Three months into the season, the best and worst free agents emerge

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Three months into this difficult Cubs season, Bradley will have to really turn it on to avoid being viewed as one of the biggest free-agent busts of the year. He surely tops my roster of the ridiculously overpaid free-agent pickups thus far, what with the underperformance (five HRs, 16 RBIs, .237), indifferent play, crummy attitude, and of course the prerequisite bad contract.

Here are my best and worst free-agent signing so far. I'll list the best ones first since I'm that kind of guy.

1.Raul Ibanez, Phillies OF. Before going on the disabled list, he was outperforming by so much that he spawned an Internet debate about whether he might be doing the juice. He has 22 home runs, 59 RBIs and a .656 slugging percentage, a bargain for $31.5 million and three years, or any price really. Here's my explanation: He's playing in a better ballpark for hitting (no letters please about his current home-road splits -- not playing in Safeco still is a plus), he's with a better team, he works hard and he's good. As for the Internet stories, I think they're unfair without a spec of hard evidence. And no, doing well is not evidence enough.

2.Trevor Hoffman, Brewers closer. He took the chance leaving Southern California (he had an offer to go with the Dodgers) to go for beer and brats, and he hasn't missed a beat. For a bargain $6 million, his 17 saves are only three off the NL lead, and he missed the first three weeks of the season.

3. Francisco Rodriguez, Mets closer. The Mets solved their relief woes by signing one of the very best for $37 million over three years. Worries about him losing his stuff appear wholly unfounded, as he has 20 saves in 22 tries and has allowed just 19 hits in 35 2/3 innings. Plus, he's hit as high as 96 mph on the gun lately. One of only two blown saves came when Luis Castillo dropped a pop fly on the last out.

4. Orlando Hudson, Dodgers 2B. Inexplicably ignored this winter, he's provided excellent two-way play for baseball's best team at a bargain rate $3.38 million (plus incentives). He's batting .307 with five homers and 41 RBIs. Great personality, too. If asked, he'll say he isn't upset about his low deal, at all, that he understands teams were concerned about last year's wrist injury.

5. Mark Teixeira, Yankees 1B. OK, $180 million for eight years isn't exactly a bargain basement price. But it's all good so far. The best thing isn't that he's second in the American League with 20 home runs after the notoriously slow starter turned in his usual putrid April. Nor is that he's helped the entire Yankees infield, which spent the past several years worrying about Jason Giambi's defensive deficiencies. It has to be that the signing still gets under the skin of the Red Sox higherups -- though Boston has won all its games against the Yankees thus far this year, Red Sox owner John Henry showed he hasn't forgotten, writing on his twitter page, "MT curse.'' That ill-advised tweet may in itself be its own curse.

6. Brad Penny, Red Sox starter. He may not be drawing big attention on the trade market. But he's been a big plus for Boston in the rotation thus far. For $5 million, he's well worth it.

7. CC Sabathia, Yankees starter. Some thought the Yankees crazy to pay $161 million over seven years for the heavy lefty. But except for his nervous debut in Baltimore, he's been well worth it. Beyond that, they absolutely had to have him. Without him, their ace is probably Joba Chamberlain, who should be in the bullpen (but that's a debate for another day).

8. Ivan Rodriguez, Astros C. Before they signed him, the Astros were practically guaranteed to get nothing offensively out of the catching position. He's hitting .254 with six homers and 29 RBIs, but consider the alternative. Rodriguez has hit better than he did with the Yankees last year. Plus, he brought a couple big moments, when he tied and broke the other Pudge's record for games caught.

9. Brian Fuentes, Angels closer. "He doesn't have closer stuff,'' one NL scout said. Well, who cares? He does have 20 saves to lead the American League. While he isn't K-Rod, he's good enough. Plus, the rest of the Angels' pen has been so awful, without him they'd be done by now.

10. Randy Johnson, Giants starter. Back in his hometown, he's throwing better than he did a year ago. Amazingly effective (7-5, 4.68) at close to 46.

11. Adam Everett, Tigers SS. For $1 million guaranteed, he solidified the Tigers' infield. It's true he's not much of a hitter (though his .267 average threatens his career high of .273). But his defense has enabled the Tigers' pitching staff to get off to a great start.

12. Randy Wolf, Dodgers starter. For $5 million, he's a bargain. He's only 3-3 but has 3.64 ERA. Jeff Weaver's an even bigger bargain, and he's 4-2 with a 3.68 ERA.

13. David Eckstein, Padres 2B. Always inspirational, at least the rebuilding Padres have had moments. Hitting .268 and making just $850,000.

14. Adam Dunn, Nationals OF. He can't play the outfield. But he's providing exactly what he's paid ($20 million, two years) to do. Has 18 home runs and 50 RBIs with .258 batting average. Very consistent at bat, year to year.

15. Felipe Lopez, Diamondbacks 2B. Arizona's awful start isn't his fault. Is hitting .304.

1. Bradley, Cubs OF. Who else? He doesn't always count outs. Of course, if he did, he'd know he's made plenty of them, way more than his share. An absolute train wreck, he showed his ability to get hurt in spring training, and since then, he's showed all the other myriad issues. No one should give this man a three-year deal. One good thing, if he doesn't reach 75 games, the third year is wiped off the books and the $30-million, three-year contract is only a $20-million, two-year deal (still too much for him, though).

2. Oliver Perez, Mets starter. If Mets fans look at that 9.97 ERA, their reaction would be: he's pitched that well? He's also being hit at a .315 clip. Omar Minaya liked the fact that he's young, lefthanded and talented. He's also a bit of a head case with a knee problem.

3. Pat Burrell, Rays DH. Was out for a while, but two home runs and 22 RBIs aren't good. Neither is a .315 slugging percentage. At least the rest of the Rays offense is producing.

4. Manny Ramirez, Dodgers OF. That $25-million deal may still pay off big if the Man-child does anything big in the postseason (good chance of that, considering his history). But at the moment, despite the .348 start, it doesn't look too good with him working way back from 50-game suspension. Currently, a 66er.

5. Kerry Wood, Indians closer. Poor ERA (5.68) and WHIP (1.62) are par for the course in Cleveland's disastrous start. Thus, both "Manny'' and "Wood'' make the list.

6. Kyle Farnsworth, Royals reliever. A couple decent months closing in Atlanta got him an $18-million three-year deal with the Yankees and probably also the $9.5-million, two-year deal in Kansas City, as well. Velocity isn't everything, at least not in his case, it isn't. Has 4.24 ERA.

7. Orlando Cabrera, A's SS. He said it himself. "I suck.'' So far, he does. A very good player at what seems like a bargain rate $4 million. Yet, he isn't playing like himself. That .612 OPS is ugly. Maybe he's depressed over what happened to the free agent market.

8. Jason Giambi, A's 1B. He's a lot of fun to have around. And unlike some other ballplayers (ahem), if he ever gets called into a grand jury room, he will tell the truth. Does have 10 home runs and .343 on-base percentage, but that .204 batting average sticks out. A lot to like, just not on a ballfield right now.

9. Ken Griffey Jr., Mariners OF. It's been a nice reunion. And he's beloved on the team as well as the community. But that .222 batting average isn't great. Is this the swan song?

10. Edgar Renteria, Giants SS. Giants bosses got the business from MLB higherups for the two-year, $18.5-million deal. And it does look a tad high with Renteria hitting .249 and having only two home runs.

There's no evidence that outgoing players union chief Don Fehr was forced out over the union's failure to grasp the seriousness of steroids, or even the 2003 steroid survey list that should have been destroyed back then but is just now beginning to leak out (well, two out of 104 names are out , anyway). Since noted steroid defender Gene Orza is still there as the No. 2 man and designated pit bull, until further notice we will assume that Fehr merely understood the time was right to go.

Michael Weiner, the new nominee for the top spot who's certain to be approved by membership, handled the 2006 collective bargaining negotiations and seems as prepared as possible for one of the hardest jobs in sports. The changeover in power to Weiner is appearing to stir very strong positive early reaction among many agents and some players, one GM remarked this week,

That seems to be true of the owners, as well, who generally view Fehr and Orza as intractable zealots. But Fehr, who is said by supporters to have been paid less than the union heads of the other three major sports, did have his fans.

There's no denying Fehr and Orza did make their players a lot of loot, and that they generally served them well for two decades. A large part of Fehr's legacy is the spectacular job he did increasing player salaries, almost exactly ten-fold in fact, from a bit more than $300,000 per player when he took over in the mid '80s to more than $3 million now, and his efforts are very much appreciated by some.

"Don Fehr was not only great for players, he was great for baseball,'' agent Scott Boras said by phone. Boras' belief is that by winning the $280-million collusion case and increasing the profile of free agents, Fehr enhanced the concept of "star power,'' leading to that several-fold increase in revenues and salary. Revenues grew from under $1 billion to $6 million in Fehr's quarter-century tenure.

However, Fehr's solitary failure was a big one. He either ignored or failed to grasp the proliferation and seriousness of steroid use in the game. He and other union leaders surely wanted to protect civil liberties (and perhaps profit, if you believe their many detractors) when they should have considered the integrity of the game above all. It was a big E on the union.

Fehr and Orza mistakenly fought testing for years, then foolishly failed to do away with the list of survey failures from '03 in a timely manner. Their big defense on the leaky list is that it was subpoenaed only six days after it was compiled. But they haven't explained why the list wasn't destroyed immediately. All indications are that it was their own misguided interest in finding false positives that led them to compile and hold the list at all (had the failures been below five percent, testing would have gone away for good), which ultimately has caused 104 players to sweat out the release of the list, and two stars to already suffer irreparable harm.

From the start, Fehr failed to heed early warnings of a small group of non-steroid using players. Instead, he fought commissioner Bud Selig's suggestion to start testing sooner, and he kept on fighting.

Fehr held a conference call to discuss his decision to step down with selected writers last week upon his announcement that he'd be stepping down in nine months. But even his writing favorites couldn't get him to concede he wasn't perfect.

Asked if he had any regrets in his 26-year tenure, according to someone on the call (sorry this is second hand, but I wasn't invited on the call), Fehr said no. Later, someone tried again, and Fehr seemed to become agitated, according to the person on the call. The lesson is, if he was looking for only folks who thought he was perfect, maybe for perhaps his final conference call he should have been even more selective.

• The Marlins inquired about closing stars Heath Bell and Joakim Soria in hopes of filling their relief openings. Injuries to closer Matt Lindstrom (elbow) and Kiko Calero (shoulder) have left them shorthanded at a time they are challenging for the NL East division lead. For now, both the Padres (Bell) and Royals (Soria) are saying neither reliever is available.

• Great pickup by the Cardinals to get Mark DeRosa, who has 13 home runs and 50 RBIs and with his versatility works well in the National League. He's also a good fit in St. Louis, which lost Troy Glaus and has been using converted shortstop Khalil Greene and others. The Indians can sure use Chris Perez in their pen, as well.

• While the Dodgers, Phillies, Mets and Brewers are believed to have inquired about Cliff Lee, the Indians still are not anxious to trade Lee, whose value is enhanced by a reasonable $6-million 2009 salary and $9-million team option for 2010. The Rangers are a team that has the type of young pitchers who could make a deal, led by lefthander Derek Holland and rightander Neftali Feliz.

• The suspicion seems to be that Xavier Nady may need a second Tommy John surgery. Nady is a tough kid, but second TJ surgeries aren't always successful. One person said first surgeries have close to a 90 percent success ratio while second surgeries are as low as 20 percent.

• Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher both homered to the opposite field in left-centerfield at Citi Field, which is supposedly an impossible place to homer. But Posada said, "The ball really travels here. It's a big park but the ball flies. You should see batting practice.'' Hmmm, the Mets aren't exactly finding that to be the case.

• Phillies reliever J.C. Romero doesn't look good getting into an altercation with a fan after returning from a substance suspension. Little-known fact about Romero: He offered to split the difference and take 25 games before he took the 50-game suspension. Apparently, he has an explanation. But rather than get into it with a fan who's taunting him, he should save it for a courtroom.

• E-mailers are correct. Joe Mauer should have been on my list of winners. No matter how small my list, he should have made it.

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