As the Yanks closed in on a deal with Hideki Matsui, other
teams whined and unloaded big contracts
The sun never sets on the Yankees' Empire. New York announced
last Friday that it had signed a working agreement with the
Yomiuri Giants (the Yankees of Japanese baseball) just as last
year it hooked up with Manchester United (the Yankees of English
soccer). So, too, the grumbling about how the Yankees wield their
enormous clout may never cease.
Though none of the five New York team executives who flew to
Japan last week winked while the Yomiuri accord was announced,
many officials from other major league teams assumed that the
Yankees, in proper time, will also announce the signing of
free-agent outfielder Hideki Matsui, a wildly popular three-time
MVP in Japan. Matsui's former team? Yomiuri.
"It stinks, and we could complain to the commissioner, but what
is he going to do?" one National League club executive said.
Nothing. One source in the commissioner's office said of Matsui,
a career .300 hitter coming off a 50-homer season, "He's a free
agent. If you sign with New York and have an understanding that
two years later you go back to Yomiuri, that's your choice.
There's something slightly untoward about it, but if that's the
deal, it's not illegal."
In the meantime the only agreement in place as of Monday was the
one with Yomiuri that provided for the two teams to share
scouting reports, facilities and organizational ideas. The deal
allows the Yankees to keep any money they make by selling Giants
merchandise, televising Giants games on their network or, as the
Mariners did with Ichiro Suzuki, attracting international fans to
their home park. The rights of Yankees games broadcast in Japan,
however, belong to Major League Baseball. Those proceeds would be
split equally among the 30 clubs.
Questions remain about how Matsui's talents will translate to the
American game. "He doesn't run that well or field that well, at
least not like Ichiro [Suzuki]," says one scout, who compares
Matsui with former Red Sox outfielder Mike Greenwell, who
averaged .300 and 15--20 homers in his prime. "He looks like a
good power hitter, but that's in the smaller parks in Japan."
Matsui would likely bat sixth or seventh in the Yankees' lineup
and play leftfield or, if New York succeeds in trading Raul
Mondesi, rightfield. (Arizona backed out of a swap of lefthander
Greg Swindell and catcher Damian Miller for Mondesi, instead
trading Miller to the Cubs for two minor leaguers.) Owner George
Steinbrenner has ordered general manager Brian Cashman to cut
last season's payroll of $125 million, which was $17 million more
than the second-ranked club. Cashman has been exploring deals to
move Mondesi, outfielder Rondell White, pitchers Orlando
Hernandez, Sterling Hitchcock and Andy Pettitte, and catcher
Jorge Posada. Pitchers Roger Clemens, Ramiro Mendoza and Mike
Stanton are free agents.
New York also must decide whether to bring back free-agent third
baseman Robin Ventura or find a cheaper alternative. Prospect
Drew Henson does not figure in immediate plans at that position
after a stunning lack of progress this year. In all, at least 10
players from the 25-man roster that lost the Division Series to
Anaheim cannot be certain they'll be Yankees next spring. Not as
certain, at least, as Matsui.
Seasoned Free-Agent Class
These Days, Age Is an Asset
Greg Maddux, who turns 37 in April, wants a five-year contract,
by the end of which his projected win total of 358 would make him
seventh on the alltime list. That expectation is part of an
82page, statistic-based prospectus that Scott Boras, the agent
for Maddux, is presenting to interested teams. Boras compared the
arc of Maddux's career to that of Hall of Famer Warren Spahn, who
won more games from age 36 to 40 (106) than he did from 31 to 35
For further evidence that players can thrive as they close in on
40, check Maddux's contemporaries. This year's NL Cy Young Award
winner (Randy Johnson) was 39 and MVP (Barry Bonds) was 38. The
biggest success story from last winter's free-agent class
(19-game winner David Wells of the Yankees) turned 39 during the
season. Six of the 28 pitchers who won 15 games last year were 36
or older. (Only four between 31 and 35 won that many.)
Says Boras, "That old idea in baseball, that when a guy gets past
35, he's over the hill, is gone." Adds Gregg Clifton, the agent
for free-agent lefthander Tom Glavine, "People knocked Randy
Johnson's contract, and it will go down as the greatest
free-agent deal ever--four Cy Youngs with an option to win a
fifth." Johnson was 35 when he signed a four-year, $52.4 million
deal; with his option picked up for next season, it became a
five-year, $64.4 million contract.
The cream of the free-agent crop this year is a council of
elders. Glavine, who turns 37 in March, already has three-year
offers from the Phillies and Mets for about $10 million per year.
Other pitchers available are Roger Clemens, 40, Jamie Moyer, 40,
Chuck Finley, 40, and Kenny Rogers, 38. Steve Finley will be
playing centerfield for somebody next year at 38. Jeff Kent will
be playing second base for a new team at 35.
Today's ballplayers benefit from better training and nutrition,
and they have the wealth to avail themselves of the best
resources in those areas. Only days after the season ended,
Finley began working out with a personal trainer he has retained
since 1998--and he's already drawn interest from the Cubs,
Diamondbacks, Giants, Mets and Rangers. Asked if his age had been
an issue in negotiations, Finley said, "Zero. That has never been
brought up. They know me, and they see what I can do."
The Purge in Colorado
Get a Piece of The Rockies
The G.M. meetings in Tucson last week had the feel of a lousy
flea market: too many vendors peddling overpriced, unwanted
goods, though in this case a 7--15 pitcher due $84.5 million was
the equivalent of your basic velvet Elvis. This off-season market
is one of the slowest in recent memory because so many teams are
trying to dump bad contracts (box, right).
"A few years ago there was a rush to do [long-term] deals, and
now you see a lot of teams trying to get out from under them,"
Brewers G.M. Doug Melvin says.
No G.M. was scrambling more than Dan O'Dowd of the Rockies, who
was trying to unload $160 million due lefthanders Mike Hampton
and Denny Neagle and rightfielder Larry Walker. O'Dowd did
succeed in moving Hampton and most of the $84.5 million remaining
on his contract. In a prototypical trade based more on the
players' contracts than on their playing abilities, O'Dowd sent
Hampton, centerfielder Juan Pierre and $11 million to Florida for
reliever Vic Darensbourg, second baseman Pablo Ozuna and the
Marlins' own pricey tchotchkes, catcher Charles Johnson and
centerfielder Preston Wilson, who are owed a combined $52.5
million. Florida then pulled off a deal that sent Hampton and $38
million to the Braves for reliever Tim Spooneybarger and minor
league pitcher Ryan Baker.
O'Dowd still hopes to persuade Arizona to take Walker (for Matt
Williams, Erubiel Durazo, Bret Prinz and David Dellucci) and the
Mets to accept Neagle (for Rey Ordonez and Jeromy Burnitz).
Another drag on player movement is the shallow free-agent
pool--said one AL scout, "Jim Thome is the only guy without some
risk"--and the potentially attractive second wave of players
expected to be set free when they aren't tendered contracts by
Dec. 20. Said one NL G.M., "A lot of guys will still be available
in January. It's a buyer's market."
Read more from Tom Verducci every Tuesday in his exclusive column
COLOR PHOTO: AFP (LEFT) Matsui's 50-homer power in Japan might lose something in translation to the majors.
COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO Hampton
Owners like to think a "market correction" is taking place with
free agents, but the lack of activity is due mostly to the
unspectacular crop of players out there. Don't expect the same
next winter--at least not if potential free agents Miguel Tejada,
Bartolo Colon, Vladimir Guerrero, Randy Johnson, Kevin Millwood,
Roberto Alomar and Juan Gonzalez are available.... A's general
manager Billy Beane says he will soon begin trying to re-sign AL
MVP Tejada to a long-term deal. But one team source said that the
club most likely won't be able to afford both Tejada and third
baseman Eric Chavez, who's eligible for free agency after the
2004 season.... The Cubs told one free-agent outfielder that they
had interest in him, if they can trade 23-year-old centerfielder
Corey Patterson, once the crown jewel of their system. In his
first full season Patterson hit .253, struck out 142 times and
drew only 19 walks.... Likewise, the Blue Jays are listening to
offers for shortstop Felipe Lopez, 22, who lost his job to Chris
By trading lefthander Mike Hampton, the Rockies moved all but $11
million of the $84.5 million that they owed him over the next six
years. Here's a sampling of other high-priced players still on
the trading block, with their teams' remaining financial
obligations (includes guaranteed buyout money).
Player, Team (in millions) Years
Larry Walker, Rockies $38.5 3
Denny Neagle, Rockies $37.0 3
Bobby Higginson, Tigers $29.6 3
Richard Hidalgo, Astros $22.0 2
Todd Hundley, Cubs $12.5 2
Jeromy Burnitz, Mets $11.5 1
Greg Vaughn, Devil Rays $9.3 1
Eric Karros, Dodgers $9.0 1
Jeffrey Hammonds, Brewers $7.3 1
Sterling Hitchcock, Yankees $7.0 1
Raul Mondesi, Yankees $7.0 1
Rey Ordonez, Mets $6.3 1
Mark Grudzielanek, Dodgers $6.0 1
Rondell White, Yankees $5.0 1