It seems that our fallen economy has hit hard everywhere, and as baseball is a microcosm of society, there is no reason to think that it wouldn’t be felt there as well. Even baseball’s esteemed commissioner, Bud Selig, who is often accused of burying his head in the sand, recognizes this. In a recent interview with ESPN’s Jason Stark, Selig stated that “Baseball is played in the same world that’s now staggering through the worst economic mess of his lifetime.”
Despite the fact that we have seen a few huge signings (CC Sabathia, Mark Texieria), in comparison to past off-seasons, they really have been few and far between.
There are still many valuable, productive players sitting out there in freeagentville, waiting for the right offer, or in some cases, any offer.
Here is your 2009, Free-Agent All-Star team. Some may be past their prime, but you just can’t take away that All-Star label:
C – Jason Varitek – There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Tek wants to play for the Red Sox. Last month, he declined arbitration and is now leaving it up to the club to see what they’ll offer. Many feel that this was not a very smart move, since he probably would have seen at least $10M (what he made last season) in arbitration. Now the experts predict he’ll see less than half that. He has recently met with Red Sox principal owner John Henry, to discuss his future with the ball club.
Last season was the worst of his career, offensively. He batted a ridiculously low .220, with only 13 HR and 43 RBI. He also had only 93 hits compared to 123 strikeouts. However, he is also considered to be the best game-caller in baseball. His ability to handle pitchers in any situation is legendary. And, he’s caught more no-hitters than any catcher in the modern era. Despite his dismal work with the bat last season, any team would be lucky to have him. Tek has appeared in three All-Star Games. A no-doubt Hall of Famer, and possible future manager.
Other unsigned C All-Stars: Ivan Rodriguez, Paul Lo Duca
1B – Sean Casey – “The Mayor” has appeared in three All-Star Games (’99, ’01, 04). Although not a full-time player with the Red Sox last season, he still contributed. In 69 games, he got 69 hits in 199 at bats (.322). In 2007 with the Tigers, his last full season, Casey went 134 for 453 (.296 avg.) including 30 doubles. With a career batting average of .302, he has also proven very valuable with his glove. In 14 seasons, he only has 53 errors with a .995 fielding pct.
Other unsigned 1B All-Stars: Rich Aurilia
2B – Orlando Hudson – A big reason that Hudson is still on the market is because he chooses to be. Reportedly, he is looking for a 3-year deal from the right ballclub. O-Dog, a three-time Gold Glove winner (’05-’07) is entering his 8th season. He has appeared in one All-Star Game (’07). Last season, due to a wrist injury, he only played in 107 games. He has since had surgery and has resumed all baseball activities. In 2007, Hudson played in 137 games and had a .294 avg, with 10 HR and 63 RBI. To date, the only team who has shown an active interest is the Washington Nationals.
Other unsigned 2B All-Stars: Ray Durham, Jeff Kent (Retired 1/22)
SS – Nomar Garciaparra – For many years, Nomar was one of the premier shortstops in baseball. Since then, he has proven to be quite versatile (when healthy) and has played all infield positions at one time or another. When healthy, Nomar is a pure hitter. His biggest problem was that he is made of glass. Rarely has there been a player of his caliber who has been so injury prone. You may recall a few years ago when he tore his groin muscle leaving the batter’s box. Now that was interesting.
Nomar (so good that he has first name only status), a 6-time All-Star and 1997 AL ROY, last played a full season in 2003 when he played in 153 games. Since then, he’s averaged about 88 games per season, with only 55 games played last year. Also in that timeframe, his batting average has dropped each season from .308 in ’04 to .264 last season. Any team that takes a chance on him will likely use him as a bench player. Word on the street is that the Phillies have an interest.
Other unsigned SS All-Stars: Omar Visquel (signed a minor league contract with the Rangers 1/21)
3B – Joe Crede – In the past two seasons, Crede has played a total of 154 games (97 in ’08). Despite his limited action due to an injured back, he still made last season’s All-Star Game, his first. Actually, Crede missed all of his games AFTER the All-Star break (Jul 22 – Aug 24 and all of Sep). With a .252 average and 16 HR/49 RBI at the All-Star break, it’s surprising that Crede even made the All-Star roster, but he did.
Other unsigned 3B All-Stars: N/A (but Nomar could play there if pressed)
LF – Manny Ramirez – Manny is the jewel in the crown of this year’s free agent class, but he comes with a very steep price and a lot of baggage. According to some reports, he is seeking a 4-year, $25M / yr deal. Very high considering his reputation to be a slacker when he doesn’t feel the love. Everyone is aware of how he played the Red Sox last season in order to be traded, and how he immediately improved his game once arriving with the Dodgers. Sox fans will never forget his pre-trade .296 average compared to his post-trade average of .399. Or his refusal to play in a key series against the Yankees.
Granted, he is arguably the best right handed hitter in the past 25 years, and is a sure-lock first ballot Hall of Famer, but teams need to think long and hard about ponying up the dough he’s looking for, especially in the current economic environment.
Other unsigned LF All-Stars: Adam Dunn (Nationals have shown an interest), Moises Alou (the Phillies have shown an interest), Garret Anderson, Luis Gonzalez
CF – Ken Griffey Jr. – If it seems that The Kid has always been in baseball, it’s because he has. Long before he burst on to the Major League scene at age 19, he was a fixture at Riverfront Stadium, where his dad, Ken Griffey Sr, played. Like Nomar, , always seems to be injured. The last time he even played 145 games was in 2000. That season, his first with the Reds, who he literally grew up with, he hit 40 HR and had 118 RBI. His best season after that was in ’05, when he hit 35 HR and had 92 RBI, with a .301 average, in 128 games.
Last season, his production plummeted. In 143 games, split between the Reds and the White Sox, he hit a total of 18 HR with 71 RBI and a batting average of .246. All were career lows in seasons that he played in at least 140 games. After 20 years, and at the age of 39, it would surprise no one if Jr retired if no team showed interest. Even with all of his injuries, Griffey, a 13-time All Star (11 consecutive years from ’90-’00) and ’07 MVP, still managed to earn 10 consecutive Gold Gloves and 7 Silver Slugger Awards. He is a lock for the Hall of Fame, first ballot.
Other unsigned CF All-Stars: Jim Edmunds, Andruw Jones
RF – Bobby Abreu – Abreu, a two-time All-Star, has quite a bad reputation for being afraid of the ball. He had the rep in Philly, and he brought it with him to Yankee Stadium. A couple of key plays last season where he seemed very hesitant to leap against the wall to catch a long fly did nothing to help. That being said, he is actually a pretty average RF. His career fielding percentage is right in line with league averages (.983). He’s even earned one Gold Glove (’05), but quite honestly, had no competition that season.
Although Abreu has always been a decent hitter (.300 career avg), there has been very little interest in him during this off-season. The main reason for that is most likely his original asking price, which was reportedly $48M for 3 years. There is a very good chance that if anyone does sign him before Spring Training, it will be for far less money than that.
Other unsigned RF All-Stars: Ken Griffey Jr (selected to 2008 All-Star Game as a rightfielder)
DH – Frank Thomas – In his prime, The Big Hurt was terrifying at the plate. The 5-time All-Star won back to back MVP Awards in ’93 and ’94, and those weren’t even his best years (although he did have a .356 average in ’94). He hit more HR (43) and got more RBI (143) in ’00 than in either of his MVP seasons. He finished 2nd in MVP voting that season to Jason Giambi, who had a slightly better season. In the past few seasons, Thomas has declined considerably. His on-field drop has led him to DH status, and his hitting has dropped from .328 in ’00 to .240 last season (in only 71 games). He also has declined tremendously in the power hitting department, going from a .562 slugging pct in ’03 to .374 last season. So far, there has been no interest from any team in Thomas.
Other unsigned DH All-Stars: Cliff Floyd
SP – Ben Sheets – In his eight years with the Milwaukee Brewers, Sheets, a four-time All-Star 9’08 starting NL pitcher), has turned into one of the games premier pitchers. Over the past two seasons, his win-loss record has improved dramatically to a combined 25-14, while his ERA has dropped to 3.09 in ’08 (5th in NL). The NY Mets have shown an interest in him, but would prefer to sign Oliver Perez, who they are very close to wrapping up. If the Perez deal falls through, Sheets would likely be their next choice. He has also had more than one meeting with the Texas Rangers.
Other unsigned SP All-Stars: Andy Pettite (talking with Yankees), Oliver Perez (talking with Mets), John Garland (talking with LA Dodgers), Tom Glavine, Curt Schilling, Odalis Perez, Pedro Martinez, Livan Hernandez, Jon Lieber, Kenny Rogers, Randy Wolf (talking with LA Dodgers), Mark Mulder
RP – Eddie Guardado – While it’s true that “Everyday Eddie” is not nearly the pitcher he was only a couple of years ago, and he is no longer even a closer, he still has more holds (25, 5th in ML) than any other free agent reliever. And since the Hold has become nearly as important as the Save, it’s certainly worth mentioning. Guardado, a two-time All-Star, led the AL in saves in ’02 (45). Since then, he has steadily declined. Since the ’05 season, Guardado’s ERA has climbed from a career low of 2.72 to 3.89 in ’06, to 7.24 in ’07 before dropping again last season to 4.15.
Other unsigned RP All-Stars: Jason Isringhausen, Brendan Donnelly, Keith Foulke Eric Gagne Tom Gordon