Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Where is the real leverage?

As the baseball offseason dealing begins in earnest (now widely known as the Hot Stove League), the question arises, in relation to the two most sought-after corner infielders, who has the leverage?

If a Hall-of-Fame free agent heads onto the market and no one meets his price, does he break the bank?

If a low budget team asks too high a price for its top pitcher and hitter, does it get paid?

Right now, Scott Boras is flummoxed because the Yankees rightly stuck to their principles and said that if A-Rod opted out of his contract, the Yanks would not re-sign him because the Yanks would lose $21M they would have received to pay him from the Rangers. Boras wonders why the Yanks would seek to re-sign Posada and Rivera and not A-Rod.

Perhaps because they finished out their contracts before pursuing free agency? Nah, that explanation makes too much sense.

The Yanks have previously rejected players' attempts to obtain extra money despite having a contract in place. In the 1996-97 offseason, Cecil Fielder sought big money from the Yanks, and chose to demand a trade or renegotiation of his contract (which players traded in the middle of multiyear deals could do at that time -- the Yanks obtained Fielder in a midseason deal with the Tigers in '96); the Yanks demured and Big Daddy became a free agent. In May, he came walking back to the Yanks hat in hand with no fat payday from any other team and got a prorated one-year deal.

Thus, the Yanks' response to A-Rod should not be too surprising. The next question is: can A-Rod get $32M/year from the Angels if they're the only team willing to top his current average annual salary level of $25.2M/year? Considering that no player has signed for $20M/year average since the A-Rod/Manny signings in the 2000-01 offseason, the answer should be no.

As for the Marlins -- they act like big fish because they have two players that teams seem to want, Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. Willis was great in 2005 (22-10, 2nd in Cy Young race) and was another Jeff Weaver last year (10-15, supra 5.00 ERA, 29 HR despite pitching in the most pitcher-friendly division in baseball thanks to a minimum of 108 games in Florida, Shea, Atlanta and Washington). Cabrera is the Manny Ramirez of thirdbasemen -- fat, not much of a fielder, but a deadly hitter. The Marlins should be highly motivated to get rid of both because they're arbitration eligible, Cabrera's likely salary will be $12M or more, Willis will get far more than he deserves, and the team is notoriously tight with money.

In other words, the Marlins should not expect to get a king's ransom in prospects for either player like they did for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell in 2005-06. But both of those players were under contract for multiple years, unlike Cabrera.

Never underestimate the aggregate level of stupid among baseball executives. After all, these people paid Mike Hampton 120M/8 (Rockies); broken-down rag-armed Darren Dreifort 55M/5 (Dodgers); J.D. Drew 70M/5 (RedSawx); 88 mph max fastball man Barry Zito 128M/8 (Giants); and 25.5M/3 for Kris Benson (Mess). But to overpay for A-Rod or over trade for Cabrera/Willis considering the stakes involved . . . that would just be dumb.

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