The final landing spots for free-agent hitting stars Jason Bay and Matt Holliday aren't known yet, but one thing seems true about both star players: Neither appears any closer today to remaining with his old team than when the offseason began.
In Bay's case, in fact, he may be further away.
Bay's agent, Joe Urbon, expressed frustration to multiple Boston media outlets over the weekend about the Red Sox's apparently unsatisfying bids to keep Bay, and Red Sox people still say they have no intention of going beyond four years for Bay. Boston's WEEI reported that Bay has a five-year bid from a "mystery team,'' and while that team obviously isn't known, the Mets, which started at four years for close to $65 million, are believed likely to go to five years. Unless he is willing to take fewer years and dollars to stay in Boston, it appears Bay may be a goner, either to the Mets or possibly the Angels, Mariners or some other mysterious locale.
Meanwhile, Holliday's whole market remains fairly mysterious at this point. There is no evidence that Holliday is any closer to remaining in St. Louis than he was earlier this offseason. In fact, a lot less is known about Holliday's negotiations than Bay's talks, but while the Cardinals announced that they had officially made an offer to their free agent star on the final day of the Winter Meetings last week, there is no indication a deal with his old team is close, either.
The Red Sox haven't officially bowed out of the Bay derby, but their interest in him does not seem to be as strong as his interest in them, especially on a very long-term deal. That's too bad for Boston, because Fenway Park is probably the perfect spot for the pull-hitting power threat who cracked 36 home runs as a Red Sox last year. Mets people actually believe their main threat to land Bay may come from Seattle rather than Boston, though teams don't always know where the competition lies.
The Mets' expansive Citi Field is a tough home-run park for anyone, but Mets people believe Bay would fit there fine. However, the Mets' main interest in pursuing Bay over Holliday is because Bay carries the potential to be a quicker signing for fewer years and less total dollars than the younger and slightly more athletic Holliday, and the fact that Holliday's agent, Scott Boras, is known for occasionally lengthy negotiations with marquee players.
Bay would appear to have a good thing going in that two West Coast teams seem to be pursuing for him and not Holliday (that could be because of the asking price, or in the case of the Angels, the respective agents). But the Mariners appear more focused on pitching, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia took the unusual step of saying aloud at the Winter Meetings that they have more pressing needs than Bay, meaning an ace.
No Cardinals deal for Holliday is expected to come quickly, if at all. Their offer isn't known and hasn't even been reported, but the Cardinals aren't a team known for blowing away free agents with dollars (though Brad Penny certainly didn't come cheap earlier this offseason, at $7.5 million plus $1.5 million in incentives). Rather, they are a club that's a master at signing players, especially their own, for reasonable contracts. Meanwhile, Boras is suggesting to teams that Holliday is comparable to Mark Teixeira, who got $180 million over eight years from the Yankees last winter, and better than Alfonso Soriano, who signed with the Cubs for $136 million over eight years before the 2007 season. A strong case can be made that he's correct about at least the second contention, but club executives would suggest that the Soriano deal was a bad one that was made in a market flush with cash.
While Holliday thrived in his brief St. Louis experience (1.023 OPS as a Cardinal), no one will be surprised if he lands elsewhere. The early word is that he would be happy to go to New York, but if he's going to wind up with either New York team, several more twists and turns will be needed first.
Most of his market remains a mystery at this point. But nobody should be shocked if Holliday winds up taking Bay's place in Boston.
In Indianapolis Phillies GM Ruben Amaro met with Darek Braunecker, the agent for superstar pitcher Cliff Lee. Those discussions were very preliminary and included opening-type questions such as, "Would Cliff consider a long-term deal to stay in Philadelphia?'' (answer: yes). But word is, the star who dominated the 2009 postseason (4-0, 1.56) will be taking "no discount.''
That is no reflection on what Lee thinks of Philly (he likes it) but more reflective that he is 1) maybe the best bargain in baseball at $9 million for 2010; 2) he's made more than $25 million in his big league career, and doesn't need to worry about "security,"; and 3) he's only a year away from free agency, which means a monster payday.
With all that in mind, Lee is expected to seek about $23 million a year, which is the annual pay of Johan Santana and CC Sabathia, though Lee wouldn't expect the seven years Sabathia received as a 28-year-old signing in New York. (The small-market Indians received some ridicule for losing both pitchers, but they should get credit for treating Lee and Sabathia with kid gloves early, as both remain as healthy as possible.)
There has been some buzz around baseball that the Phillies might consider trading Lee, possibly in a three-way deal to acquire Halladay, but while that isn't completely far-fetched, it isn't exactly likely, either. The Phillies are said by sources to be "quietly'' pursuing Halladay, and they may believe they have a slightly better chance of locking him up than Lee since Halladay is believed to prefer to train on the West Coast of Florida. Even so, there's no indication Halladay wants to take a big discount deal either, and three-way trades certainly aren't easy.
• The Mariners, who are emphasizing pitching and defense, seem to be pursuing Lackey harder than Bay. They have money to spend but are seen as unlikely to afford both players, particularly with their interest in locking up ace Felix Hernandez, who seeks $100 million over six years. Seattle could try to employ athletic prospect Michael Saunders or a more veteran facsimile in left field rather than spend on Bay. Coincidentally, Bay and Saunders both hail from British Columbia.
• For now the Mets' sights are only on Bay and catcher Bengie Molina, who's expected to wind up a Met. If they get Bay, they are more likely to wait for a bargain free-agent pitcher and hope Jon Garland or Doug Davis is available late.
• The Yankees see Bobby Abreu's $19-million, two-year deal with the Angels as a benchmark for Johnny Damon, their own free agent corner outfielder, while Damon's asking price is thought to be three or four years for $13 million a year. It's too early in that game to think much about him leaving (it makes sense for both sides to figure something out as that's a marriage that's worked wonderfully), but some other teams that may have interest in Damon could include the Mariners, Braves, Giants and Nationals.
• While the Braves don't appear now to be in the market for a big-ticket corner outfielder, if they can trade Derek Lowe (they'd pay a small portion of the $45 million remaining on Lowe's contract), they might aim higher. For now their outfield targets may include Jermaine Dye and Marlon Byrd.
• The Braves are among teams that may consider Xavier Nady for first base.
• The Giants like Nick Johnson for first base, but they could pursue a third baseman instead, and move Pablo Sandoval to first.
• A report in the Boston Globe suggests the Padres seek Boston's top three prospects -- Clay Buchholz, Casey Kelly and Ryan Westmoreland -- for superstar first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. The Red Sox won't want to give up those three for any one player no matter how great he is, and many in baseball believe that Padres ownership much prefers to try to lock up Gonzalez and sell him as the face of the franchise rather than trade him. He has two years and $10.25 million on his bargain deal now.
• Mark Mulder makes sense for the Brewers because of the connection with pitching coach Rick Peterson. The two worked together in Oakland when both were with the A's.
• Craig Counsell, a Milwaukee product who lives on the same block there as a limited partner with the Brewers, is likely to stay home to play.
• Ex-Padres GM Kevin Towers is talking to the Yankees about a consulting job. The Mariners are also interested.
• Yorvit Torrealba's hearing against the Mets is scheduled for Wednesday. Torrealba's contention is that the Mets falsely created the impression that Torrealba was an injury risk and thus hurt his market when they backed out of a $14.4-million, three-year deal with him a couple years ago following a physical. Torrelalba, who played for the Rockies last year before the team declined his 2010 option, is talking to Colorado about a new deal now.
• After all the annual reports about how many great players would be non-tendered, there weren't any great surprises (Chien-Ming Wang and Garrett Atkins were known for weeks to be non-tendered, Wang due to his injury-wrecked 2009 season and Atkins to his $7 million 2009 salary). Among others who were non-tendered, Kelly Johnson had an off year, Jack Cust is fairly one-dimensional and Matt Capps had a 5.80 ERA. Next year, let's make a pact to remember to ignore predictions of any great players flooding the free-agent market.