Teams wait for a discount
Free agents didn't bargain on lowball
Nearly 100 major leaguers are still available in free agency, which, according to several baseball officials, could ignite a frenzy of cheap signings, and even minor league deals, from now until well into spring training.
While some teams have set their budgets, there is some evidence that a few general managers have gone back to their owners and said something like, "We might be able to get an All-Star player for a low-risk, one-year deal if we wait." That feeling appears to be growing, especially among middle-market teams.
"I think that's the way it might go," said one American League GM. "The prices certainly aren't going up."
Manny Ramírez is one of the unemployed, but don't cry for him. The Dodgers offered a two-year, $45 million deal at the winter meetings in December, and since then there's been only a slight tingle from the Giants, who have backed away. Ramírez makes sense for the Giants, Mets, and even the Braves, but it appears only the Dodgers have enough money left, but perhaps south of their original offer.
There's an unemployed top-shelf starter in Ben Sheets, who, according to one GM, "will be lucky now to get a one-year deal with incentives," though the Rangers were aggressively making a move late last week. There's a heck of a hitter available in Bobby Abreu, who made $16 million last year but likely won't sniff half that this year. There's lefthander Andy Pettitte, who has been scoffing at a $10 million offer from the Yankees but may have to take it or retire.
"The teams who play this right are going to get an All-Star-caliber pitcher like Sheets for almost nothing, will get a premier hitter like Manny Ramírez for far less than what he's actually worth, and could wrap up a guy like Pettitte for 50 cents on the dollar," said a National League executive. "The market for these guys has plummeted faster than the real estate market. It's a buyer's market for sure."
Adam Dunn, who has hit 40 home runs in each of the last four seasons, remains a free agent.
Players' union executive director Donald Fehr admits concern over the number of his constituents still unemployed. "It's clear that there are a lot of talented players not signed," he said, "but hopefully there will be a competitive market that will still develop for these players. I'd be surprised if it didn't develop."
The union has closely monitored the free agent market over the years, watching out for collusion among the teams. Could that be happening now? Fehr won't go there.
He acknowledged the country's economic downturn and its effect on an industry that generally has been recession-proof. If there have been concerns expressed by players about the lack of movement this offseason, Fehr indicated that conversations with players are private.
"If a player or an agent calls, we hear them out, respond to their concerns, and go from there, and simply offer the best advice we can at the time," said Fehr.
The issue of compensation in the form of a top draft pick has surfaced as a reason some GMs are unwilling to sign some Type-A free agents, such as Jason Varitek. Fehr has been part of efforts over the years with Major League Baseball to modify the system, but he doesn't remember it being as much of an issue as it has been this offseason.
Many fingers are being pointed at agent Scott Boras, accusing him of misreading the market on Varitek and Ramírez, but he sure didn't misread it on Mark Teixeira or Derek Lowe, did he? Boras gets roasted for turning down arbitration on Varitek, when the reality is most eligible players turned it down.
The prices have dropped so dramatically that a team could pick up a Gold Glove double play combination of Orlando Hudson and Orlando Cabrera for pennies on the dollar. A team could acquire decent middle to end of the rotation starters such as Jon Garland, Oliver Perez, Randy Wolf, and Braden Looper fairly cheaply.
There are good plug-ins such as Nomar Garciaparra, Jay Payton, Emil Brown, and Jim Edmonds available. There are older players who would like to play another season - Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey Jr., Moises Alou, and Pedro Martínez - who might get shut out.
Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi thinks if there's a year in which a substantial in-season free agent market could develop, it could be 2009. Veteran players, according to Ricciardi, "have made enough money in the game where they can sit it out until the season begins and then get signed if a team has a need."
Winging it with Peterson
A few questions for former Mets and A's pitching coach Rick Peterson:
You have a new website - Rick-Peterson.com - that outlines a plan to prevent pitching injuries through your work with Dr. James Andrews.
RP: "Before, we would get the analysis back and they would tell me things like a pitcher's hip rotation velocity was below the normal range. So I'd say, 'OK, so what do we do?' What I got back was, 'I'm just telling you what the measurement is.' What happened over the years is I started looking at things and we came up with drills that helped pitchers get back to their normal levels."
What is that?
RP: "We've found out if you have movement in the four phases of a pitcher's delivery, that takes you out of the norm in that range, that's a red flag. For example, hip rotation velocity is directly linked to fastball velocity. When people look at Tim Lincecum and say, 'He's so small, how does he throw so hard?' His hip rotation velocity is off the charts."
Why not sell this to major league teams? It's been written that there was more than $300 million worth of pitching on the disabled list last year.
RP: "The fact is you can really make a difference in the amateur market. There's only three pitchers who have pitched in the Little League World Series who have pitched in the big leagues. That's amazing to me. Dr. Andrews has said the seeds that are planted for injuries are at the adolescent stages."
What does your program cost?
RP: "From Little League to college, ideally, if you pitch, you should have an analysis. If you're driving a car, you should probably have the oil changed every 3,000 miles. The analysis itself is about $300. There's about $200 for the conditioning program that's been used by Johan Santana and Tom Glavine and others. And $150 would be a sports psychology component. It's an automated Web-based program for about $600 a year."
Green would eat up a role as Red Sox' super sub
Nick Green isn't expecting miracles.
He expects to be playing the middle infield for Triple A Pawtucket unless he can somehow hang on as a super sub on the Red Sox' major league roster. The 30-year-old Green, who also can play the outfield, will likely get a lot of playing time during spring training with Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis expected to play in the World Baseball Classic, and Mike Lowell coming off hip surgery.
Green began in the Braves' system in 1998 as a 32d-round pick. His identical twin brother, Kevin, played briefly with him in the Instructional League, but now is out of baseball. Nick spent last season with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees' Triple A affiliate, hitting a paltry .233 with 12 homers and 50 RBIs, and was barely holding on.
"Mentally, I was just in a fog," said Green. "It wasn't me. I had changed my offseason routine and I think I got into bad habits. I went back this year and worked out with my brother and I think I'm back on track and feel I can help the Red Sox."
Green had one of his best baseball moments against the Sox in 2004 when he blasted a three-run homer in the bottom of the 12th inning off Anastacio Martinez to give the Braves a 6-3 win. Green, hitting second in the order, drove in Rafael Furcal and Mark DeRosa. In the 10th, Green had foiled Keith Foulke's save bid when he drove in Furcal with a sacrifice fly.
"It seems like ages ago, but it was one of the highlights of my career," said Green. "The Red Sox were having a good year and they went on to win the championship. So it was huge because it was interleague and there was a lot of attention on it. When I'm on I can exhibit some power, but last year I just had a bad year."
Green has hit 102 homers in 2,986 minor league at-bats but only 10 in 703 major league at-bats. He's played 271 minor league games and 191 major league games at second base, 127 minor league games and 23 major league games at shortstop, 37 minor league games in the outfield, and 15 minor league games and 35 major league games at third base. Green has also played for Tampa Bay, where he was a teammate of Julio Lugo, and Seattle.
2. Roberto Alomar, former great 2B: Alomar will join the Blue Jays' spring training staff for the first time and coach young infielders. Alomar is showing signs he'd like to return to the game on a permanent basis.
3. Joe Crede, 3B, free agent: Teams such as the Giants and Twins will begin monitoring his workouts in Arizona next week. The former White Sox has been beset with back problems for a couple of years and has played only 144 games in that span. Crede hit 30 homers in 2006 with the White Sox and actually made the All-Star team last year before being shut down.
4. Eric Gagné, RP, free agent: The Twins are seriously considering Gagné as a setup man for closer Joe Nathan. Gagné remains intriguing to teams that believe he still has his trademark changeup if not his dominating fastball. The Rangers are also considering him.
5. Vladimir Guerrero, OF, Angels: Those who saw him at the David Ortiz charity golf tournament in the Dominican in December claim he's a new man. He's lost weight, had knee surgery, and the feeling is Guerrero could recapture his old form. The Angels will need it after an offseason of relative inactivity and the loss of Mark Teixeira, which is still painful to management.
6. Kenshin Kawakami, SP, Braves: Kawakami, 33, is expected to be the Braves' third starter, but his adaptation to America should be seamless because his agent, Dan Evans - the former general manager of the Dodgers - went through it with Hideo Nomo. "Whenever a Japanese pitcher comes to America an orientation process begins," said Evans. "The Braves have been tremendous in the way they pursued him and in the way they're working to acclimate him on their ball club. [Pitching coach] Roger McDowell and Bobby Cox have been great with us." Kawakami will bring his own trainer, with whom he's worked for years, while the team will provide an interpreter.
7. Jake Peavy, SP, Padres: Now that the Cubs have a buyer in billionaire Tom Ricketts, the deal with Chicago could get revitalized.
8. Carlos Maldonado, C, Red Sox: The 30-year-old journeyman, who started his professional career at age 17 with the Seattle Mariners organization, was signed to a minor league contract. He's spent 13 years in the minors, has caught 645 minor league games, and had two cups of coffee with the Pirates in 2006 and '07.
9. Ken Macha, manager, Brewers: The new skipper won't have CC Sabathia or Ben Sheets, but he remains optimistic. "We need our young pitchers to come through," said Macha. "We've got a lineup where we have five guys who could hit 25 or more homers. Trevor Hoffman helps our bullpen." The Brewers have pretty much decided they'd rather save some payroll room to be able to make a Sabathia-like deal at the trading deadline rather than spend now. It's a strategy that worked well for them last year.
10. Adam Melhuse, C, Rangers: Texas signed the 36-year-old Melhuse last week, a signal it might be on the verge of trading Taylor Teagarden or Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the Red Sox. So far, false alarm. The Rangers, who boast of their strong pitching prospects, have not come down on their demand of Clay Buchholz, and may miss a chance to trade one of their top catching prospects for more pitching.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.