Much more to watch this offseason
LAS VEGAS -- Mark Teixeira is still shopping. Manny Ramirez is still weeks -- maybe months -- from learning where he'll be parking his dreadlocks. And 150 free agents got to spend another fun-filled week on the unemployment line.Once, there was a time when all the marquee free agents would have been wrapped up like a Christmas gift by the time the winter meetings ended. Well, not anymore. So let's take a look at the many loose threads that are still dangling as the 2008 meetings fade into oblivion:
The Teixeira WatchNo agent who ever lived moves slower than Scott Boras. So even though CC Sabathia and Frankie Rodriguez already have managed to find their next homes, the Scott Boras Negotiating Olympiad has barely begun for guys such as Teixeira. So all of a sudden, the crazy bidding rumors are flying. Eight years, $160 million from the Nationals. Seven years, $140 million from the Orioles. Seven years, $160 million from the Angels. No formal offers whatsoever from the Red Sox. Yet. You can believe those numbers if you want to. You can believe none of them if you're as wary of Boras spreading inflated negotiating fiction as many people in baseball are. But somewhere in there, you can find the plot line that's beginning to form here. The Nationals have decided they need to make Teixeira the face of their franchise. (Hey, it beats Elijah Dukes.) That's the sales pitch they've been throwing at Teixeira and Boras relentlessly. It's also helpful that they've been throwing more money at Teixeira than they've paid their entire baseball team in the past three seasons combined. But will it work? And will it work even if the Nationals outbid everybody else -- which seems entirely possible? That's the question people in baseball keep asking.
The Manny WatchOf all the free agents on your handy-dandy free-agent tote board, only one of them slugged over .600 this season. And it wasn't Teixeira. It was good old Manny Ramirez, a guy who also hit .332 and had a .430 on-base percentage -- the seventh time in his career he has joined the .300-.400-.600 club, most of any active player. So you'd think a hitter that legendary would have more job offers than Julia Roberts. But because he's Manny and there are certain, well, issues, he's a man who seems to have just about no market whatsoever. Which means it's one of the greatest challenges of Boras' career to venture out into the marketplace and create one. The popular theory has been that Boras would drive Teixeira to a team such as Boston, which he knows can't possibly pursue its old friend Manny. And that would leave all the losers in the Teixeira sweepstakes to turn their attention to Ramirez. But there's a problem with that theory. The Angels keep insisting they have no interest. The Nationals don't need any more outfielders. And it takes a massive leap of the imagination to conceive of Peter Angelos' giving Ramirez a three-, four- or five-year deal. So where's he going? Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said Thursday that when he and Boras talked about Ramirez this week, he was still looking for a contract of four or five years. The Dodgers, on the other hand, are stuck on the two-year deal they offered a month ago. Colletti hinted that the dollars could still be negotiable if the length is short enough. But that's not happening -- not before somewhere around Valentine's Day, anyway. Which means Boras likely is going to trot out a strategy he has used many times before: parking Manny in the waiting room. He's a good bet to leave Ramirez hanging out there for as long as it takes, position him as Clearly The Best Hitter Left At The Unemployment Office and hope somebody gets desperate. His best shot here, though, might not be desperation. It might be a decision by a team such as the Yankees to swoop in at the final hour and see whether it can make an out-of-the-blue score. Could happen. But get back to us in a month. Or in the spring.
Other hittersThere are close to 100 bats still on the market. And most of them look as if they're going to have big trouble getting anywhere near the paycheck they had in mind. The Phillies, Angels and Mets have serious interest in Raul Ibanez, so he'll be fine. The Cubs and Rays have zeroed in on Milton Bradley. And you can bet your inauguration tickets that Adam Dunn will land in Washington if Teixeira doesn't. But guys such as Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell and Jason Giambi look as though they're in for hefty pay cuts and maybe no more than a two-year deal. And everybody else would be best advised to grab for the first decent paycheck that comes along.
Other armsThe biggest question is what will become of the two big free-agent closers still out there -- Brian Fuentes and Trevor Hoffman. The Cardinals look like Fuentes' most serious pursuer. But Hoffman, one of the most underrated pitchers of all time, is scrambling. The Dodgers have a smidgen of interest. The Tigers have interest, but not the budget. And Milwaukee and Texas might still be options. San Diego manager Bud Black tried to open the door this week for Hoffman to return to the Padres. But with Jake Peavy staying, it probably would have to be for a pay slash that Hoffman might find tough to digest. A pitcher this great deserves a happier ending than Hoffman seems headed for. Of those other starting pitchers, Randy Wolf, Ben Sheets and Jon Garland are well-positioned to lead off the second tier once Burnett and Lowe sign. The Mets will try to bring back Oliver Perez if he ever comes off that five-year, $65 million talk. And Randy Johnson could land in Chicago, San Francisco, Texas or Oakland for a year. But the most intriguing free-agent starter left might be John Smoltz, who had seven teams looking at his medical records this week amid rumors he's open to leaving Atlanta. Smoltz has been a Brave for so long that he was once a teammate of Bruce Sutter and Ken Griffey Sr. So can he really leave? Can Atlanta really allow him to leave? Might be the most riveting story line of the whole offseason. Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.
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