Friday, November 20, 2009

Ten Burning Free Agent Questions (Part I)

With free agency beginning at midnight, Jorge Says No! will examine ten burning free agent questions. We will break down the 10 questions into 3 parts because quite frankly, my extended responses became far more extended then I initially intended them to be.

1. Where will the money come from?

-As you sit back and wonder where some of the big name free agents are going to end up, here is a sobering thought for you: many of the notoriously aggressive spending teams cannot do that this year. Caution is in the air. Case in point, take a look at the free agent expectations for the teams with the top 11 payrolls in 2009:
1. Yankees: They're the Yankees. Of course they can spend. But will they? See Question 2

2. Mets:
Could be active on the free agent market, but to what extent? How badly were the Mets hurt by the Bernie Madoff scandal? Can they afford to spend big money on one free agent?

3. Cubs: Looking to cut payroll. Minor moves possible, but I doubt they spend much.

4. Tigers:
Looking to cut payroll. Not expected to be major players in free agency unless they can trade some high salaried players.

5. Phillies: Tons of money tied up in player salary already; likely have $15 million to spend.

6. Red Sox:
Lots of money coming off the books this winter. They could be aggressive players on the free agent market.

7. Angels:
Tons of money tied up in player salary already; likely have $12 million to spend.

8. Dodgers:
Plenty of turmoil because their owners are getting divorced, which could (and is) get ugly. Not sure how much the Dodgers will be able to spend this winter.

9. Astros:
Cutting payroll; have too much money committed to Berkman, Lee and Oswalt.

10. Mariners:
Lots of money coming off the books this winter. They could be aggressive players on the free agent market.

11. White Sox:
Tons of money tied up in player salary already; not likely to be major players in free agency

12. Braves:
Lots of money coming off the books this winter, but I don't see the Braves as major players on the free agent market unless they can move Derek Lowe.

13. Cardinals:
They only have $50 million locked up right now, but they have to think about signing Albert Pujols to a extension before 2011, which will be very expensive. Can they afford to take on another big contract?
Here's the final tally:

Tons to spend: Red Sox, Yankees, Mariners

Likely to spend: Mets

Some to spend: Angels, Phillies, Cardinals, Braves

Very little to spend: Cubs, White Sox

Cutting Payroll: Astros, Tigers

Question Mark: Dodgers

Now ask yourself this, out of the teams that were not in the top 13, how many of those teams are looking to add payroll? I can think of two: the Diamondbacks with roughly $15 million to spend and the Twins, who are opening up a new ballpark and new to extend Joe Mauer.

Yup, it's going to be a cold winter for many free agents.

2. How active will the Yankees be?

-Heading into last offseason, the Yankees were clearing roughly $80 million in payroll and it became clear that they were going to make a major push for free agent CC Sabathia. Not surprisingly, the Yankees signed Sabathia to the largest contract ever handed out to a pitcher. And the Yankees didn't stop there; they went out and signed AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeira to huge contracts that capped off the Yankees' spending spree. The final damage: $423 million dollars spent and one World Series won.

As the Yankees move forward into 2010, it'll be interesting to see how the Yankees choose to spend (or not) their riches. The Yankees have more than $30 million coming off the books and yes, they can afford to make yet another big splash on the free agent market. With a payroll that exceeds $200 million, the Yankees could (and should) always be players in the free agent market to some degree.

However, this winter could prove to be different for the Yankees. Instead of going after a big name free agent OF, the Yankees could opt to simply re-sign Johnny Damon and/or Hideki Matsui. Instead of going after a big time starting pitcher, the Yankees could opt to resign Andy Pettitte and let Phil Hughes and co. develop in the back end of the rotation.

At the same time, these are the Yankees. Never count them out. Ever. It would not surprise me to see the Yankees take advantage of the down economy and sign a big name free agent. With so many teams unable and unwilling to spend the big bucks, this winter actually sets up nicely for the Yankees, who made a massive profit in 2009, to make a big splash in free agency.

3. Who will be the type A casualties?

-Last offseason, a number of players, namely Orlando Hudson, Juan Cruz, and Orlando Hudson, were forced to endure long waits before signing with teams because teams refused to part with a draft pick to sign them. Because Hudson, Cabrera, and Cruz were offered arbitration, their former team was guaranteed a draft pick (and potentially two) once another team signed team.

This winter, a number of guys could be hurt by their type A status. Relief pitchers like Rafael Betancourt, LaTroy Hawkins, Octavio Dotel, and Darren Oliver are candidates; second baseman Orlando Hudson is another viable option; and shortstop Marco Scutaro is coming off a career season, but teams might shy away from him because he is a type A.

There are two options for these guys to prevent becoming type A casualties:

1. former team declines to offer them arbitration
2. re-sign with former team

The fact remains that in such a horrid financial market, teams are going to be reluctant to give up draft picks in addition to paying a boatload of money for a free agent unless he is a premium talent.

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