WTNYDecember 18, 2003
Previewing the Non-Tenders
By Bryan Smith

Yesterday was a really boring day for baseball. The everlasting A-Rod trade has more drama, as the player's union has stepped in to veto the deal. Bud Selig may override that decision, forcing an arbitrator to decide. I guess this is what happens when the best player in the Majors gets traded, huh? This weekend, teams will non-tender players, putting a whole new spin on the free agent market. So I figured since tomorrow might be dedicated to Rodriguez becoming a Red Sox player, that today would become a day to look over what's left on the free agent market, and what might be added when I check back on Monday.

So, first, what is left on the current free agent market?

Well, there is still a very recognizable front tier left. Vladimir Guerrero, the league's best free agent, is still technically a free agent, although anyone but the Orioles is a surprise at this point. The two catchers, Javy Lopez and Pudge Rodriguez, are also two big names left available. One of the two will join Guerrero in Baltimore, while the left out catcher will look to offers from the Cubs and the Dodgers. Greg Maddux is left over, and probably will be when the New Year hits. If the Padres really do sign Sterling Hitchcock and Ismael Valdes, the main suitor for Maddux's services will be thrown out the window. After that, only the Giants, Cubs, and possibly the Cardinals could make serious offers.

The second tier is led by Sidney Ponson, too much of a questionable pitcher to be in the top foursome. Rumors of a torn labrum have brought down his market, and currently the right-hander is entertaining offers from the White Sox and Orioles. Both teams have him down on their priority list, so Ponson will be left as an open box on a to-do list for quite some time. Rafael Palmiero is a nice name for anyone to pick up, but like Ponson, he's not a high priority for any team. The Angels, Dodgers, and Orioles have all given consideration, and I would gamble on one of the West Coast teams landing the powerful Viagra sponsor. Next on my list is Arthur Rhodes, a player good enough to be given a whole column over at Aaron's Baseball Blog. Rhodes' agent says a three-year deal with the A's is imminent, but both sides are yet to close the door on that move. Until then, Rhodes will also be sought after by the Twins, White Sox, Braves, and Devil Rays.

Ugueth Urbina, World Series hero, has likely been wowed by the lack of interest he's drawn. Many people just assume he will become a Met, a rumor I've been reporting since November. Juan Gonzalez is an interesting choice, but when he narrowed teams he'd like to play for at the trade deadline (AL team on grass), he also narrowed his offseason market. If the Royals manage this signing I'll be greatly impressed, or Juan Gone may consider trying right field in Shea Stadium for a season or two.

Infield veterans Robbie Alomar and Rich Aurilia are big names, with Aurilia likely to be signed in the next week or so. My guess is the Blue Jays will sign Aurilia, leaving Alomar a spot that is still open with the Cardinals. As a Cubs fan, I promote that move will all my heart. Eric Karros had nice numbers last season, and absolutely destroys left-handed pitching. I mentioned him in yesterday's column associated with the Yankees, although I'm yet to hear those rumors. Todd Walker is considered to be one of the better hitters left, and he will be a Ranger is the A-Rod trade gets completed.

On the pitching side, Wilson Alvarez is a great name that no one is considering. The Padres toyed with the notion of picking up the left-hander for awhile, but apparently have decided on Sterling Hitchcock instead. After Alvarez the next most interesting starter would be Pedro Astacio, whom I read will give a tryout in January to tempt teams. As will Maels Rodriguez, the Cuban star, whom has defected. He will get a signficant amount of money, no doubt, but where? There are still interesting relief options like Jeff Nelson, who was given a bad rap, almost undeservadly.

10 other remaining free agents that have caught my eye:

- Travis Lee (1B)- Gives Gold Glove-caliber defense, and bounced back last year from an offensive standpoint. Might be a good fit for the Angels, assuming they lose out on Palmiero.
- Raul Mondesi (OF)- Jerk in the clubhouse, underachiever on the field. But, one helluva arm, a powerful bat, and a little bit of speed. And this guy hasn't been jumped on by the Mets?
- Ellis Burks (DH)- Will hit wherever he ends up, although health is always a risk. Any team looking for a DH should consider Burks, who will probably just end up with some platoon job somewhere.
- Eric Young (2B/CF)- Added power dimension to his game last year, although speed calling card has slightly diminished. Good clubhouse guy, should get a job somewhere.
- Jeromy Burnitz (OF)- Waiting for a starting job offer somewhere, and Colorado may be interested. Would be an interesting option off the bench if he goes in that direction.

- Armando Benitez (RH)- Has been given lots of bad press in the past, but Benetiz is an asset if used primarily against right-handers.
- Terry Adams (RH)- Had arm surgery over the winter, but was one of the most effective middle relievers in baseball last season.
- Kent Mercker (LH)- My sleeper choice a year ago panned out, but seems to once again find himself under the radar.
- Antoino Osuna (RH)- When New York fans turn on you, it's hard to find a job. Will get one eventually, and should maintain fairly solid stats.
- Julian Tavarez (RH)- Psycho, but really thrived when given the Pittsburgh closer job last season. A team like the Devil Rays couldn't lose with this guy.

Now, who will become a free agent on December 20? Using rumors I've heard, along with a list of arbitration-eligibles available at CBS Sportsline, here's some names I've come up with.

First, here is a list of players I'm pretty confident will get non-tendered, unless their respective team can sign them before the deadline hits (listed alphabetically)...

Marlon Anderson- IF
Rod Barajas- C
Freddy Garcia- RHP
Luther Hackman- RHP
Jerry Hairston- 2B
Orlando Hernandez- RHP
Adam Kennedy- 2B
Frank Menechino- IF
Damian Moss- LHP
Tomo Ohka- RHP
Jay Payton- OF
Ruben Quevado- RHP
Dennys Reyes- LHP
Scott Sauerbeck- LHP
Randall Simon- 1B
Scott Stewart- LHP
Luis Vizcaino- RHP
Shawn Wooten- DH

No huge names, although I believe that Garcia and Payton will command some attention. There are also a group of questions I have, that could add to that list considerably...

Doug Mientkiewicz?
Scott Williamson?
Jason Johnson?
Carlos Lee?
Darrell May?
Carl Pavano or Brad Penny?
WIll it be Bako or Barrett?
Will it be Delucci or Karim Garcia?

All those names are interesting to consider, and given some set of happenings, could become non-tenders this year. There will also be some players you could care less about, but I think I landed most of the people correctly. We'll double check my work on Monday. A few news and notes:

- You have to agree with Rob Neyer in his piece about Omar Vizquel. As hard as Bill Bavasi tried to further worsen the Mariners, Vizquel's knees just wouldn't let it happen. Mark Shapiro almost got a fast one by the new GM.

- I didn't get to the Mark Redman for Mike Neu trade yesterday. It's always nice when you can turn a Rule V pick into a good piece of trade bait, as Beane has done with Neu. Redman's numbers shouldn't change much moving from Pro Player to the Coliseum, and he's very similar to Ted Lilly. Interestingly enough, it pushes Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year Justin Duchscherer to the bullpen, or back to Sacramento.

- The Tigers signed Al Levine, meaning that Danny Patterson, Matt Anderson, and Al Levine will all be in the Tiger bullpen next season. This is going to be one ugly team, but Levine should break through as one of the bright spots.

- One of the main reasons Shawn Chacon is being moved to closer in Colorado is his shoulder. The Rockies are concerned about injury there, although I do question the motives of losing your best starter to the bullpen. Aaron Cook would have made just as much sense. If they are trying to follow the Dodgers model with Gagne, they are going to be rudely awakened.

- The Raindrops, one of my favorite blogs on the Internet, has moved from Blogger to weblogs.us. Head over to his brand new address, http://theraindrops.weblogs.us, and send him a hello. Also, Christian Ruzich has a nice interview of Dave Kaval, the man behind the scenes of the Golden Baseball League, an independent league similar to the Atlantic League of the Northwest. Some interesting stuff.

That's all for today, but if the A-Rod deal goes through, check back for very thorough analysis tomorrow.