Now that the winter meetings are looming, the rumors have started to pick up. Before we examine the latest rumblings, let's review what we know:
-Kris Benson's 3 year contract with the Mets is likely to set the market for a lot of the 2nd tier starters. I believe the Mets vastly overpaid for Benson, who hasn't had an ERA+ over 100 since 2000, four seasons ago. I placed him in the 3rd tier of starters, slightly ahead of Paul Wilson, who I didn't really like either.
-Trade talks involving Randy Johnson have apparently ended for the time being. Arizona wanted Javier Vazquez, a lot of money, another pitcher acquired in a separate deal, and several prospects. This may seem a bit harsh, but Arizona was burned last year in the Curt Schilling trade, and Johnson is theoretically more valuable now than Schilling was last winter. Regardless, I doubt anything's getting done for a while.
-Paul Wilson re-signed with the Reds for about $4M/year. This effectively sets the floor for any offer the Indians tender to a starter. Wilson is at best a 4th starter on a good staff, and while he's probably the Reds' #1, that doesn't make it any easier for the Indians to obtain a better pitcher for a reasonable price.
So what this all mean? Pretty soon, definite offers will start to leak out, and with the Yankees (and Red Sox?) no longer concentrating on Johnson, guys like Carl Pavano, Eric Milton, and Brad Radke will start to get a lot more attention. It will start to get even more serious when Pedro Martinez signs; the teams that lose out on him (NYY, NYM, BOS), will then probably hit their second and third options, which mainly include Pavano, Radke, and Milton. The dominoes will start to fall...
Which brings us to the Indians. They've set their sights on two pitchers: Matt Clement and Jon Lieber. Both will probably want Benson dollars, meaning $7-8M a year for 2-3 years. Will they get it? It probably depends which teams are after them. If the Yankees still haven't made any progress on Johnson, Pedro signs with the Mets, and Boston signs Pavano, the Yankees may just throw money at Lieber to entice him back to the Bronx. I think the Indians could probably get either Lieber or Clement for $7M if Boston or New York doesn't get involved. Since they re-signed Bob Wickman for just under $3M, they should have enough left in the budget to get it done, and that's why I liked the Wickman signing.
The Indians have competition for both Lieber and Clement. The Yankees are interested in bringing Lieber back, and there are about five other teams, including Toronto, who like Clement. Mark Shapiro is trying to strike quickly with one or the other, but it doesn't look like anything's getting done until the higher-priced pitchers start signing. Here's my best-case scenario for the Indians (Note that this doesn't necessarily have to occur in order):
1. The Angels work out a deal for Randy Johnson
2. The Yankees sign Carl Pavano
3. The Red Sox re-sign Pedro Martinez
4. The Yankees sign Al Leiter
5. The Red Sox sign Brad Radke
6. The Mets sign Eric Milton
You could probably substitute Eric Milton for Leiter if you like. Losing out on Johnson, the Yankees would probably go after either Pavano or Pedro. In this instance I have them getting Pavano, but you could switch the two without affecting anything. The Mets lose out on the top tier of pitchers here, so they'd probably sign an Eric Milton and concentrate on acquiring whichever overpriced outfielder catches their fancy. This leaves the Indians' top two choices still available, and the competition for them less formidable. These five signings and one trade leaves a pool of 9 or 10 second-tier arms available. The possibilities now become almost endless for the second tier of starters, so I'm not going to venture out onto that ledge just yet. What I'd look closely at is the "secondary signings;" both New York and Boston are looking for two starters, and hopefully those second starters aren't named Clement or Lieber.
I expect to be totally wrong on this list once everything is said and done; but this isn't a prediction, it's a scenario, the best one I could think of that leaves Lieber and Clement still available after the big money leaves the table.