With seven free agents, change coming for Angels

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The Angels made the right calls a year ago in declining to ante up for Mark Teixeira and turning instead to Kendry Morales and Bobby Abreu to round out their lineup. Factoring into the decision was that GM Tony Reagins knew Teixeira’s $20 million salary would make it very difficult to keep the team together starting in 2010. The Angels have seven free agents this winter, and those players combined to make more than $50 million in 2009. For that reason, Reagins is going to be faced with as many difficult decisions as any GM in the game.
Let’s run down the list (rankings taken from our Top 111 Free Agents):
Robb Quinlan (not rated) – Quinlan has been pretty worthless coming off the bench for three straight years now, finishing with OPSs of 652, 637 and 614. If the Angels want to continue carrying a right-handed reserve for first and third, then minor leaguer Matt Brown could prove to be an upgrade.
Kelvim Escobar (No. 104) – Escobar, who made $9.5 million this year, pitched a total of five innings over the last two years because of shoulder problems. If he’s re-signed, it would be to a one-year deal with a minimal guarantee and plenty of incentives.
Darren Oliver (No. 77) – Oliver accepted arbitration as a free agent after last season and ended up taking a one-year, $3.665 million contract. Something similar could happen this winter. Oliver would probably draw a couple of two-year offers if he shopped himself around, but he’s talked about just pitching one more season anyway and he’d likely prefer to do it in Anaheim.
Vladimir Guerrero (No. 17) – It’s been assumed for months that Guerrero wasn’t in the Angels’ plans for 2010, but the excellent postseason will add to the sentiment for keeping him. He hit .378/.425/.541 with seven RBI in nine games against the Red Sox and Yankees. Guerrero would surely prefer to stay in the area, and he’s a favorite of owner Arte Moreno. Odds are that he’s a goner, but perhaps if the Angels can’t get anything done with the next person on the list, they’ll reach back out to him.
Bobby Abreu (No. 16) – Abreu expected two-year offers in the $30 million range after last season, only to eventually have to settle for $5 million over one year from the Angels. Now that’s bounced back defensively and he can benefit from a free-agent market that’s short on left-handed-hitting outfielders — he and Johnny Damon are clearly the best — he shouldn’t have much difficulty landing a multiyear pact. The Angels reportedly offered him $16 million for two years earlier this month, only to have it turned down. A two-year, $20 million deal would be fair for both parties.
Chone Figgins (No. 5) – Another ugly postseason won’t help Figgins, but it’s probably not going to hurt too much, either. The 31-year-old was an exceptional player until October, hitting .298 and leading the AL with 101 walks. Versatility also works in his favor. Not only is he arguably the best third baseman on the market, but he’s probably the best center fielder as well. Since that will increase his number of suitors, he could land a four-year deal worth $12 million per season. The Angels have Brandon Wood ready to take over at third base if they lose him.
John Lackey (No. 3) – There’s no replacing the ace, though. The Angels still have Jared Weaver, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir under control, giving them a fine regular-season rotation in the event of Lackey’s departure. But who from that group is going to start Game 1 against the Yankees or Red Sox? Lackey is the one free agent the Angels simply must keep, and there should be more than enough money to make it happen.
The Angels are expected to dabble in the Matt Holliday sweepstakes, but it’d make a lot more sense to keep Lackey and Abreu than it would to pay even more for Holliday and Randy Wolf. If the Angels retain those two and Oliver, they shouldn’t have a lot of difficulty filling the other gaps. Wood is ready to take over at third, and Erick Aybar is an option to replace Figgins in the leadoff spot. The Angels will also look at potential leadoff-hitting left fielders, with the idea that they can give Juan Rivera more DH time.
In the end, there’s really no way Reagins can play it badly enough for the Angels to enter 2010 as anything less than the AL West favorites. However, the division is improving as quickly as any in baseball. If the Angels don’t get start getting younger, they might find themselves poorly set up for 2011 and beyond.

Yoenis Cespedes says he does not plan to opt out of his contract

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 04: Yoenis Cespedes #52 of the New York Mets reacts after he hit a two run double in the eighth inning inning against the Miami Marlins during a game at Citi Field on July 4, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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Yoenis Cespedes is in the first year of a three-year, $75 million deal with the Mets that includes an opt-out clause leading into 2017. It’s a great situation for him. If he was hurt or ineffective this year, hey, he still gets $75 million. If he rakes he can go back out on the free agent market this November and see if he can’t do better than the two years and $50 million he’ll have left.

Cespedes said today, however, that he does not plan to exercise his opt-out this winter:

Speaking through an interpreter, Cespedes stayed on message, saying his focus is on “helping the team win so we can hopefully make it to the playoffs.”

When asked by The Record’s Matt Ehalt if he intended to honor all three years of his current $75 million contract, without opting out, Cespedes flatly said, “Yes.”

The beautiful thing about baseball contracts is that the Bergen Record is not a party to them and thus statements made to them about the contract are not legally binding. Cespedes can most certainly change his mind on the matter — or just lie to the press even if he fully intends to opt-out — and nothing can be done to him. At least nothing apart from having someone write bad things about him, but that’s gonna happen anyway. The guy can’t play golf without someone who has no idea how to Cespedes’ job say that he “just doesn’t get it.”

So, will Cespedes opt-out? He’s certainly making a case that it’d be a wise thing to do purely on financial terms. He’s hitting .295/.365/.570 with 25 homers in 98 games. And those numbers are dragged down a bit by the fact that the Mets kept playing him through an injury for the second half of July.

Maybe Cespedes just likes New York and maybe he’s happy with his two-year, $50 million guarantee and won’t opt out. Maybe he doesn’t want to deal with the drama and uncertainty of free agency again, even if he would have no trouble finding a job. Maybe he thinks that he’ll fall short of the $25 million average annual value he’s looking at for 2017 and 2018 if he opts out, even if he does get a longer deal as a result.

We have no idea and we have no say. But it’s not hard to imagine that, if he keeps hitting and especially if he helps the Mets get into the playoffs, he’d be leaving a ton of money on the table if he doesn’t test the market once again.

Oakland A’s officials taking a tour of a possible waterfront ballpark site

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 19:  A Maersk Line container ship sits docked in a berth  at the Port of Oakland on February 19, 2015 in Oakland, California. International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) longshoremen at the Port of Oakland took the day shift off today to attend a union meeting amidst ongoing contract negotiations between dockworkers and terminal operators at west coast ports. The port closure, the seventh one this month, has left 12 container ships stuck at the dock with no workers to load and unload them. The ILWU members at 29 West Coast ports have been without a contract for 9 months. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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The Oakland Athletics’ ballpark saga has gone on for years now, with false starts in Fremont and San Jose, lawsuits and seemingly interminable talks with the City of Oakland over a new place on the current Coliseum site. That’s all complicated, of course, by the presence of the Raiders, on whose address — be it Oakland, Las Vegas or someplace else — the A’s future is still largely contingent.

The city has tried to get the A’s interested in a waterfront site for several years now. There are a lot of problems with that due mostly to zoning and regulatory matters, as well as proximity to transit and other practical concerns. The artist’s renderings are often pretty, but it takes more than artist’s renderings to make a good ballpark plan.

But no one is giving up on that and, it seems, even the A’s are willing to at least listen to such proposals now:

Oakland A’s co-owner John Fisher is expected to join officials Thursday for a hush-hush tour of the Port of Oakland’s Howard Terminal, a cargo-loading area near Jack London Square that Mayor Libby Schaaf tirelessly promotes as “a fantastic site for a ballpark.”

Guess it ain’t so “hush-hush” anymore. As with all Oakland ballpark stories, however, feel free to continue snoozing until someone gives us a real reason to wake up.

Note: The above photo is from the Port of Oakland. I have no idea what the proximity of the working part of the city’s port is to where they’d build a ballpark, but I used this picture because I love the story about how George Lucas spotted those things from an airplane as he was leaving Oakland or San Francisco or whatever and used them as inspiration for the AT-AT Imperial Walkers in “Empire Strikes Back.” Which may be a totally aprocyphal story, but one I love so much that I told it to my kids when we flew in to Oakland back in June and will choose to believe despite whatever evidence you provide.