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News » Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas, Gil LeBreton column: Texas Rangers, like most clubs, looking for cheap thrills

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas, Gil LeBreton column: Texas Rangers, like most clubs, looking for cheap thrills

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas, Gil LeBreton column: Texas Rangers, like most clubs, looking for cheap thrills
Jan. 23--Pitchers and catchers report in 22 days. And Manny Ramirez signs and reports when? Where? For how much? At this point, your guesses are as good as anybody else's. Ramirez is said to be seeking a four- or five-year contract worth around $25 million per season.

Right. And I'm looking for the winning numbers in Saturday night's Texas lottery. I like my chances better than Manny's. Thus, he's still on the free-agent market. The same goes for Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu and benches and benches of card-carrying major league veterans. According to, 106 major league free agents began the day Thursday without a team. There have been slow free-agent markets before. The winter after the 1985 season was downright arctic. Only four (out of 35) free agents signed with another team. But never in free-agent times has an off-season fallen while the nation was under the cloud of a life-altering recession. "I don't think you can look at any market right now and not think that the economy has had an impact," said Jon Daniels, the Texas Rangers' general manager. Daniels has been criticized for the franchise's off-season inactivity. But it isn't just the Rangers. The Angels, Cardinals, Dodgers -- pick almost any team not wearing Yankees' pinstripes -- have been stymied by the strangled market. In the current Baseball economy, a three-year deal is being viewed as an extravagance. Players are having to adjust accordingly. The economy can't get any worse. Can it? That's the gamble, however, that most major league teams appear to be unwilling to take. The New York Yankees lavished CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira with long-term deals, but most of the rest of the free-agent news has sounded like a litany of one-year contracts -- John Smoltz, Brad Penny, Tim Redding, Gregg Zaun, Guillermo Mota, Jason Giambi, Trevor Hoffman, Randy Johnson, et AL. Dunn and Abreu might have to settle for the same. In hindsight, the Rangers appear to have erred in exercising Hank Blalock's $6 million option. Six million for a player without a position seems wasteful now, especially with a young DH-in-waiting, Max Ramirez, already on the roster. Daniels objected to that view Thursday night. "I think Hank is going to have a big year," he said. On the open market, would Blalock already have been signed? Not likely. The daffy part of the story is that some team is probably going to get Dunn, who played in 158 games last season and hit 40 home runs, for one year at $4 million or $5 million. That's less money than Blalock, who has 22 homers and has played in 123 games over his last two seasons. Players and agents either didn't see the financial iceberg coming or, with Scott Boras blowing in their ears, they foolishly believed that Baseball is immune to the current economic troubles. "It's not just Baseball," Daniels said. "Even the NFL, an extremely successful and well-run league, has had layoffs and cutbacks. Sports isn't an island. We've all been affected by this." If the Rangers, therefore, were ever going to dig in their boots and toss their youngsters into the fire, this is the season to do it. Even if their wallets would have runneth over, where should the Rangers have been inclined to spend? Nobody was going to outbid the Yankees for Sabathia. Ryan Dempster, Derek Lowe? Not for four years. Free agent Raul Ibanez or re-signing Milton Bradley were possibilities. But the Rangers have young outfielders who, frankly, are cheaper and deserve a longer look. Simple as it sounds, in the eyes of most Rangers fans, Daniels can make it a successful off-season just by signing pitcher Ben Sheets. For the Brewers last season, Sheets had a 3.09 ERA and a drawer full of X-Rays. Sheets has been on the disabled list six times in his career. That's enough to have scared off even the Yankees. The Rangers have been agonizingly patient in their dealings with Sheets, who lives in Dallas. Daniels apparently has let him explore the market, or lack thereof. The Rangers seem to know when -- and for how much -- to jump in. The speculation on the MLB Network this week was that Sheets wants two years at around $9 million per season. Maybe I'm missing something -- I haven't seen the elbow X-Rays -- but that seems to be a reasonable gamble, even in this current economy, for a hometown pitcher who can head the Rangers' rotation. Pitchers and catchers report in 22 days. To Rangers fans, signing Sheets would be just the news to warm up the chilly free-agent season.

GIL LeBRETON, 817-390-7760

To see more of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2009, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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Added: January 23, 2009

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