Big names still loom large in MLB free agency

Michael Zipf

What’s a team supposed to do when it misses the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons and it has $90 million coming off of its books? If you are the New York Yankees, you go and spend $423.5 million on the top free agents in the 2009 class. Yes, the Yankees again demonstrated their superior purchasing power and limitless cash flow by signing the top two pitchers on the market (CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett) and one of the premier hitters in the game (Mark Teixeira).

Prior to the Yankees spending frenzy the offseason was rather lackluster, a clear indication that baseball isn’t as recession proof as perceived. However, the cross-town rival New York Mets have bolstered their bullpen and the Red Sox continue to redefine an already deep pitching staff with veteran John Smoltz.

With a relatively stagnant market, there have only been a few surprises this season. Teams such as the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland A’s, who are usually non-spenders in the free agent market, have made some noise this offseason. Yet, a group of perennial all-stars remain available as the winter season ends and pitchers and catchers report soon. The following is a breakdown of the top signings this offseason as well as the top free agents still available.

Top five moves

Mark Teixeira: All signs pointed to this sweet swinging switch hitter landing in Boston. However, once again, as they did with the signing of Johnny Damon, the Yankees swept in at the least minute, leaving Red Sox Nation cursing. Teixeira, a career-.290 hitter with five consecutive seasons of 30 or more homers, will help solidify an already potent Yankee lineup.

CC Sabathia: This burly lefthander was the prize free agent this offseason. He signed a seven-year, $161 million contract, the fifth highest contract in Major League Baseball history. Sabathia joins fellow free agent Burnett and their old staff ace, Chien-Ming Wang, to form one of the best rotations in baseball.

Francisco Rodriguez: After two September collapses due to an inept bullpen, the Mets solidified the backend of their bullpen by signing one of the game’s best closers. Coming off of a 62-save season, Rodriguez should end the Mets playoff drought.

Matt Holliday: The perennial all-star surprisingly landed in Oakland after a nine-player trade between the A’s and the Rockies. Holliday, one of the game’s best hitters, should provide the A’s with the middle-lineup hitter they have sorely missed. Combine Holliday with the signing of slugger Jason Giambi, and the A’s could become a dangerous sleeper team in 2009.

A.J. Burnett: Scouts, coaches and experts ooze over Burnett talent level and that’s why the Yankees signed the 32-year-old left-hander to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. However, Burnett has only completed over 200 innings in a season twice in his career, both during contract years.

Top free agents available

Manny Ramirez: Probably one of the best pure hitters to ever play the game remains an enigma, as mega-agent Scott Boras tries to bait teams into signing the future hall-of-famer to a four- or five-year, $25 million contract. Once Boras and his client settle back down to earth, Ramirez should be reporting to back to Los Angeles.

Adam Dunn: Dunn remains an affordable option for many teams. However, his inconsistency at the plate has driven down his market-appeal. The homerun hitting Dunn could be a steal this offseason.

Ben Sheets: Sheets possesses some of the best raw stuff in the game, but his injury-plagued career has teams shying away from a potential staff ace. Sheets has been linked to the Texas Rangers, as well as the New York Mets.

Bobby Abreu: You would figure a guy with a career .380 on-base percentage would have been coveted once the free agent season began. However, Abreu, at age 35, needs to realize that in this dying economy and free agent market, where corner outfielders are a dime a dozen, seeking a three-year, $16 million deal is unrealistic.

Orlando Hudson: This slick-fielding second baseman and speedy leadoff man should find a home relatively shortly, as quality second basemen are a rare commodity in the game. Although there were links between Hudson and the Yankees, New York’s commitment to Robinson Cano has left Hudson searching.

With pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training in a matter of days, these names are sure to find their way on to major league rosters pretty quickly. However, because of the economy, they will have to settle for a far smaller contract than they would have expected. It is possible that many of these players will settle for one-year contracts and then re-enter the market for the 2010 offseason.

Until then, the small market teams will benefit because they will be able to afford players they usually would not be able to get. If they present a good offer, these players will most likely jump at the idea of getting something that is close to a fair contract. It is all part of what has been one of the most peculiar offseasons in recent memory.