A thin free-agent field and the undoing of the Florida Marlins have generated a fast-moving baseball trade market, one in which the Marlins this week agreed to trade ace Josh Beckett and cleanup hitter Carlos Delgado, along with their allegiance to South Florida and what could loosely be described as a fan base.
Where it ends, only owner Jeffrey Loria knows, but Las Vegas seems as good a bet as any, and the question remaining is: Do Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera have the stomachs for this kind of drama?
The Marlins agreed Wednesday to trade Delgado to the New York Mets for two prospects. The every-decade-or-so looting of the franchise -- in 1997, it was Moises Alou, Kevin Brown, Robb Nen, et al. -- seems to have put general managers in the mood, as the Philadelphia Phillies agreed to send Jim Thome to the Chicago White Sox for center fielder Aaron Rowand on Wednesday, assuming Thome's many damaged body parts are sufficiently healed.
In just a few days, the Boston Red Sox put together three minor leaguers and brought in Mike Lowell and Beckett; the Mets got some lineup protection for the vastly disappointing Carlos Beltran; and the Phillies found a place for National League rookie of the year Ryan Howard, that being Thome's old place.
In New York, the Mets spent the early portion of the week chauffeuring free-agent closer Billy Wagner through tri-state suburbia and could be NL East favorites before the pumpkin pie is served, particularly if free-agent shortstop Rafael Furcal jumps from Atlanta to Chicago's North Side.
After buying Beltran and Pedro Martinez last off-season, Met General Manager Omar Minaya has acted decisively again. A solid pitching staff was perhaps a closer away from September contention, so he chases Wagner. And the Mets were 12th in the NL in batting against right-handed pitchers, so he traded for Delgado -- pending physicals and commissioner approval -- who, against right-handers, had a .326 batting average, .431 on-base percentage and 1.057 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Delgado is 33 and poor defensively but overall is a huge upgrade over last season's first base options -- Doug Mientkiewicz, Mike Jacobs, Jose Offerman and Chris Woodward.
Minaya reportedly gave up Jacobs, a 25-year-old first baseman, and Yusmeiro Petit, a 21-year-old right-hander, and got $7 million to put toward the $48 million Delgado is due over the next three years.
In Chicago, the White Sox face the possibility of losing Paul Konerko to free agency, had declined next year's option on Carl Everett and bought out Frank Thomas' option year. So, they took a chance Thome's 2005 (.207 average, seven home runs, 30 runs batted in in 193 at-bats) was driven by injury and not age (35) and traded Rowand, at 28 a superior fielder and developing hitter. The Phillies will pay $22 million of the $43 million owed Thome over the next three years.
A White Sox official said the trade, also awaiting physicals, did not mean that they were no longer courting Konerko, or that they believed Konerko was close to signing elsewhere. They'd still like both, with Thome serving as designated hitter.
More big names and big contracts loom, none with the potential impact of Manny Ramirez, who wants out of Boston and into, among few other places, Los Angeles or Anaheim. It's a large contract -- three years and $57 million remain -- but $12 million is deferred, with payments not starting until 2011. For $15 million a year through 2008, Ramirez could end up being one of the winter's better bargains.