L.A. vs. N.Y. for top free-agents
Where will CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramierz end up?
Why the Rockies are almost certain to deal Matt Holliday
The Braves have the best chance at acquiring Jake Peavy
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Baseball executives envision this country's horrific economic meltdown adversely affecting this free-agent class, though it might not cost three superstars who baseball people believe are too good to be affected. The trio of elite of a pretty fair class -- CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez -- will still get their cash, baseball people predict.
"The top guys will get the money, the middle guys may get squeezed a little, but the lower-tier guys are really screwed,'' one GM surmised.
The Dodgers' early interest in keeping Ramirez to a short (but rich) deal -- first reported by SI.com on Wednesday -- might explain Ramirez's rhetoric following the season in which he professed no special interest in staying in L.A., and candidly added that his only goal was in going to the highest bidder, especially one who'd like to give him a six-year deal. Perhaps by then Manny knew of L.A.'s intentions.
In any case, the Manny Derby appears as to have opened up a tad. Though while Philly, the Jays and some others might make for an interesting alternative, it's still entirely possible that the battle for Manny and the other two mega-stars comes down to a competition between the two biggest markets -- New York and Los Angeles.
While a few possible players outside the major markets have surfaced as possibilities for the stars (Baltimore and Seattle for Teixeira, and Milwaukee for Sabathia), interviews with GMs suggest that an L.A. versus N.Y. showdown remains possible for all three monster free agents.
The Mets need to make sure that all their pitching needs are fulfilled, and they're showing limited interest in Ramirez thus far, but opposing GMs still wouldn't be shocked to see them emerge as an alternative to the Dodgers. And while the Yankees don't seem to have a need for a corner outfielder (or a DH for that matter), they haven't ruled out a run at Ramirez, either.
One GM said, though, that he sees the Yankees landing Sabathia and Teixeira instead. While it's generally known that Sabathia prefers the National League as well as any team in California, where the Angels and Dodgers are likely pursuers, the consensus seems to be that the Yankees will blow him away with an offer he can't refuse. Another factor is the Yankees may not have a serious shot at A.J. Burnett, Ben Sheets or Jake Peavy (who's on the trading block but strongly prefers the National League), which could also push Sabathia into the category of a must-sign for them.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman has done a nice job of selling New York in the past, and this year the economic advantage may be greater than ever. "It's a special place for those who have an opportunity to come and say they were a Yankee,'' Cashman said. "For players interested in playing in the playoffs, it's a good place to be."
Perhaps even more important, with $80-plus million potentially coming off the Yankees' books, revenues sure to skyrocket in their new Yankee Stadium and a glaring need for starting pitchers, one competing GM said, "It's going to be impossible to outbid the Yankees.''
The Angels are going to try hard to retain Teixeira, whom they love. But the first baseman, who'll also draw interest from Boston (if it can open up a spot for him) and many others, is from the East (Severna Park, Md.) and like most free agents is believed to be headed to the highest bidder. In these impossibly tough economic times, that will most likely be in the Bronx.
Could Manny Phil out baseball's best lineup?
The Dodgers' intention to try to keep Ramirez to a short-term deal -- they're expected to make an initial offer of a two-year contract for about $55 million, perhaps a little bit more, as reported on SI.com Wednesday -- could leave an opening for one of a few other teams to try for Ramirez. And one of those clubs could be the Phillies, who would lock down baseball's best lineup by adding Manny to a batting order that already includes two MVPs.
The field may be somewhat limited for a 36-year-old player seeking a six-year deal for $25 million per, but potential Ramirez suitors include the Mets, Yankees, Blue Jays and Orioles in addition to the Phillies, who may have two things going for them: 1) Manager Charlie Manuel was Ramirez's hitting coach in Cleveland, not that Manny ever needed a hitting coach, and 2) Stiff and streaky left fielder Pat Burrell, who is behind Manny in terms of defense and personality (not to mention hitting, of course), is also a free agent.
"Manny is one of the best offensive players in the game. There's probably 30 teams that would like to have Manny,'' Phillies assistant GM Ruben Amaro said. "A lot depends on where we stand on Pat Burrell. If Pat comes back, there's no need.''
The Phillies will occasionally try to knock one out of the park in free agency (see Jim Thome), and they may not pass up the chance to create a lineup that includes an awe-inspiring quartet of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Ramirez, which would rank among the best batting orders of all time. Burrell likes Philly enough to have enforced his no-trade clause when the Phillies tried to move him in the past and only showed interest in going to the Yankees or Red Sox, but what Amaro described as "brief'' discussions with him ended months ago, before his brutal second half. Amaro said, "We haven't made a decision one way or the other with Pat.''
This winter will be Holliday season
The Rockies have begun talking to teams about superstar outfielder Matt Holliday and are very likely to trade him this winter after determining they won't be able to sign him to a long-term contract when his current deal expires after next season. Some surprising small-market teams are said to be involved despite the great likelihood that they would have Holliday for only a year.
Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd has nothing but kind words for Holliday, and he's said to be willing to give Holliday a five-year deal. But Holliday knows that a year from now he can shoot for the same $200 million, 10-year target that Teixeira's aiming for.
O'Dowd has told colleagues that he'd love to keep Holliday but is resigned to being realistic about this. Thus he is said to be determined to find his best deal for the 28-year-old outfielder. While O'Dowd is open to different packages depending on the trading partner, he'd like to acquire a young pitcher who could become a No. 2-type starter as part of the package.
Fuentes will cash in big-time; Mets a favorite
The Mets, Rangers and Indians are believed to be three teams looking to sign star Rockies closer Brian Fuentes, who had a special season in his walk year. (And he will walk, as the Rockies can't afford him.)
The Cardinals are another team that could badly use the 33-year-old Fuentes. But the Mets are seen by some as the favorite to sign him. The Mets are badly in need of a shutdown closer and view Francisco Rodriguez's asking price of $75 million over five years as too steep considering their $11 million commitment to injured closer Billy Wagner.
Fuentes' take is expected to be along the lines of $36 million over three years, a relative bargain.