2-4-09: Free Agency

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to another Wednesday. As we prepare to head downhill towards the weekend here in the upper Midwest, the temperatures are set to trend uphill. And really, it can't come soon enough. After last weekend's warm temperatures, this week's deep-freeze created ice-flows all over the place. Let's just say I've been doing more "unintentional James Brown's" of late than I care to. So far, no pulled muscles, or bruised tailbones, but I don't want to push my luck!

Speaking of bruised tailbones, some baseball agents feel like they've been kicked in the tailbone lately. Outside of a few top-level free agents, most players aren't getting anywhere near the contracts they expected this off-season. So today I'll discuss why that is, and who's still available.

Off we go!

"A thinker sees his own actions as experiments and questions - as attempts to find out something. Success and failure are for him answers above all."
- Fredrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), German philosopher

I'm not entirely sure what this means. But it sounds really smart!

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This off-season in baseball can only be described as strange. On the one hand, you have the Yankees spending all kinds of money to get CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira. On the other hand, you have numerous free agents accepting 1-year offers or even minor league deals instead of the multi-year contracts that similar free agents have received in the past.

So what in the name of Curt Flood is going on here?

Yes, the economy sucks, and that's affected a lot of people. But as Syl famously said in a Sopranos episode, the two most recession-proof businesses are "certain segments of the entertainment industry and this thing of ours".

I'm not a huge supporter of Bud Selig (though I think he gets a bad rap nationally), but I don't think he's mobbed-up. Professional sports, however, does fall under the auspice of the "entertainment industry". And if you look at the box office receipts from the blockbuster films of the summer, it's clear that the entertainment industry hasn't taken the hits that other industries have due to the bad economy.

So I don't think it's a lack of money that's the problem. Instead, I think it's future uncertainty. Like most other folks, I think baseball owners are very unsure of what's going to happen economically 6 months, a year, even two years down the road. We're already facing a recession of historic length. Sure, we hope it's going to get better as we go through 2009, but does anyone really want to bet on it? Baseball owners don't either.

So as a response, they're hedging their bets. Players that would've gotten multi-year deals in the past are getting one-year deals. Players that would've gotten one-year deals are getting minor-league deals.

But there are a group of free agents that are trying to buck the trend. They've dug in their collective heels and refused to take contracts that they feel are below their worth. Here's a list of a few of the notable "hold-outs":

Manny Ramirez, OF: Man-Ram is perhaps the most notable of this group. His agent, Scott Boras, has been trying to convince the media for weeks that his client is being sought by several teams. Unfortunately, the media isn't buying it. Yesterday, Manny turned down a 1-year $25 million offer from the Dodgers. The only other club who's admitted any kind of interest is the Giants, and they don't seem intrigued by anything more than a one-year deal.

There's no question about what Ramirez brings to the plate. To put it simply, the Dodgers made the playoffs last year because they traded for Manny. Period. And though they got beat in the first round, Manny reached base in over 20 of his 30+ plate appearances. He did his job, and then some.

There's also no question about the baggage that comes with Manny. Yes, he's got skills. But who knows when that "Manny-being-Manny" switch is going to flip and his next team would have to go through the headache that Boston (whom I hate) did?

My guess is that Manny ends up back in Los Angeles with one-year guaranteed and a club-option on a second year. Something like that. If the Dodgers re-sign him, they're the clear favorites out West. I'm not sure they can afford to not bring him back.

Bobby Abreu, OF: The poor-man's Manny. Abreu doesn't quite put up the same kinds of numbers that Manny does, but he's still pretty productive. And considering that he made $16 million last year, the fact that the only rumor you've heard about him this year is a 1-year $8 million offer from the White Sox is really surprising.

One of Bobby's issues is that he really only makes sense in the American League. He's a below-average outfielder at this stage, so if you can't use him as a DH on some days, you're really hamstringing your defense.

But even with that, there are a lot of places where he makes some sense. Chicago could certainly use him, especially if they move Jermaine Dye. Detroit could work, although their payroll is already slightly overloaded. Anybody in the AL West except for Anaheim could use his offensive production in their line-up. Bottom line is that he'll sign somewhere, but his best-case scenario looks a lot like Manny's. Two years at best, with that second year most likely being an option year rather than a guaranteed year.

Orlando Cabrerra, SS: This one makes no sense to me at all. Here's a guy who's a plus-defender, hit .281 last year and brings above-average speed to your running game. Why can't he get a job?

Yes, his $10 million salary last year immediately takes some clubs off the list. But there are all sorts of clubs who can afford that, where he could pay dividends.

Worst of all, you don't even hear rumors about teams that are interested. So if the Twins offered 3 years at $6 million per, wouldn't that make sense? Hmmmm.....

Adam Dunn, OF: Dunn didn't have the impact that the Diamondbacks hoped for when they traded for him last year. Yes he hits a lot of home runs, but he also strikes out a lot. And since that was already a problem for Arizona, it didn't make a lot of sense to bring him back.

Dunn is a lot like Bobby Abreu in that he makes far more sense for an American League club to sign than a National League club. His defense is clearly sub-par. But he'd be a whale of a DH.

There's no way he's going to score the $13 million he made last year. But a multi-year deal at a cut rate isn't out of the question.

Orlando Hudson, 2B: Also a former Diamondback. His free agency was more about his wanting to play somewhere else, rather than the club not wanting to bring him back.

Add in the broken wrist he suffered at the end of last season, and it's far more understandable why he's not getting the kinds of offers he thought were coming.

The Yankees deny that they're interested, but O-dawg is such an upgrade over Robinson Cano, that it won't surprise me a bit if Hudson winds up in pinstripes.

Ben Sheets, SP: Sheets figured he was going to be next in line in the free-agent pitcher parade, but that market has dried up in a hurry.

Ben's numbers, when healthy, make him an Ace on most pitching staffs. It's that "when healthy" part that's the trick. Yes, he made 31 starts last year. But he also spent two stints on the DL, which has been a pattern for him over the years.

So in a market that's been awfully cautious, Ben's not finding the offers he expected. The Texas Rangers have been interested, though not for the price and term that Sheets has been asking for.

What I can't figure out is why a 1-year $15 million deal in Milwaukee isn't being discussed? Come back "home" for a year. Make some solid coin and see what the market's like next year. That would work, wouldn't it?

All of these guys are going to have jobs, it's just a matter of time. Time and money I guess. Will clubs open their wallets? Or will these players have to come down in their demands? As usual, the answer will likely fall somewhere in between. Although in this crazy-tight market, that "middle" might be a lot closer to where the clubs want it, than where the players would like it.

Did I mention pitchers and catchers report on February 15th?! I can't wait!

That's all for today folks. I'll be back on Friday to wrap up the week. Until then, stay safe and thanks for reading!

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