Rumblings and Grumblings

Pitching Probables
Injuries: AL | NL
Power Alley
Free Agents
All-Time Stats
Message Board
Minor Leagues
MLB en espanol

Dave Campbell
Jim Caple
Peter Gammons
Joe Morgan
Rob Neyer
John Sickels
Jayson Stark
ESPN Auctions
Tuesday, November 12
There's Thome and then there's everyone else

By Jayson Stark

Two winters ago, it was the A-Rod and Manny Show, co-starring their very special guests, Mike Hampton and Mike Mussina.

Last winter, the names atop the free-agent marquee were Barry Bonds and John Smoltz, two men about to enroll in Free Agent U's Grass Ain't Greener School.

And now, finally, the latest, not-so-greatest free-agent class of 2002-2003 is ready to head for the auction house. It's a class that includes three former Cy Youngs (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Roger Clemens). It's a class that includes five former MVPs (Clemens, Frank Thomas, Pudge Rodriguez, Jeff Kent and, yep he's still around, Rickey Henderson).

Jim Thome
First baseman
Free agent
147 101 52 118 1.122 .304

But despite all those familiar faces, this winter isn't going to be their production. Nope, there's only one working title for this free-agent extravaganza: "It's About Thome."

"In this whole group, there's one legitimate impact player -- Jim Thome," said one veteran scout. "Everyone else is a crap shoot."

Two years ago, A-Rod and Manny Ramirez both got $20-million-a-year deals. Last year, Bonds got $18 million a year, and Smoltz became the first $10-million-a-year closer in history.

But this winter, there is only one player on the shelf of this free-agent supermarket with a chance to make even $15 million a year. That's Thome, who was awaiting a five-year, $75-million offer from the Phillies on Tuesday which, it's believed, could eventually grow to six years, $90 million.

So there no doubt will be outside pressures at work that could influence Thome to leave Cleveland, take the biggest offer and drive the market. But two men who know Thome well say he's less driven by money than any big star in the whole sport.

"He'll do what's best for him and his family," said one baseball man. "This is not a guy who will want to carry a flag for the industry."

So the Phillies have worked relentlessly to try to sell Thome on the concept that there is more to like about Philadelphia than dollars and cheesesteaks. During his visit to Philadelphia last week, they worked hard to convince him they're a team poised to win faster than the Indians are and, with a stream of big-time pitching prospects on the way, also a team capable of winning for the length of his contract.

"This guy could be so important to this franchise," said one Phillies official recently, "I've had a hard time sleeping at night. He's the one guy who could do for the Phillies now what Pete Rose did 20 years ago."

But the Indians are doing some selling themselves. Besides the four years and approximately $45 million they're believed to have offered Thome, the Indians have pitched the stability of playing for the only team that has ever employed him. And the security of knowing he is the most popular professional athlete in Cleveland. And the importance to their franchise of having Thome serve as a bridge between generations -- for players and fans.

So Thome -- who is also expected to hear from the Red Sox and Orioles -- will be the man to watch as the free-agent offers start flowing. For just about everyone else, though, it could be a long, frustrating winter.

Asked if he could sum up this free-agent class in one word, one prominent agent replied: "Unfortunate." Which is not a synonym for "affluent."

Why? Because the new labor deal starts pounding on the teams at the top of the payroll charts. Because new long-term debt rules will leave their mark. The state of the economy in general is draining dollars. And all the age and uncertainty surrounding most of these free agents means this is not a year to try to hit the big free-agent Super Lotto. Which doesn't mean it will be boring. So let's break down this free-agent class:

Five best hitters
1. Thome: Hit 52 homers. Only four other free agents hit half that many (Kent, Fred McGriff, Thomas, Cliff Floyd).
Biggest potential suitors: Indians, Phillies.

2. Kent: Coming off six straight 100-RBI seasons but will miss his good buddy, Barry Bonds. Prefers to stay at second base. May have to move to first. Looking for a hefty pay day.
Biggest potential suitors: Giants, Dodgers, Braves, Rockies.

3. Ray Durham: One of four active players with six straight 100-run seasons (with Bernie Williams, A-Rod, Derek Jeter). Best leadoff man on the market. Could help his marketability by considering a move to the outfield.
Biggest potential suitors: A's, Giants.

4. Cliff Floyd: Youngest of the impact bats (turns 30 in December). As many home runs the last two years as Kent (59). Teams worry about his health, but hasn't been on the DL the last two years. May have to move to first base.
Biggest potential suitors: Mets, Orioles, Red Sox, Phillies.

5. Hideki Matsui: Four-time Japanese Central League home run champ, three-time MVP, coming off 50-homer season for Yomiuri Giants. Left-handed stroke has "Yankees" written all over it.
Biggest potential suitors: Yankees, Mariners.

Greg Maddux
Starting Pitcher
Free agent
34 16-6 199.1 194 118 2.62

Five best starting pitchers
1. Greg Maddux: Tough to argue with 15 straight 15-win seasons and a 2.62 ERA (second to Randy Johnson in NL). But 199 1/3 innings pitched were his fewest since 1987. If he leaves Atlanta, wants to head west.
Biggest potential suitors: Braves, Mariners, Cardinals.

2. Tom Glavine: Twelve straight winning seasons. Winningest left-hander of last 25 years (242). He's 55-27 the last three years, so enough "he's-fading" talk. Said to be puzzled by Braves' one-year, $9-million offer, with four option years. Has told friends he wants to stay in the NL and pitch on the East coast.
Biggest potential suitors: Braves, Phillies, Mets.

3. Roger Clemens: Still a force at 40, but slipped to fewer wins (13) and innings (180) than Jimmy Haynes. Expected to go back to The Bronx.
Biggest potential suitors: Yankees, Rangers.

4. Paul Byrd: Coming off well-timed career year (17-11). Led all free-agent right-handers in wins and innings (228 1/3). Great command and creativity. Bizarre career (two 15-plus-win seasons, no other seven-win seasons).
Biggest potential suitors: Royals, Braves, Rangers.

5. Jamie Moyer: 105 wins in the last seven seasons, more than all left-handers except Randy Johnson, Glavine, Andy Pettitte and David Wells. In one 16-start stretch this year, gave up one run or none in 12 outings. Looking for a three-year deal at age 40.
Biggest potential suitors: Cubs, Phillies, Rangers, Braves.

Five most underrated
1. David Bell: Hit .304 in October. Batted 100 points higher with men in scoring position than in all other situations. Smart. Cool. Gets it. Mariners never should have traded him.
Biggest potential suitors: Giants, Phillies, Yankees.

2. Mike Stanton: One of only eight relievers with seven straight years of 60-plus appearances. Has appeared in 11 consecutive postseasons. The most underappreciated Yankee of the Joe Torre era.
Biggest potential suitors: Yankees, Braves, every other contender.

3. Mike Remlinger: Four straight seasons of 70-plus appearances. Averaged 9½ whiffs and only seven hits per nine innings in four Braves seasons. The Mike Stanton of the NL.
Biggest potential suitors: Braves, Yankees, every other contender.

4. Woody Williams: He's 16-5, 2.42 in 31 starts as a Cardinal. Higher career batting average (.212) than Tom Prince (.208). If he could only stay healthy.
Biggest potential suitors: Cardinals, Astros.

5. Steve Finley: Hit .291, slugged .523, drove in 47 runs in 68 games after the All-Star break. Can still play center field. Age (38 next March) getting to be a factor. But can help somebody short-term.
Biggest potential suitors: Diamondbacks, Rangers.

Pudge Rodriguez
Free agent
108 67 19 60 .895 .314

Five most overrated
1. Pudge Rodriguez: Actually led all free-agent hitters (with 400 plate appearances) in batting (.314). But has averaged only 98 games caught the last three years after 142 the previous four years. At this point, said one scout, "I'd take him as a hitter, but not as a catcher."
Possible suitor: Orioles.

2. Fred McGriff: Consensus is he's not as good a hitter anymore as his two straight 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons make him look. Still hits mistakes in a hitter's park, but not a middle-of-the-order force now, at age 39.
Possible suitor: Braves.

3. Kenny Lofton: Did score 98 runs this year -- and has 11 straight seasons of 90-plus, most of any active player. But has really slipped defensively. No longer a big-time base-stealer. Good one-year gamble for a contender.
Possible suitor: Giants.

4. Roberto Hernandez: At 11 hits and 13 baserunners per nine innings, his days as a premier closer are in the rear-view mirror.
Possible suitor: Rangers.

5. Ugueth Urbina: The good news: 40 saves, 44 hits and 71 whiffs in 60 innings. The bad news: 1-6 record, with six blown saves. One scout's review: "A set-up guy -- on a good team."
Possible suitor: Royals.

Other free-agent lists
For real or not for real?
1. Chris Hammond
2. Jimmy Haynes
3. Darren Holmes
4. Paul Byrd
5. John Mabry

Five big names with health issues (pitchers)
1. Chris Carpenter
2. Shane Reynolds
3. Jon Lieber
4. Woody Williams
5. Robert Person

Five big names with health issues (hitters)
1. Pudge Rodriguez
2. B.J. Surhoff
3. Edgardo Alfonzo
4. Rey Sanchez
5. Olmedo Saenz

Five starters worth rolling the dice on
1. Steve Trachsel
2. Brian Anderson
3. Tom Gordon
4. Omar Daal
5. Steve Parris

Five relievers worth rolling the dice on
1. Chad Fox
2. Kane Davis
3. Juan Acevedo
4. Rudy Seanez
5. Brian Boehringer

Five hitters worth rolling the dice on
1. Greg Colbrunn
2. Jose Hernandez
3. Greg Myers
4. Ron Gant
5. Todd Zeile

Five pitchers not worth rolling the dice on
1. John Rocker
2. Pete Harnisch
3. Jeff D'Amico
4. Felix Heredia
5. Wilson Alvarez

Five hitters not worth rolling the dice on
1. Tony Clark
2. Shane Andrews
3. Jose Offerman
4. Mike Benjamin
5. Jay Bell

Five six-year free agents who will get jobs
1. Clay Bellinger
2. T.J. Mathews
3. Tony McKnight
4. Midre Cummings
5. Stubby Clapp

Right name, wrong decade
1. Ruben Sierra
2. Mike Morgan
3. Julio Franco
4. James Baldwin
5. Charles Nagy

Four free agents who pitched 200 innings
1. Jamie Moyer 230 2/3
2. Paul Byrd 228 1/3
3. Tom Glavine 224 2/3
4. Kenny Rogers 210 2/3

Six free agents who pitched in more than 70 games
1. Mike Stanton 79
2. Jeff Fassero 73
3. Mike Remlinger 73
4. Mike Timlin 72
5. Pedro Borbon 72
6. Dave Veres 71

Five free agents who hit .300*
1. Pudge Rodriguez .314
2. Jeff Kent .313
3. Edgardo Alfonzo .308
4. Jim Thome .304
5. John Olerud .300
(* minimum: 400 plate appearances)

Six free agents who drove in 90 runs
1. Jim Thome 118
2. Jeff Kent 108
3. Fred McGriff 103
4. John Olerud 102
5. Robin Ventura 93
6. Frank Thomas 92

Two free agents who stole 20 bases
1. Kenny Lofton 29
2. Ray Durham 26

Three free agents who scored 100 runs
1. Ray Durham 114
2. Jeff Kent 102
3. Jim Thome 101

Don't they do this every year?
1. Reggie Sanders
2. Jesse Orosco
3. Mike Jackson
4. Pat Mahomes
5. Darren Lewis

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for

 More from ESPN...
Top 50 free agents has the moxie to ...

MLB free agents
Check out the list of ...

Jayson Stark home page
Curt Schilling had another ...

Jayson Stark Archive

 ESPN Tools
Email story
Most sent
Print story
Daily email