A-Rod and the center-field shuffle: An early look at this year's free-agent class

Updated: November 6, 2007, 8:42 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez will get all the attention -- and probably the richest contract. Barry Bonds also is available, if anyone wants him.

Still, the most intriguing aspect of this free-agent class could be the center-field shuffle.

As general managers gather in Florida this week for their annual meetings, three of baseball's best center fielders are up for grabs on the open market: Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones and Aaron Rowand.

Three-time Gold Glove winner Mike Cameron also is a free agent, though he's suspended for the first 25 games of next season after testing positive a second time for a banned stimulant.

Want to tighten your defense and add a power bat at the same time? Just open the checkbook for any one of those guys.

As usual, however, teams sound much more concerned with improving their pitching -- and there aren't enough arms to go around.

"You're always looking for a front-line starter," New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya said Tuesday in Orlando, Fla. "I think you have to look at the trade market first. But that's more difficult to do because nobody's giving them up."

So then, let the offseason shopping spree begin.

"There are some intriguing bats out there," Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "We're not looking at a long list."

After finishing fourth in the NL West, the Dodgers could be one of the most active teams in the majors this winter. They're a big-market club with money to spend and a popular new manager.

"We didn't hire Joe Torre to help us finish .500," Colletti said.

Los Angeles has holes in all the right places, too. Center fielder Juan Pierre's defense has diminished, and he managed only 32 extra-base hits with a .331 on-base percentage this season. He had 64 stolen bases, but a more well-rounded player in center would help.

The Dodgers also hit just 129 home runs, ranking 15th out of 16 NL teams, so Rodriguez would be a perfect fit at third base. He's almost sure to win his third AL MVP award this month after batting .314 with 54 homers and 156 RBIs for the New York Yankees.

But agent Scott Boras is looking for a mega-monster deal. He asked the Yankees to make a $350 million offer simply to get a meeting before A-Rod opted out of his record $252 million, 10-year contract with New York during the World Series.

The Yankees, baseball's biggest spenders, insist they're out of the running now. At that price, other teams have sticker shock, too.

"Doesn't make a lot of sense," Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said.

"We don't have any interest," Detroit president Dave Dombrowski added.

Maybe Rodriguez would want to play for Torre again, in Los Angeles. The two seemed to have a better relationship this year with the Yankees.

What seems likely, however, is that A-Rod will go to the highest bidder.

The Mets, for one, could afford him -- even though they have All-Stars at third base (David Wright) and shortstop (Jose Reyes). They also have their own lucrative regional sports network and a new ballpark on the way in 2009. Plus, Minaya always likes to make a big splash when possible.

"If you can upgrade via trade, you try doing that before you go in the market," he said. "The market is usually a last resort."

There's another attractive third baseman who filed for free agency: World Series MVP Mike Lowell. The Boston Red Sox say they'd like to re-sign him, though.

The Yankees hope to re-sign All-Star catcher Jorge Posada and longtime closer Mariano Rivera before Nov. 13, when free agents can talk money with all teams.

Other catchers on the market include Paul Lo Duca, Michael Barrett, Yorvit Torrealba and Jason Kendall.

Mike Sweeney is available, but he's often hurt. Mike Piazza is looking for a team, but he's 39. Luis Gonzalez, Geoff Jenkins, Pedro Feliz, Brad Wilkerson, Shannon Stewart, Tony Clark, Kenny Lofton and Sammy Sosa are some of the other proven hitters out there.

Bartolo Colon, Kenny Rogers, Livan Hernandez, Jason Jennings, Josh Fogg and Jeff Weaver are among the most notable starting pitchers available. Curt Schilling stayed with Boston, and Greg Maddux is going back to San Diego.

Andy Pettitte says he'll return to the Yankees or retire. Tom Glavine seems likely to pitch for the Braves or Mets if he doesn't call it quits.

Buyers might beware, too. San Francisco got a disappointing year from lefty Barry Zito after signing him to a $126 million contract last offseason, while the Dodgers were burned by an injury to Jason Schmidt ($47 million).

Francisco Cordero, Todd Jones and Kerry Wood could help somebody's bullpen.

"We hope that trade discussions start sooner," Giants general manager Brian Sabean said. "I think teams may be more apt because the free-agent pool isn't as deep and the marquee guys certainly are going to demand a lot of attention."

As for Bonds, he's 43 and still under threat of indictment, which might scare away any potential suitors. He said he hasn't decided whether to play next season and try to pad his record total of 762 homers. If he winds up somewhere, it would seem likely to be as a designated hitter in the American League.

The phone lines are open. Start calling now.

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AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum in Orlando, Fla., and AP Sports Writers John Nadel in Los Angeles and Josh Dubow in San Francisco contributed to this report.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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