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January 11, 2009

Every Given Sunday

Not Actually Getting Ink Done.

by John Perrotto

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Two months ago we looked at the top 25 players available on the free-agent market, and today, nine of those 25 are still looking for work. This year the market has developed much more slowly than usual, and 36 percent of the cream of that original crop (by 2008 WARP3 figures) remain unemployed.

Manny Ramirez was second on the original list and is still trying to find a team, as are two other members of the top 10, Orlando Cabrera (eighth), and Derek Lowe (10th). Others from the top 25 who are still negotiating are Adam Dunn (11th), Bobby Abreu (13th), Ben Sheets (15th), Orlando Hudson (17th), Andy Pettitte (18th), and Jason Varitek (24th).

With the start of spring training just one month and three days away, let's take a look at the revised list of top 20 free agents. The rankings are based on their 2008 WARP3:

  • Manny Ramirez (10.8): The left fielder's amazing two months with the Dodgers hasn't been enough to get him the five-year contract he was reportedly seeking in November. The Dodgers are the favorite to bring him back, simply because the Giants, the only other team that had maintained interest, are now hesitant to make a large bid. Unless agent Scott Boras can somehow get another team involved (perhaps the Mets?), Manny will keep on being Manny in Chavez Ravine.

  • Orlando Cabrera (7.5): It's becoming apparent that one of the game's better shortstops is going to have to settle for a one-year deal at a bargain price; the Athletics now seem his most likely destination.

  • Derek Lowe (7.1): The right-hander can forget about a five-year, $80 million deal, but he at least has a pair of serious suitors in the Braves and Mets, who he hopes to engage in a possible bidding war. Don't count out the Cubs in the event that they fail to kick-start trade talks with the Padres concerning Jake Peavy.

  • Adam Dunn (6.9): Although they already have plenty of outfielders, the Nationals seem the most likely destination for the big slugger, particularly with GM Jim Bowden's love of ex-Reds.

  • Bobby Abreu (6.2): His options keep shrinking, and it now looks like the Reds may become his new club, though they would prefer a right-handed hitting outfielder over a lefty swinger.

  • Ben Sheets (6.1): It's beginning to look as if he may have to wait until spring training and hope that someone loses a starting pitcher before he'll be able to command a decent contract. Most likely, he'll sign with the Rangers on the cheap; he lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

  • Orlando Hudson (6.0): The O-Dog has received zero offers, and the Nationals are biding their time and waiting to sign the Gold Glove winner to a one-year deal with a low base salary that would be loaded with performance bonuses.

  • Andy Pettitte (6.0): He has boxed himself into a corner by declining to re-sign with the Yankees for one year and $10 million. The left-hander most likely will wind up with the hometown Astros, but only if he takes considerably less than what the Yankees had offered.

  • Jason Varitek (5.3): The switch-hitting catcher and team captain's only option is to return to the Red Sox. It's now only a matter of when he'll decide to swallow his pride and take less than the $10 million he made last season, and would have made next season had he accepted the club's offer of salary arbitration.

  • Ty Wigginton (5.2): There was assumed to be some demand for the third baseman when the Astros non-tendered him last month, but he still hasn't signed. Now, he may be headed back to Houston.

  • Ivan Rodriguez (4.9): His situation is beginning to resemble that of such superstars as Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Mike Piazza-guys who still wanted to play, couldn't find a contract offer, and wound up being retired instead of voluntarily retiring. As hard as it is to imagine, he may be forced to accept a minor league contract with an invitation to major league spring training.

  • Kevin Millar (4.8): There aren't even any traces of a rumor concerning the ebullient first baseman, and he'll likely return to the Orioles as a bench player while making just over the minimum salary.

  • Mark Grudzielanek (4.6): He's drawing little interest, though the Padres would like to bring him in to play second base on a cut-rate contract.

  • Braden Looper (4.6): While the right-hander would seem to be a good fit to remain in the Cardinals' rotation, that isn't going to happen, and the Brewers have now become his expected landing spot.

  • Garret Anderson (4.5): The Rays and Athletics both kicked the tires on him in their quests for a designated hitter, and they then both went in other directions. With his options all but dried up, Anderson could still be unemployed on opening day.

  • Eric Hinske (4.3): After resurrecting his career with the Rays, the four-corner player is probably going to have to take the non-roster route in spring training for a second consecutive year.

  • Ray Durham (4.2): Yet another usable vet who is drawing so little interest that it makes one wonder if his career might be over.

  • Jim Edmonds (4.2): He salvaged his career with the Cubs last summer, but no one seems to have noticed or cared, making him yet another retirement candidate.

  • Paul Bryd (4.1): This right-hander may call it quits, but he's also considering whether or not to wait until midseason to try to sign with a contender who may be looking for a starter.

  • Odalis Perez (4.0): The Nationals need starting pitching as much as any club in the major leagues, but they have no interest in re-signing the left-hander. Neither, it appears, does anyone else.

---

Two free agents who found homes this past week were all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman, who signed with the Brewers, and John Smoltz, owner of 210 career wins and 154 saves, who agreed to terms with the Red Sox. These cases do not represent normal free-agent movement, but rather instances of two franchise iconsleaving their hometowns.

Hoffman's departure from the Padres was expected; general manager Kevin Towers made it clear early in the offseason that there was no room in the budget to retain the man with 554 career saves. Smoltz's departure, however, was a stunner; it was assumed that he would forever stay with the Braves, the only major league team he has pitched for in his 21-year career.

The Red Sox lured Smoltz by guaranteeing $5.5 million for next season, more than double what the Braves had offered. Smoltz is recovering from shoulder surgery and is likely to miss the first two months of the season. "There were large discrepancies between offers from the Braves and offers from other teams," Smoltz said in a prepared statement. "I have always loved the city of Atlanta, and it will always be my home. I will cherish my 21 years with Bobby Cox and all my Braves' teammates. I continue to wish the Atlanta Braves nothing but success in the future."

Smoltz's decision to leave stunned his teammates. "It's surreal. I can't imagine John in a Red Sox uniform," Braves reliever Blaine Boyer, who grew up in the Atlanta area, told Dave O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "It's one of those things where, I guess you realize it's the business part of the sport, and that's not fun. As far as I'm concerned, John Smoltz is the Atlanta Braves, for me growing up. Now that I've developed a strong relationship with him over the past few years-to see him going to Boston, it's just sad, but it's what he's got do. They're going to love him in Boston. Who wouldn't?"

Braves GM Frank Wren said that watching Smoltz leave is also tough for him. "Anybody who sits in this chair will tell you the most difficult decisions you make are with aging stars, plain and simple," Wren said. "Because you respect them, you want them to be part of your organization forever, but the reality is, they're getting older and they're not the same."

The Padres felt the same way about Hoffman and wanted to retain him, but they are also slashing payroll; the team is for sale while owner John Moores goes through a divorce. "This guy is kind of the stabilizer, even during rough times for this organization," Towers, who has been the team's GM since 1995, told Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune. "It's hard to imagine going into the season and not have him walking through the center-field gate. That's all I've known. It's certainly a huge loss, not only to our club, but our fans and the community."

Hoffman admitted that any excitement he may have about leaving the Padres, who lost 99 games last season, and going to the Brewers, who broke a 26-year playoff drought in 2008, is a bit tempered. "There's no doubt that when you spend 16 years in one place and watch your career grow and call it home, it's going to be a difficult transition at the start," Hoffman told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "But it's a great opportunity to play with a great core of guys. Some people might not think so, but chemistry is important, and they've put a group there that's tight-knit."

Hoffman found that out when he received recruiting calls from Brewers catcher Jason Kendall and center fielder Mike Cameron. "I really think the calls paid off for us," Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin said. "They've enjoyed playing here and they told [Hoffman] that. Cameron played with him in San Diego, and Kendall lives out there. Players like hearing from players they respect and know."

---

The Yankees unveiled their latest big-ticket free-agent acquisition this past week when they held a press conference to introduce first baseman Mark Teixeira. They signed Teixeira to an eight-year, $168 million contract, after giving seven years and $161 million to left-hander CC Sabathia and five years and $82.5 million to right-hander A.J. Burnett. The signings have led owners or executives from half of the National League Central to call for Major League Baseball to implement a salary cap. Among those that now champion the idea are Astros owner Drayton McLane, Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, and Pirates president Frank Coonelly.

Yankees co-chairman Hal Steinbrenner, usually quieter than his brother Hank, admitted to reporters after the press conference that he is becoming weary of hearing that his franchise is bad for baseball. "I feel that this organization does a lot for the industry as a whole, between the merchandise we sell, the tickets we sell, the licensing," Hal Steinbrenner said. "If some of the owners are upset that we're trying to invest in our team, which we do for the fans, then I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. We had money come off the payroll, so we had money to spend, whether people like it or not."

Yankees president Randy Levine echoed Steinbrenner's sentiments. "It's sour grapes," he said. "If the Brewers had gotten CC Sabathia for $130 million, I don't think anybody would've been complaining."

---

Results of the Baseball Writers Association of America's voting for the Hall of Fame will be announced Monday, and Rickey Henderson, the all-time leader in runs scored and stolen bases, will not become the first player to be a unanimous selection.

Retired Tucson Citizen columnist Corky Simpson told the Bay Area News Group's Carl Steward that he "simply goofed" by not including Henderson on his ballot. Simpson had written a column in the Green Valley News & Sun (Arizona) last month, citing the eight players he had voted for and giving his reasons, but he did not explain omitting Henderson. "First things first: would I vote for Rickey if I had to do it all over again? Damn right, I would," Simpson said. "I had no idea my ballot would cause such an uproar. I'll bet it was worse when 98 people failed to vote for Catfish Hunter some 22 years ago. The blogosphere would have exploded if it had been around when 43 people failed to vote for Mickey Mantle, 23 for Willie Mays, 36 for Jackie Robinson, nine for Hank Aaron, 31 for Roberto Clemente, 57 for Yogi Berra, 23 for Stan Musial, 20 for Ted Williams, and 28 for Joe DiMaggio."

It seems Simpson is doing some serious backpedaling here. News & Sun sportswriter Nick Prevenas said that Simpson told him that he "wasn't a Rickey guy and would vote for him next time," when asked why Henderson had been left off of his ballot.

This isn't the first time Simpson has been a contrarian. He created a stir in 1992 when he was the only voter who voted for Alabama over Miami throughout the entire season in the Associated Press' college football poll. Simpson wound up being vindicated when the Crimson Tide won the national title.

The only other player on the ballot with a good chance of gaining induction is Jim Rice, now in his last year of eligibility. Rice received 72.2 percent of the vote last year, with 75 percent needed for enshrinement in Cooperstown. "I'm not getting my levels too high or too low," Rice told Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. "It's not going to change anything. It's not going to change me."

---

NL Rumors and Rumblings: The Phillies are looking for right-handed bats, and have interest in infielder Nomar Garciaparra and outfielder Gabe Kapler as free agents. ... The Dodgers are close to signing reliever Guillermo Mota as a free agent. ... The Rockies have interest in free-agent starter Josh Fogg. ... A competition between Manuel Corpas and Huston Street in spring training will decide who will be the Rockies' closer. ... Mets left-handed reliever Jose Feliciano will pitch for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.

AL Rumors and Rumblings: Overloaded with first-base/corner-outfield types after signing Teixeira and trading for Nick Swisher, the Yankees are willing to deal outfielder Xavier Nady; the Reds and Pirates are among the interested teams. ... Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner will compete for the Yankees center fielder's job in spring training. ... The Red Sox have renewed their attempts to trade for Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero. ... The Orioles are closing in on signing catcher Gregg Zaun as a free agent. ... Left-hander George Sherrill and right-hander Chris Ray, who missed last season while recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery, will compete for the job of Orioles' closer in the spring. ... Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson has accepted an invitation to play for the United States in the WBC, along with Angels closer Brian Fuentes, White Sox left-handed reliever Matt Thornton, Marlins closer Matt Lindstrom, and Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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