CHICAGO -- Beyond the "Big Three" free agents (Matt Holliday, John Lackey and Jason Bay), there's still some decent action going on here at the GM meetings. And if there's a fourth coveted free agent, it just might be versatile leadoff man Chone Figgins, who is drawing interest from some unexpected sources.
The two-time defending National League champion Phillies are said to be intent on pursuing Figgins hard as a potential replacement for Pedro Feliz, whose $5.5 million option was declined. Agents were jolted that a seemingly reasonable option such as that was rejected ("That's what we've come to? Pedro Feliz is a $4 million player?" asked one incredulously). But the reality is that the Phillies just want to do something different there, and Figgins, who remade himself into a .400 on-base percentage player, would represent an opposite approach.
One AL executive said the Phillies like the idea of putting Figgins at the top of their lineup with Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, in effect giving them three leadoff hitters before their big boppers -- though, they could also move down Victorino, as well.
Mets general manager Omar Minaya, who seems to have his hand in everything here as the Mets try to remake themselves, met late last night in the lobby of the Hilton Chicago O'Hare Airport with Figgins' agent, Seth Levinson. The Mets are obviously set at third base with David Wright, but Minaya said he envisions Figgins as a player who could fill multiple roles for them (possibly outfield or second base). Though Minaya continually tells people that their main goal is "to find someone to slug" and he also met with agent Scott Boras Tuesday night to discuss Holliday.
Angels GM Tony Reagins said they have been in talks for two months to try to keep Figgins as their third baseman and Reagins is "hopeful'' that something can get done, but the competition appears significant, especially from the Phillies. While Phillies GM Ruben Amaro doesn't absolutely rule out a return for Feliz at a lesser price, and Mark DeRosa, Placido Polanco and Adrian Beltre are among other third-base options, Amaro said, "That was the only spot where we felt we could make a change and do something different. Obviously, Chone is an outstanding athlete and you have to assume he has a lot of suitors. But we're keeping our eyes and ears open."
Should the Phillies sign Figgins -- who shocked folks by leading the AL with 101 walks this past season and is a much better on-base guy now than not only the free-swinging Feliz but longtime leadoff man Rollins, too -- the best lineup in the National League would become that much better.
The Rangers are the one team obviously pursuing Milton Bradley and they've been engaged in a negotiation with the Cubs regarding how much money would have to be sent to Texas to cover the $21 million remaining on malcontent Milton's contract.
The cash-strapped Rangers, whose debt-ridden owner Tom Hicks is being forced to sell the team, could be willing to cover as much as $5 million over the two years left on Bradley's deal (they offered $8 million over one year for him to return last winter). But so far, the Cubs are holding out for more, perhaps shooting to recover as much as half the money left.
If the Cubs are to recover that much money, they shouldn't expect to get it from the Rangers, whose owner is in such financial straits that they need approval on all their moves from baseball's central office. "Before Rangers executives can go out to lunch, they have to check with (Bud) Selig," one league official joked.
The Rays appear to be one other obvious club willing to take Bradley, but they may be the one team even more cash-strapped than the Rangers and would want the Cubs to take back DH Pat Burrell, who'd have to be flipped elsewhere by the Cubs. The Giants, who remain desperate for offense and put up with Barry Bonds for a decade and a half, could be a third, richer alternative for Bradley.
Interim manager Jim Riggleman appears to be the favorite to get the Nationals job. It's somewhat unusual to have conducted a full search complete with several interviews and still return to hire the interim manager, but Nationals people always seemed very comfortable with Riggleman.
Nats' GM Mike Rizzo said they expect to make a managing hire this week. Rizzo declined to say Riggleman was getting the job, but signs are pointing that way. Turnaround expert Bobby Valentine is among others to have interviewed for the job.
People who have spoken to Minaya suggest he is extremely interested in Holliday, who some Mets people see as the perfect middle-of-the-order and clubhouse presence they need to try to turn things around.
Minaya has never shied away from the high-priced star player. Mets people clearly prefer Holliday to Bay and the Mets seem like a logical landing spot for Holliday (others include the Giants, Cubs, Braves, Yankees, Red Sox, Mariners and incumbent Cardinals) since they were the only team not to hit 100 home runs in '09 and have a gaping hole in left field. Yet, there are mixed signals about how aggressive they'll be in pursuing Holliday.
While Minaya appears to be a major fan of Holliday, there are issues, such as:
1) There's a question as to whether the Mets have the appetite for another $100 million deal.
2) There's a school of thought within their organization they might be better off spreading the money around to fill all their needs (the others include starting pitcher, catcher and perhaps second base -- if they can unload Luis Castillo's contract).
3) There's also some question as to whether it's all Minaya's call at this point. If he ever had "full autonomy," that's gone now, following the team's dreadful season.
While he was in his 45-minute meeting with Boras, Minaya also discussed a few other Boras clients who are free agents, including Jarrod Washburn (the Brewers and Mariners are favorites there), Rick Ankiel and their own Alex Cora, who they love for the utility role.
Boras met with the press to explain 1) how great Holliday is; and 2) how much money baseball teams have.
On the second point, Boras pointed out that MLB's revenues are up from $1 billion in 1990 to about $6.5 billion, or in Boras' words, "(nearly) 600 percent."
On the first point, Boras declined to get into a debate over who's better between Holliday and Bay, refusing again to get into a war of words with Bay's agent, Joe Urbon, who has famously called Bay "the most complete player on the market." Boras couldn't resist noting that he believes Holliday is a "complete" player, though.
One highlight in Boras' annual lobby press conference came when he was asked about his own comparison of Holliday to Mark Teixeira and whether that meant he believes Holliday should also receive $180 million. To that, Boras responded, "I don't want to put any ceilings on (Holliday)," inspiring a few snickers from reporters (though Boras maintained a straight face).
Another highlight came when a St. Louis writer asked about the pursuit of big stars by mid-market franchises, and Boras said that he doesn't believe in the term "mid-market" to describe baseball franchises. "Baseball franchises are like aircraft carries ... there's no such thing as a medium-sized aircraft carrier."
Boras then went on to recite all of the ways the Cardinals are big money makers, including the 3.3 million fans they drew.
Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said he realistically expects the Holliday negotiations to take a long while, and that they are willing to wait it out. Mozeliak said they don't fear losing other opportunities while waiting on Holiday -- not in the near-term, anyway. He pointed out how late significant things happened last winter.
Mozeliak confirmed Boras' contention that the Cardinals had yet to make an offer -- which came in response to a blog item in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that they were considering the "framework" of a $96 million, six-year deal. Mozeliak also said he hoped to meet here with Boras. It isn't known whether the Cardinals intend to deliver an offer then, but they appear to be willing to be patient here in hopes the market doesn't go where Boras hopes.
Teixeira's contract aside, one big issue for the Cardinals (and maybe many teams) is expected to be the $136 million deal Alfonso Soriano signed three years ago. It's hard to say Soriano is a better player than Holliday. But one GM said, "Soriano is one of the five worst contracts in baseball," suggesting that any team accepting use of it as a comp for anyone would be foolhardy.
• New Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos said he wouldn't discuss the availability of superstar pitcher Roy Halladay (other GMs expect him to go somewhere), but Anthopoulos said he has no great aversion to consider trading within his division, which is something predecessor J.P. Ricciardi made clear he did not want to do. That should significantly help Halladay's value, as the Red Sox look like a probable repeat pursuer and the Yankees can't be ruled out, either. Although, Halladay's overall value is down since he is a half year closer to free agency than he was last summer.
• The Mets are interested in Joel Pineiro, who's said to want a three-year deal for $30 million. Minaya met with Pineiro's agent, Arn Tellem. The Cardinals helped resurrect Pineiro's career, but they do not seem likely to pursue him -- not with so much else on their docket. Similarly, Rick Ankiel, Troy Glaus and Khalil Greene are expected to leave via free agency.
• Braves GM Frank Wren said they would look to field offers on a couple of their starting pitchers. That includes Derek Lowe, who could draw interest from the Yankees as an alternative to John Lackey. "We're in a position where people know we have an excess in starting pitching," Wren said. He said they could go use one of their starters in another role but that that's "unlikely." The Braves are looking for offense, and a corner outfielder with power would fit them.
• The Dodgers don't seem likely to pursue top free-agent pitcher Lackey, who seeks at least a five-year deal. L.A. has made it almost policy to keep contracts to three years lately and is more likely instead to look for innings-eaters in the hopes that talented young starters Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley prove able to fill the top of the rotation.
• Boras hinted that the asking price for Johnny Damon will be four years by pointing out that the Yankees gave Jorge Posada a four-year deal in his mid 30s and saying they'll surely do the same for Derek Jeter next winter. Boras also mentioned that Damon is one of five players ever to play 140 games in 14 straight years, the others being Pete Rose, Brooks Robinson, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. The Yankees are believed willing to go to two years for Damon.
• Felix Hernandez's agent, Alan Nero, said in regards to contract talks that are expected to get going this winter for his 23-year-old superstar client: "He's very content. We're not in a hurry."
• Cubs GM Jim Hendry said he wasn't going to spend a lot of money on a closer since Carlos Marmol has the talent to do the job.
• The Cubs will, however, be in the market for a center fielder once they trade Bradley. Kosuke Fukudome is considered excellent in right field whereas he's only average in center.
• There's validity to FoxSports.com's report that Tigers pitcher Edwin Jackson could be available. Could the mistake of trading Jackson be repeated again this winter?
• Jason Varitek will decide on Thursday whether to pick up his $3 million option and remain with the Red Sox.
• It remains uncertain whether Randy Johnson and other stars who are 40 or approaching that age will return to play, but Omar Vizquel's longtime agent Adam Katz is looking for a job for the potential Hall of Fame shortstop who turns 43 in April. Katz says Vizquel has drawn interest from several teams.
• Katz, who was also Sammy Sosa's longtime agent, didn't want to discuss his old client's new lighter side. "Don't ask," Katz said when asked about it.
• My top choices on the new veterans Hall of Fame ballot are 1) Marvin Miller, and 2) Whitey Herzog.