Big 7 ready for free-agent bonanza
Reds right-hander Bronson Arroyo, who apparently doesn't mind giving away Adam Dunn's innermost financial goals and is himself way overpaid, recently told the Cincinnati media that Dunn will seek $100-120 million as a free agent. So we now have an idea what one top free agent will seek, anyway.
Dunn denied Arroyo's claim. But since I can't think of any reason why Arroyo would make this up and don't automatically chalk up Arroyo as a flake just because he has long hair and plays music, I tend to believe it.
The figure doesn't shock me, either. That's the thing about free agency. Dollar signs dance in the heads of any player with any sort of stature and stats -- and Dunn's certainly got the stats, with as many home runs and walks as anyone in baseball over the past five years.
If someone pays a chronically mediocre pitcher like Carlos Silva $48 million, as Seattle did last winter, why shouldn't Dunn dream of getting double that? If someone bestows an $18.1 million annual salary on a fading star like Andruw Jones (though his Dodgers deal is only for two years, fortunately for L.A.), why shouldn't Dunn dream? Free agency is a time to maximize dollars for the lucky few stars -- and non-stars -- that qualify.
This year's crop isn't a bad one, at all, so it should be a very interesting winter. Three great players virtually without blemish -- CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez -- will hit the open market. Several others have big positives but also some negatives.
No surprise, Manny Ramirez should be the most intriguing case. He could hit the jackpot based on re-energizing the Dodgers since the trade deadline. But perhaps all the teams will remember his final days as a Red Sox, when he mailed it in. (Probably not.)
Below is an early rundown of the top seven free agents to be in terms of likely total contract, listed by projected free-agent haul (the dollar figures are mine):
1. Teixeira, Angels, 1B The Angels traded a young player they loved in Casey Kotchman (and generally speaking, no one loves young talent more than them), to get Teixeira basically for the month of October since their playoff ticket is already punched. They should have some competition, though, likely from the even-richer-than-usual Yankees, who not only have $88 million in contracts coming off the books but a new stadium bringing in untold riches, plus the hometown Orioles, Mariners and possibly the Mets and several others. Teixeira reportedly rejected a $144 million, eight-year offer from the Rangers last summer, so the baseline is probably set there. The goal is to sign baseball's third $200 million deal (Alex Rodriguez signed the first two.) Best guess: $168 million, eight years.
2. Sabathia, Brewers, SP He could not possibly have enhanced his already winning hand any more than he has. By pulling a Rick Sutcliffe (Cubs, 1984), Sabathia has ensured that he'll at least equal Johan Santana's record contract unless he limits the field geographically -- and most think he won't do that. While he's a Californian building a home in Orange County (near the Angels), the Yankees are likely to reach deep into their even deeper pockets to try to win the heart of the Vallejo, Calif., native with no knocks against him unless someone wants to get picky about his ... hmm ... large size. Best guess: $150 million, six years.
3. Ramirez, Dodgers, OF There will be those who say he shouldn't profit from his deplorable behavior at the end of his stay in Boston. And it's true there wasn't too much of a trade market for him, as the Red Sox had to work things hard right until the last minute before the deadline to get it done. But not everyone's memory is so long. Fresh in the minds of many folks will be how he resurrected the Dodgers' hopes for an NL West crown. If the Dodgers wanted him when he was barely trying, the guess is that they'll want him more now. I don't believe he really wants to go home to play for the Yankees, and they may not go after him, anyway. But even though he loved Cleveland's quiet, he did go for the loot last time in Boston, and that worked out OK except for the last few weeks. Best guess: $75 million, three years, but it could be anywhere from $20 million to $100 million.
4. Dunn, D'backs, OF Sorry Adam. I don't see a $100 million deal in your future. Too many folks (even well beyond Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi) see him as an all-or-nothing player who rarely comes through in the clutch. Still, he's a major power threat, and there aren't many of those. He wasn't exactly coveted before the trade deadline, but eventually Arizona agreed to part with Micah Owings and two minor leaguers, which had to make him feel a little bit better. He probably should get J.D. Drew money. Best guess: $70 million, five years.
5. Francisco Rodriguez, Angels, RP He apparently wants to meet or beat Mariano Rivera's $15 million salary, and coming off what promises to be a record-breaking season, who's to say he won't? Bobby Thigpen was never the same after saving a record 57 games in 1990; he would save only 54 more games the rest of his career. But that doesn't mean K-Rod won't have more good years in him. The Angels' offer last offseason was only for a reported $34 million over three years. GMs are impressed that he's reinvented himself but that there are concerns about his drop in velocity, down to the low 90s. But on the mound he's been lights out. He deserves whatever he gets, and the guess here is that he's a rare free agent who'll hit his target. Best guess: $60 million, four years.
6. Ben Sheets, Brewers, SP The upside, on display in his walk year, is fabulous. The downside is the injuries that have dogged him basically every year but this one. When healthy he's one of the best pitchers in the game. But when is he healthy exactly? Oh, now, right. Baseball people compare him to Jason Schmidt, who as a medical question mark signed a three-year, $47 million Dodgers deal. Best guess: $51 million, three years.
7. Pat Burrell, Phillies, OF He's come back nicely from a brutal year of a few years ago to reestablish himself as a pretty good offensive player. He's had a lot of big hits this year. Of course, many of them have come in Citizen's Bank Jokeyard. Best guess: $48 million, four years.
About half of the first-round draft choices from June's amateur draft remain unsigned heading into deadline day today. Most, though not all, are still expected to sign today before the midnight deadline.
Many of the unsigned were picks made by teams that could use help, like Vanderbilt hitting star Pedro Alvarez (Pirates), polished left-hander Brian Matusz (Orioles), high school slugger Eric Hosmer (Royals), all-around Florida State catcher Buster Posey (Giants), power hitter Yonder Alonso (Reds), accomplished University of Missouri pitcher Aaron Crow (Nats), hard-throwing University of Georgia closer Josh Fields (Mariners) and slugger Allan Dykstra (Padres). Multiple reports suggest Matusz, the University of San Diego pitcher, is close to a deal, and the San Jose Mercury News reports Posey is close, as well.
One pick appears headed to college, though. The Yankees' first choice, hard-throwing Orange County, Calif., high school pitcher Gerrit Cole is expected to refuse the Yankees' offer to sign with UCLA, Tyler Kepner of the New York Times reported. Cole will likely instead follow his dad's advice to go to school. Can't blame him for that.
A picture of a young Cole holding up a pro-Yankees sign at the 2001 World Series in Arizona was aired soon after he was drafted, giving the impression he wouldn't turn down the Yankees. However, the Yankees appear to have understood this was a possibility from the start. The reason they took the chance was that they thought he was special enough to be worth the risk. Can't blame 'em for that, either.
A Pirates person told me a few weeks ago, "We're signing Alvarez.'' No one expected that one to be easy, though, as the negotiations pit Scott Boras against new Pirates president Frank Coonelly, the driving force behind baseball's draft slotting system.
While most of the above players will sign, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus suggested it was "no better than 50-50'' for Crow to sign with the Nats. If he doesn't, that's a major loss for a team that doesn't need any more losses.
• The Twins were the surprise winner of the claim on Mariners starter Jarrod Washburn, as SI.com reported first, but no trade was consummated in time. It's still not known whether the Twins did it to block the White Sox or someone else (White Sox GM Ken Williams made it pretty clear he had no interest) or actually wanted Washburn. The Twins' rotation has been very good, but it's possible they considered taking Washburn and moving a starter into the bullpen, which could use some help. Regardless, competing execs were shocked the Mariners didn't move Washburn considering he's making $9.35 million this year and $10.35 million in 2009.
• The Tigers, ever aggressive, won the claim on Raul Ibanez, also reported here first. Several teams put in a claim on Ibanez, understandable considering his below-market $5.5 million salary. Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times reported that the just-as-aggressive Twins were one of the many teams to put in a losing claim. In any case, a deal wasn't worked out with Detroit, either, raising the question of why the Mariners didn't trade Ibanez before the deadline. Now they'll just get the draft choices when he leaves.
• There have been some rumblings that longtime Padres GM Kevin Towers, a native of the Northwest (he's from Medford, Ore.), could be a candidate for the Mariners GM job. But Towers' job status in San Diego appears very solid despite the team's disappointing season and the presence of an obvious potential successor in the front office, Paul DePodesta
• Never big spenders, some believe the Padres will really keep a tight lid on their wallet this winter as owner John Moores goes through a divorce.
• What's chemistry worth? Well, maybe not so much. The Brewers won eight straight before finally losing one after Prince Fielder went after Manny Parra in the dugout. The Brewers have talent, which counts more.