For all those critics who still use my “five year plan” against me, let me say, in my defense, that I have always envisioned being competitive with the Yankees and the Red Sox by that time. We just completed that fifth year and, since we finished ahead of the Red Sox, I believe that we accomplished that feat, and that I have been vindicated. I think we had a successful season and, as I have stated many times over, if we did not lose Burnett and Chacin for the length of time we did I am certain we would have been right there with the Yankees. Now, as we move into year six, I believe that we are absolutely a contender for the division title. We just have a few tweaks that we need to take care of this winter.
The first priority will be to address our pitching staff. With Halladay and hopefully a healthy Burnett and Chacin I believe that we have three-fifths of an outstanding starting staff. It would be nice if our highly rated youngsters would step up and become major league ready but at this point we can’t count on either McGowan or Rosario to do that. As such we are going to have to find two starters either through free agency or through the trade market. We would love to bring Lilly back, but I’m afraid that he’s going to get some outrageous offer, likely from a west coast team like the Giants, that we are not going to be able to match. As such we are going to have to find alternatives.
While I certainly can’t identify precisely who we will sign—there are far too many intangibles involved in the process to make such a statement—I can say that we are looking at a couple of young and experienced pitchers we believe can be successful in this division. Off the top of my head I can name two—Gil Meche and Tony Armas Jr. Both of those guys are free agents and we are seriously interested in both. One of our greatest liabilities last year was the inability of our young pitchers to fill the gaps caused by the injuries to Chacin and Burnett. We still like Marcum and Janssen, but in order to be successful we need to build up our depth. We can’t afford to give away games when the fourth and fifth spots in our rotation come up.
We would like to keep all of our free agents. We think Catalanotto is a pure hitter who can give us depth both in the outfield and at DH. We like Speier’s experience in the bullpen. He gives us some flexibility as League develops, and of course we’d like both of our catchers to return—however it is reasonable to assume that only one, likely Zaun, will be back. We are definitely interested in bringing in another hitter—someone who really interests us is Moises Alou. He has the experience, has won a championship, and he also gives us the option of using him in the outfield. We also have to get some insurance for Glaus—I don’t see him playing as many games at third next year, but we definitely want to keep his bat in the line-up. Hopefully we can get a third baseman, but we feel really good about what we saw from John Hattig at the end of the year. We feel that he could succeed in a back-up role.
As much as Adam Lind looked like he belongs in the major leagues we feel he needs a little more seasoning in the minors. Perhaps with injuries or poor play, and if he continues to hit, we could bring him up part way through the year.
I think everyone knows by now that we are need of a middle infielder with some pop. We love Johnny Mac’s defense, but in this league, and especially in this division, we can’t afford to give away any outs. Obviously Julio Lugo is the big name out there but I just don’t think we’re going to be able to stay in his price range. We have to attack our pitching problems, and I just don’t think there will be that much money left over for Lugo who will likely be looking for around eight mill a year. We could bring in Adam Kennedy and slide Aaron over to short, and that’s a move we are certainly interesting in making, however we would prefer to keep Hill at second. We will exhaust the trade route looking for a shortstop first—there aren’t any outside of Lugo on the free agent market.
I still believe that we can use some of our young players to acquire some proven talent. Marcum and Janssen will bring something of value in return if we decide to move them, and if McGowan and Rosario don’t show enough we may have little choice but to move them. Both are out of options and if we think that they aren’t capable of helping us at the major league level then we will have to explore the marketplace. I am absolutely certain that those two youngsters would bring something of real value to our club, however I am extremely hesitant to trade pitchers with that kind of potentially dominating stuff. If they could somehow find the strike zone they would be devastating.
I am very happy with the core of our club. We will do everything we can to sign Vernon to a long-term deal, and I think there is a strong possibility we will. I think Vernon wants to stay and see this thing through. He knows that we are very close. I like our offense—as I said I would like to bring in another hitter or two and a middle infielder that can hit. I like our starting staff providing we can augment the top three in the rotation. If we can stay healthy we’ll be very good. I also like our bullpen. Ryan proved that he was a top closer and League looks like he is for real. With Accardo and Tallet and Frasor and Downs, and if we can bring back Speier, I would put our bullpen up against any team.
This winter is very different from last year. Last year we needed to bring in some big pieces—this winter we just need to add on with the right pieces. I believe that we are right there, and if things fall our way, and we can bring in the right people, then I think we can contend for a championship.
And that wouldn’t be bad for season six—would it?
(Any similarities made in the above comments with those made by the real JP are purely coincidental. Or are they?)