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December 7, 2007 at 8:44 AM

Meetings weren’t a failure — yet

An interesting exchange took place at the winter meetings in a narrow hotel corridor where Mariners GM Bill Bavasi was chatting with Seattle-based reporters outside his team’s suite. New Angels GM Tony Reagins, who rose through the ranks under Bavasi in Anaheim, happened to be walking by on the way to his room when the two men exchanged a very friendly greeting. Bavasi is pretty tall and powerful for a guy turning 50 this month and quickly embraced the much shorter Reagins in a headlock and asked “Does everybody know Tony Reagins?”
After a round of laughter, Reagins came up for air and asked: “Hey, you getting a deal done?”
“Yeah, right here with these guys,” Bavasi said, nodding towards the reporters. Bavasi then continued hamming things up for the writers by adding: “If we keep him (Reagins) here he can’t do anything.”
Reagins finally broke free and continued on his way. A reporter shouted out to him: “What would you do if you were (Bavasi)?”
“Hey,” Reagins quipped. “I’m glad I’m not him.”
The exchange was meant to be funny — and was. But in reality, Bavasi is up against it largely because of the team being run by Reagins. If Bavasi doesn’t do something to shore-up his team’s starting rotation, the 2008 season is pretty much done. I know the players will be upset in reading this, but too bad. Nothing they did on the field last season says otherwise. The division race was over with on Sept. 1, so if the M’s want to argue they have a shot next year with roughly the same team minus Jose Guillen, it’s time to shut up and prove it.
Says here they can’t.
Not with the Angels boasting the same pitching staff and an offense already upgraded with Torii Hunter and possibly Miguel Tejada down the road. At least the Angels didn’t come away with Miguel Cabrera or Johan Santana — which seemed possible at times as the winter meetings progressed. So, with that brief reprieve under his belt, Bavasi now has to capitalize.
He didn’t do so as the meetings wrapped up. But as I said yesterday to “The Groz” on KJR, we can’t deliver a verdict on how Bavasi did just yet. We’ve been critical of Bavasi in this space before, but I honestly can’t fault him for the way things went in Nashville.
In fact, I think he came away from those meetings having made quite a bit of progress towards getting the rotation improved. From what we can see, he’s taken a giant step forward towards landing free-agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. As we wrote a week ago, landing Kuroda would be an interesting first step. But the real “improvement” or “impact move” Bavasi can make is by bringing in a top-of-the-rotation starter.
That would mean either Johan Santana, or, as a “Plan B” option, the less sure-thing move of snagging Erik Bedard via trade. Contrary to what some folks are saying, the M’s didn’t “back out” of the Santana sweepstakes. They were pushed aside by the Twins. It’s becoming clear that Santana is not thrilled by the prospect of moving to the West Coast. It’s what our Twins source told us last week and also what a Venezuelan pitcher who is close to Santana told me. He simply does not like the idea of all that extra travel. Hey, I’ve done it as a reporter and I can tell you there is a huge difference in fatigue level from travel in covering the M’s as opposed to the Blue Jays.
So, that would partially explain why the Twins appear to have let the Mets re-enter discussions, but not the M’s. Why waste time hammering out a deal with Seattle when the pitcher with the no-trade clause doesn’t want to go there?
By the way, the reverse geographical situation is in-place with Kuroda. The Mets and Phillies had tried to get-in on talks with him, but he apparently wants to go to the West Coast instead. From what I’m told, Seattle is in the driver’s seat on this one no matter what the Mets do.
So, with Santana not in-play for Seattle, Bavasi has gotten in on Bedard as seriously as any other team. The problem appears to be from the O’s side. Owner Peter Angelos is reluctant to deal Bedard (a move that appears to be unpopular with Baltimore fans) and so president Andy MacPhail is commanding a high pricetag.
I’ve seen many folks online asking why the M’s can’t secure Bedard with a simple offer of Adam Jones, Brandon Morrow and some combo of George Sherrill and Wladimir Balentien? Well, I’d say he probably could be had with that foursome. Here’s the thing, though. I’d be shocked if Bavasi had already caved and put his best trade chits on the table. The Mariners aren’t paying Bavasi to act like any average blogger, fan or newspaper writer. Part of his job is to negotiate. And the art of negotiation isn’t simply handing over what people expect you to. There has to be give-and-take. If the O’s are shopping for the best offer and Bavasi gives it to them in the opening round, what happens when MacPhail goes to the Mets and Dodgers hoping to up the ante?
Even worse, what if one of those teams matches or exceeds Bavasi’s best offer? That would leave the M’s with nothing to go forward with and they lose out. Or even worse, they throw in one player too many and get fleeced.
This negotiation appears to be in the “cat and mouse” stage right now. The Orioles are feeling out offers and trying to figure out what they’ll settle for. As talks continue and get more serious, Bavasi will have the opportunity to throw his best offer Baltimore’s way. And maybe he doesn’t. As Kenny Rogers (the roaster, not the pitcher) once said, “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em…”
Perhaps, rather than get fleeced, Bavasi will have to walk away. Or run. Perhaps the O’s expectations will raise the risk factor with Bedard to too high a level. That would be unfortunate for the Mariners in 2008. They may live to fight another year, but next season won’t carry a lot of optimism.
This is the situation Bavasi now finds himself in. Kuroda could provide a modest rotation upgrade, though likely not enough to catch the Angels. Kuroda and Bedard would be a far more serious leap forward. But for now, Bavasi is doing his job. He’s actually negotiating. There were no panic moves made at the winter meetings. Playing it cool for now appears to be the best course.
That will change, of course, if Bavasi heads into spring training with just one or two more mid-to-back-of-the-rotation arms as improvements. At that point, the success/failure ruling on these winter meetings will have to be re-evaluated.
So, yes, Bavasi is feeling the heat. A lot more so than Baltimore counterpart MacPhail. But that’s Bavasi’s job — uncomfortable as it may be. He has to get this one right and negotiate the proper way. And if he doesn’t pull this off? Well then, the joking words from Tony Reagins about not wanting to be him will definitely seem more about truth than humor.



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