Le Vent Souffle en Arizona 

We head into the first full weekend of free agency with the GM meetings behind us, and already there are several moves that shake things up in the NL West. My top five:

J.D. Drew opts out

Drew decided he'll get more than 3 years and $33 million -- what remained on his Dodger contract -- on the free agent market, thanks to an opt-out clause the previous Dodger management let him have. This blows a big hole in the Dodger lineup. L.A. will have Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra back (reports say Nomar is about to re-sign for multiple years), but with both of them injury question marks, the Dodger lineup could have a power vacuum next year unless youngsters Russell Martin, Andre Ethier and James Loney (who will be blocked by Garciaparra at first base) come through.

Frank Thomas flies north

No, it's not the N.L. West, but it has carryover effect. Thomas's move to Toronto (2 years, $18 M) leaves the A's DH-less and turns their attention to Barry Bonds. I don't think the A's are serious, and I still think Barry will sign with the Giants, but the more interested parties come calling, the higher his price tag. And the higher his price tag, the less the Giants will spend on other necessary parts.

Jesse Josh Barfield packs his bags

[Ed. note: Jesse Barfield? How old are you, anyway? Shee-it.]

Wow, thanks, Kevin Towers! One of the division's most promising young players is sent over the hills and far far away. Barfield wasn't a star, but he had an extremely solid year at 23. Instead the Pads got Kevin Kouzmanoff, a defensively challenged veteran minor leaguer with great offensive numbers, and a fungible RH reliever. Kouzmanoff may be their answer at third base, but with him and someone like Todd Walker to plug the now-gaping hole at 2B, S.D. may be throwing some defensive slop on the infield next year. Plus Kouzmanoff's great offensive numbers are strictly minor-league. He hasn't proved himself at all in the bigs. Weirdest trade of the winter so far.

Theo Epstein shaves his pubes

No, no, but what did happen made for just as shocking a headline: the Red Sox paid $51 million for the right to negotiate a contract with Daisuke Matsuzaka and Scott Boras. Just a guess: Jason Schmidt, who will be heavily courted by the teams that didn't win the Matsuzaka bid, is now officially out of the Giants' reach, and crappy second-tier starters may be, too. This could be a blessing in disguise, forcing the Giants to lean even more heavily on their homegrown hurlers, where the team can make the most effective use of the least number of dollars.

Aramis Ramirez stays put

In terms of how it affects the Giants, Ramirez's decision to stay with the Cubs is less about the Giants not signing him -- a huge longshot -- and more about the Dodgers, who were rumored to be among the suitors, not signing him. I wonder how interested the Dodgers really were, as they have Andy LaRoche, a superb third-base prospect in AAA who will likely be ready for prime time in '08, if not earlier. But Ramirez not going to L.A., piled atop the Drew defection, and slathered with the speculation that Alfonso Soriano wants to stay on the East Coast, makes the Dodgers that much more desperate for offense.

Not as desperate as the Giants, but we have to take solace somewhere.


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