The Friday Night Rumor Mill

Although several Mets scouts have filed negative reports on Bengie Molina’s defensive play, general manager Omar Minaya has prepared an offer that would pay Molina $8 million per season over the span of a three-year deal. Despite the questions about a decline in Molina’s defensive reactions (he looked great in the postseason but had problems during the regular season), Minaya likes his rapport with pitchers, quiet clubhouse leadership, and improving bat. If contract talks with Molina break down, then—and only then—will Minaya will make an offer to the other free agent catching prize, Ramon Hernandez. Two years younger than Molina, Hernandez is regarded by many talent evaluators as the best free agent catcher on this year’s market… A third catching option for the Mets could be Paul LoDuca, but he figures to be traded by the time the Mets sort out the Hernandez/Molina situation. As the next Marlin to be sacrificed as part of a furious winter firesale, LoDuca figures to draw interest from several catching-needy teams… And then there’s Toby Hall, one of several Devil Rays who is very much available. The Rays would love to deal their starting catcher to the Mets for Aaron Heilman, but that proposal has already been rejected by Minaya—and wisely… LoDuca aside, the Mets may not be done dealing with the Marlins. Minaya has talked to Marlins general manager Larry Beinfest about Luis Castillo, a potential leadoff man for the Mets who could fill the gaping second base hole at Shea Stadium. The Mets are also continuing to talk to the Rangers about Alfonso Soriano, who would be a more glamorous pickup than Castillo but wouldn’t help the Mets in their quest for a true leadoff man…

While the Marlins are in full contract-dumping mode, the Padres seem to be in contract-avoiding mode. Already in a position to lose both Hernandez and Trevor Hoffman to free agency, the Padres’ chances of re-signing Brian Giles seem to be dwindling. They’ve balked at offering Giles the three-year, $30 million contract that he wants to remain in Southern California. That’s good news for the free-spending Cardinals, Cubs, and Yankees, all of whom have interest in Giles (though the Cardinals are curiously focusing on pitching in the early part of the Hot Stove season). Yet, Cardinals, Cubs, and Yankees can’t give Giles what he really wants, which is the geography of the West Coast. Along those lines, don’t be surprised if the Dodgers end up signing Giles. They’ve shown some preliminary interest, which could grow once they trade or non-tender Milton Bradley…

Now that the Phillies have stockpiled center fielders—the steal of Aaron Rowand gives them three viable options, along with solid backup Jason Michaels and top prospect Shane Victorino—they’ve begun talks with the Yankees about making a trade for some pitching. The Phils would love to add Shawn Chacon to a thinning staff that could lose both Billy Wagner and Ugueth Urbina, but might settle for Aaron Small in a deal for Michaels. The Yankees’ preference would be to unload Carl Pavano, but that would require a financial commitment (i.e. eating some nasty-tasting contract) on their part; besides, Pavano is strictly a starter, whereas the Phillies would prefer a more versatile pitcher like Chacon or Small, both of whom have recent experience out of the bullpen… Would Michaels be a legitimate answer to the Yankees’ center field woes? The answer here is yes. In fact, some folks in the Phillies’ organization thought that he should have been given the fulltime job in Philadelphia, rather than make trades for Kenny Lofton and Endy Chavez. Over the last two years, Michaels has compiled a respectable on-base percentage of .381 despite having to combat the perils of sporadic playing time. In the field, the 29-year-old Michaels is an above-average defender; though he lacks the sprinter’s speed that would be ideal for center field, he makes up for the deficiency with good jumps, a healthy dose of aggressiveness, and a strong throwing arm. Yes, the Yankees could manage with Michaels as the starter, backed up by the solid defense of Bubba Crosby… Michaels would be a more realistic acquisition than Ichiro Suzuki, who would likely cost the Yankees at least one (and possibly both) of their 2005 rookie contributors, Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang. The Yankees don’t want to trade either, making a deal for Suzuki an improbability…

A number of teams are questioning the Cubs for their overly aggressive pursuit of free agent relief pitchers. By overpaying for two set-up men in their thirties (Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry, who cost a combined $23 million), the Cubs have raised the asking prices of all the other free agent middle men. The biggest beneficiary may be the talented but temperamental Kyle Farnsworth, who has now become a Yankee priority after Brian Cashman lost out on Howry, the pitcher he would have preferred because of his mental toughness and superior make-up… One of the most interesting players on the trade market is Devil Rays outfielder Joey Gathright, who is stuck behind Carl Crawford in left field and Rocco Baldelli in center. Gathright may be the fastest man in all of baseball; in fact, some scouts say he’s the fastest player the game has seen since Willie Wilson’s prime years. Now there are questions about Gathright. He has absolutely no power, which could make him an albatross once he starts to lose his foot speed. Some scouts also question whether he can play center field, wondering if he might be better off in left field. In spite of the questions, at least two teams are interested: the Angels and the Marlins. The Angels could replace aging center fielder with Gathright, whose speed fits in with the running game that Mike Scioscia prefers. The Marlins view Gathright as a younger and cheaper version of Juan Pierre, whom they would like to trade as quickly as possible.

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