As 2009 dawns, it does so an age of economic uncertainty. Last year was one of the worst in our nation’s history, and some major indexes ended the year down nearly 40 percent.
While the Yankees have seemingly weathered the storm for now, the rest of baseball has not been so lucky. Teams have fired employers or instituted hiring freezes, and spending is down across the board. Buster Olney noted on Wednesday that the 29 other teams had spent $244 million more at this point in the off-season last year. In fact, only one non-Yankee — Ryan Dempster — has signed a deal for more than $40 million.
Meanwhile, major free agents across the board remain unsigned. Adam Dunn, Jason Giambi, Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu headline a second tier of power-hitting outfield/DH types who have been subject to few rumors, and Manny Ramirez and Derek Lowe are still searching for jobs. Now, these players won’t stay unemployed for much longer, but the 2008-2009 market will really test agents across the board.
Derek Lowe provides the perfect test case. The Mets have been rumored to be in on the Lowe bidding, and now that the Yanks have wrapped up two starters and a first baseman, they no longer seem to be interested in the former Dodger. The Red Sox and Phillies have expressed lukewarm interest at best, and the demand for Lowe just isn’t what Scott Boras wants it to be.
The Mets know they are potentially bidding against only themselves, and to that end, they made an initial three-year, $36-million offer. Early reports had Lowe searching for a four-year deal at around $16 million per. As you could guess, Lowe is reported not impressed by the Mets’ offer and is still looking for “a more desirable offer.” Unless the markets rebound 4000 points when they reopen later today, a significantly better deal just won’t arrive on Lowe’s doorstep.
Meanwhile, Manny Ramirez finds himself in the same situation. With the Yankees no longer interested in his services, it seems that only the Giants and Dodgers are kicking the tires on Manny. The future Hall of Famer turned down a guaranteed $40 million when he wrote his ticket out of Boston, and while he once expected a lavish multi-year deal, he will probably wind up with two or three years at a salary not much higher than the one he declined in 2008.
This all boils down to a test of Scott Boras. Long known for getting above-market deals for his clients, Boras supposedly took a less for Teixeira from the Yanks than the Nationals would have paid and now is facing a reality in which his two top clients aren’t going to see the millions they were envisioning six months ago. If Boras can get the big money deals, then he has truly earned his title as an über-agent, but if Lowe signs for three years at a lower-than-expected AAV and Manny doesn’t land his mega-contract, Boras will emerge just like the rest of us, shaken by bad economy and paying the price for it.