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Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Poor economy has led to slow overall movement


The catchphrase of the fall and winter has been "wait it out." Typically, when the World Series ends, agents throw out their free agents and say there goes "Swifty", and then clubs bolt out of the box like greyhounds. But not this year. As we sit here today, only one free agent has signed with a different team than he played for in 2008, Jeremy Affeldt with the Giants.

Now, we know Mark Teixeira is going to sign for hundreds of millions, even if he won't get $200 million. But we don't know if Manny Ramirez is going to get the four-year, $100 million deal he told his Red Sox teammates he'd been promised before walking out on those teammates and the inadequate $40 million he had coming to him in 2009-2010. We don't know where Pat Burrell and Adam Dunn, who hit 73 home runs between them, are headed -- only that they were deemed too risky in arbitration to even be offered a chance to sign one-year deals. Same goes for Bobby Abreu, who had 63 extra base hits and an .843 OPS.

We have seen a legitimate star in Matt Holliday traded for three young players. Why? Oh, the Rockies believed the Scott Boras free-agent circus was a distraction after they were told $18 million a year for Holliday wasn't enough to buy happiness in this economy, but Colorado general manager Dan O'Dowd was ahead of the curve. He saw that there are far more corner bat/DH players available than there are teams willing or able to get into the kind of dollars offensive numbers traditionally have earned.

That's why the Tampa Bay Rays are in such a great position. They need a right field or DH bat. They have a terrific lineup in which to stack numbers. And a long list of names to consider, like Dunn, Jason Giambi, Burrell, Abreu, Raul Ibanez and Garrett Atkins.

So why jump when they can't lose by waiting?

The Blue Jays' front office has been told the poor economy will cause a virtual freeze on their spending, so they are out of the hunt for Milton Bradley. Arizona, Colorado, Kansas City, Minnesota, San Diego, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Florida, Houston and Texas are all severely limited in spending money.

Tampa isn't going to get into the $10-plus million free-agent league for bats. Neither are the Reds, Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, Giants, Mariners, White Sox or Tigers. Hey, if the Dodgers can let Ramirez walk away from close to $50 million for two years and use that money to sign a third baseman (Casey Blake), shortstop, starting pitcher and reliever as well as more depth without a media meltdown (the same folks who say they have to sign Ramirez loved the Andruw Jones signing until he played), they would probably do so.

On the trade market, the Astros would love to move Carlos Lee and/or Miguel Tejada. Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, Jose Guillen, Jeremy Hermida, maybe Prince Fielder, Atkins, Aubrey Huff, maybe Ryan Ludwick (37 HRs, .966 OPS), Delmon Young and Hank Blalock are available, and if Boston does end up signing Teixeira, Mike Lowell could become available.

For free agents in the corner bat/DH bracket, after Teixeira, Ramirez and Burrell, there are Junior Griffey, Dunn, Bradley, Garret Anderson, Abreu, Ibanez, Brad Wilkerson, Eric Hinske, Juan Rivera, Cliff Floyd, Giambi, Rocco Baldelli, Jim Edmonds, Joe Crede, Kevin Millar and Luis Gonzalez.

"There's no question this is a dual-market situation," says one GM. "The corner bat/DH market is flooded, and the stock market is drowning. Not a good combination, not when pitching rules the market."

"The other thing is that teams are moving away from the base offensive statistics," says another GM. "They are pouring through defensive studies and seeing that below-average defenders like Ramirez and Burrell in the field depreciate their offensive numbers because of what they give up."

So, for the majority of the players out on the market, next week's winter meetings will be a curiosity, an invitation to a dance that will likely move to a big portion of January and carry right on through to the reporting of pitchers and catchers around Lincoln's birthday … or maybe even to Mike Lincoln's birthday on April 10.