Speculation abounds as the Kinsella Winter Meetings anticipate the richest free-agent crop in league history.
Rumors are flying furiously as to the next destinations for big names Branch Vitiello, Kordell Becker, and reigning NL MVP Pedro Garrido: Atlanta, Montreal, Oakland, Tampa Bay, the Mets, Detroit and Arizona are believed to be readying hefty bids, but there are probably a dozen other teams that could present tempting offers to those superstars.
Perhaps more remarkable about this free-agent class is its depth: just about every postion has some stars or near-stars (think Chad Seabol, Cliff Rivers, Matthew Crosby, Valerio Guillen), plenty of solid starters (think Fernando James, Orlando Guerrero, Jason Walls, Stump Cambridge), sterling defenders (Ignacio Solano, Nicholas Haynes), and declining vets who could play pivotal roles with contenders (think Hayes Swann, Alfredo Johnson, Adam Martin).
Meanwhile, Houston and Tampa Bay pulled off the season's first trade:
ML RF Cristobal Marquez
AA SS D'Angelo Romero
AAA IF Geoffrey Kelly
Sources say that Romero was the key figure for Houston, a Season 9 IFA. Marquez, who signed a 5-year FA contract with the Rays last year, is a steady if not hugely prolific run producer (21-36 HR's and driving in 78-99 runs in all 7 of his ML seasons). Kelly doesn't project to be a great hitter, but his defense at both 2B and 3B could mean a solid major league career.
Tampa Bay gets:
ML C Bob Riggs
ML OF Rex Yearwood
AA RP Mike Person
The Rays wanted to get more left-handed and they did with this trade. Riggs is one of the league's best-hitting C's; he'll get most of Tampa Bay's catcher innings. Yearwood will see ample playing time against RHP at RF, LF, DH and 1B. Person has a long way to go but with time could be a very good setup reliever.