Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke lead free-agent class of players looking to cash in big

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

The national television money is coming, as is the local television money, if it hasn't already. The Los Angeles Dodgers sold for more than $2 billion and the San Diego Padres for about $800 million, or more than four times what Arte Moreno paid for the Los Angeles Angels not even a decade ago.

Franchise owners are coming into an era in which, according to agent Scott Boras, many will take in $120 million before they sell a bleacher seat, furry panda hat or 12 suspiciously translucent ounces of pale ale.

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Yeah, it's a damned good time to be Brandon League.

"It's a function of time," Boras said Friday. "Every club can build around that seven or eight years coming of record revenues."

As in any industry, there are wise owners and reckless ones. There are soulful providers and rigid profiteers. Some rise to the level or their own gluttony, or the best team in their division's gluttony. The rest get skewered in headlines or on message boards.

The point is, on the eve of baseball's most wonderful time of the year – for players – most insiders assume we've come upon a free-spending winter, even in what is considered a soft free-agent market.

Soon enough, we'll know what that means for Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke, the two available stars this offseason, and then for Michael Bourn and Anibal Sanchez and B.J. Upton and even Marco Scutaro. Clubs are rebuilding in Boston and Chicago, the Dodgers are retooling from the ground up, and the Kansas City Royals just assumed the contract of a $12 million pitcher whose ERA last season was over 5. There are 29 pretty unhappy owners out there, that unhappiness having rolled downhill to the general manager's office for the better part of a month. What does that mean for Angel Pagan, Mike Napoli, Rafael Soriano and Jason Grilli?

Opportunity, baby.

Part of the build-up passed Friday afternoon, the deadline for a team to make its player a qualifying offer in order to receive draft pick compensation if that player signs with another club. This year, the first under the new system, that offer is worth $13.3 million. The player has seven days to accept the offer or hightail it into free agency.

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On Friday, those offers went out to Texas' Hamilton, Atlanta's Bourn, New York's Nick Swisher, Hiroki Kuroda and Soriano, Boston's David Ortiz, St. Louis' Kyle Lohse, Washington's Adam LaRoche and Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton, but not to pending free agents such as Napoli, L.A.'s Torii Hunter or New York's Russell Martin. By late Friday, Ortiz reportedly was nearing a two-year, $26 million contract extension with the Red Sox. Most, if not all, are expected to decline the qualifying offers, though Kuroda is a possible exception.

The Angels may continue to negotiate with Hunter – as the Yankees can with Martin and the Rangers can with Napoli – but if those players sign elsewhere, their clubs would not receive a draft pick as compensation.

As Hunter announced via Twitter, "Officially a free agent. Time to do some scouting."

Those are the details. The rest begins Saturday, when the window for exclusive negotiations between teams and their former players closes. At that point, a free agent may sign with any club.

That's go time, particularly for Hamilton and Greinke, top talents with potential (and peripheral) down sides. The Angels would like to re-sign Greinke, who pitched well in 13 starts after being traded from Milwaukee. In order to clear payroll, they traded Ervin Santana to the Royals this week.

The Rangers seem quite willing to let Hamilton, their best player, leave, in spite of his production. Hamilton will be 32 early next season and has had some difficulty staying on the field, a potential flaw that will be overlooked by teams who'll settle for 30 homers, 100 RBIs and a .304 career batting average. The Rangers could use the payroll windfall to chase Greinke, Sanchez or Hunter, or some combination of those.

"I don't anticipate teams going out and spending to spend," said Boras, who represents Bourn, Soriano, Lohse, Ryan Madson and Jose Valverde, among other free agents, and will have Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury next winter. "But I do anticipate them spending on appropriate talent."

And then …

Mark McGwire has a good chance of becoming the Dodgers' new hitting coach. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch first reported McGwire had told the St. Louis Cardinals he would not return, in part because of an opportunity to return to Southern California to be near his family and work for the Dodgers. McGwire and the club were sorting through contractual details Friday afternoon. The Dodgers seek to replace Dave Hansen, who was fired after the season and became hitting coach for the Seattle Mariners. McGwire was the Cardinals' hitting coach for three seasons, when he coached one of the better offenses in the National League while putting time and distance between himself and the admission he used steroids during his playing career. The Dodgers finished 13th among 16 NL teams in runs and were especially poor in September, well after acquiring the likes of Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino.

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