can deal with the circumstances.

Boston is assuming Pedro is dead serious, so the Red Sox are proceeding with talks for Carl Pavano, Brad Radke (most likely returning to the Twins), Matt Clement, Jon Lieber, Odalis Perez, Jaret Wright, et al.

With the Martinez and Jason Varitek negotiations (with Scott Boras), the Red Sox are running a feeling off the World Series championship that the Boston franchise is dripping with cash. Then, in the midst of the debates with Boras about franchise worth, etc., ownership announced a ticket-price hike, taking box seats that eight years ago were $22 all the way to $85.

The Sox believe the Varitek negotiations could go all the way to Dec. 19, the date on which a free agent can accept or deny arbitration. For now, Boras isn't budging off five years and something north of an annual average over $10M (Boston is at 4/$36-39M), and isn't tipping his hand on whether or not the Angels are big-time players, which would allow them to trade the moveable contract of Bengie Molina.

And if Boston lost Varitek? Mike Matheny is a free-agent option. The Red Sox called about Paul Lo Duca, but Florida has no interest in trading him.

The long offseason

The early signings of mid-level players have reinforced many general managers' notion that the free agent period will extend well into January and perhaps February. On the day pitchers and catchers report, one can see Carlos Beltran standing at the train station humming, "there's a train either way, leaving every day..."

Troy Percival: 2 years, $12 million. Omar Vizquel: 3 years, $12.25 million. Cristian Guzman: 4 years, $16.8 million. Vinny Castilla: 2 years, $6.2 million. ...

"I don't blame Armando Benitez and Orlando Cabrera to be asking what they're now asking for," says one GM. "Does that mean they'll get it? We'll see."

Says another GM: "I wouldn't be surprised to see the Tigers extend wildly on Troy Glaus and a Carl Pavano. The mid-market teams (who were the focus of the last collective bargaining agreement) could drive some prices up through the clouds."

Agents look at the industry and see a boom. The percentage of revenues spent on player salaries in 2005 will have gone to 50 percent, down 5 percent for the fourth straight season, and a very good indicator considering the owners proposed 55 percent in their salary-cap suggestion in the 1994 negotiations. Boston's ownership has stated that it doesn't want to go over the luxury tax threshold again -- as it did in 2004, along with the Yankees and Angels. But staying under that $128 million threshold may be impossible. If the Red Sox go to $140 million, they would have to pay 30 percent on $12 million -- as opposed to the 22.5 percent they paid going over last season - because they will be over the threshold for the second year.

If the Brewers give 35-year-old Damian Miller three years and the Nationals go to three on Paul Wilson, why shouldn't Jon Lieber, Matheny, Martinez, Varitek and others shoot for what they believe is fair?

"There may be some bargains when some free agents are left out," says one GM. "But if you want to sign players early, you'll have to do so in a sellers' market. The agents right now can and will set the price."

The Tigers have had to overpay, but Dave Dombrowski is close to having one of the game's best baseball cities back in the high life, again. Detroit's attendance rose from 1.37 million (second worst) in 2003, to 1.92 million in 2004. While the farm system is being reconstructed and Dombrowski has struck gold with signings (Pudge Rodriguez), trades (Carlos Guillen, Jeremy Bonderman) and Rule V thefts (Chris Shelton, Wilfredo Ledezma), for the Tigers to get to the 2.5 million fans requires a few more name player acquisitions.

Dombrowski scored a major coup last month luring scouting director David Chadd away from Boston. Chadd is one of the game's best talent evaluators, and not only is he further empowered in Detroit, he was attracted by the loyalty that most Dombrowski employees feel toward their boss.

Those 119 losses are out of the view of the rearview mirror.

Diamond Notes
  • How great is this: The producers of "West Wing" are getting several items of interest from the Eastern League champion New Hampshire Fisher Cats for upcoming episodes. Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) is, of course, from a small town in New Hampshire. The only thing wrong is that in the last 40 years, the only states to have produced presidents are Georgia, Arkansas, Texas and California.

  • Those who want to put Nomar Garciaparra in a time capsule should note that in the last two seasons -- yes, including 2004 -- he is first among shortstops in OPS and slugging and second in homers, batting average and total bases. If Seattle or Anaheim doesn't swoop in, it's a matter of how much he gets from the Cubs on a one-year, make-good contract.

  • Two different teams rate the best and worst farm systems the same in terms of current talent under the major league level. Best: Minnesota, Oakland, Anaheim and Atlanta. Worst: Philadelphia, Kansas City, the Yankees and St. Louis, although the Cardinals have some high-ceiling prospects like RHP Anthony Reyes and C Daric Barton.

  • When having fun with the theatrics surrounding Boras at the GM meetings, the management slams at Boras -- that Kevin Millwood turned down a long-term deal with the Phillies and ended up with arbitration and his current lessened market, and that Greg Maddux turned down a long-term offer, took arbitration and settled for less with the Cubs -- lampooned the often-exagerrated public dialogue between baseball's No. 1 agent and clubs. In reality, the offers Millwood had were from clubs for whom he didn't want to pitch, and he didn't want to risk staying in Philadelphia too long if certain situations were remedied. As for Maddux, his offers two years ago were from teams for whom he chose not to pitch. At the GM meetings last November, the Red Sox approached Boras on Maddux before the Curt Schilling deal, but Maddux had no interest in Boston, or, really, the American League.

  • A's GM Billy Beane expects to have his deal for Pirates catcher Jason Kendall -- for Arthur Rhodes and Mark Redman, while they split the difference on Kendall's contract -- completed Friday.