First day of free agency busy for filers
Bay, Holliday and Lackey among those to test market
On the busy first official day of the 2009-10 offseason, nearly half of the 183 eligible players formally filed for free agency.The 79 eligible veterans who elected free agency on Thursday included outfielders Jason Bay of the Red Sox and Matt Holliday of the Cardinals, Angels ace right-hander John Lackey and left-hander Randy Wolf of the Dodgers. Under rules of the Collective Basic Agreement, players may file for free agency the day after the conclusion of the World Series, and continue to do so for a 15-day period. Their 2009 teams retain negotiating exclusivity for the same term, after which, beginning Nov. 20 this year, other teams can enter the picture. Concurrent with the first wave of free-agency filers, the Elias Sports Bureau released its annual rankings of all Major League players, the top two tiers of which are designated Type A and Type B. Free agents of that stature who sign with a new team will exact a compensation price from their new team to their old team. Ranking free agents to declare Thursday included the aforementioned quartet -- all Types A. Meanwhile, the list of available free agents shrank by one when one of 2008's pioneer filers -- outfielder Bobby Abreu -- agreed to a new two-year, $19 million contract with the Angels. Abreu's deal calls for salaries of $9 million each of the next two seasons, with a 2012 option at the same salary that can be bought out for $1 million. But there was far more activity at the filing window than at the negotiating table. Every team had players electing except four: The Yankees and the Phillies, who were still on the field Wednesday night in Game 6 of the World Series, the Reds, who have only two eligible players (pitcher Kip Wells and, only if his 2010 option is declined, catcher Ramon Hernandez) and the Pirates, without any qualified players. The National League Central champion Cardinals had the most filers, at seven, with famed right-hander John Smoltz and outfielder Rick Ankiel among those joining Holliday. But the Dodgers, whose 16 potential free agents are the most of any of the 30 big league teams, weren't far behind with six filers, including second baseman Orlando Hudson and right-hander Jon Garland, whose $10 million option for 2010 had been declined earlier in the day. Houston general manager Ed Wade, who on Thursday saw three of his eight eligible players file, expressed a view doubtlessly shared in front offices across the landscape. As outfielders Darin Erstad and Jason Michaels and left-hander Mike Hampton filed, Wade said, "I think it's going to be quiet until you get the full filing period complete and know exactly who's on the market. "That will give every ballclub a better idea what potentially might be done from a free-agent standpoint," Wade added, "and once the club has a chance to wrap its arms around what the market is going to be like, then it will create a clearer picture of what you may do from a trade standpoint."
Seattle third baseman Adrian Beltre -- another Type A filing -- is a repeat free agent whose situation is in interesting contrast to what it was the first time around, following the 2004 season.That season, Beltre had hit .334 with 48 home runs and 121 RBIs for the Dodgers, prompting agent Scott Boras to compile a weighty dossier that sold him as an all-time great at the position. The pitch helped Beltre land a five-year, $64 million deal from the Mariners, for whom in five seasons he averaged a .266 average, 21 homers and 79 RBIs. "Everything that year went perfect for me," said Beltre, recalling 2004. "It was one of those seasons when nothing went wrong. I knew it would be difficult to reach those numbers again, but I thought I would do better than I have done." A year ago, there were 59 first-day filers. Thursday's greater traffic should not be interpreted as an increased urge for players to test free agency. Most likely, it simply reflected the extra time players and their agents had to prepare the requisite paperwork, with the postseason stretching to Nov. 4. One player whose free agency took a decidedly different course is Abreu. This scenario is starkly different for the 35-year-old outfielder, who this season emerged as a team leader with the three-time American League West champs while becoming one of only six players in Major League history to reach 250 homers, 2,000 hits, 1,000 runs, 1,000 RBIs, 1,000 walks and 300 stolen bases in his career. A year ago, Abreu declared his free agency on Oct. 30, the first day eligible players could do so, and he remained unsigned for 104 days, until coming to an agreement with the Angels on Feb. 11.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.