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Saturday, December 27, 2008
Big names have tough choices to make

Baseball's looking glass offseason is halfway over, and there are still more than 100 free agents unsigned. Looking for a future Hall of Famer? Well, you can pick from an array of choices: Ken Griffey Jr., Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Trevor Hoffman, Pedro Martinez, Ivan Rodriguez, etc. And that's not even counting Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa, who say they are not retired.

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Around the majors with Buster Olney Insider

A fascinating bidding war -- which says everything about where baseball is, in this time and place of economic strife -- seems to be evolving between the Oakland Athletics and the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Rays and Athletics, whose combined payroll would probably account for about 3½ Yankees, are prepared to be big spenders on a corner outfielder/designated hitter type. Or, at least they're ready to spend big, within the context of this particular winter, which means anywhere from $4 million to $9 million, in all likelihood. There just aren't that many teams willing to dole out a contract that big.

And here's the thing: Both teams might prefer that the other team sign a slugger first, whether it be Jason Giambi or Bobby Abreu or Pat Burrell or Garret Anderson, because it would naturally reduce the leverage of the rest of the field and drive down their asking prices.

There are other market forces in play now. The Mets would like a starting pitcher, but just as they ascertained before delving into the bidding for a closer, they realize that they might be the only team ready to give out a sizable multiyear contract for a starting pitcher -- especially in the aftermath of the Yankees' signing of Mark Teixeira, which is likely to compel the Bombers to fill the last spot in their rotation with a youngster.

The Mets have surveyed the rest of the market, and they see that the Cardinals are not ready to hand out a massive deal for a starter, nor are the Milwaukee Brewers or the Dodgers. The Braves have money to spend but have reportedly determined that they are not interested in signing Derek Lowe. So the Mets can sit back and pluck the best of the starting pitchers, at their price, just as they did with K-Rod; in this case, their choices are likely (1) Oliver Perez, (2) Lowe or (3) Randy Wolf. Heck, the Mets might find themselves in a position to take advantage of a two-for-one sale. That is how far the prices have been depressed. The Mets will be patient, writes Mike Puma.

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The Mets also have quietly continued to gauge the market for Luis Castillo, and if they find a taker for at least some of his salary, that would leave them in position to pursue Orlando Hudson, who also is being courted by the Washington Nationals.

So at some point, some of those future Hall of Famers might be asking themselves a question that might have been unthinkable just weeks ago: How much money is required to make playing worthwhile for them? A million bucks? Less? More? How much money does Pedro Martinez engage in the arduous process of readying his body to pitch, through his aches and pains? Of course, there is no guarantee of success at the back end, considering that over the past three years, he has accumulated just 269.2 innings, a 4.74 ERA and a 17-15 record. How much makes it worthwhile for Ken Griffey Jr. -- someone who seemingly places very high value on his time with his children?

It's a pertinent question, in this long, cold winter, when even some of the game's greatest stars might find themselves offered what amounts to pocket change in the baseball world.

Around the majors with Buster Olney Insider