Ah, free agency has started, baseball's Christmas-time when good boys and girls wake up and find a shiny new toy under the tree. Well, maybe not in Pittsburgh, where the Buc suits tend to shop at Sam's Club instead of Neiman-Marcus, but in the real world of competitive baseball, here's the top of the shopping lists:
C.C. Sabathia: The Yankees have reportedly offered CC Sabathia a contract that tops the record-setting six-year, $137.5M deal the Mets gave Johan Santana last winter, with their initial balloon floated in the area of 6 years/$140M - and that's just for starters.
The Brew Crew, Dodgers, and Angels are also after him. He's said to prefer a NL, west coast gig, but that crazy money that the NYY are waving around is tough to ignore.
Sabathia went a combined 17-10 with a 2.70 ERA last season for the Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers. The 28-year-old LHP won the 2007 AL Cy Young award and finished fifth in this year's NL voting.
A.J. Burnett: Burnett, who's looking for $15-18 million annually over four or five years, was the last of the big names to declare, opting out of his current contract, which had 2 years and $24M remaining. He already has a four-year, $54MM offer from the Blue Jays in his back pocket.
In a career-high 35 games, the 31-year old RHP set personal bests in 2008 with 18 wins, 221-1/3 innings pitched, and an AL high of 231 strikeouts. The Yankees, Orioles, Bosox, and Braves are said to be in the hunt for Burnett.
Derek Lowe: Lowe may settle for $14-15M/year over three or four seasons, but his agent, the prince of darkness Scott Boras, is planning on $16-18M with a guaranteed fourth year for the 35-year old RHP.
He was 14-11 with a 3.24 ERA in LA, and will probably sit back and wait for the smoke to clear from the Sabathia/Burnett bidding wars to leverage a few more dollars from the teams left holding the bag. The Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, and Braves are kicking his tires.
Lowe's consistency is his calling card. He's made 33 starts or more ever since 2002, and his ERA has been under 4 since 2005. While not a huge winner, he's an inning eater that keeps his team in the game.
Francisco Rodriguez: K-Rod is looking for Mariano Rivera money, three years and $45M. He turned down a three-year, $34 million offer last winter from the Angels. Rodriguez was successful in 62 of 69 save opportunities in 2008, thumping Bobby Thigpen's 18-year old record of 57 saves, and had an ERA of 2.24.
The 26-year old RHP has 208 saves and a 2.35 ERA during his seven year career. His only speed bump may be that there's a number of proven closers on the market, either as FAs or trade bait, and that could drive down his asking price. Rodriguez will probably sit on the shelf for a while, until the closers' market settles. Now the only teams said to be on him are the Angels and Mets.
Ben Sheets: He's ISO a $75M, 5 year deal. The 30-year old RHP was 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA in 2008, but had arm problems towards the end of the year, and that could devalue him. He might be able to get the near the money, but the five years is way iffy. The Astros are his primary suitor to date.
Jake Peavy: He's sort of a joker thrown into the FA deck. While under contract to the Padres, they've made it known that they'll entertain bids for his arm. The Braves offered half their farm system for him, but pulled back after the Padres missed the Atlanta deadline. The Cubs, Dodgers, Astros, Cardinals, Yankees and Angels are thought to be lurking.
The 27-year old RHP was 10-11 with a 2.85 ERA last year, and won the NL Cy Young in 2007. Peavy has four years left on his contract at about $63M, plus an option year. He's a bargain, although he does have trading veto rights and would likely seek a sweetener to move.
Mark Teixeira: Teixeira, a 28-year old, switch-hitting first baseman with two Gold Gloves and a booming bat, is the top position player in this year's free agent free-for-all. He figures to get a seven or eight year deal worth $140-160M, and is said to be looking for 10 years at $20M/season.
Tex hit .308 with 33-121 for the Braves and Angels last year. So far, the Yankees, Red Sox, Nationals (the Nats?), Angels, and Orioles are in the hunt for the Boras client.
Manny Ramirez: Manny and Scott Boras will put on quite a dog and pony show, looking for Ramirez's last big payday. They're asking for six years and $150M, but there's been no rush to knock down the doors.
Ramirez will turn 37 in May, and though 40 HR and 125 RBI look good, the betting line is that he'll land a 3 or 4 year, $25M/year deal. After the drama ends (and it'll be drawn out), the Dodgers are the most likely guys to reel in Manny, with the Giants, Jays, Angels, Phils, and Mets sniffing around.
Hey, some lucky team will end up with one or more of these ponies under the Christmas tree (the Yankees, having just cleared $80-90M in payroll, may end up with 2 or 3 of them).
For Pittsburgh, with $10M to spend - and that doesn't cover one of these stud's paycheck past August of 2009; the Bronx Bombers dumped more payroll than the Pirates have - it looks like another lump of coal in the stocking.