Only big names unaffected by economic climate

November, 16, 2008
In Saturday's New York Times, a report that the Yankees opened the bidding on CC Sabathia at $140 million was juxtaposed with a story that in Austin, Minn., 13 restaurants have Spam on their menus. The latter story speaks for the rough economic times.

Somewhere in the center, there is reality. Sports, of course, are not recession-proof. Oh, if you're Sabathia or Manny Ramirez, Mark Teixeira or Derek Lowe, you are pretty much immune from the worldwide economic crisis. But if you're not and you're a free agent this winter, you might feel some of the chills, just as baseball wonders about the impact.

The weather -- not the players or teams -- helped cause record-low television ratings for the World Series, and that worries Fox. But the signs of economic reality were everywhere. In Boston, the online ticket agency couldn't sell all the tickets that were offered back at face value for Games 4 and 5 of the ALCS, so the club has reversed field and frozen ticket prices for 2009. And in close to 20 cities, serious concerns exist about higher-level tickets, and those concerns possibly affect even the elegant new Yankee Stadium.

The Diamondbacks cut back on 31 business-side employees, then with a restricted budget made Randy Johnson an offer that left him feeling rejected. In a similar yet uncomfortable way, the Padres might have offered Trevor Hoffman all they had left in their bank account, but they left the face of that franchise feeling hurt.

But of course, there also are the Detroit Tigers, who in the heart of a depressed industry that begs the taxpayers for a bailout announced they will raise ticket prices despite finishing last with the second-highest payroll in the American League.

Maybe it'll be as simple as the Yankees' blowing everyone away on Sabathia with their opening bid, which could convince the Dodgers and Angels that they'll never be able to match the offer. Those teams instead would refocus on signing Ramirez and Teixeira, respectively. Yet the logic behind Hank Steinbrenner's announcement of the offer could be to scare others away.

But scaring people won't happen. Sabathia is in no rush. He went to a high school football game outside Houston on Saturday with Adam Dunn, Orlando Hudson and other friends. And whether Steinbrenner realizes it or not, Sabathia will give the West Coast teams every opportunity to make him an offer that his family lifestyle cannot refuse. Signing him will take a while.

Sabathia is fascinated by the Dodgers and the Angels, and knowing the Dodgers are in it offers him the chance to make due diligence on his opportunities for his financial and familial futures. It's clear this weekend, as he relaxes with friends, that he isn't stirred up by the immediate frenzy.

Sabathia more likely impacts the Dodgers-Ramirez negotiations more than the Angels-Teixeira talks, although Boston's jumping in early on Teixeira is a story line that right now is hard to follow. The Braves might say they cannot include Jeff Locke and one or two other prospects to fill out the Jake Peavy deal, but what will it cost them to get in on A.J. Burnett or Lowe? That could play out for a long time.

Maybe the free-agency decisions will be as simple as Ryan Dempster's realizing he walks to work on Chicago's North Side and wants to stay there, and Burnett's deciding he likes the coaches and trainers and teammates in Toronto so much that he'll stay for four more years. The Yankees, Braves and others figure to make that virtually impossible, and as of Saturday morning, Burnett's agents had not received an offer from the Blue Jays. Maybe Lowe will line up the stashes offered by the Yankees, Mets and Red Sox and make a quick decision before getting married. It's not likely, but it is possible.

Brad Penny, who is working hard to get himself back into top condition, will do fine in free agency, assuming some risk. But clubs such as St. Louis, Boston, Texas, Toronto and others appreciate that Penny was 16-4 in 2007 and is in a market in which a number of clubs -- including the Astros -- have already let Mike Hampton know they have sincere interest in him. Because October is traditionally the month for power pitching, Ben Sheets, Burnett, Lowe and Penny are all potential postseason winners, so they're good options for teams looking to make a playoff push.

It sounds good to hear that the Yankees have made an offer to Sabathia, but signing him won't happen quickly.

"Because of the economy, which is going to get worse, there are a lot of mid- and lower-tier players who have to wait until January and could end getting a lot less than they expected," one general manager said. "But when it comes to the big names, Sabathia and Scott Boras are the two controlling factors. Sabathia can't lose, and Boras won't."


• Ken Williams is one of the winter's most significant wheelers and dealers. He is marketing Javier Vazquez, Bobby Jenks, Jermaine Dye and others as he tries to overhaul the White Sox. The Mets are afraid of the red flag on Jenks, whose strikeout rate has dropped precipitously from 50 in 39 1/3 innings in 2005 to 38 in 61 2/3 innings this past season. And although GM Omar Minaya checked in on Sabathia, it does not mean the Mets will get into a bidding war with the Yankees for the 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner.

• Scouts in Arizona for the Arizona Fall League and the White Sox's minor league people are convinced that Gordon Beckham, the eighth pick in the MLB draft this past June, will be Chicago's everyday second baseman by June.

• The Rangers are setting a high bar for any of their catchers in a trade. The Tigers found the asking price on Gerald Laird too high, and Boston wouldn't part with either Clay Buchholz or two out of the Justin Masterson/Nick Hagadone/Michael Bowden trio for Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Nolan Ryan is intrigued by Kerry Wood, but to afford Wood, the Rangers would have to deal Hank Blalock.

• The Marlins have found an interested market for Jeremy Hermida, including the Cubs, Rays and others.

• While the Tigers are out looking for a shortstop, Jim Leyland doesn't dismiss the idea of putting Brandon Inge back at the position at which he was a college All-American. Inge is athletic enough, and unlike at catcher, where he spent his time this past season, would play at a position he played while growing up.


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