Who knew this little Jason Michaels trade would wind up being one of the most ongoing, compelling (well I think it is compelling anyway) stories of the offseason? This trade (really it is still a potential trade at this point, but you know what I mean) has had everything any baseball fan with a desire to see how big league front offices operate could ask for – a multi-layered deal involving three teams (at least three teams…), quality big leaguers mixed with quality prospects, an injury to one of the key members that could potential derail the whole shebang, a crazy new surprise team that could work itself into the deal and blow it all apart from the inside out, a “new” general manager trying to make a statement, a legitimate new general manager eager to make his first move on the job.
The Red Sox have been juggling their front office staff while also trying to get the pieces that would fill a few holes in their lineup and enable them to be in a position to get back past the first round of the postseason. Now that Theo Epstein is finally officially back in charge, many believe the Red Sox have reclaimed much of the front office clout that had been missing thus far this offseason. Pundits claim that the Sox will be a far savvier team during trade negotiations and that there is no way in hell Theo Epstein will get ripped off but any of the mere mortal GMs in baseball. Makes little sense to me when all signs point to Epstein being in charge throughout his time away from the team – I don’t believe anything has changed with the way the Red Sox operate their baseball side of things from when the Sox began negotiations with Cleveland to now. The basic parameters of the deal remain the same, whether Epstein has officially been the boss or not. The Indians have a team in place capable of making a serious playoff run, but are also lucky enough to have one of the best GMs in the game who is willing to trade valuable talent from his big league club for an intriguing mix of quality stopgap players to fill the void in ‘06 and a potential impact bat that could be ready to produce by ’07. Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro has done a masterful job to this point of acquiring a team that is ready to win now, but is also capable of sustaining excellence over an extended period of time. All of the rumored proposed deals show exactly why Cleveland is in the current position they are in. The Phillies new management team is undoubtedly feeling the pressure to make some kind of move to improve the club in ’06, but look as if they are just kind of along for the ride waiting to pick up the scraps while the two big boy contenders make their trade. It makes for a fun storyline anyway – two young gun general managers (Epstein and Shapiro) conspire against the cagey, old school professional who has been scouting players since before the two youngsters could tie their shoes. The Phils are also faced with dealing with potential protests and boycotts by the local police force over that whole Jason Michaels cop punching incident. Are the Phillies that committed to cleaning up their act that they’d dump Michaels for the sole purpose of ridding their team of “bad character” players? If this isn’t the case, then what in the world are they doing with an interest in a has-been reliever like Arthur Rhodes? Did Ed Wade ever really leave? It’s like any old Friday the 13th movie – did anybody ever actually see Ed Wade’s body or have we just all just wrongfully assumed he was gone? (I’ll save you the trouble of letting me know he got a job scouting in San Diego…but has anybody actually seen him in San Diego? Did I kill this joke? I think I did)
Let’s recap briefly – the proposed deal between Boston (Sox get C Josh Bard, OF Coco Crisp, RP David Riske) and Cleveland (Indians get C Kelly Shoppach, 3B Andy Marte, RP Guillermo Mota) broke down today because Boston’s Mota allegedly failed his physical with the Indians and Cleveland refused to take him. The first source to report the failed physical was Philly’s own Howard Eskin on 610 WIP-AM radio. The Philadelphia Inquirer later confirmed these reports and the deal was officially thought to be delayed at best, or completely quashed at worst. Many in baseball still believed that the deal would go through after a few slight modifications were made to the personnel involved. This deal would of course lead to the Jason Michaels to Cleveland deal, but, in all likelihood anyway, only if the first Cleveland-Boston deal went down. We know that much as fact. Now, believe it or not, things begin to get a little hazy. The Cincinnati Reds are a team under new ownership – new ownership often begets all kinds of organizational change. Just yesterday, the Reds fired their GM Dan O’Brien and replaced him for the time being with interim GM Brad Kullman. Things have begun to leak out of Cincinnati (that sounds grosser than it should) in the past 24 hours indicating O’Brien rejected a number of deals that were on the table – the majority of these deals involved Reds OF Austin Kearns. This first deal is said to have been negotiated “late last week” according to the Dayton Daily News – The Reds, Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians were in a three-way discussion, working on a proposal that would have brought pitcher Matt Clement to the Reds from the Red Sox. The Reds would have sent outfielder Austin Kearns to Cleveland and the Tribe would have sent outfielder Coco Crisp, catcher Josh Bard and pitcher David Riske to the Red Sox. The Red Sox would get the package they wanted all along. Cleveland would have a suitable outfielder to replace Crisp – thus there would be no need for Michaels. The Reds, not a potential Phillies trade partner in this case as they don’t need any more outfielders, would have had a starting pitcher they have long coveted. Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com has reported that the Reds new interim GM’s first player personnel move would involve Austin Kearns. Rosenthal mentions the Royals, Cubs, Cardinals, and Nationals as potential trade suitors. He also mentions the Indians (I hope you saw that coming, why else would this be in here?)...
Look for the Reds to make at least one trade before spring training under interim general manager Brad Kullman, most likely involving outfielder Austin Kearns. New owner Bob Castellini wants action, and Kearns remains the team's most marketable player…The Indians wanted Kearns to fill the outfield void that could be created by their trade of Coco Crisp to the Red Sox. But the Reds evidently weren't sold on Westbrook, who was 15-15 with a 4.49 ERA last season after going 14-9 with a 3.38 ERA in 2004. Rosenthal believes the Reds will trade Kearns by the start of the season. The Cleveland organization has long been enamored with Kearns and could try to do everything in their power to obtain him. In this scenario, the Red Sox are out of the loop. It makes sense that if Cleveland adds Kearns, Crisp could be on his way to Boston. If talks were to break down between Cleveland and Boston yet again, Jason Michaels could be the fallback option for the Sox. That last point remains to be seen. The Cincinnati Post is also reporting on the rumored interest between Cleveland and Kearns: According to a team source, one of those offers came from the Cleveland Indians, who will be in need of a starting outfielder once they complete the deal that reportedly will send leadoff man Coco Crisp to the Boston Red Sox. The Indians offered right-handed starter Jake Westbrook for Kearns, but the Reds decided to pass for the time being.
The Phillies have been completely usurped in this scenario with the Reds playing the role of the Phils, Kearns as Michaels, and Jake Westbrook as Arthur Rhodes. The similarly red pinstriped uniforms make this set-up all the spookier. The Akron Beacon Journal does not like the odds of a Cleveland-Boston trade revival:
It was not clear whether the trade with the Red Sox could be revived by removing Riske from the deal to compensate for the loss of Mota to the Tribe. However, as of Tuesday night, that did not seem likely.
If it is more complicated than just removing Mota and Riske from the deal, then this thing could drag on. If talks completely fall apart between Cleveland and Boston, then the Michaels to the Red Sox talks should intensify.
Finally, from the Boston Globe – Mota’s agent denies that Mota ever flunked the physical. That doesn’t quite mean what you might think it would mean. The deal is dead (at least for now) no matter what. Cleveland won’t take Mota as is. That part isn’t being denied. Adam Katz, the agent, just wants it to be known that Mota didn’t technically “fail” anything, but rather he just wasn’t quite in great enough shape for those medical sticklers in Cleveland to accept. So no real news here, just some amusingly pompous agent speak to go out on a high note:
Adam Katz, agent for Guillermo Mota, denied a radio report out of Philadelphia Tuesday night that said Mota had failed his physical with the Indians. However, Katz acknowledged that the Indians raised issues with Mota's right shoulder, which could kill, or require revision to, the six-player deal that would bring Coco Crisp to Boston…Katz contended that Mota ''did not flunk his physical." Instead, Katz said, the acquiring club in these instances is ''allowed to have higher standards. It's their right and entitlement."