Market watch: The latest on the best remaining free agents
As spring training nears, there are still about 100 players without jobs
Manny Ramirez, Bobby Abreu and Adam Dunn are the best hitters left
Top pitchers include Oliver Perez, Ben Sheets and Randy Wolf
The stunning thing about this free-agent market isn't that there are still about 100 players without jobs, it's that at least a dozen of the unemployed are excellent players in their prime.
It isn't just patient all-time great Manny Ramirez who's available, but enough All-Stars and stars to form their own very good team.
A dynamic lineup could be constructed with outfielders Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn and Garret Anderson, second baseman Orlando Hudson, shortstop Orlando Cabrera, third baseman Joe Crede and catcher Jason Varitek joining Ramirez. A very solid rotation would be formed with Oliver Perez, Ben Sheets, Randy Wolf, Jon Garland (EDITOR'S NOTE: Garland agreed to a deal with Arizona after press time) and Braden Looper. And Juan Cruz, one of the best set-up men in baseball, remains available, as well. If you play Dunn at first, all that's missing are a center fielder and a closer.
Beyond all the current stars, there are several Hall-of-Famers-to-be with their hands out. Some think Jeff Kent's retirement was hastened by this awful market. Kenny Rogers looks likely to call it quits, and others might, too.
There doesn't seem to be a lot of action on all-time great Ken Griffey Jr., or for that matter, sure Hall of Famer Frank Thomas. Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Moises Alou, Ivan Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra are among other former greats still available. It's like a Who's Who of 1990s baseball out there.
But it's not only aging players who are wondering where their next paycheck is coming from. Plenty of players in their prime and even a few coming off 40-homer, 100-RBI or 14-win seasons are still seeking employment.
While a few remaining players will still get big deals (it's known that sizable contracts have been offered to at least Ramirez and Perez), there are said to be a lot of very nervous players -- and a few nervous agents -- as we approach the two-week mark before spring camps open. In many cases an excellent player will likely have to settle for a fraction of what he originally sought. And some teams will get a few hellacious bargains.
Here is a rundown of the best of the unemployed -- what the non-numerically-oriented like myself can call a Heyman dozen (that's 14 if you're scoring at home).
1. Manny Ramirez. The Man-child and the Dodgers appear to be in a stalemate, with the team holding at $45 million for two years and Ramirez wanting a deal for four or five years for between $25 million and $30 million per. The Giants, who are in excellent financial position, look like the biggest threat; although at least publicly they're saying they won't go crazy for Manny after diving into the market early. San Francisco already signed Edgar Renteria, Randy Johnson, Bobby Howry and Jerremy Affeldt, a commitment of more than $20 million for 2009, but if they don't get Ramirez the question has to be asked: Wouldn't that $20 million-plus have been better spent on Manny? The Angels and Mets say publicly that they won't go for Manny, while the Yankees already have upgraded their offense immensely with Mark Teixeira. So until further notice the two great West Coast rivals look like the favorites.
2. Bobby Abreu. He is one of three players in history with a .400 on-base percentage, 300 steals and 200 home runs (Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson are the others) and one of three with 100 RBIs in each of the last six years (Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols are the others), yet for some reason Raul Ibanez, whose numbers aren't even in Abreu's ballpark, was the more popular pick this winter. Ibanez signed for $31.5 million over three years with Abreu's former Phillies team, but Abreu would do well to get $20 million for two right now. Ibanez scored points for his deserved rep as a great guy and a clubhouse leader, but Abreu certainly isn't a negative influence in any way. The two perceived knocks on him are minor (that he's interested in stats and fears the wall) and shouldn't preclude anyone from signing him. The Dodgers (if they fail to sign Manny), Braves and perhaps Reds, A's or Giants could be possibilities after he didn't jump at a Rays offer and saw former teammate Pat Burrell take it (Tampa was OK with that since it really only needed a DH). With the Mets taking hits for ignoring Manny, perhaps they'll make a play for Abreu after they solve their more pressing pitching problem.
3. Adam Dunn. After five-straight years of 40-plus home runs, it's no wonder he was said to be seeking $100 million. Yet Dunn will have to settle for a fraction of that. Unless the Dodgers see him as a viable Manny replacement, his only real hope for any sort of substantial payday may be Washington, which desperately wants a left-handed power hitter.
4. Oliver Perez. The Mets are in for more than $30 million over three years, but talks seem to have slowed a tad over the last couple days for the talented 27-year-old lefty. The Rangers and Brewers look like they could become possibilities, though it isn't certain how willing either of those teams is to do a multiyear deal. Despite the negotiating hiccup, the Mets, whose GM, Omar Minaya, loves Perez, still make the most sense.
5. Ben Sheets. Even after he provided updated medical information, the market doesn't appear to be moving too fast for one of baseball's better pitchers. Sheets started the All-Star Game last year and went 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA overall, but teams appear focused on the flexor tendon injury that caused him to miss a playoff start. Don't believe the knock that he's soft, as this is the same guy who threw a four-hit shutout to beat Cuba in the 2000 Olympic final. His career is very similar to that of A.J. Burnett, who cashed in for $82.5 million. Sheets has never had major arm surgery, has pitched 200 innings three times -- not counting 198 1/3 last year -- and has only once been below 140 innings. The Yankees flirted with him, but right now he might have to settle for an incentive-laden deal, perhaps with Texas, which has been talking about a one-year commitment.
6. Orlando Hudson. He was hoping for $50 million over five years but he plays the wrong position (second base) in the wrong year. Indications are that he was hoping for the Mets or Yankees to create a need by trading their current starters, Luis Castillo or Robinson Cano. But no one wants Castillo, and the Yankees still see great potential for Cano. The Nats are a possibility, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution suggested the Braves could sign Hudson and move Kelly Johnson to the outfield, as they would have for Rafael Furcal.
7. Orlando Cabrera. Edgar Renteria's $18.5 million, two-year deal must be a mirage. This guy is better. But where's he going? Oakland's a guess, but yours might be as good as mine at this point.
8. Garret Anderson. Here's another terrific hitter caught in a nightmare of a hitting market. He's been among the more productive outfielders in the AL over the last several years, and while he has seemingly been around forever, he's still only 36.