I have seen some rumblings and grumblings here about the Cubs seemingly lacking in the FA signings arena and now there is a published report that expresses a similar outcry amongst a few who make their excessive living. In Murray Chase's article that headlined Brewer's owner Attanasio's NYY's $423M spending spree and the most recent push to explore a MLB salary or payroll cap the article goes totally opposite and discusses FA collusion as part of the logjam for the rest of the FA activity in the leagues.
“There are a lot of rumblings that all the teams know exactly what everyone is doing with free agents,” one prominent agent said.
Is this an emotional outcry by an agent who might have counted a few chickens before they hatched or has MLB returned to the Information Bank that was discovered in 1988 that put a lid on FA activity in '87 when Andre Dawson was peering over the fence in AZ? The article then reports a denial by another;
But a union lawyer said the union didn’t have any evidence of information sharing, and Rob Manfred, the owners’ chief labor executive, denied the existence of any sharing operation.
“I don’t know how an agent would have any information about that,” Manfred said. “There is no formal notification about information. Given all the information that’s out there publicly, it would be difficult not to know what teams have offered.”
Basically they are saying that because of the information highway or feverish qwest for all hot stove league information through leaks there is no need for a managed database. Either way there is a realization that the pace and activity is mush less than years previous where another agent laments:
But agents acknowledge that the clubs have a ready-made excuse, or cover, for not acting as they have in previous years: the economy.
“There’s continuing pressure for teams to cut their budgets,” an agent said. “Teams that intended to be aggressive had to cut back because budgets have been lowered.”
First it doesn't take a formal MLB sanctioned database to put together a spread of FA offerings and activities, heck all one has to do is surf the Net and have a intern put together published reports each day. The emotional outcry by agents is no different than that of sales professionals when any market begins its downturn and directly effects a commission based professional.
It was already projected that the real effect of any economic downturn would effect tier 2 and 3 in the free agent market plus also effect how teams manage their arbitration eligible players who are on the roster margin. My guess is that other roster behavior will change where teams will look at their clubs far more critically to determine if they are truly contenders or pretenders even before spring training. The other area of change will be a faster draw on white flag trades during the first half of the season.
I keep saying that 2009 we might not see contraction but 2010 or 2011 this might be real as already the FEDS are projecting that unemployment growth continuing in 2010 and possibly reaching 10% in 2011. This could be at historical levels since the UE rate is not a true figure and only captures those on UE benefits and actively seeking new full time employment, there are more accurate measures that now exceed 10%.
Here is assessment as how this effects the Cubs:
If Hendry is smart he will try to hold his mark unless Dunn or Bradley relent and offer him a bargain, (e.g. one year and club option at something that is at or below $8M), which could be a smart move for both since one of them could be looking through a chain link fence like Andre in '87 where one might have to resort to the blank contract tactic. For those who don't recall the details: $8M or less would offer the Cubs the ability to act on another player like a top pitcher. Just for memory sake here is the blank contract tactic;
When the Cubs opened camp in Mesa, Arizona that spring, Dawson and his agent Dick Moss arrived in an attempt to secure a contract with the Cubs. Dawson and Moss' stunt was derided as a "dog and pony show" by Green, who still wouldn't make an offer to Dawson. Two weeks into spring training, Dawson turned the tables on Green and the Cubs, presenting Green with a blank contract. Green filled in the contract with lean figures: a $500,000 base salary with $250,000 in incentives if Dawson made the All-Star team, started the All-Star Game, or won the National League MVP award.
Here my assumptions:
- Bradley nor Dunn actually solve my roster issue, but one or both will be available in February.
- Trading down with Marquis offers more fiscal flexibility goal ($9.85M-$6M recoup)
- DeRosa trade for SS at savings of $4.5M-3M total available resources $14.3M-$9M.
- Teams in February will commence early white flag roster sale because of downturn in corporate sales, season ticket sales, individual sales and sponsorship revenues.
- White flag teams will be at various levels of corporate survival strategies, teams at $30 payroll, $50M payroll, $75M payroll. Look for teams above $100M now and need to be at $75M or teams above $75M and need to be at $50M
- 2011 will offer a minimum of two teams, possibly four going through MLB contractions from a pool of the following: Florida, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Oakland, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, DC, Detroit, SD, TB, Colorado, Cleveland or even Cincinnati. Except for Detroit all these teams are essentially small market clubs although the OH teams are far less likely all these teams have small local broadcast markets and depend heavily on turnstile sales. Adding 100 MLB players to the pool would immediately impact the payrolls as it would hit the pre and current arbitration eligible plus distribute AA and AAA players. Conceivably each remaining club would add 3 players and the weaker clubs add the best talent.
Here is where Hendry & Co. will either assemble a WS contending roster or not in the 45 days between Jan 15th and March 1st. My guess is that the reported Japanese interest goes beyond finding a travel and locker room mate like the those mentioned (e.g. Otsuka or Noguchi or Kadakura) for Fukudome, I think the real target is either Ichiro or Matsui who could join the Cubs in a money deal---but with a no trade clause---the best player of course is Suzuki (even though Al thinks he remains the face of the Mariners). The Mariners spent $117M last year and finished last, currently they are committed to $95M minimum with arb eligible for 2009. Their stated goal is to bring the payroll down below $80M so one reduction of $17M (Ichiro) does that in one fell swoop. Move Beltre and there is another $12M bringing them down to $66M. Seattle's gloomy economy is looking sad for the near future 2009-2011.
The thing is if getting a Japanese locker room mate for Kosulke than they should try to trade for LA's Saito who is his real friend and probably also available. I think getting a couple of Japanese players shows a bigger strategy at the works, where there is a possible secondary Cub revenue in Japan besides helping Kosulke where getting another player like Ichiro or Hidekicould be the bigger catch.
Back to the Cubs payroll and how Ichiro (or Matsui at $13M) could fit. Even with projections the Peavy ordeal revealed some front office thinking and budget capability. Peavy would have been a relative bargain in 2009 but his raise to near $16M had to be budgeted afterward, 2010-2014. Now 2010 could be tight but the Cubs even with the payroll increases to Soriano, Dempster and Fukudome in 2010 ($6.5M) Harden comes off (this provided that also Marquis and DeRosa were already taken off the books). It would be the last year for DLee and possibly Ramirez who has a player option for 2011 ($15M) but if the financial and MLB market continues to erode where there is contraction expect Ramirez to exercise it. Either way the Cubs could move Soto to 1B and replacing DLee while bringing up Castillo to catch (if he is not traded).
The thing is Suzuki would be available for the right deal for Seattle who is rebuilding and looking to move their payroll under $80M or even $70M. Rumors have held that they could be interested in 3-player trade. I don't have to tell you what the a player like Ichiro could add to the Cubs lineup. He is the leadoff hitter everyone covets, a RF'er or CF'er depending on what Piniella & Co. thinks is best but the Cubs OF would be one of the best defender's in the NL and possessing three of the strongest arms.
So through all this I think Hendry sees this slow down in the FA market as a real opportunity to add to the roster where the Cubs could have the best team on the field for 2009, but through 2011 while MLB reorganizes.