Scratch Carl Everett off the free-agent list. Everett agreed this week to a one-year deal to become the Seattle Mariners new designated hitter. While the free-agent market is thin, there are still some freebirds out there who can make an indent on their future team’s destiny… but, BEWARE— after the next storm of signings which is about to occur, the pickings will become even slimmer! This is a good time to forecast the impending storm and take a closer look at the top remaining free-agents.
The Yankees and Red Sox continue to be the lead dogs in the Johnny Damon sweepstakes, waiting patiently for agent Scott Boras to nod his implacable head and say yes to a four-year deal. Well, the Yanks and Sox are about to get some more competition. Dodgers’ general manager (GM) Ned Colletti has pushed the envelope- first by hiring Grady Little (Damon’s old manager), then by signing former Damon teammate, Bill Mueller, and now by reportedly offering five guaranteed years and about $50 Million more reasons for Johnny to choose La La Land. However, if Los Angeles signs Nomar Garciaparra their interest in Damon could vanish. The key to the Damon negotiations seems to be the length of the contract. Damon is 32 years old and this is most likely his final big money contract, so Boras in his attempt to increase Damon’s negotiating leverage to its highest potential started the bidding at an unreachable seven-year minimum length contract. The Yankees and Red Sox have both been willing to guarantee up to four years, but the Dodgers might be willing to offer five years. The Orioles also might become players in the Damon derby. After a quiet offseason and a Miguel Tejada tirade, GM Mike Flanagan might feel pressure to sign a big fish in Baltimore. The wheel continues to spin and where Damon ends up is anybody’s guess.
The Blue Jays, Cubs, Twins, Orioles, Pirates and Dodgers have shown the most interest in Reggie Sanders. Since spending the first eight years of his career in Cincinnati, Sanders has become the poster boy for veteran nomads. Keeping with his pattern of a team a year- whoever Reggie signs with will be his seventh team in the last seven seasons. Sanders has never been a durable player, playing at least 140 games only once in his career, but he has always been a consistent run-producer and a good defensive outfielder when he is in the line up. Keep in mind that Reggie has always played in the National League (NL), so the Cubs, Dodgers and Pirates might have the edge in signing him.
The biggest wild-card of the bunch is Juan Encarnacion, as he is likely to sign with one of the teams that misses out on Johnny Damon and Reggie Sanders. Encarnacion is a small notch below Sanders as a hitter, but he is 8 years younger and more durable. One of the advantages of signing Juan is his versatility- Encarnacion has seen extensive playing time at all three outfield positions. He’s cheaper than Damon, more useful than Sanders and would be a nice bargain buy for the Yankees or Cubs, who are both in desperate need of outfield depth. On the heels of trading two outfielders in the Alfonso Soriano deal, GM Jim Bowden and the Nationals have interest and could become a strong contender for Encarnacion’s services.
Jacque Jones, Jeremy Burnitz, Preston Wilson and Rondell White represent the final solutions for teams seeking a starting outfielder through free-agency. All have big swings; all have big holes in their swings; and all are over thirty.
Jacque has the biggest upside because he’s the youngest, and has a smaller hole in his bat than Burnitz or Wilson. Jacque is also the fastest and best baserunner of the three (39 stolen bases over the past 3 years). The Cubs and Royals have been zeroing in on Jones while the Pirates and Cardinals have been monitoring the bidding. The Orioles have also expressed interest recently.
Jeremy Burnitz is only a year removed from his best season ever, unfortunately that was during his one season in Colorado. Teams are wary of signing the 36 year old lefty slugger as a full-timer. Burnitz is a .242 lifetime hitter against lefthanders and is usually good for 120-130 strikeouts a year. Allard Baird the GM for the Royals has had the most contact with the Burnitz camp, while the Pirates have also been mentioned in rumors.
Preston Wilson’s knees are failing him and he is beginning to enter into Rondell White country in terms of reliability. Both are free and both wield strong righthanded sticks when they’re healthy. The Cubs like the fact that Wilson will sign a one-year deal with them while their other favorite, Jacque Jones, will require two to three years. Wilson has also let it be known that the Cubbies are his first choice. Rondell is being looked at by the Astros as a backup if they can’t convince Nomar Garciaparra to come play left-field for them. The Twins and Orioles are also in play as possible destinations for White.
Garciaparra is on just about every teams radar to play just about every position. As for the outfield- the Indians, Astros and Dodgers are all pursuing him for a corner outfield spot. The Astros have moved leftfielder Lance Berkman to first creating an opening in their outfield. The Indians would put Garcy into right if they sign him and platoon Ben Broussard and Casey Blake at first next season. Should the Dodgers sign him, they would use Nomar in left and occasionally at first-base.
Stay tuned! Next blog we’ll look at
the free-agent infielders on the Market.
by John Overmyer