Troy Renck is the Rockies/MLB beat reporter for the Denver Post. You see his name here often with exclusive rumors and info from his columns for that paper. Troy was kind enough to answer a bunch of my Rockies-related questions for MLBTradeRumors. Below is the first half of the interview.
Will the Rockies be able to rekindle Todd Helton trade talks with Boston, Baltimore, or another team year? Do you take Todd at his word that he'd veto any deal at this point?
Troy: It's possible they could revisit talks, specifically with Boston. But Helton's promise not to accept a trade during the season places a statue of limitations on any new talks. My calculated guess is that trade discussions won't resurface in earnest until the offseason.
How would you grade Dan O'Dowd's offseason?
Troy: O'Dowd made a terrific, if not unpopular trade by acquiring Willy Taveras, Taylor Buchholz and Jason Hirsh for Jason Jennings. Hirsh is the key. If he realizes his potential, he could become Jennings at a much cheaper price for several years. Taveras helps in center field, though I am not sure he's a longterm solution. The preference would be to have more power from that position. Getting Rodrigo Lopez provides a potential innings-eater to ease Jennings' absence. Lopez struggled mightily last year. The Rockies think he can have success again because he's not coming off an injury and will be paroled from the AL East.
His best under-the-radar move was adding Brian Lawrence, who, if healthy, could give the rotation a jolt in May.
Recently Bob Bavasi, owner of the fine website JapanBall.com, was kind enough to answer some questions for MLBTradeRumors.com. Bob tells me that he recently got back from his JapanBall.com baseball tour, where he encountered a variety of scouts, writers, and team personnel. His answers are in bold.
What kind of posting fee do you see for Matsuzaka? Ichiro cost $13MM; could Matsuzaka require $20MM?
Still one year away from Japanese free agency, RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka, 26, of the Seibu Lions (just outside of Tokyo), is considered the hottest prospect by the MLB scouts. The Lions will allow Matsuzaka to post, a process wherein MLB teams give the Lions sealed bids, the highest bidder getting negotiating rights to the pitcher...the Lions getting a bundle of dough.
What could he go for? I've heard numbers from $17 to $28 million for the posting fee to the Lions. Then the MLB club must, of course, sign the player.
It seems like as many as ten teams could be after him. What kind of contract would you expect him to sign once an MLB team has his rights?
His agent is Scott Boras, and none of his players have been known to sign on the cheap. But certainly the club will be looking for a long contract what with the money they'll have just spent to simply acquire the rights to sign Matsuzaka. I've heard numbers as high as $70 million for the contract, if you can believe that.
So far, I've seen reports on the following teams interested in Matsuzaka: Angels, Royals, Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Rangers, Orioles, Dodgers, and Mariners. Based on Japanese media have any other MLB teams scouted him?
All the clubs have scouted him, but it really comes down to the wherewithal to place the big bet. Also, with regard to your list, I wouldn't count San Diego out.
Do you expect any other players to be posted this winter?
Yakult Swallows (Tokyo) third baseman Akinori Iwamura has been talked about as a candidate to be posted this winter as are RHP Kaz Saito of the Softbank Hawks (Fukuoka) and LHP Kei Igawa with the Hanshin Tigers (Osaka).
Which Japanese free agents could end up on Major League rosters next spring?
RHP Hiroki Kuroda of the Carp will be a free agent, not subject to posting, and you hear his name bandied about in this regard.
If you were building a team, which Japanese player would you choose with the #1 pick?
I like the pitcher we started this conversation about, but, if you are giving me a free pick, I might mention that I chatted with Wayne Graczyk, baseball columnist for The Japan Times and editor of the Japan Baseball Media Guide, who said that the consensus of the scouts he'd visited with who'd recently come through Japan said that Kosuke Fukudome, outfielder for the Chunichi Dragons was the best all-around Japanese player.
Could you assess the likelihood of Kei Igawa being posted? I have read that the team's owner does not plan on posting him.
While he's been discussed I'm not certain if he'll be posted. If you're a Japanese baseball team owner, there is generally no point is posting a player until he's very close to free agency. Igawa has signed with the Hanshin Tigers through the 2008 season, so I tend to think they'd keep him for one more year before doing the posting.
Do you have any insight as to how the Japanese perceive the posting system?
For the teams it's terrific. You can get something for your player rather
than a whole bunch of nothing when he becomes a free agent.
Do fans enjoy it when players leave to play MLB?
The posting process lends some excitement for fans who always wrestle with being disappointed in losing the player, but being happy that another Japanese can compete in MLB.
We do our JapanBall.com Baseball Experience Tour each September. The year Ichiro signed with Seattle I saw Mariners logos and Ichiro photos just as soon as I left the airplane upon landing in Tokyo. He was everywhere. On billboards, on giant TV screens on the sides of buildings, in subway car advertisements.
Japan baseball attendance started to wane as folks began watching MLB games on TV. Now things are a little more settled down.
Japanese baseball has reacted by making their ballparks much more fan-friendly and teams are starting to play more aggressive, exciting baseball. They've just imported their fourth American field manager to help in that regard. The Central League will adopt a playoff formula similar to that which is a hit in the Pacific League. And fans are beginning to respond at the turnstiles.
Thanks for your time, Bob!
John Hickey covers the Mariners for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, writing frequent columns and even manning a blog. John was kind of enough to provide insight into all sorts of Mariners questions.
MLBTradeRumors: What's your take on the extra day off for Kenji Johjima? Was Hargrove sending any kind of message or was there a miscommunication?
John Hickey: It's an odd thing, really. Historically, when Hargrove gets a backup player into the lineup, he likes to get him two games in a row. (Willie Bloomquist gets two as often as not). So there is the thought that he was just being consistent in doing that for Rene Rivera. But mostly he just seems to want to make sure Johjima stays strong. Johjima played lots in Japan and will play lots here, but the season is about 27 games longer here -- an extra month. Johjima has never played that much. So extra time off is warranted. Also, the Mariners only had two off days in April when normally they would have four or more. So that's a factor.
MLBTR: Who do you think Hargrove will turn to first in the 9th inning if he gives up on Eddie Guardado - Putz or Soriano? Which pitcher would you choose?
JH: You go with Guardado for now. But he doesn't have endless time to get his game together. He either is the productive closer he was or he works in setup relief for Soriano.
MLBTR: Richie Sexson: just an early slump, or something more?
JH: Hard to tell. The large number of strikeouts are alarming. But Seattle has faced very tough pitching, so some slumps are to be expected. To have every bat go south in unison, however, is alarming on any number of levels.
MLBTR: Carl Everett is hitting .212. Do you think Roberto Petagine gets a shot at DH at some point despite Everett's contract?
JH: I would think so if another three weeks or a month goes by and there is no noticeable improvement, Hargrove will have to explore his other options.
MLBTR: Can you name which players you think are most likely to be traded this summer by the Mariners?
JH: This all assumes they're not anywhere close to first place. In that case, Guardado, Moyer, Everett and Meche are strong candidates to go ... if anyone is interested. Beltre could be on that list, too, but I think it would be impossible to move that contract without some sign that he's something more than a singles hitter.
MLBTR: Will we see Shin-Soo Choo or Adam Jones in Seattle anytime soon? They are both hitting well in Triple A.
JH: Overall the club is higher on Jones than on Choo. But Choo has been up before and hasn't really gotten a chance, so I'd think they go to him first. Remember, as soon as they call up Jones, there is no turning back the clock. He starts ticking off time toward salary arbitration and free agency. When a prospect is that good (if he in fact is), you want him to come up ready to play every day, or there is no point starting that clock.
MLBTR: Do you expect to see Daisuke Matsuzaka in a Mariners uniform in 2007? He and Felix would make a hell of a 1-2 punch.
JH: Do I expect it? I think the Mariners have a better shot at him than most of the other clubs, but Seattle is one of 30 options. He's going to be 27 and free agent, and he was already considered the best pitcher in Japan before he turned in a standup performance in the WBC. It's hard to see Seattle not making a strong run at him.
MLBTR: Is Mike Hargrove gone after this season if the Mariners don't win?
JH: I would thing GM Bill Bavasi would be even more on the hot seat than Hargrove. He has presided over back-to-back 90-loss seasons, and (as i write this) a 9-15 start to the 2006 season. But, yes, Hargrove could be gone too if things don't turn around.
MLBTR: Thanks for your time, John! Don't be a stranger.
Will Carroll's report about possible shoulder problems for Mark Prior raised quite a hubbub around the Chicago area, perhaps approaching the level of a ruckus at one point. Will was kind enough to answer every question I could think of on the topic.
MLBTradeRumors: Why isn't Prior on the same course as the Cubs' healthy pitchers? Can a December illness really set a pitcher back like this?
Will Carroll: Good question and one I don't have a good answer to. Prior almost certainly was sick and almost certainly had some effect. We don't know how serious -- ER sick is a pretty broad range -- but given that Mark is a young, healthy, well-conditioned athlete, you'd think he could bounce back. Most pitchers don't do much in December anyway; there was an article, I think by Jayson Stark, that talked about a pitcher picking up the ball in early January.
Every pitcher's different. Back in 2003 when we were working on Saving The Pitcher, Mark was throwing in December, but if I recall correctly, Christian Ruzich (of Cub Reporter and the photographer for that session) said it was a long toss session.
MLBTR: Has there been any interaction between you and Prior/Baker/Cubs front office since the big media blowup about his shoulder? If so, how'd it go?
WC: Yes, but it was a private conversation. Some were dismissive, some were angry, some just nodded and went on with life.
MLBTR: Do you think the "weak and sick" look could be related to Prior's December illness? [whoops, I asked this twice.]
WC: Again, it's possible, but you'd think a young, healthy, well-conditioned athlete like Prior would bounce back more quickly. I'm not a stalker so I don't know exactly what Mark was doing, but we do know a couple things -- 1) there were no reports of anything this winter. That's normal, we don't hear a lot about lots of players. Prior's offseason was -- well, I don't know. He could have sat in his house, gone to Aruba, or spent the winter throwing in his back yard. The Cubs know, but we don't.
All that we *know* changed is that he didn't work with Tom House and I didn't even know that until he mentioned it during an interview Friday. 2) I know, for a fact, that a major Chicago writer agrees with me. In fact, he was the source for "sick and weak."
MLBTR: The closest thing to a thumbs up from Prior that I've found in the media is him telling George Ofman his shoulder is OK and without discomfort. Has Prior blatantly said to anyone that his shoulder and elbow are completely 100% healthy?
WC: Not that I'm aware of.
MLBTR: Based on this incident, the Achilles thing last year [whoops, two years ago], and tons of missed timetables would you agree that the Cubs have been less than forthright about pitching injuries? Is this simply to withold injury info from other baseball teams a la Oakland, or do the Cubs have some other motivation?
WC: That's correct, but this isn't something we can blame on the Cubs solely. You mentioned the A's, but it's every team. There's a grand total of one team that's always been open and honest about every single request I've made. I think that's mostly because that team isn't very good. The Cubs have done a very poor job of managing information, odd since they're owned by the very media company that provides a great deal of their coverage.
MLBTR: Which members of the Chicago media contacted you about your report? I know you've spoken on the Score and with Teddy Greenstein; anyone else?
WC: Easier to say who didn't -- no one from the Sun-Times or ESPN 1000 contacted me.
MLBTR: Has the majority of the Chicago media treated you well other than Paul Sullivan's shot? You mentioned that you don't think there's any "ink vs. Internet" divide.
WC: Yes. You know, it's funny -- I only spoke to Teddy Greenstein because a few years ago, the first time I was in the Cubs clubhouse, Teddy was nice to me. He pointed out who was a good interview, introduced me to a couple people, knew where the bathroom was. He misquoted me, but that's more my choice of wording than anything else. Heck, here's the email:
From Will to Teddy Greenstein, 2/22: "Teddy -- I went back through my emails and realized why the Achilles stuff isn't on the site until after it was publicly announced: I didn't run it. The source, at that time, was unknown to me. Sorry for the confusion; blame my failing memory."
As you can see there, I said I didn't run the information from the source because I didn't know how accurate the information was until proven true, not that I didn't know the source. It existed, it was accurate, and in fact, I'd think my reluctance to use it without proof of accuracy speaks pretty well to my standards.
Ink vs pixels? As false as stats vs scouts. I read all the reports - Kiley, Rogers, Greenstein, Miles, Muskat, DeLuca, the guy from Gary - on the internet.
MLBTR: Has your source given you anything new on Prior since the injury report? Has that source scooped anything besides Prior's Achilles issue from last year? Can you give us anything about your source's relation to Prior and/or the Cubs? (I had to try).
WC: No. Yes (and it was two years ago). Nice try.
MLBTR: There have been whispers of a need for TJ surgery in Prior's past, which were squelched. Would you take the elbow inflammation and reduced control in recent years as warning signs for a future TJ?
WC: Those rumors were pretty spurious, if I remember correctly. They came out of New York -- Larry Rocca -- and were shot down. The Cubs reacted to that by laughing it off. Reduced control? I don't see that in the stat line and given Mark's traumatic elbow injury last year, I think we could forgive him a little wildness in the second half.
Yesterday's Part 1 of my Will Carroll interview is available here. Here's the rest.
MLBTradeRumors: Would you agree with Buster Olney that the Mets are the most likely destination for Sammy Sosa? The Pirates are out of it now, so there aren't many vacancies.
Will Carroll: If you can get him for nothing plus incentives, why not? I think the Mets would be a nice fit, but that team is trying to win, not get fans in there. I'd think a team that looks like a 500 team in a weak division could take the gamble. San Francisco?
MLB: What kind of performance would you expect for Aaron Heilman as a starter?
WC: I saw his first AAA start and wasn't that impressed there. I think he's overexposed as a starter, but could be solid as a reliever. Remember, Brad Lidge was a starter at Notre Dame too.
MLB: Does the new Devil Rays management team have a mindset similar to Chuck LaMar, or will the Rays find worthwhile deals for Lugo, Huff, and Baez before the season begins?
WC: Dear lord no. I was very impressed with the Rays staff that I met in Dallas. I think being patient is being mistaken for being stubborn due to the history of Lamar. I mean, it looks like the same result, but the difference is that this administration just has a plan.
MLB: Your guess on Kerry Wood's number of innings pitched for 2006?
MLB: Who's the Jonny Gomes of 2006 - a player on the verge of breakout who just needs an opportunity?
WC: Corey Hart.
MLB: Will we see Daisuke Matsuzaka in the Majors in 2007?
WC: I hope so, but he's so good and so overused, we may never see how good he could have been.
MLB: Do you expect anything out of the Florida rotation besides Willis and Vargas? Can Olsen, Petit, or Mitre post solid seasons?
WC: In a couple years, the Fish could have a ton of pitching or none. I think those three could be league average but look better in the park. I'm curious to see how Girardi will handle things, whether he'll have any touch with a pitching staff, whether he'll grab a mask and glove like Boone used to do.
TD: Does Keith Foulke finish 2006 as Boston's closer?
WC: Craig Hansen will be there about a decade.
Today I was privileged to have a chance to interview Baseball Prospectus's injury analyst, Will Carroll. In addition to the injuries, Will does a Rumor Mill column a couple of times a year and always has some good info. In case you're interested, I interviewed Will back in August about all sorts of pitching topics. Anyway, his answers to my questions are in bold below. This is Part 1 of the interview; I'll post the rest tomorrow.
MLBTradeRumors: Does Kevin Brown have anything left? Any teams that might take a chance on him, given that he was solid in 2004?
Will Carroll: He's still good - not great and not worth the money he's owed - when he's healthy, but at this stage, keeping him healthy seems less and less likely. There are teams that could afford to wait, to see what they can get, but the Yankees aren't one of them.
MLB: Can Erubiel Durazo help a team in '06? With Piazza and Thomas as the big name DH options, can he find a job anywhere? Also, will he be ready for spring training after Tommy John surgery?
WC: Again, good if healthy, but I'm not sure he was ever as good as we wanted him to be. I'm sure he can find a job somewhere if he can prove he's healthy. I'm not sure where he is in his rehab since there's no good source to check with.
MLB: In your opinion, the best and worst free agent signings this winter?
WC: Man, I was bad on this last year. I don't like the Jays signings, but I understand them. The Damon signing is understandable, but just resets the clock on the Bernie Williams problem - aging OF who can't throw -- by three years. Best? Probably Paul Byrd.
MLB: Do you think Bengie Molina can replicate his 2005 numbers? Will he be stuck with a one year deal?
WC: Pretty surprising, but I guess there's always one guy who loses out when he thinks he'll cash in. I'd think he'd regroup a bit from this and he's aging and a catcher.
MLB: Which team is the best fit for Jeff Weaver?
WC: Angels. He'd be a great fit a lot of places, but I think the Angels have the most to gain, especially with his brother in the organization.