Older free agents offer risks, rewards
Big contracts for players in their 30s have provided mixed returns
Outfielder Manny Ramirez turns 37 in May, but agent Scott Boras still wants a four-year contract, comparing the enigmatic slugger at this stage of his career to Barry Bonds.John Smoltz turns 42 in May, but his agents are passing out videos of him throwing, hoping to get somebody to bite on his services. The Brewers, Red Sox and Tigers are all at least intrigued. Randy Johnson? He turned 45 in September, but he still wants to pitch. He is five wins short of 300, and there are several teams intrigued by the possibility of him achieving that milestone in their uniform. The Rangers like the idea of Johnson being a mentor to their young pitchers. So far, the big paydays in the free-agent market have gone to players in their perceived prime: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Francisco Rodriguez. Mark Teixeira is next and could earn $20 million per year right now by saying yes to any one of several offers. But as this offseason plays out, teams looking for creative ways to improve their fortunes may turn to a large group of elder statesman who are still interested in playing. Use 37 as the minimum age, since that's where Ramirez is headed. If you don't mind Chris Gomez as your third baseman, then you would still have a tremendous team -- 10 years ago. Try this: Ivan Rodriguez at catcher, Jason Giambi at first base, Jeff Kent at second base, Omar Vizquel at short, Gomez at third (unless Nomar Garciaparra gets a two-year age exemption) and an outfield of Moises Alou, Jim Edmonds and Ken Griffey Jr. Designated hitter? Luis Gonzalez. Rotation? Get serious. You have five Cy Young Award winners if you can convince Greg Maddux not to retire. He would join Johnson, Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez. Closer? Trevor Hoffman of course. The question is how many teams are willing to take a chance on a future Hall of Famer in the twilight of his career. They may not be looking at the same contract as Sabathia, but Hall of Famers don't work for minimum salaries either. "It comes down to the individual and what his attitude is about conditioning," Rangers president Nolan Ryan said. "To me, if you're going to make any kind of commitment on a player, you really have to know and understand his makeup."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.