Teams unwilling to take a risk on Raffy

Originally Published: September 23, 2005
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Would you take him?

If you were a general manager, would you want Rafael Palmeiro -- after a positive steroid test, a jabbed finger at Congress and indications that he attempted to drag Miguel Tejada's vitamin supply into this mess?

Rafael Palmeiro
AP PhotoThere's a possibility that Rafael Palmeiro may never hear from a major-league team again.
Would you commit a job, a roster spot and U.S. dollars to a player like that?

We asked that question to two general managers and two assistant general managers Friday. Judging by their reaction, it's safe to say Palmeiro won't be at the top of their -- or anybody's -- shopping list this winter.

"It's just not worth it," said one AL general manager who will have money to spend. "He's not a good enough player anymore to put up with all the publicity you're going to get."

By publicity, of course, he meant "bad publicity." And that will be just one of the many uncomfortable factors teams will have to weigh this winter if Palmeiro decides he wants to dive into the free-agent pool.

"It's such a hot-button issue right now that it would be very difficult to bring him in next year," said a GM of a high-payroll NL team. "I guess if he had three negative tests and something positive about him comes out, somebody may decide they need a left-handed bat. But at this point, there's so much baggage, it would be very, very tough to take a chance on a guy like that."

What teams would like to see, actually, is for Palmeiro to take this decision out of their hands. One AL assistant GM wondered why Palmeiro would even want to play again.

"He should probably just retire," the assistant said. "With all the scrutiny that he'd have next year if he was playing, wouldn't you think he'd have had enough of that at this point?"

Well, maybe you would -- from the outside. But think about it from the inside. Suppose Palmeiro were to decide that his best role model at this point is Jason Giambi?

Suppose he were to conclude that, no matter how ugly it gets early on, his only chance to rewrite the ending of his story is to write that last chapter on the field instead of having the headline-writers and the talk-show hosts write it for him. Then what?

Then he'd better be prepared for a lonnngggg winter, said one assistant GM, because he's the odds-on favorite to be the last free agent standing next February.

"Even if you thought you might be interested," the assistant said, "you'd have to let this play out for a long time in the offseason and see where the story goes. Did he perjure himself before Congress? What are all the ramifications involved with this? I'd have to know all of those things. This guy could still have a lot bigger problems than just finding a place to play."

Most of those problems existed this week before the Baltimore Sun revealed that Palmeiro threw his most popular teammate, Tejada, under his little runaway bus. But these new stories give teams yet one more issue to consider:

Can a player who broke the ultimate clubhouse code ever be accepted in someone else's clubhouse?

"Somebody would have to do an awful lot of homework," said the NL GM. "I read what was in the papers today. But I always get concerned about whether things were taken out of context in something like that. Was he trying to paint Miguel Tejada as the bad guy? Was he saying this in the same tone as Jose Canseco had in his book ... or was he asked, 'Do you ever share stuff with your teammates?' and he said, 'Well, Tejada gave me some of his B-12?'

"Look, I'm not trying to defend the guy. But I'm aware of how questions sometimes get answered and portrayed. So as long as this is going to be an active issue, I'd like a little more information before I make a judgment on that aspect of it."

Nevertheless, it will all factor in -- because in the end, any team thinking seriously about signing Palmeiro would have to answer the same question it asks about any player:

Is the upside worth the cost?

"How much would you have to pay the guy?" asked an assistant of a team in the bottom 12 of the payroll rankings. "I'd need to know that first. We're a team that has to look under every rock for offense. ... But there's a lot to consider.

"Is he going to put himself in position to come in with a minor-league contract and just try to make the team? Or is he someone you'd have to give a big-league deal for a million bucks and $2 million in incentives? To be honest, I don't know if we'd be willing or able to gamble $1 million on someone like that."

But even teams that could afford a $1-million gamble won't be lining up to roll those dice. Last winter, the GM of the AL team with money said a player on the BALCO witness list offered to sign a minor-league deal with his club -- and even volunteered to go to Triple-A if necessary. The answer was still a quick "No thanks."

"The way we looked at it," he said, "is that we're not going to subject ourselves to that. Even if the guy winds up in Triple-A, what effect is that going to have on the kids down there? So let's face it: The way Raffy's mess just keeps getting worse, I see no good reason to bring him in. Nobody wants to put up with that mess. He's just not worth it anymore."

But another AL assistant GM said he and his general manager were talking about Palmeiro as recently as Friday morning. They concluded he was heading for a "forced retirement" -- for all the obvious reasons: the whole steroid climate, the toll the Palmeiro distractions took on his team this year and "the way he has alienated teammates."

And that doesn't even factor in the on-field negatives -- that he'll be a 41-year-old DH whose homer totals have tumbled from 47 to 43 to 38 to 23 to 18 over the last five years.

"So it would be very hard sell," the assistant said. "But remember, it only takes one."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

ALSO SEE