A Sneak Preview Of The Post-2009 MLB Free Agency Situation

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The Major League Baseball trade deadline is now just 16 days away.
With several marquee players on the market and plenty of teams still in
contention, the rumor mill is heating up.

In a four-part series, Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB
Trade Rumors will share his insights on potential deadline deals now
that the first half of the season is over. Here is Part II of the epic
deadline discussion (for Part I click here and for Part II click here):

NESN.com: It’s hard for the Mets to achieve success as it is, let alone having to play in the same city as the Yankees.

The Yankees could possibly need a starting pitcher as the deadline
approaches, but let’s move forward a little bit and talk about the end
of the season.

What happens to Johnny Damon, who is having a career year offensively, and Hideki Matsui, who has become a health concern? Do the Yankees let both of these players walk?

Matsui has been clogging up the DH spot that will be needed by Jorge Posada over the course of next season, so it’s easy to say Godzilla’s day are numbered in pinstripes.

But if Damon goes, that leaves a hole in left, and one would think that a combination of Nick Swisher, Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner and Austin Jackson could fill out the outfield, but there is a lack of power there. Do the Yankees make a play at Jason Bay or Matt Holliday? Does Bay even get to free agency?

Ben Nicholson-Smith: The Yankees are running out of
places to put talented hitters like Damon and Matsui. Damon has thrived
in Coors Field East, hitting 12 of his 16 homers at the new Yankee
Stadium and slugging 160 points higher at home than on the road. You
don’t want to count on Gardner, Cabrera and Jackson for power, so it
would be nice for the Yankees to have him around next season.

But Damon turns 36 this fall and his defense has declined noticeably
each of the last two years. He will be able to command a multi-year
deal because he isn’t slowing down offensively, but the Yankees need
room for Posada at DH and they may want room for Derek Jeter in the outfield by 2011.

Matsui won’t be back with the Yankees because they need room for other players to DH and you can’t play Matsui in the field anymore.

The Yankees could lure Bay to the Bronx, as they did with Damon, if
they want to get a little younger. Damon’s five years older than Bay
and doesn’t have the same consistent power. I wouldn’t rule Holliday
out either, as the Yankees could use him in left field and they proved
in the Mark Teixeira deal that they can negotiate with Scott Boras and his clients successfully. Damon, Holliday and Bay are the best free agent outfielders out there, and I’d expect the Yankees to consider all three.

NESN.com: Wouldn’t it make the most sense for the
Red Sox to offer Bay an extension since they already know he is capable
of playing in Boston and has proven himself over the last year there?
If the Red Sox don’t end up extending him before the season is over,
who aside from the Yankees would also be in the running for Bay? And
how would the Red Sox replace him in left field?

Ben Nicholson-Smith: It looks like the Red Sox will start negotiating with Bay soon,
but if they wait until the season’s over, they’ll still have exclusive
rights to him for 15 days after the World Series ends. He’s young and
powerful enough to have lots of appeal to the Red Sox, but they will
have other options if they’re not comfortable meeting Bay’s demands.

They could sign Holliday, Bobby Abreu or Jermaine Dye, who may also be free agents. The Nationals have made it clear that they’re not trading Adam Dunn this July, but their stance could change this offseason.

But Carl Crawford would be the most interesting
option for the Red Sox if the Rays decide to listen to offers for him.
He’s younger than Bay and plays better defense (as we saw in Tuesday
night’s All-Star Game). The Rays could use Crawford and would
presumably rather not trade him to a division rival, but he’s just a
year away from free agency, so the Rays may have to think about parting
with their left fielder.

Bay will have his suitors, even if the Red Sox don’t bring him back.
There are the Yankees, Angels, Giants and half a dozen other teams that
will have openings for a talented slugger like Bay.

NESN.com: Speaking of Abreu, isn’t it crazy to
think of the contract that he and others had to settle for given the
state of the economy? With Julio Lugo earning $9
million this season and barely playing, it must be tough for Bobby –
who is part of that exclusive 20 HR, 100 RBI club in recent years – to
fathom that he is earning about half of what Lugo and some other
overpaid players are making.

Ben Nicholson-Smith: Lugo, Vernon Wells and Barry Zito
can all thank their agents for negotiating long-term deals before the
market shifted. Now their contracts seem extravagant when compared to
deals like Abreu’s or Orlando Hudson’s and it figures
to stay that way. Teams will offer contracts cautiously this offseason,
especially since attendance has fallen by about 2,500 per game around the league.

As SI’s Jon Heyman points out,
you know things have changed when even the Yankees say they can’t add
payroll. The biggest free-agent contract signed this coming offseason
should be well under $100 million as not even Bay, Holliday or John Lackey
will command that much and it’s possible none of them will receive $50
million guaranteed. Those who are less sought after will have to accept
deals like Abreu’s.

However, baseball’s doing fine in spite of the attendance drop and
teams should spend generously on elite talent. Last winter, the Yankees
spent a combined $340 million on Teixiera and CC Sabathia and we’ll likely see similarly big offers in a year and a half when Joe Mauer and Roy Halladay become free agents.

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Thanks again to Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors. Stay tuned Thursday for Part IV of the deadline discussion.

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