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Low-Risk, Good-Reward Free Agent Signings Making Mark on Off-Season PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Saturday, 10 January 2009 00:35

Pat Burrell

The Rays brilliant signing of Pat
Burrell may be setting the table
for low risk, good reward deals
on veteran free agents.

When the winter meetings convened in Las Vegas last month, the plums of the free agent crop were, understandably, the focus. C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Francisco Rodriguez, and Manny Ramirez were the key players that the halls at the cavernous Bellagio hotel were abuzz with.

Most thought when the Sabathia deal was consummated, the free agent dominoes would begin to fall.

Then, it was Teixeira.

Well, finally, the free agent market is beginning to warm, but it’s just in a manner that has the figure prints of the recession all over it.

The 2008-2009 off-season may go down as the year of the “low-risk, good reward” deal as witnessed by a steady stream of short-term deals with veteran free agents that seem to see the writing on the wall: this year, if there are questions about health, or chances of performance decline, better get in now, and for terms that you may not have done in years prior.

Here are just some of the examples:

  • In a deal that may have set the tone for all other veteran free agents, 11-year slugging veteran Pat Burrell signed a 2 year, $16 million deal with the team he helped beat in last year’s World Series, the Tampa Bay Rays. Burrell made $14,250,000 last year, alone, with the Phillies.
  • The Indians signed Carl Pavano, 33, to an incentive laden deal that has $1.5 million, one-year as the base, but includes $5.3 million in incentives for games started and innings pitched. Pavano went 4-2 with a 5.77 ERA with the Yankees last season. He also is the poster child for why guaranteed contract are bad. In 26 games for the Yankees over the last four seasons he made $40 million.
  • The A’s are bringing Jason Giambi back into the fold, after playing for the Yankees for the last 7 season. The A’s inked Giambi to a $5.25 million, one-year contract. He hit .247 with 32 HRs and 96 RBIs over 145 games, the most games played since 2003 when he played 156.
  • The Red Sox signed former Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli to a $500,000, one-year contract, after there had been concerns around his health -- mitochondrial disorder was re-diagnosed as channelopathy during the off-season. He hit .263 with 4 HRs, a .475 SLG and 13 RBIs over 28 games last season.
  • The Red Sox have also come to an agreement with John Smoltz, who spent his entire career with the Braves to a $5.5 million, one-year contract. As is the common theme for all the veteran FAs being signed ahead of some of the bigger names still out there for clubs, Smoltz has an incentive clause based upon how much time he spends on the active roster that could award him another $5 million.
  • Trevor Hoffman, who also spent his entire career with the Padres, agreed to a one-year contract worth $6 million on Thursday. He went 3-6 with a 3.77 ERA in 48 games last season in San Diego. He can make an additional $1.5 million in performance bonuses, based on games finished.
  • One might even add the Giants signing of Randy Johnson, to an $8 million, one-year contract. It also has incentives within the contract that could allow The Big Unit to gain an additional $4 million in incentives, based on performance, or Kerry Woods deal with the Indians that nets him $20.5 million over two-years; a deal that includes a 2011 option, if Woods gets 55 games finished in either of the next two years

All of these signing are ahead of Manny Ramirez, Derek Lowe, Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu, and Andy Pettitte, to name a few. The message seems clear: veteran free agents, that wish to stay on MLB rosters, get your agents moving, and get ready for 1-2 year deals with incentive options. The economy has come knocking. Get in while the getting’s good.

Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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