Winter meetings preview: AL teams

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bay fielding.jpgJust a couple of quick sentences on what each team may be looking to do this week.
Baltimore – The Orioles are on the lookout for a couple of corner infielders, a starting pitcher and a closer, but with youngsters on the way, they’re more after veteran stopgaps than building blocks. Felix Pie is on the block and could bring bullpen help.
Boston – Upgrading from Jason Bay to Matt Holliday makes even more sense now that the Red Sox have surrendered their first-round pick with the Marco Scutaro signing*. Roy Halladay’s name will also come up frequently, and the Red Sox will explore a Mike Lowell trade. If Lowell goes, it’d open the door for an Adrian Beltre signing.
*The Cards would still get Boston’s first-round pick in such a scenario, but for the Red Sox, the draft-pick cost for Holliday is merely a second-round pick.
Chicago – Ken Williams is full of surprises, but the White Sox don’t have a lot to work with after doing their shopping during the season and landing Jake Peavy and Alex Rios. A Bobby Jenks deal doesn’t appear to be on the agenda, but it can’t be ruled out. The White Sox still need an outfielder and a designated hitter, but they could wait and bargain hunt to fill both spots.
Cleveland – The Indians will be thrifty this winter, so while they need some veteran bats to provide protection at first base, second base and in left field, they’ll probably wait for price tags to fall. If they can find a way to turn some of their exceptional minor league depth into a young starting pitcher, they could pull the trigger.
Detroit – Likely to be one of the most active teams at the meetings, the Tigers still have Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson up for grabs. They’ll also be talking to relievers and shortstops, though it looks like they hope to re-sign Fernando Rodney and Adam Everett. Don’t expect to see anything happen with Miguel Cabrera.
Kansas City – Excepting Zack Greinke, the Royals’ most expensive players –Jose Guillen, Gil Meche, David DeJesus and Kyle Farnsworth — are all available. So are Mike Jacobs and John Buck, though they’re expected to be non-tendered. Cheaper options like Alberto Callaspo and Brian Bannister are out there as well. The Royals are going to need a starter, an outfielder or two and maybe a DH.
Los Angeles – Having lost Chone Figgins, the Angels might now make a push to get a John Lackey deal done. Halladay and Bay are other potential targets with the team having room for one big contract. GM Tony Reagins will also continue his attempts to find a new home for Gary Matthews Jr., though it’s proving to be an extremely difficult task.
Minnesota – The Twins still have a need at second or third or both, and there simply isn’t a better fit for Beltre if Minnesota could just come up with the money. GM Bill Smith will also likely be charged with getting rid of Glen Perkins, who is at odds with management.
New York – GM Brian Cashman is playing things close to the vest so far. The Yankees are in on Halladay, but perhaps not on any of the big three free agents: Holliday, Lackey and Bay. The Yankees will be in touch with their own top three free agents: Andy Pettitte, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. They may be the top candidates to ink Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman, but there’s nothing to indicate he’s close to signing.
Oakland – The A’s are going to be in on some free agents after all, as they made clear with their bid for Scutaro. Troy Glaus is one who makes sense for their lineup. They have a bigger need when it comes to starting pitching, though. To free up some cash, they may trade or later non-tender Jack Cust. They also have relief depth to use in the hunt for help.
Seattle – The first order of business will be to announce the Figgins signing, but the Mariners won’t stop there. They’re still capable of putting together strong bids for Lackey and Bay, and they’ll be on the lookout for a first baseman, perhaps Nick Johnson.
Tampa Bay – The Rays remain at the center of the Milton Bradley talks, with Pat Burrell likely to move on if a deal is struck. They could also trade Dioner Navarro, who is a non-tender candidate following the Kelly Shoppach acquisition. Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton do not appear to be available.
Texas – It remains unclear just how much financial flexibility the Rangers possess. They’re reportedly discussed Kevin Millwood with the Orioles, and if they could dump his salary, they’d have a better chance of upgrading their lineup. Jermaine Dye is believed to be a top target. However, with ownership still up in the air, they may be forced to remain quiet.
Toronto – A Halladay deal is very unlikely to get done at the meetings, but there will surely be talks. The Jays also have other business to worry about. They’re looking to move Lyle Overbay (to Seattle?) and pick up a catcher and an outfielder. They can afford to part with a reliever or two to fill one of the holes.

CC Sabathia won’t visit the White House if the Yankees win the World Series

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Over the past couple of days the subject of athlete activism, always present to some degree in American sports, but recently revived by Colin Kaepernick and a few other football players in the form of silent protests during the National Anthem, exploded into a headline dominating news story. Lighting the fuse: President Trump directly inserting himself into the controversy.

He did so during a speech on Friday night and during a series of tweets Saturday and continuing into this morning in which he urged NFL owners to “fire” or suspend players who do not stand for the national anthem. He also attempted to disinvite the NBA champion Golden State Warriors from their traditional White House visit because of their star player Stephen Curry’s public opposition to him, though Curry had already said he wouldn’t go.

As Ashley wrote last night, the silent anthem protests have now come to baseball, with A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell becoming the fist player to kneel during the National Anthem. Before that, at least one baseball executive, Orioles Vice President John P. Angelos, came out strongly on the side of players and against Trump. Joe Maddon said some less-than-enlightened words on the matter. Major League Baseball issued a statement on the matter. It was, not surprisingly, somewhat empty, taking something of a both-sides-have-good-points tack. It’s understandable, I suppose. I suspect Major League Baseball and its owners would prefer to not have to comment on this at all. The league does not do this sort of controversy well.

Ballplayers, however, will likely continue to speak up. The latest: Yankees starter CC Sabathia, who was asked yesterday whether he would visit the White House if the playoff-bound Yankees won the World Series. From the Daily News:

“Never. I just don’t believe in anything that is Trump. So there wouldn’t be any reason for me to go at all. I just think it’s stupid. I just think it’s dumb that he’s addressing players and stuff that he shouldn’t be. But it is what it is, and that’s the country we live in these days . . . I’m proud of the way that everybody has Steph’s back and just athletes in general these days, the way everybody has been stepping up has been great.”

Baseball players, as we’ve noted many times over the years, tend to be a more conservative bunch than football or basketball players. There are a lot more white players and a lot more players from southern, suburban and exurban areas. A significant number of racial-ethnic minority players were not born in the United States, so U.S. politics may not necessarily preoccupy them the way it may players from the United States. As such, political protest like we’ve seen in the NFL and NBA was never going to start in baseball in 2017.

But that does not mean that it was not going to come to baseball. Contrary to what so many fans seem to think, sports do not exist inside some bubble into which the real world does not intrude. Athletes are citizens just like you and me with social, political and personal concerns just like you and me. And, at the moment, a government official is demanding that they lose their jobs because he does not agree with their political views and the manner in which they are expressed. I suspect most of us would get upset by that if it happened to us. Certainly a lot of people I know on the conservative side of the political expression worried about government overreach and freedom of speech. At least before January of this year.

So I am not at all surprised that baseball players like Sabathia are beginning to speak out. He will not be the last. Others will join him. Others, as is their right, will push back and say they disagree with him. If and when people feel inspired to tell them to “stick to sports,” or “stay in their lane,” perhaps they should ask why the President of the United States decided not to do so himself. And ask why he thinks it’s appropriate for athletes to lose their jobs for their political views and why private entities like the NFL should be patriotic institutions rather than businesses which put on sporting events.

 

Bruce Maxwell first MLB player to kneel during National Anthem

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Athletics’ rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell did not stand for the National Anthem on Saturday night. He’s the first MLB player to do so and, like other professional athletes before him, used the moment to send a message — not just to shed light on the lack of racial equality in the United States, but to specifically protest President Donald Trump’s suggestion that NFL owners fire any of their players who elect to protest the anthem by sitting or kneeling.

“Bruce’s father is a proud military lifer. Anyone who knows Bruce or his parents is well aware that the Maxwells’ love and appreciation for our country is indisputable,” Maxwell’s agent, Matt Sosnick, relayed to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser on Friday. He continued:

Bruce has made it clear that he is taking a stand about what he perceives as racial injustices in this country, and his personal disappointment with President Trump’s response to a number of professional athletes’ totally peaceful, non-violent protests.

Bruce has shared with both me and his teammates that his feelings have nothing to do with a lack of patriotism or a hatred of any man, but rather everything to do with equality for men, women and children regardless of race or religion.

While Maxwell didn’t make his own statement to the media, he took to Instagram earlier in the day to express his frustration against the recent opposition to the protests, criticizing the President for endorsing “division of man and rights.”

Despite Trump’s profanity-laced directive to NFL owners on Friday, however, it’s clear the Athletics don’t share his sentiments. “The Oakland A’s pride ourselves on being inclusive,” the team said in a statement released after Maxwell’s demonstration. “We respect and support all of our players’ constitutional rights and freedom of expression.”

Whatever the fallout, kudos to Maxwell for taking a stand. He may be the first to do so in this particular arena, but he likely won’t be the last.