These teams are the most likely to get free-agent deals done (cont.)
Even so, it's still a mystery to many why Varitek didn't take arbitration. And even Red Sox owner John Henry asked Varitek in their well-publicized meeting a week ago why he didn't take the arbitration offer. The reason is that Varitek didn't believe that accepting arbitration would guarantee him a spot on the team.
In any case, it's believed that the Red Sox will finally make a guaranteed offer to Varitek sometime soon.
Ryan's hope: arbitration grand slam
Ryan Howard is aiming to become the king of arbitration with what seems like a monster raise, from his $10 million 2008 salary to a record $18 million request. The Phillies submitted $14 million. If Howard wins his case he will beat the record for an arbitration raise, currently held by Matt Holliday, who went up $5.1 million, from $4.4 million to $9.5 million.
Howard's $10 million 2008 salary came via a victory in arbitration last spring (that figure was picked over the $7 million figure submitted by the Phillies), and, thanks to agent Casey Close, likely gives Howard the feeling of playing with house money. It probably also puts the Phillies on the defensive, though new GM Ruben Amaro said through a spokesman that he greatly respects Howard and isn't especially surprised by the first baseman's bold request.
While his number may seem high and appears to rely to some degree on big free-agent deals like those for Mark Teixeira, Andruw Jones and Torii Hunter, the Phillies may not want to risk a second straight defeat to him in arbitration. A settlement at the $16 million midpoint may be their most prudent course of action if they can get Howard to play along this time.
Around the majors
The Phillies look like they got a major bargain by locking up star starter Cole Hamels for $20.5 million over three years.
Oddly, starting pitchers still aren't as well-rewarded as relievers as first-year arbitration-eligible players. This is the only time where relievers have the edge, and there's no rhyme or reason to it. While star closer Jonathan Papelbon got $6.25 million and fellow closer Bobby Jenks $5.6 million, the ceiling for starters in their first year of arbitration still seems to be the $4.35 million that Dontrelle Willis got three years back (and that deal included some deferred monies). Hamels' contract calls for $4 million in 2009, his first year of arbitration eligibility, a major bargain by any accounting.
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has been a busy man. He also locked up utilityman Greg Dobbs for $2.5 million over two years, right fielder Jayson Werth, who got $10 million for two years (plus performance bonuses), and set-up reliever Ryan Madson, who got $12 million for three years. Amaro said through a spokesman that he is pleased to have locked up so many of their players. And why not? It is these very players who enabled the Phillies to win their second World Series title.
Madson's contract may have surprised some folks, as Scott Boras' clients aren't seen as likely to give up free-agent years. But while Madson showed closing potential late last season, he was throwing only 91 mph earlier in the year. Boras is said to have been in favor of Madson taking that deal based on personal circumstances. Madson has three young children and was understandably looking for security.
The Yankees are said to be getting more interest in Nick Swisher than Xavier Nady, who's a year from free agency. Swisher, though, has $21 million left on his contract after his disappointing season with the White Sox, so the Yankees will be luckier to dispose of that contract if they can.
Randy Wolf, a very solid starting pitcher, may be a candidate for the Jody Reed Award (famous for years ago turning down $8 million only to sign later for $1 million with the Dodgers). Wolf reportedly rejected a $22 million, three-year offer from the Astros. Last year's winner was David Eckstein, who signed for $5 million after turning down $24 million over four years from the Mets. Wherever Wolf goes (Dodgers? Mets? D-Backs?), it won't be the Braves, as Atlanta has sworn off clients of Arn Tellem's agency.
The Ricketts family, which founded Ameritrade, is said to be the favorites to land the Chicago Cubs in a sale that has seemed interminable. The other finalists are Chicago real estate mogul Hersch Klaff and the Marc Utay/Leo Hindery team (Utay's a New York investment banker, Hindery a media investor). The New York Times reported today that the Tribune Co. selected a favorite and sent the name along to the creditors. While some have suggested that a deal could be completed by the start of this season, that seems like a long shot.
Abreu is getting a bad rap by executives who are overemphasizing his defensive slippage. He's still an adequate right fielder, but his fear of the wall got so much airtime in New York that he has become over-criticized. Abreu, in fact, is fifth in assists among right fielders over the last three years and third in fielding percentage, and while he's 16th of 27 in range factor, Yankees pitchers had the second highest ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio in the AL. Meanwhile, Raul Ibanez, a below average left fielder who was a chic pick this winter, probably benefited by being hidden in Seattle and signed for $31.5 million over three years with Abreu's former Phillies team. Any way you compare these two players, Abreu looks better ... at least from here.
Someone's going to get a bargain on Freddy Garcia, one of baseball's most clutch pitchers when healthy. And it looks like it'll be either the Yankees, Mets or Rangers. Garcia's shoulder is said to be doing better, and if he's sound, he's a steal.
The Nationals are one of at least three teams -- along with the Marlins and Rays -- that make it a policy not to bargain once arbitration numbers are exchanged and instead go straight to the hearing room. But agent Matt Sosnick said enough progress has been made with Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham that Nats GM Jim Bowden said they'll keep talking. Both are about a million apart (Olsen submitted $3.5 million to the Nats' $2.5 million, while Willingham submitted $3.6 million to the Nats' $2.55 million).
The long-running and always well-run Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation Dinner was a smashing success in Los Angeles last weekend. Commissioner Bud Selig, president Bob DuPuy, seven baseball owners, Hall of Famers such as George Brett and Goose Gossage and celebrities such as Don Johnson attended the annual event last Saturday to benefit struggling scouts (that's right, not everyone in baseball makes seven figures).
Retiring Jeff Kent has the most home runs ever while playing second base (351) and made himself into a Hall of Fame candidate. But now for the real debate: Who would make a better dinner companion between Kent and the other ornery Giants star and Kent antagonist, Barry Bonds? I'd take Bonds any day of the week.