Now that it’s OK to say you’re a liberal without being forced to live in an underground bunker, I will go ahead and admit it: I am a liberal, especially when it comes time to vote for the Hall of Fame. For the 12th straight December, I will have the privilege of casting a Hall of Fame ballot by virtue of having at least 10 consecutive years of membership in the Baseball Writers Association of America.

While many voters prefer to mark very few names on their ballot, I’m different. Perhaps my standards are lower, but I believe there a number of deserving players who have been shut out of Cooperstown. Rather than going into detail on every player in the history of the game who I feel should have a plaque in the Hall, I’ll instead let you in on the eight players who I am going to vote for in this year’s election. The results will be announced January 12, and players must be named on at least three-quarters of the ballots in order to be inducted. Here is my list, in alphabetical order:

  • Harold Baines:
    I have long believed that Baines was a decent but not great baseball player. Part of my rationale comes from him having spent his career as a designated hitter. On the other hand, Paul Molitor also served as a DH more than he played at any other position, and I did not think twice about voting for him. The DH has been around for 35 years now, the Major League Baseball Players Association will never agree to make it go away, and I don’t think the players who serve in that role should be penalized.

    Baines ranks 40th on the all-time hits list with 2,866. Every eligible player with more hits has been elected to the Hall, along with the four who are right behind him. Furthermore, Baines had a fine .289/.356/.465 line in a 22-season career, and he played in six postseasons. The more you examine Baines’ overall accomplishments, the better he looks.

  • Bert Blyleven:
    I have long been on his bandwagon, and feel he should have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer, instead of still trying to get in on his 12th try with only three more chances left. He won 287 games, struck out 3,701 batters, and threw 60 shutouts. To put his numbers in perspective, consider that Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Steve Carlton are the four pitchers with more strikeouts, and Warren Spahn, Ryan, and Tom Seaver are the three post-World War II pitchers with more shutouts.

    Blyleven’s detractors point out that he never won a Cy Young Award, and he pitched in just two All-Star Games, but it has always been my belief that a player can make it to Cooperstown based on career achievement as much as on a brief burst of dominance. Thus, Blyleven is an automatic.

  • David Cone:
    I realize that this choice will raise a few eyebrows-he finished his 17-year career with just 194 wins-but bear with me. Cone’s career spanned a time when five-man rotations were the norm, and starters were only expected to pitch six good innings before handing the game off to the bullpen. It’s unfair to expect Cone to have the same kind of numbers as pitchers from previous generations.

    For a statistical point of view, ERA+ is a good way to measure the effectiveness of a modern-day pitcher, and Cone had a career 120 mark. He also finished in the top three in ERA in his league seven times. Throw in the fact that he pitched in eight postseasons, and he’s a Hall of Famer. At least in my book.

  • Andre Dawson:
    I have wavered on Dawson throughout his eight years on the ballot, but the longer he has been out of the game, the clearer my perspective has become. His 438 home runs, accomplished mostly in the pre-steroids era, and his 314 stolen bases, most of which were amassed before his knees degenerated to bone-on-bone, are impressive counting statistics. So are the 2,774 hits he had in 21 seasons; the last three spent primarily as a pinch-hitter because of his bad wheels.

    His .323 on-base percentage always gives me pause, and is definitely a negative, but eight Gold Gloves are enough of a counterbalance to his reluctance to take a walk, and tip the scales in Dawson’s favor.

  • Rickey Henderson:
    He is the only one of the 10 first-timers on the ballot who gets my vote, and he’s the easiest choice of all for reasons that go beyond owning the all-time stolen-base record with 1,406. Until that record was broken when pitchers stopped pitching to Barry Bonds, Henderson’s 2,190 walks stood as the major league record when baseball retired him following the 2003 season. (Remember that Henderson continued playing in independent leagues.) He also scored an all-time record 2,295 runs, and compiled a .401 on-base percentage in 25 seasons.

    Henderson, though, wasn’t just a slap-and-dash hitter with a good eye; he also hit 297 home runs. Although I dock him for the annoyance of always referring to himself in the third person, the numbers are too overwhelming to not put a check mark next to his name.

  • Mark McGwire:
    I have covered this ground before, but to summarize: I do not penalize a player for using steroids, or for being accused of such a thing. The Mitchell List aside, none of us will ever know exactly who used and who didn’t during the time that power numbers went out of control in the late ’90s and the early part of this decade. My educated guess is that there are plenty of players who used performance-enhancing drugs but were never even suspected, though I am not smart enough to know who they are.

    From a statistical standpoint, McGwire’s 583 career home runs, .394 on-base percentage, and .588 slugging percentage are all Hall-worthy markers. Throw in 12 All-Star Game selections and six post-season appearances, and he has my vote, whether people like it or not. I’m not a judge, juror, or jailor. I’m just a baseball writer.

  • Dave Parker:
    By writ of full disclosure, Parker was the Pirates‘ right fielder and the best player in the game in the late 1970s, which just happened to be the time when I was growing up 45 minutes north of Pittsburgh in the Fairview section of the booming metropolis of Ohioville, Pennsylvania. Thus, my most vivid memories of Parker are of him being a five-tool terror who played the game hard and was the most feared hitter in the National League, rather than the drug-using overweight guy who mercifully left town as a free agent after the 1983 season, and then dramatically turned his career back around with the Reds and Athletics.

    Parker had 2,712 hits and 339 home runs, which I consider short of Cooperstown-worthy. However, those late ’70s moments are seared into my memory, and the fact that Parker again became a productive player after falling into the drug abyss makes me cast a vote for him.

  • Tim Raines:
    I did not vote for Raines last December when he first appeared on the ballot, but the passing of another year, and some outstanding arguments made on this site by BP’s Hall of Fame guru Jay Jaffe and his JAWS system, have not only made me reconsider Raines, but they’ve made me change my mind.

    This time, I’m voting for him, and, as with Henderson, it goes beyond his 808 steals. He had a .385 OBP, but also had some pop in his bat with 713 extra-base hits. He made the All-Star Game in each of his first seven seasons, when cocaine rather than Stanozolol was the drug of choice for Raines and many other major leaguers. Raines then kicked his drug addiction and became an important part of the New York Yankees‘ World Series winners of 1996 and 1998, as he morphed into a respected elder. Upon further review, Raines belongs in Cooperstown.

And now to break down the 15 players who did not get my vote:
Seriously considered: Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Jim Rice, Lee Smith, and Alan Trammell.
Pondered for a moment: Mark Grace.
Dismissed immediately, though it was nothing personal: Jay Bell, Ron Gant, Jesse Orosco, Dan Plesac, Greg Vaughn, Mo Vaughn, and Matt Williams.

Twenty-four free agents were offered salary arbitration by their former teams before the Monday night deadline. That was up from 17 last winter, but the only player believed to be seriously considering accepting the offer is left-handed reliever Darren Oliver of the Angels. Oliver is classified as a Type-A free agent, and is among the top 20 percent of relief pitchers according to the formula devised by the Elias Sports Bureau which takes into account statistics from the previous two seasons. The market for Oliver could become somewhat depressed because of the draft-pick compensation required of any team signing him: if a team finished among the top 15 in the major leagues in 2008, it would forfeit its first-round pick in the 2009 first-year player draft, while a team finishing among the bottom 15 would give up its second-round selection.

Furthermore, Oliver could set himself up for a raise over his 2008 salary of $2 million through an arbitration hearing, after ranking 23rd in the American League with a 2.122 WXRL. Some teams have shied away from offering arbitration to their top free agents, including the Diamondbacks, who had originally planned to do so with outfielder/first baseman Adam Dunn after acquiring him from the Reds in an August trade. The Diamondbacks knew they would not be able to re-sign Dunn at the time they dealt for him, but figured they could count on at least receiving draft-pick compensation.

A slow free-agent market that had seen only three of the 171 players who had filed signing contracts through Tuesday night, along with an even slower national economy, has now caused the Diamondbacks to reconsider. They’ll allow Dunn to sign with another team unfettered rather than risk going to arbitration after his .300 EqA, which was 15th in the National League this year while he made $13 million. “There are short-term implications. There are long-term implications,” Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes told Jack Magruder of the East Valley Tribune. “We were hoping to get the draft picks. A lot has happened in the last four months to change our analysis. We studied the marketplace.”

Are compensation picks worth the risk of offering arbitration to a free agent? The answer has been yes many times, including these four instances:

  • The Rockies signed left-hander Mike Hampton in the 2000-01 offseason, and the Mets drafted third baseman David Wright with a compensation pick. Wright has amassed 47.5 WARP3 in six seasons, while Hampton managed 6.7 in two years with the Rockies before being unloaded to the Braves through the Marlins in a three-way trade following the 2002 season. Net gain: 40.8 WARP3 for the Mets.

  • The Padres signed shortstop Kurt Stillwell in the 1991-92 offseason, and the Royals drafted outfielder Johnny Damon with a compensation pick. Stillwell had a -0.6 WARP3 in less than two full years with the Padres, and was released during the 1993 season, while Damon accumulated 31.5 WARP3 in six seasons with the Royals from 1995-2000. Net gain: 32.1 WARP3 for the Royals.

  • The Reds signed left-hander John Smiley in the 1992-93 offseason, and the Twins drafted outfielder Torii Hunter with a compensation pick. Smiley had 17.8 WARP3 in five season with the Reds, and Hunter had 47.0 WARP3 in 11 seasons with the Twins from 1997-2007. Net gain: 29.2 WARP3 for the Twins.

  • The Giants signed left-hander Bud Black in the 1990-91 offseason, and the Blue Jays drafted outfielder Shawn Green with a compensation pick. Black had just 5.1 WARP3 in four seasons with the Giants, while Green had 31.0 WARP3 in seven seasons with the Blue Jays from 1993-99. Net gain: 25.9 WARP3 for the Blue Jays.

Today marks the one-month anniversary of Ruben Amaro Jr. taking over for Pat Gillick as GM of the defending World Series champion Phillies. Amaro has kept busy during that time by hiring a front-office staff, collaborating with manager Charlie Manuel on two changes to the coaching staff, and making a challenge trade of minor league outfielders in which the Phillies shipped speedy Greg Golson to the Rangers for power-hitting John Mayberry Jr.

While Amaro’s primary focus is trying to re-sign left-hander Jamie Moyer as a free agent, he has also talked to right fielder Jayson Werth and set-up reliever Ryan Madson about signing contract extensions before they can become free agents at the end of next season. Amaro has surrounded himself with a group of front-office veterans in picking his assistant GMs: former Rays GM Chuck LaMar, Scott Proefrock, and Benny Looper.

Amaro says that his new job has not been overwhelming; he feels he had been prepared during his 10 years as a Phillies assistant GM under Ed Wade (now the Astros‘ GM), and Gillick. “It’s been challenging and fun,” Amaro told Todd Zolecki of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “At the same time, we still have work to do. We have things to deal with regarding our roster. We’re trying to improve our club, but it’s been a challenge. Nothing has been real surprising. It’s been interesting. I’ve been fortunate to bring on the people I’ve been able to bring on. I give [club president Dave Montgomery] a lot of credit for allowing me to move on a variety of things.”

AL Rumors and Rumblings: Though the White Sox have a trade in place to ship right-hander Javier Vazquez to the Braves, they aren’t done dealing, and there are whispers that they are working on a blockbuster that would send closer Bobby Jenks and right fielder Jermaine Dye to the Mets for a package that would include center-field prospect Fernando Martinez. … The Indians figure to be serious players when closer Francisco Rodriguez begins taking bids as a free agent next week during the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. … The Orioles are willing to help broker a deal that would enable the Cubs to acquire right-hander Jake Peavy from the Padres if Chicago agrees to send shortstop Ronny Cedeno and center fielder Felix Pie to Baltimore. … It appears the Red Sox and Yankees will be the last two teams in the bidding for right-hander Derek Lowe on the free-agent market. … The Rangers will not go more than two years in their bid to re-sign Milton Bradley, but the outfielder/designated hitter reportedly is looking for a four-year, $40 million contract. … The Red Sox are considering infielder Willie Bloomquist and outfielder Jay Payton on the free-agent market for bench help. Also in the picture is infielder Mark Loretta, who is attracting interest from the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Phillies, and Pirates.

NL Rumors and Rumblings:
The Braves won’t be done shopping for starting pitching once they complete the trade for Vazquez; they also continue to hotly pursue free-agent A.J. Burnett. … The Giants’ fallback plan at shortstop is to sign Edgar Renteria if fellow free agent Rafael Furcal decides to go elsewhere. … The Pirates are looking to trade their double-play combination of shortstop Jack Wilson and second baseman Freddy Sanchez. The Tigers and Orioles are showing interest in Wilson, while the Dodgers have backed off. … The Rockies are still open to trading third baseman Garrett Atkins, and he could wind up with the Twins or Indians if either team fails to sign Casey Blake as a free agent. … The Reds have entered the bidding for free-agent left-handed reliever Arthur Lee Rhodes.