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Has Boras misjudged the market?

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Tracy Ringolsby

Tracy Ringolsby is a Hall of Fame baseball writer. He is in his 37th year covering Major League Baseball, is a co-founder of Baseball America, and is in his fourth year as pregame and postgame analyst for Colorado Rockies games on Root Sports.

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A year ago, agent Scott Boras was confident about the potential free agency of outfielder Matt Holliday, who opened the door for being traded by the Rockies when he rejected what would have been a four-year extension that averaged $18 million a year.

With only a few impact players on the open market this winter, Boras figured Holliday would hit it rich.

Well, Boras was right, sort of.

There's not much to choose from if teams want a game-changing free agent. There's Holliday, fellow left fielder Jason Bay and right-handed pitcher John Lackey, and then a lot of middle-of-the-line types who can help a team, but won't come close to carrying one.

It remains to be seen if Boras can somehow squeeze a "Mark Teixeira-type contract," as he puts it, making it clear he feels Holliday should be in the neighborhood of the eight-year, $140 million deal that his client wrangled from the Yankees a year ago.

Problem is, there doesn't appear to be the anticipated market. Teams are taking a closer look at budgets, and the fact that several teams, including the Los Angeles Angels, a big spender, have indicated they don't want to get involved with Boras clients limits where the big-bucks deals can be found.

St. Louis has made an offer to retain Holliday, but the indications are the multi-year deal doesn't even average out at the $18 million Holliday turned his nose up at from the Rockies. And the Cardinals are claiming that if they don't have a deal with Holliday in place in the next couple of days they will look at their alternatives.

It's a strange situation for Boras. He likes being the puppeteer, not the puppet. This year, though, Boras is having to wait and hope that a market opens up or else Holliday is going to come up short. His patience is being tested, which was evident during his annual winter meeting monologue last week, when he once again complained that teams are making money.

What a novel idea. A business, which is what a team is, wants to show a profit. Boras acts like it is unheard of, but the hunch is Boras himself makes a pretty penny off selling the abilities of others to teams, and he doesn't seem to have too much regret about that. He doesn't even flinch when one of his big-time clients fails to produce.

Not since the late Lyman Bostock, who stumbled in his first month with the Angels after signing as a free agent for the 1978 season, has any player publicly announced he was going to give his salary back for a month because he didn't earn it.

Best-case scenario for Holliday and Boras is if Bay really does sign with either the Mets or the Angels, and then Boston panics, trying to keep up with the Yankees, who acquired Curtis Granderson, and decides to open up the checkbook for Holliday to replace Bay. Even the Red Sox, however, are facing a budget crunch this offseason, which is why they are getting rid of Mike Lowell.

What will be interesting is to see how strong a role Holliday will play in getting something put in order. Having forced the move out of Colorado, where Holliday is a hero, he suffered through a miserable first half of 2009 in Oakland, but returned to happiness with the Cardinals.

Holliday initially said he rejected the Rockies' offer because the team would not give him a no-trade clause, although (1) Boras never told the club if a no-trade was offered the deal would be complete, and (2) while it wasn't a no-trade, the offer did allow for Holliday to void his contract if dealt, which would have put pressure on any acquiring club to negotiate a new deal.

Holliday later said he declined the deal from the Rockies because he wanted stability for his family — even if accepting it would have meant he was assured of being in Colorado through 2013 — and as a result of the rejection has already been with three teams in the last 13 months, and if he doesn't return to St. Louis a fourth team will surface.

He then said he wanted out of Colorado because he wanted to be with a team committed to winning, which several of his former teammates took as a slap in the face, and did whisper about when the Rockies advanced to the postseason for the second time in three years in 2009.

Is there a value for a player being in a comfort zone? That's something only a player, not an agent, can say for sure.

 

Action about to heat up

It's been a slow winter so far, but that could change now.

With Saturday's deadline for tendering contracts having passed, teams now know who is available on the open market, and can start firming up their offers to try to fill needs.

The most intriguing non-tender is third baseman Garrett Atkins, who led Colorado in RBI four of the last five years, driving in at least 95 runs each of those four seasons, but lost his job to Ian Stewart in 2009. Given the $7.05 million contract he had last year, he no longer fits in the Rockies' budget. A player cannot be offered more than a 20 percent pay cut in arbitration.

As a non-tendered player, though, Atkins can be offered whatever a team wants to pay him. The expectation of Atkins being available undoubtedly slowed the bidding for free-agent third basemen such as Adrian Beltre. Atkins figures to have options that include Boston and Philadelphia.

The Cubs would be happy to find one team, any team, with anything close to serious interest in Milton Bradley, who received what was the most ridiculed contract of last year's free agents. The Cubs shelled out a three-year, $30 million guarantee, manager Lou Piniella convinced he could "handle" Bradley, but not understanding why the talented athlete has played for five teams in five years.

Told by the new owners that payroll has to be reduced before anyone can be added, the Cubs spent the winter meetings begging for someone to take Bradley. Tampa had some interest — unloading its own albatross, Pat Burrell — and those two would have offset salaries in 2010. While Burrell's deal is up in a year, Bradley has another year on his contract, and after spending $7.25 million to add closer Rafael Soriano, the Rays don't have the wherewithal to eat the $13 million guaranteed Bradley in 2011.

 

Cubs headed to Florida?

Executives from rival teams say the Ricketts family, which purchased the Cubs, is not using an offer to move spring training to Naples, Fla., as leverage against the folks in Mesa, Ariz. The Cubs' new owners are salivating over a move to Naples, even though it is isolated from other spring training teams as opposed to Mesa, because the new owners like the portfolios of Naples residents. If the Cubs do make the move they would be the first team in two decades to go from Arizona to Florida.

In that stretch, Florida-based teams that have moved to Arizona include the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Kansas City Royals and, in 2010, Cincinnati Reds.

Tagged: Cubs, Rockies, Milton Bradley, Jason Bay, Matt Holliday

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