Winter losers (cont.)
One Giant arbitration showdown looms
Incredibly, the Giants have made no one-year offers for superstar pitcher Tim Lincecum, who's scheduled for a knockdown/drag-out arbitration war sometime this month if no agreement can be reached. A two-year concept was reportedly broached that was said to be nothing serious, but one way or another, the Giants need to avoid going to arbitration with their franchise man.
There's still time to do a deal for one or more years in advance of the scheduled hearing. But so far the Giants aren't acting like they're anxious to avoid the fight.
It was nice to see new managing partner Bill Neukom and longtime club president Larry Baer at the New York Baseball Writers dinner (plus Lincecum's agent, Rick Thurman, and father, Chris Lincecum) where Lincecum received his second straight N.L. Cy Young award. Giants executives also turned out in force the previous year when Lincecum won his first national award.
Yet, a good attendance record doesn't mean the new Giants owner won't play hardball with their franchise pitcher/player. There's been little contact and no evidence of common ground since Lincecum submitted his $13-million salary arbitration request and the Giants submitted their $8 million figure. At this point, there appears to be a decent chance they'll be headed to a hearing, a possibility that never would have occurred in the player-friendly era of former Giants managing partner Peter Magowan, who treated his stars like stars.
Beyond the possibility of fraying their most important relationship, the Giants would be taking an awfully big chance to battle it out with Lincecum in a hearing room. Forget the obvious issue that an arbitration fight would be ugly, a Lincecum victory at $13 million would almost exactly triple the former record for a first-year arbitration-eligible pitcher ($4.35 million that both Dontrelle Willis and Cole Hamels got) and set him up for ridiculous salaries in subsequent years.
The case is a toss-up, too. Ryan Howard made $10 million as first-year arb-eligible player following a Rookie of the Year and MVP, whereas Lincecum is slightly ahead of him with two straight Cy Young awards in his only two full seasons. It's not hard to see an arbitrator saying $11 million is the right price, in which case Lincecum would win his case since $11 million is above the $10.5-million midpoint.
To take him to arbitration and win would be a mistake. To take him to arbitration and lose would be a colossal mistake.
Tigers make sense for Damon
Of all the teams reported to have interest in Johnny Damon, the Tigers may actually be the most logical since they lost both their leadoff hitter (Curtis Granderson, who went to Damon's ex-team, the Yankees) and No. 2 hitter (Placido Polanco). While there are no reports of Damon's agent, Scott Boras, talking to Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski yet, the Tigers have done a lot of deals with Boras in recent years that no one expected, including ones for Magglio Ordonez, Ivan Rodriguez and Kenny Rogers.
Damon has shown a knack for hitting in Comerica Park, where his .363 batting average and .961 OPS there are the highest totals at any stadium where he has at least 15 at-bats (he has 171 there). His numbers at new Yankee Stadium, which is tailor-made for him, are .279 and .915.
The A's, Reds, Rays and Jays all reportedly have shown some interest, as well. The A's are a team full of surprises (see Ben Sheets) and may have money left from their failed attempts to sign Marco Scutaro, Adrian Beltre and even Aroldis Chapman. The Reds freed up a little loot by getting rid of the underperforming Willy Taveras (though they did spend some by recently signing Orlando Cabrera). The Rays understandably aren't happy with Pat Burrell, who slumped last year and has always been a questionable clubhouse presence -- although, it's going to be impossible be rid of Burrell and they aren't exactly flush with cash. The Jays make some sense, as well.
But the Tigers appear to be a real possibility. They have discussed it at length internally and certainly have not ruled it out.
One option Damon is not considering is retirement. "I don't think the game's ready for me to retire,'' Damon said by phone. "I think I have way too much to give.''
Around the Majors
Justin Verlander and the Tigers are seriously discussing a five-year contract for just under the $78-million, five-year deal Felix Hernandez signed with the Mariners, as Yahoo! first mentioned. Verlander has been seeking a sixth year. But the five-year deal is fair. He should fall in just below King Felix.
Joe Mauer could have a deal perhaps as early as spring reporting date if things continue to progress between him and the Twins. Both sides are extremely motivated, and the guess is that a fair deal, perhaps just south of Mark Teixeira's $180-million, eight-year deal could get it done. The sides are believed to be talking about contracts for seven and eight years for in excess of $20 million per year.
While Astros owner Drayton McLane announced that no bid to buy the team was made before the 30-day negotiating window expired, it is believed he team led by Harvey Schiller and Marc Isaacson will still have a chance to meet the asking price that is said to be at least $600 million. McLane's intention appears to be to act like he has little interest in selling. But this is the second foray in recent years into a possible sale, and this one seems serious. Schiller, who was recently the head of the International Baseball Federation, is a formidable candidate.
Rumors of trouble in the Rangers' deal to sell the team to the group led by Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan are surfacing, but sources close to Greenberg say he remains unworried. The highly-leveraged outgoing owner Tom Hicks is getting $570 million for the team but owes about that much to creditors and has a big tax bill due considering he bought the team for $250 million in 1998 ($2 million less than he paid or A-Rod a few years later), and so the banks need to be satisfied they are getting their just amount from the sale.
There's a chance Toronto brings back former Blue Jays great Carlos Delgado, who by all accounts has hit great in the Puerto Rican winter league.
Kevin Gregg's going to accept a Blue Jays deal that'll guarantee him $2.75 million and also includes two options that could bring the deal to nearly $12 million over three years.
Some scouts suggest Pedro Martinez is best equipped for a half-year deal like the one he did last year, though considering his stellar performance for the Phillies, it's a wonder more teams aren't lining up for him.
Jarrod Washburn is being eyed by the Mariners, Twins and maybe the Royals.
The Mets are thought to be falling behind in the John Smoltz derby.
Chien-Ming Wang is said to be progressing and may do a showcase in April with a May return possible. He is said to be getting the most interest from the coasts. The Mets and Dodgers could certainly use him. How about a reunion with former Yankees manager Joe Torre?
One player overlooked in this market has been Jermaine Dye, who was talking about a deal for about $3 million with the Cubs before they signed Nady. Dye has averaged 33 home runs the past five seasons, the most of any American League outfielder.
Orlando Hudson hasn't been satisfied with the Nationals' offer (which is reportedly not too different from the incentive-laden $3.38-million guarantee he signed last year) and is still looking around. If Hudson goes elsewhere, Adam Kennedy would be their next call. The Indians, Padres and Twins all have considered Hudson, but the Twins may stick with the second base-third base triumvirate of Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert and Brendan Harris.
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