Everyone is posting their opinion about what Billy SHOULD do this off-season, but I think there are a few things of equal importance that he definately should NOT do this off-season.
1. Overcommit to vacant positions and bullpen:
While some moves need to be made to get competent, major-league level guys to fill-in for some departed starters, I don't think we should commit large sums of money or long contracts to fill those voids for next year.
In Right Field, unless Jermaine decides to take a multi-million dollar pay cut, we do need somebody to start. But only for next year. Swisher, and this years' draftees Putnam and Robnett have all been projected to be major-league ready by 2006 (Swisher already is).
At Catcher we need the oft-quoted "1 year stop gap". This talk of getting Kendall for the Pirates (even if it is only to spin him off to another team) makes me nervous. Too much money and too many years involved. We have a plethora of outstanding catching prospects in the minors (Suzuki, Powell, Brown) and they also will probably be ready to take on major duties in 2006. I hope Billy waits the market out, and picks up a veteran, cheap catcher who just wants a 1-year contract.
Infield: We all hope Ellis can come back some time next year in fine form, but recent news from Assistant GM David Forst puts that rosey picture in doubt. Scutaro was a decent replacement, but is no starter. I would actually not be averse to picking up Barry Larkin for a year, who still hits relatively well (.289 avg a few homers and 44 RBIs) and platoon him with Scutaro. Wait for next year for a full recovery from Ellis, or bring Quintanilla up form AAA, who has been mashing up the Arizona Fall League.
1B/DH - our two vets in these positions, Hatteberg and Durazo, had pretty good years last year. For Durazo, that year might make him too expensive for us (through arbitration), and for Hatteberg it might have been the last good year of his career (he seriously tired out in August and September). I say let Durazo walk, immediately bring in Dan Johnson and platoon him or permanently DH-him.'
Bullpen - A touchy subject, seeing as how crappy it was at times last year. But, like in all areas of this team, help is on the way in the minors. Our bullpen will have openings next year (Mecir and Hammond gone) and I think Bradford will move on as well. That leaves Rincon (who might be our lone lefty back there), the Duke (for long-relief) Rhodes (should be traded, or if not, kept as lefty-setup) and Dotel, whom should be our "1-year stop gap" at closer. He will cost a little more, but not as much as other "established closers". Bring in Huston Street and Jairo Garcia for middle relief and groom them to be the 8th-9th inning guys of 2006 and beyond.
I say all of this because by bringing in the great prospects we have as soon as possible, we will get good produciton VERY cheaply. This will allow us some financial wiggle room (which we desperately need).
2. Trade one bad contract for another
Billy made the mistake of signing both Redman and Rhodes to overvalued and long contracts last off-season. But choosing to trade those guys' contracts for someone else's equally bad contract (i.e. Charles Johnson of the Rockies) is not a good long-term decision. Sometimes you have to eat a bad contract (or two), in Billy's case.
If he can effectively trade those guys away and not take on salary, then I am all for it. If not, use Rhodes as a LOOGY and keep Redman the #5 starter (thus necessitating a trade of Blanton, or putting him in the bullpen).
3. Trade one of the Big THree if Hudson is resigned this off season
If Hudson can be signed this off-season to a 3-4 year extension (at hopefully Chavez-type salary) then we should keep the Big Three together for the remainder of their contracts (through 2006 with Mulder and Zito). All of their contracts will be back-loaded, and if Billy brings up the minor-leaguers sooner than later like I said in Step 1, we will have a much lower salary on position players, and thus be able to afford the raises that all of the Big Three will get in 2005-2006.
Well that's it. Long, probably wrong in some aspects. But eager to hear what you guys think about that.