Many Unanswered Questions As the Winter Meetings Wind Down

Jacoby EllsburyA grab bag of smaller deals and rumors, while waiting for updates on the four-team trade of death

  • The Red Sox are rumored to be interested in Cody Ross, which makes no sense for a team that already has every outfield position and DH covered … unless Jacoby Ellsbury’s on the block. The problem with an Ellsbury trade, which has also been rumored, is finding a suitable trade partner. The 29-year-old center fielder should get a healthy raise in arbitration following an $8 million salary in 2012. Problem is, he’s coming off an injury-wracked season in which he hit a measly .271/.313/.370 and played in just 74 games. He’s also a free agent after next season. So you’ve got a player with a solid argument for 2011 MVP who tanked the next season, now stands to make eight figures, offers only one year of team control, and would likely require a quality pitcher in return. It’s baseball, so we should never say never. But if Boston’s going to add pitching during or after the Winter Meetings, it might very well be via a straight free-agent signing, rather than a trade.
  • The Giants signed Marco Scutaro to a three-year, $20 million deal, continuing their recent tradition of paying top dollar for contributors to championship seasons. Scutaro’s a different player than Aubrey Huff, of course, so we shouldn’t fixate too much on the disaster that was Huff’s two-year, $22 million extension after San Francisco’s 2010 World Series season. Still, in signing Scutaro up to the eve of his 40th birthday, the Giants are going nuts over the final three months of the 2012 season. In those 268 plate appearances, Scutaro hit .362/.385/.473. He followed that huge finish with a string of big moments in the playoffs. All of which ignores his advancing age, his status as a league-average hitter likely to decline, and that he’s less valuable defensively now that he’s no longer playable as an everyday shortstop. This isn’t a back-breaking deal by itself, and paying a couple extra bucks for warm and fuzzies isn’t going to kill anyone per se. But the Giants are now committing $17 million a year to Scutaro and Angel Pagan, they still have to wade through the rest of Barry Zito’s contract, Matt Cain (who obviously deserves it) is about to make $20 million-plus, and Buster Posey still doesn’t have a contract extension to take him past 2016. The Giants obviously overcame Huff’s deal, riding Posey, a loaded pitching staff, and productive role players like Scutaro and Pagan to their second championship in three years. But the enduring lesson of players like Scutaro — who they nabbed from the Rockies for nothing when he was barely hitting his weight — is that they’re not hard to find. If the Giants find themselves short one impact player because they overpaid for lesser guys, the Scutaro deal would be one of the biggest reasons why.
  • When asked about one-time top prospect turned slow career starter Domonic Brown, Charlie Manuel said he thinks it’s “sending a bad message” if he says he doesn’t want him.” Gee, you think? It was already a given that the Phillies needed one starting outfielder, and that any misdirection suggesting they were looking at someone other than Michael Bourn would be in the hopes of driving the Scott Boras client’s price down. If the Phils don’t view Brown as a viable starter, we might have to make it two vacancies, which could explain the persistent buzz over a potential Cliff Lee deal (and the $87 million contract it would take off the books).
  • Possibly related: The longer Josh Hamilton goes without accepting the Rangers’ four-year offer, the more you wonder if #MysteryTeam might be in play, the way it has so many other times in recent memory, including the Prince Fielder Sweepstakes. If the Phillies did clear payroll, Hamilton going there would start to make a ton of sense. Meanwhile I’ll continue to bang the drum for an Orioles signing, if Peter Angelos would ever loosen the purse strings.
  • Also still unsigned: Ryan Ludwick. The Reds have been said to be close to a two-year deal with Ludwick for a couple of days now, but nothing’s done yet. The list of suitors who could make sense for Ludwick on an affordable deal is long: Phillies, Giants (depending on how they feel about Gregor Blanco), Braves (if they move Martin Prado to third), Rays, Yankees, Orioles, and several others.
  • The Angels’ bullpen, arguably the team’s biggest weakness, looks strong for 2013. Ryan Madson is a solid gamble on a one-year, $6 million deal post-Tommy John surgery, while Sean Burnett on a two-year deal brings a valuable lefty. The Halos can now run with Madson and Ernesto Frieri from the right side, Burnett and Scott Downs from the left. Few other teams can match that kind of depth and quality.
  • If the Diamondbacks don’t trade Justin Upton in a blockbuster, look for Jason Kubel to change addresses. Arizona has Gerardo Parra ready to step into a regular gig, and Kubel has only one guaranteed year left on his contract at an affordable $7.5 million. Obviously Kubel wouldn’t fetch the top-flight pitcher or dynamic young shortstop that Upton might in trade. But there are enough outfield-needy teams out there to make the returns potentially intriguing.

  • More from the Winter Meetings:
    Trying to Get Used to a World Where the Yankees Are Fiscally Responsible (12/5)

    Rays Keeping Up With the AL East Joneses (12/5)

    Outfielders a Hot Commodity in Nashville (12/5)

    Haren Heads to D.C. to Give Nats’ Rotation a Low-Cost Boost (12/4)

    The Hot News From the Winter Meetings (12/4)

    For Some Reason, the Giants Think Angel Pagan Is Worth $40 Million (12/3)

    Red Sox Make Their First Move With Napoli Signing (12/3)

    Who Will Make the Biggest Splash? (12/3)

Filed Under: Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers

Jonah Keri is a staff writer for Grantland. His book The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team From Worst to First is a New York Times best seller. The paperback edition of his new book, Up, Up, and Away, on the history of the Montreal Expos, is now available.

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