7:10 PM CST, November 10, 2012
While Hyun-jin Ryu is not yet a big name in North America, losing him was a bigger blow for the Cubs than you probably think.
President Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer wanted the rights to the 25-year-old South Korean left-hander because they believe he can step right into a big-league rotation and address a glaring lack of pitching. They had done a lot of homework on him.
While the Cubs did due diligence on Yu Darvish a year ago, they seemed far more optimistic with Ryu, as he had not attracted as much attention in the Korean Baseball Organization as Darvish had with the Nippon Ham Fighters.
There was only one problem, as it turned out: The Dodgers also wanted Ryu.
They have become the new Yankees since Mark Walter and Chicago's Guggenheim Baseball group purchased them, running their franchise the way fans once dreamed Chairman Tom Ricketts would the Cubs.
The Dodgers won the sealed bidding for rights to negotiate with Ryu for $25.7 million, believed to be more than 20 percent higher than the Cubs' bid. They are the same team that signed Cuban outfielder Lance Puig for $42 million, traded for Hanley Ramirez and took on about $260 million in payroll to acquire Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford from the Red Sox.
The Clayton Kershaw-led rotation would be seven deep with Ryu, and they still want to sign Zack Greinke or Hiroki Kuroda (if not both). They are pursuing free agent Torii Hunter as a platoon partner for Crawford. And there's no end in sight.
With the Dodgers in mind, here's our list of teams most in the need of a positive offseason.
1. Yankees: GM Brian Cashman admits the team the Tigers swept in the ALCS enters the off-season with "some gaping holes'' and a payroll challenge, with the hope of being below the $189 million tax threshold by the start of 2014.
Derek Jeter's recovery from a badly broken ankle and surgery to repair ligament damage is of paramount significance but the immediate priority is answering questions about closer, the rotation, catcher, a corner outfield spot and DH. The Yankees have 13 free agents, including three (Hiroki Kuroda, Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano) good enough that they were given qualifying offers they rejected.
Age is becoming a huge issue for a team that has gone to the playoffs in 17 of the last 18 years.
"We'll solve this thing, Cashman told reporter. "We'll solve it fast, slow, whatever it takes. But we'll solve it, and we'll be a championship-caliber club."
2. Red Sox: They will try to bounce back in one offseason from the slide to 69-93 under one-and-done manager Bobby Valentine. The Red Sox had their lowest winning percentage since 1965, and now face questions in the rotation, at first base and in the outfield after the mega-trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers, giving GM Ben Cherington a ton of money to spend.
But since their September 2011, collapse the Red Sox have gained the reputation of being baseball's second most dysfunctional franchise — tough to top those Marlins — and that adds a new challenge. Still …
"This is Boston," Cherington said. "We're going to build the team up as quickly as we can. There's not a two-, three-, four-, five-year plan. That's not what this is about.''
3. Phillies: Coming off a .500 season and the end of a five-year run in the playoffs, they have continued to double-down on pitchers while their core hitters continue getting holder and less productive.
In a market with little free-agent pitching available, and no front-line starters behind Greinke and maybe Anibal Sanchez, they could sign Josh Hamilton to fill their hole in left field and trade Cliff Lee for a third baseman like the Padres' Chase Headley, the Rangers' Mike Olt or the Tigers' Nick Castellanos.
4. Rangers: They were arguably baseball's best team for most of last season but must navigate Hamilton's free agency while dealing with the aftermath of a 2-8 finish that dropped them into the wild-card spot and led to a one-game October. Despite investing in Darvish a year ago, they are in the market for an ace and seem more focused on Greinke than Hamilton.USA Today has reported the Rangers won't go beyond three years to sign Hamilton, though the Dallas Morning News' Evan Grant believes the team's chances to keep Hamilton have increased recently. We should know soon as Nolan Ryan says the Rangers can't spend the next month waiting for the Hamilton market to develop.
5. Cubs: While the Red Sox try to bounce back immediately, the Cubs appear content to use the next two seasons to try to lay the base to contend in 2015 and beyond. But they were still 10th in attendance last season, and it's tough to ask such a loyal fan base to endure 101 losses again.
Barring a strong offseason, they easily could be worse next year. Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm are gone, and the other 10 starters combined to go 28-65 with a 4.98 ERA last year. Starting pitchers don't grow on trees, and the Cubs need at least two of them, maybe three if they're going to be in position to trade Matt Garza rather than sign him to an extension.
Orioles in pursuit: Hamilton to the Orioles?
Probably not, but that was one of the more plausible Hamilton rumors coming out of the general managers meetings in Indian Wells, Calif.
Going back to the 1993 decision to avoid Will Clark — a move that would lead to Rafael Palmeiro's five-season run in Baltimore, highlighted by back-to-back trips to the league championship series — owner Peter Angelos has been as finicky about the free agents he would sign as anyone in baseball.
Would he abandon those principles to take on the biggest free-agent question mark in history?
Fox Sports wrote last week that the Orioles were targeting Hamilton and Cody Ross to fill their need in left field. The Rangers seem ambivalent about keeping Hamilton.
What if the Orioles could get Hamilton for four years at $20 million a year? That would break Miguel Tejada's franchise record, and it might make them a favorite to win the American League East. Would they overlook the risks?
The Orioles improved more than any team in the majors last season, going from 69-93 in 2011 to 93-69 in Dan Duquette's first season as general manager. They were one victory short of going to the ALCS.
But Duquette knows that they need to win again in 2013 to suggest that there could be a new order to the AL East. That's why he is considering aggressive acquisitions — they have talked about trading pitching for Royals' designated hitter Billy Butler — while deciding what to do about a glut of 15 arbitration-eligible players.
"We'll have to go out and (win) again next year,'' Duquette said.
It helps the Orioles that little is going right for the Yankees and Red Sox these days.
The last word: "It's a mistake I have to live with for the rest of my life. I have to deal with never, ever getting into the Hall of Fame, and I totally understand and totally respect (voters') opinion and I will never ever push it. That is the way it's going to be and I can live with it.'' — Newly hired Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire on his use of steroids as a player.
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