A guide to the free-agent market
Three to four stars may get big money, but beyond that, players will scrap
Matt Holliday, John Lackey likely will get largest payouts, Chone Figgins behind
Usual teams will step up big bucks, but Seattle, Milwaukee, S.F. may be surprises
Free agency is finally here, less than a week before Thanksgiving. And the signings may not come so quick, either.
Baseball's powers are still arguing about the state of the game's economics, whether teams are losing money or still making it big and just how much loot the small-market teams are receiving in revenue-sharing and central-fund monies to boost them (some agents cite articles saying it's up to $60 million while MLB folks say it isn't that much).
Anyway, the free-agent season starts with a fair amount of acrimony, even more than usual. Agents mention the $6.3 billion in revenues to suggest baseball is healthier than the general economy. But the rhetoric from ownership suggests there won't be a pot of gold for a vast majority of the 100-something free agents.
Free-agent markets are very unpredictable, but the trend seems to be that the big stars in their prime (in this case, Matt Holliday, John Lackey, Chone Figgins and maybe Johnny Damon) will get paid while many of the others will scrap for every dollar. Full-fledged free agency officially began Friday at 12:01 a.m., so here is a primer for this year's market (first, the players with an assist to my teammate Ben Reiter's famed Top 50, followed by the teams) ...
The biggest stars
1. Matt Holliday. He absorbed two blows when management people with the Angels and Giants said they wouldn't be pursuing him within the last day. But that still leaves the Mets, Red Sox, Braves, Mariners, Cubs and Yankees as possible suitors. The Yankees are believed to be his first choice, but for now, they seem more intent on improving their starting pitching situation. The target price seems to be Mark Teixeira's $180 million deal, but some baseball execs seem to think he won't receive much more than half that despite Alfonso Soriano's $136 million deal only two years ago.
2. Jason Bay. Bay's agent Joe Urbon called the interest "extraordinary,'' in an interview with The Boston Globe, and while the Cardinals say they don't consider him a backup plan to Holliday, most other teams surely would. Word is, he rejected Boston's four-year bid, believed to be worth $60 million. Both sides say they'll keep talking, though.
3. John Lackey. At least the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Mariners, Brewers, Rangers, incumbent Angels and Nationals have expressed interest in the only bona fide No. 1 pitcher on the free-agent market. The general belief is that Lackey wants to go home to Texas or stay out west, if he can. Sources say agent Steve Hilliard told the aggressive Brewers he is happy to seriously consider them. I'll buy that, unless he said the same to the lowly Nationals, who just don't seem ready to lure a star of this ilk yet.
4. Chone Figgins. He remade himself as an on-base machine, justifying what some say is a five-year, $50 million asking price. He can play second and the outfield as well as third. But don't the Angels, who fit his style, need him back?
5. Johnny Damon. Agent Scott Boras suggested a four-year deal would be appropriate in light of Jorge Posada's deal of that length a couple winters ago. The Yankees are believed willing to give him two years, but it will be interesting to see whether they compromise at three. He is believed to badly want to stay but will have outside interest at least from the Giants.
6. Andy Pettitte. Not too much intrigue surrounds Pettitte, as no one really believes he'd leave the Yankees again. Some teammates say he's said he plans to return, though there's nothing official yet. As a postseason hero, he should double his $5.5 million guarantee of a year ago, though.
7. Hideki Matsui. Like Damon and Pettitte, he also doesn't want to play outside the Bronx. Despite the plan to keep open the DH spot, there's still a chance they make it work. His lack of a relationship with Ichiro makes Seattle improbable.
Some more good ones
8. Orlando Hudson. After taking a team-friendly $3.4 million guarantee to go to the Dodgers -- who played Ronnie Belliard over him in the playoffs, anyway -- he may be looking for a payday. The Mets would take him if they can unload Luis Castillo. But the Nationals, a pursuer last year, loom large.
9. Miguel Tejada. Nice year in Houston (.313, 86 RBIs) should draw interest. Philly, Texas and possibly the Giants all make some sense.
10. Mark DeRosa. Forty four of his 92 career home runs have come in the last two years for this late-bloomer. A big clubhouse plus who's versatile like Figgins, only older and cheaper. Eleven teams have inquired, but I like the idea of the rare University of Pennsylvania product to reach the majors playing for the Phillies.
11. Jose Valverde. Terrific stuff makes him the cream of a very good crop of relievers. Likely to get a three-year deal from someone.
12. Joel Pineiro. Remade himself in St. Louis, where he was a "totally different pitcher,'' according to one scout. Price tag of $10 million seems a tad high, though. The Mets are one early suitor.
13. Adrian Beltre. A spectacular defender with power, he didn't live up to his $64 million Mariners deal. But he can play. The Phillies will consider.
14. Rich Harden. One of baseball's most talented pitchers, he remains a constant health risk. Buyer beware.
15. Marco Scutaro. Put up career year in Toronto after life as a journeyman. Red Sox look like a prime candidate.
16. Mike Gonzalez. Versatile left-handed reliever is said to have drawn interest from as many as 15 teams.
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