Winter Meetings preview
A friend of CC Sabathia said there may be 4 teams bidding for the free agent star
Expect teams to start becoming more active, despite the faltering economy
The market for closers hasn't opened up; the Mets will set the market
While there could well be a string of free-agent signings at the Winter Meetings that convene in Las Vegas next week -- heaven knows, plenty of talent remains available -- it will be a surprise if CC Sabathia is among those signing new deals.
According to a friend of Sabathia's, he's waited long and worked hard for this moment, and he does not plan to rush into anything, apparently not even into a market-setting $140-million contract that the Yankees offered -- not when his former Brewers team appears willing to up their initial $100-million bid and two other unknown teams are apparently in the bidding already.
The friend also said that despite the suggestion of new Yankees' Boss Hal Steinbrenner that Sabathia's mega $140-million offer won't be there "forever,'' and Yankees GM Brian Cashman's plan to meet with Sabathia before arriving in Las Vegas, neither the Yankees nor any of the other three interested teams has yet suggested, indicated or otherwise hinted that they are about to press him for a quick answer. Cashman will do his best to gauge whether Sabathia is serious about New York, but it's probably too early to ask for the ultimate answer from their preeminent target.
There's no reason to offend the one pitcher who carries the potential to do no less than what he did last summer for the Brewers: transform a rotation, and a franchise.
That friend also suggested there have been more than just the two known bidders -- the anxious Yankees and just-as-anxious Brewers -- in the game for some time. Two bids from two other undisclosed teams came in before Thanksgiving, the friend said. So Sabathia is apparently pretty good at keeping secrets, among his other obvious attributes. Those teams still remain a mystery today. But it's reasonable to believe there's more interest out there for one of the game's two best pitchers (along with Johan Santana) than just his former team and one other.
I don't blame anyone who takes a couple months to make what might be a life-changing decision. After all, 29 out of 30 teams aren't exactly rushing into free-agent deals, either, with the obvious exception being the Giants, and no one's blaming the slow-moving teams.
Things might not turn around as soon as people start arriving at the meetings on Sunday night, but they'll surely start to loosen up. My own theory for the slow-moving market is that while teams still have plenty of money, the industry is doing better than almost any other and the bulk of the teams' revenues are already locked in for 2009, a lot of owners are simply afraid to dive in when they're still hoping that the free-agent market takes a sudden nosedive to parallel the U.S. economy.
I don't believe baseball's salaries will dive. And eventually, the teams will dive in.
The evidence is limited so far mainly to what the Giants have done. And based on aging shortstop Edgar Renteria getting $18.5 million for two years after a year in which he played shortstop in slow motion, I'd say that the better free agents don't have too much to worry about. The Tigers, who have no other shortstop alternatives, wouldn't even risk offering Renteria arbitration, even after word leaked out the Giants appeared ready to sign him and the great likelihood was that the Tigers would have won two draft choices awarded teams that lose free agents to whom they'd offered arbitration.
Needless to say, with an impressive list of free agents available and teams anxious to make trades, there's plenty of action left to go this winter. Some of it will occur at the gambling capital of the world.
Here are some of the biggest topics on the eve of one of the most anticipated winter meetings in years, with the "Big Three'' still available (no, not that big three, but Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez).
1. CC Sabathia
Beyond the fact it appears he will take his time, and make a lot of money, he could get some enhanced offers as we go. That the Yankees' market-setting $140-million bid has sat there for weeks has led to a lot of understandable speculation that the Vallejo, Calif. native (and lover of Southern California, as well) is only waiting for one of his preferred West Coast teams to jump in. And while there may be some truth to that (his family is said to want him close to home), there's more going on here than just that. The incumbent Brewers, for one, aren't likely giving up. Brewers owner Mark Attanasio is said be enthralled by Sabathia and willing to stretch as far as their small-market dollars will go, which means they aren't done bidding after the Yankees blew by their $100-million proposal by 40 big ones.
The two interested mystery teams aren't known, but it shouldn't shock anyone if the Giants get involved since they are involved with almost everything so far and it makes sense not to pass up an opportunity to lure a hometown hero for an under-market contract and finally get that nine-figure pitching contract right. As of today, the Dodgers look like they have too Manny needs (pun intended) and no inclination go crazy for one pitcher, and the Angels still say Teixeira is their first priority. Ultimately, the Yankees will probably do whatever it takes -- though it might not happen as early as Las Vegas -- and probably win the game's biggest pitching prize.
2. The freewheeling Giants
Last year's non-hitting, non-contending team appears intent on getting back in the game they played so well for years before several bad drafts dragged them down. They have a new managing partner, Bill Neukom, and an anxious ownership group that wants to get back to the winning ways established in the '90s by previous top partner Peter Magowan. Sure, none of their new players is a megastar (they signed relievers Jeremy Affeldt and Bobby Howry to go with Renteria). But while the generous organization that paid for its own stadium and gave $126 million to Barry Zito can't be ruled out for the big play, it's hard to imagine them affording to go dollar-to-dollar with the Yankees or believing that any offer south of Zito's whopping deal could reasonably lure Sabathia.
3. Mark Teixeira
The Nationals, who are looking for fans as well as wins, are expected to make a bid to try to blow the field away for the almost hometown kid from an hour away in Severna Park, Md. A Nationals person said their priority is to find a left-handed slugger, and there's no better one than Teixeira. They probably also wouldn't mind tweaking Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who hasn't exactly made friends with his neighbor and has coveted Teixiera since he starred in high school about three miles from Camden Yards. Still, most folks still see the incumbent Angels as the slight favorite to keep him, with the Red Sox also a major factor and the winning bid expected to hit or exceed $160 million over eight years. Owner Arte Moreno and manager Mike Scioscia are said to love Teixeira (though some of their baseball people might actually prefer a run at CC), and the guess is that Moreno will outbid the Red Sox, Yankees and other East Coast suitors. The Red Sox are said willing to consider moving Mike Lowell in the spring to accommodate Teixeira. But that sounds very messy. The Yankees loom as a threat, too, especially if they start to sense that Sabathia won't go to New York under any circumstance.