FREE AGENT GRAY AREA; THE DETROIT LIONS CAN ROAR ABOUT THIS

November 25, 2009

Bill Conlin, of the Philly Daily News, is passing along some thoughts on this year’s crop of MLB free agents. “THE GREAT FREE agent-auction of 2009
began last Friday. There were 171 ballplayers hoping – no, praying – their agents would be able to leverage them into a lucrative change of scene.
If the majority of these arms, bats and gloves for sale were casks of aged Bordeaux wine instead of ballplayers, this would be a year of rare vintages, indeed.
But this class of Fordeaux has so much age you’ll be able to smell the liniment this spring training if the wind is just right.
A year ago, Phillies rookie GM Ruben Amaro burst on the scene like a meteor, taking a big bite out of his budget to sign 36-year-old outfielder Raul Ibanez to a 3-year, $31.5 million contract. The late-arriving but loyal Pat Burrell Fan Club was incensed. But by the All-Star Game, Ibanez was on the short list of
National League MVP candidates – they were bellowing “Raaaaaaaaaaooooool” like everybody else.
Amaro fired one of the first shots of a free-agent season where the reeling U.S. economy has drawn a curtain of caution over what many clubs will be willing to spend for the 2010 season. I have a feeling that this will be a very good time for hot rookie prospects to come out of spring training with roster spots.
Look no further than the length of tooth of this doddering class than to conclude young, home-grown, big-league minimum players will get long, hard looks.
And when pitchers and catchers report in mid-February and the equivalent of 6.84 major league rosters lining up at the trough, scores of them will still be looking for their deal.
Here are some very hard numbers:
* Just 10 free agents are under 30 years old, but none younger than starter Rich Harden, 27. They include starting pitcher Brett Myers, outfielder Rocco
Baldelli, first baseman Hank Blalock and the class president, outfielder Matt Holliday. Blalock played all but one game at first and DH last season, but bear in mind the ex-Rangers slugger made two AL All-Star teams as a third baseman.
* There are 60 free agents over 35. It’s a vast, mostly undistinguished, group that has started the swift toboggan ride toward the waiver wire. Mike Hampton or Nomar Garciaparra anyone?
* Eleven free agents are over 40, snow-capped by 46-year-old Randy Johnson, who last season almost certainly became the last 300-game winner we will ever see. Somebody will pay the 303-game winner $5 million to spot start.
* There are 16 free-agent third basemen. The most topical for Phillies purposes is Pedro Feliz, who showed up in Charlie Manuel’s starting lineup in 158 of 162 regular-season games coming off back surgery. The rocket-armed veteran gave Ryan Howard letter-high throws at first and was the most productive No. 7 hitter in the NL with 82 RBI while leading the Phillies with a .336 average when batting with runners in scoring position. Amaro set off a lively debate among his front-office advisers when he declined to pick up Pedro’s $5 million option for 2010. For a few days, I thought Ruben was crazy like a fox. With the glut of free agents at the position, it seemed unlikely Feliz would be offered a starting job for that kind of money. I envisioned a scenario where Amaro would sign good-fit 3B/utility jack-of-most-positions Mark DeRosa. Then he might be able to re-sign Feliz to play third and late innings for a lower number when DeRosa is plugging other holes. However, I’m told Feliz was so hurt by being dumped after playing for two World Series teams he would not consider returning.
It gets worse when you look over the other free-agent third basemen. Feliz led all of them with his 82 RBI. He tied Chone Figgins – not a economic option, according to Amaro – with 158 games played. Pedro was third in extra-base hits (44) in a tight cluster with DeRosa (47) and Juan Uribe (46). Although Uribe is listed with the third basemen, he played 79 games at second and short last season, as opposed to 44 at third. Juan also has some pop and with his versatility and age (30) could attract a lot of suitors. Amaro does not appear inclined to get into bidding wars, which is how he wound up with Cliff Lee instead of Roy Halladay last July.
For out-of-the-box thinkers, Blalock could be a wild card. In 2005, Hank made just 11 errors in 158 games at third. In 2004, he slammed 32 homers and drove in 110. But a shoulder injury cut deeply into his 2007 and ’08 seasons and hitting machine Michael Young was moved to third base. Combine that with Blalock’s 2009 salary of $6.2 million and it’s probably a never-mind. But he is just 29 and belted 25 homers last season in 495 at-bats.
There are so many free agents straining at the starting line Ruben could even fill most positions with an Ed Wade Era team consisting of outfielders Marlon
Byrd, Endy Chavez and Jason Michaels; first baseman Jim Thome, second baseman Placido Polanco; starters Paul Byrd, Eric Milton, Brett Myers, Vicente Padilla and Randy Wolf; relievers Bruce Chen and Billy Wagner.
Unfortunately, setup man Ugueth Urbina, acquired by Wade for Polanco, is eligible for neither free agency nor freedom at this time. ”

Tom Robinson wrote on HamptonRoads.com about one of the few things about which the Lions can feel good. “I’m in, I mean, if there’s still room in Matthew Stafford’s fan club.
It’s got to be getting crowded in there.
Before Sunday afternoon, the Detroit Lions quarterback was no more to me and most people than a highly touted rookie on a lowly team operating far from the national consciousness.
Suddenly, Stafford is the epitome of sports’ cliched triumvirate – grit, guts and heart. At a tender 21, eight starts into his NFL career, Stafford’s name just
became analogous to the age-old athlete’s creed of suck it up and play on.
Arm hanging off? Facemask twisted north as you’re headed south? WWSD – What Would Stafford Do? Why, he’d tell his doctors where to stick their
X-rays, go win the game and re-attach the necessities later.
What a man.
Until Sunday, of course, the draft’s No. 1 pick following three seasons at the University of Georgia was moving predictably along his stop-and-go
apprenticeship.
Some good things – a 296-yard passing day. Some bad – five interceptions in one game, a banged-up knee – all under cover of the Losin’ Lions’ relative
anonymity.
Assuming he wasn’t at some point snapped in two – and even then you now have to wonder – Stafford was going to come out of this season the same as most rookies who are tossed straight into starting roles, with bruises and a bona fide hard-knocks education.
That all changed in the instant aftermath of Stafford’s inspired and inspiring effort in Detroit’s crazy 38-37 victory over the Cleveland Browns. Now Stafford represents nothing less than the can-do, never-say-uncle spirit of his challenged city.
You’ve seen the replay sequence, yes? You’ll remember it, for sure:
Barely able to stand upright because of what appeared to be a broken collarbone or a separated left shoulder, Stafford threw for a game-tying touchdown with no time left on the clock.
He did this after basically escaping from the Lions’ medical staff, in mid-exam, to re-enter the fray.
Seconds before, Stafford had been planted by a Browns’ tackler after an extended scramble and a last-play prayer that was intercepted in the end zone. But because Cleveland was flagged for pass interference, the Lions were given one more shot from the 1.
No way Stafford would be there to run it: he had already careened off the field grimacing, leaning over to soothe his pain, and signaling for backup Daunte
Culpepper.
But as stunned Browns coach Eric Mangini called a stunning time out supposedly to set his defense, Stafford took that break to steel himself for his defining moment. If it was an old Western, Stafford would have gulped a shot of bourbon and chomped down on a bullet.
He jogged back out, told Culpepper to scram and quickly delivered the tying TD pass, which was followed by the winning point-after kick.
Then, after setting the rookie record with 422 yards passing and tying the rookie mark with five touchdown throws, Stafford collapsed as a rainbow appeared above Ford Field…
OK, I made up that collapsing-under-the-rainbow part.
But believe this: as much as we assume Stafford hurts today – he’s obviously questionable for Detroit’s annual Thanksgiving Day game – the Lions feel that
much bliss knowing he plays for them.”

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