THE SMART, early money has Mark Teixeira remaining an Angel, CC Sabathia becoming a Yankee and Manny Ramirez staying in Dodger blue. Nonetheless, there will be plenty of drama surrounding the marquee players in a free-agent class that has some eye-popping star power. Teixeira, Sabathia and Ramirez—whose next contracts could exceed $400 million combined—represent the top layer of a market that will also include Francisco Rodriguez, Ben Sheets and Adam Dunn.
The biggest windfalls will undoubtedly accrue to Sabathia and Teixeira, who are both 28 and rarities in that they are stars whose original clubs were unable to lock them into long-term deals before they reached free agency. There is already much intrigue surrounding Sabathia, who is building his dream home in Orange County, not far from where the Angels play. But while the Angels love arms, they already have plenty of them. The Dodgers, who will lose righthander Derek Lowe to free agency, are another option for Sabathia (inset).
Two baseball executives who know Sabathia say he is a Californian at heart and believe that his decision will be influenced by that. Three others, however, expect he will follow the money to New York, where the Yankees—who have $88 million coming off the books—will pursue the lefthander aggressively. According to one agent, Johan Santana's six-year, $137.5 million contract with the Mets provides a baseline for the type of deal Sabathia can expect.
An even bigger payday likely awaits Teixeira, mainly because he is an everyday player. Shortly before Texas traded him to Atlanta last summer, Teixeira rejected an eight-year, $144 million offer, and the switch-hitting, slick-fielding slugger is shooting to become baseball's second $200 million man (the first being Alex Rodriguez, who signed two such contracts). Despite his price tag, Teixeira will have his share of suitors, starting with the Angels, for whom he is an excellent fit; the Orioles, his hometown team; and the Yankees and the Mets, who will have even more money to spend because they are moving into new ballparks.
Teixeira has spoken fondly of New York City (his sister Elizabeth lives in nearby Hoboken, N.J.), and the Yankees could even try to import Sabathia and Teixeira. The Mets would have to create room for Teixeira by forgoing their $16 million option on Carlos Delgado in 2009, which is looking less certain given the 38-year-old slugger's recent rejuvenation (14 homers in 42 games since Jerry Manuel replaced Willie Randolph as manager on June 18).
Two general managers predict that the 36-year-old Ramirez, for all his baggage, will still easily eclipse the two $20 million team options that he found so unpalatable and which prompted him to push the Red Sox to trade him to the Dodgers. He already has a big fan in L.A. owner Frank McCourt, the Bostonian who worked diligently to bring Ramirez west. It didn't hurt, either, that the Dodgers sold more than 30,000 walk-up tickets within 30 hours of the completion of the trade. Indeed, Manny Mania is off to a rousing start.
The Mets, whose G.M., Omar Minaya, is a great admirer of Ramirez, will need a righthanded-hitting corner outfielder. But a source familiar with the front office's thinking maintains that it would be very difficult for the Mets to bring the New York native home. A person close to Ramirez speculates that the Phillies, Orioles and Blue Jays are better bets to enter the Manny Sweepstakes, along with the Dodgers. His payout, of course, will depend on whether Manny remains Manny in the batter's box but someone else entirely outside of it.
The free-agent buzz doesn't end with the high-priced trio of Teixeira, Sabathia and Ramirez. Baseball Prospectus's Joe Sheehan offers logical landing spots for three other top players who will hit the market this winter.
POSSIBLE 2009 DESTINATIONS
Ben Sheets, 30, RHP
High risk, high reward—a bet Rangers can make; also Mets, Astros
Francisco Rodriguez, 26, RHP
Would fill Brewers' gaping hole at closer; also Diamondbacks, Braves
Adam Dunn, 28, OF (right)
AL club, maybe Indians, will DH him by 2010; also Rangers, Rays
JEFF ZELEVANSKY (TEIXEIRA)
BANK ON IT The Angels will have to write a nine-figure check to keep Teixeira (left).
BRAD MANGIN (SABATHIA)
RICH KANE/US PRESSWIRE (DUNN)