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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.

By Cameron Smith  |  January 15, 2009; 11:50 AM ET
Categories:  Marlins , Red Sox , White Sox  
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Here's the thing though - Varitek sucks.

Last year, in his age 36 season, he had a 73 OPS+ and a 22% Caught Stealing percentage.

For those who squirm at OPS-talk, his batting average for the past 3 years is less than 0.250.

Posted by: ScottMCollins | January 15, 2009 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Scott for taking the words right out of my mouth. Wow, I don't think there is a worse free agent to "prove" your point than Jason Varitek.

I see sort of a perfect storm with this year's free agent crop: 1) The owners have the economy excuse and 2) The unsigned free agents all have question marks. Whether awful defense: Dunn, Ramirez. Injuries: Abreu, Martinez, Hudson... Or just done: Varitek.

Also in recent years you've seen teams win (or at least make the playoffs) with homegrown talent and I think many on the fringe of contending would rather go with what they have than spend $7 million on the Randy Wolfs.

Also a correction: Dunn was not offered arbitration, the issue with him is that he costs nearly as many runs on defense as he creates with his bat.

Posted by: noahthek | January 15, 2009 2:06 PM | Report abuse

I'm all for players making big money if they can get it. However, I have no patience for players who aren't producing and then turn down arbitration because they think someone will overpay for their lack of production.

Frankly, I'm glad to see Varitek in this spot. I'm no Red Sox fan, but they love him there and offered him arbitration so he would get market value for his performance. He said - no thanks, I'm going to a) cost the team that made me a draft pick and b) have my scumbag agent Boras get me even more money.

I hope no one signs the greedy bastard. Or that he has to take less than arbitration would have gotten him.

Maybe the arbitration process combined with moneyball type analysis is ending the practice of overpaying for declining veterans. That would be progress.

Posted by: Avar | January 15, 2009 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Note that Dunn would not cost a draft pick. Diamondbacks elected not to offer arbitration.

Posted by: advocate2 | January 15, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

All this talk of players signing for "below market value" is patent BS. By definition, their market value is defined by what people WILL PAY THEM. It's like selling a house: there is a concrete price that your house is worth and that is what someone will pay you for it. Your perceptions of what the "market value" of the house is are pretty much immaterial.

Case in point, Adam Dunn. He thinks his Market Price is $56mil/4. Reality seems to differ.

Posted by: AtomicOvermind | January 15, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Boston baseball fans are practically praying that someone other than the Red Sox signs Tek. 2 draft choices in the top 40 is so much better than bringing him back. If he ends up getting a 2 year contract equal to what he would have gotten for one year in arbitration, and if Manny ends up getting less than $40m over 2 years the Red Sox would have given him, Boras should be indicted. Manny cheated himself out of his 3d world series by dogging his way out of Boston. And he was well liked going into that year.

As for an eventual destination for Tek, the most logical place right now for type As is the NYY. they only have to give up a 4th round pick for a type A. Hudson and Tek might be logical signings for them (Cano can be traded, Tek can backup / insure Posada).

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | January 15, 2009 10:32 PM | Report abuse

No, you Boston fans are not praying that Tek does not sign. If any of you mo-rons know anything ABOUT baseball, you would know that there are no other catchers out there right now. And don't give me Montero (he is not ready yet), Saltalamacchia (they don't even KNOW if he is going to BE a catcher), Zaun (he is Tek's age and not as good), Pudge (he is Tek's age - pitchers in NY did not even want to pitch to him), etc., etc. Tek was sick twice last year, came back too soon. He also went through a divorce. His average was better at the end of the year, signifying that he was coming out of whatever was ailing him.

And if you listen to what any of the Boston pitchers have said, they all LOVE throwing to him. Do you all actually want a freakin catching staff consisting of Dusty Baker or Wagner??? These are guys from our minor league system. You want THEM catching Beckett and Dice K???

Red Sox fans better "pray" that he comes back, how would you all like it if you saw him in a Yankee uniform, handling THEIR pitching staff? I, for one, would be sick to my stomach.

Posted by: suesunswim | January 16, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Sue, just go to SoSH and then you'd see there's a lot of skepticism about signing him. Catchers deteriorate. Yes, the pitchers love him, but his offense is a dead wait, and he can't throw out runners anymore. It's sad, but its true. Boras screwed him bby having him turn down arbitration. There is no market for him. Check Olney - no team would sign for any serious compensation. And as for the divorce? Go post on the Dukes blog.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | January 17, 2009 6:23 PM | Report abuse

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