Everyone looking for pitching

Everyone looking for pitching

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Of the 30 Major League clubs, roughly 29 are looking for more pitching. As the baseball balance of trade goes, there is a definite trade imbalance.

How are you going to find the same commodity that all of your competitors are looking for, at exactly the same time your competitors are looking for the same commodity?

What is making the task of finding that elusive pitching even more difficult than usual is the fact that early offseason signings of even mid-range pitchers have been strikingly expensive. So clubs are even more unwilling than ever to move the serviceable pitchers that they already have.

"Everybody realizes the cost of pitching, so they're a little reluctant to give up pitching," Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said on Monday.

The one club that has actual pitching readily available on the market is the Chicago White Sox. With an apparent pitching surplus on hand, the White Sox are reportedly willing to move one of three starters -- Javier Vazquez, Freddy Garcia or Mark Buehrle.

These are not only proven Major League pitchers, they are, by the new financial standards, relatively inexpensive. The White Sox are in a position to exercise great patience, waiting for the right offer. They would like to make a deal to make room in their rotation for starter-in-waiting Brandon McCarthy. But they do not have to make a deal. It is, in that regard, a very good time to be the White Sox, the rare seller in a market full to the brim with buyers.

But it is also a terrific time to be a free-agent pitcher, in the realm of Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt or Jeff Suppan or Jeff Weaver or Mark Mulder or Gil Meche or Ted Lilly, or whoever he is. This is the supply and it is severely limited. The demand, on the other hand, is right next to inexhaustible.

This is the backdrop of the Winter Meetings, which officially opened on Monday at the Dolphin Hotel, in the same Disney World neighborhood as Epcot Center.

After a tough day of working the phones, roaming through the vast expanses of this facility, and going through organizational meetings in their suites, it would be a short trip for the GMs to visit, for instance, the "Test Track" ride, where they could get a few chills and thrills and let off a little steam. It would be a good outing, but it still wouldn't get them any more pitching.

The idea that good pitching was a commodity that should be, in the first instance, kept, was reinforced when the St. Louis Cardinals, the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, signed Chris Carpenter to a five-year contract extension.

There was a time, not that long ago, when a five-year extension for a pitcher would have been beyond the bounds of generally accepted reason. But in this market, in the case of the 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner, this deal made sense. The Cardinals have this pitching asset, so they might as well keep him in a St. Louis uniform for as long as possible, rather than going shopping in a market that is short on goods and long on exorbitant prices.

On Monday there was, typically for a Winter Meetings opening day, a surplus of rumors and a shortage of actual transactions. The daily Manny Ramirez watch is operating on all available cylinders, under the buzz phrase: "This time, the Red Sox are really serious."

We'll see about that. There are a lot of teams that would like to have this top-shelf run producer in their lineup. But there are not a lot of teams that would be willing to part with the kind of pitchers or even pitching prospects that it would take to make a Manny deal happen.

And that brings us right back to the core issue facing the vast majority of the GMs in attendance at these Meetings. Almost everybody wants pitching. But pitching has become even more expensive than usual, making clubs more likely than ever to hang onto their pitchers.

This is very good news for the free agent pitchers currently available on the market and it might eventually be good news for the White Sox, the one club publicly willing to make a high-profile pitcher available. But it is not good news for the many general managers who have come to central Florida in hopes of finding more and better pitching.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.