Baseball's Version of eBay: How Much Is He Worth
Boz alluded to this in his Wednesday story, but the true measure of the ongoing recession's effect on baseball is only know truly showing up, as evidenced by the number of "top-ticket" free agents who are still out there.
The thing is, it's not just Manny Ramirez, who Boz cites as a poster case. Sure, the lack of strong suitors for Ramirez is startling, but the bottom line is that someone is going to give Manny a deal with multiple years worth upwards of $20 million per season. The real proof of the recession falls with the other Type-A free agents who are sitting at home, unsigned and wondering if they ever will be.
You want a real poster case for the recession? Try Boston catcher and team captain Jason Varitek, who remains unsigned about a month before pitchers and catchers report. The scary thing isn't just that Varitek is unsigned, it's that nobody except the Red Sox have shown any interest in signing him whatsoever.
Suddenly, for players that rejected arbitration, the cost of a first-round draft pick is too rich for any team to bear when combined with millions of dollars in salary? What does that mean for a guy like Varitek? It means he's either going to have to settle for a below-market deal from the Red Sox -- possibly 8-9 million per season over a max of two seasons -- rather than the Jorge Posada-like deal he and agent Scott Boras crave.
And that, of course, is another issue entirely. After the messy Mark Teixeira negotiations, those in the Red Sox front office are openly saying they won't do business with Boras again unless there's a way to know the negotiations are being done honestly. Good luck with that.
So what does that mean for Varitek? It means that if Boston call pull the trigger on a deal for Arizona's Miguel Montero -- a move that's been discussed by the teams throughout the past week -- Varitek may be stuck sitting at home when the season opens, holding a big market team suddenly needs an elite catcher during spring training because an incumbent gets injured.
Who else is finds himself in this boat? Honestly, it's more players than you might think. Shortstop Orlando Cabrera is reportedly drawing interest from the Marlins, but, like everyone else, Florida is uncertain whether adding Cabrera is worth losing a top draft pick.
As Boz noted, that's also part of the thinking behind Washington's reluctance to make a big push for both Orlando Hudson and Adam Dunn, players who would clearly drastically improve the team yet might cost more in terms of draft picks and money than the Nationals are willing to spend. As time drags on and suitors don't present themselves, the Nationals may be poised to strike. Until then, they're staying away.
Guys like Bobby Abreu from the Type-A list are question marks, with some team likely to take a below market stab at them, but no one willing to step up to anywhere near the kind of deal they could have received from arbitration (where it was offered).
So what are these players going to do about it? A number may start to take the path officially used by Paul Byrd yesterday, who announced that he will sit out the first half of the year and wait to see if a contender is interested around the trade deadline. Call it the Clemens plan. Some of the other names who may take that route could startle, too; Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas and maybe even Randy Wolf, if the Nationals hold off on a bid.
As always, it's a fluid situation, and thinks could change quickly. But right now, we may see more players waiting for their compatriots to get injured -- providing a team with serious motivation to sign them -- than we've ever seen before.
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