It's a shopper's paradise for GMs

Steve Henson

The January Clearance Event is upon us!

It's an inventory blowout!

Baseball executives, you don't want to miss this!

General managers have never been particularly savvy shoppers. Bad contracts are handed to poor ballplayers every year, millions upon millions of dollars wasted on popgun bats and dishrag arms.

Yet the restraint displayed this offseason has been astounding. For the most part, a weak free-agent class has been treated appropriately, with caution bordering on disdain.

Now, though, comes the toughest test for GMs. Spring training is mere weeks away. Will they revert to form, panicking and overspending in the name of depth, injury and a warm body for a rainy day?

Will they become no different than the legions of everyday consumers who exhibit admirable self-control through the holidays only to succumb to the marketing blitz of the new year?

Sound the trumpets. Break out the bunting and balloons. Check out the showroom floor.

Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Luis Gonzalez, Shawn Green and Reggie Sanders are available, for starters.

Those six players have combined for 2,777 home runs, 8,443 RBIs, 1,358 stolen bases and 41 All-Star appearances. Sure, there's the whiff of Grecian Formula with all of them, the stench of performance-enhancing drugs with more than one and a pesky perjury charge when it comes to Bonds.

But let's not pretend that all 30 teams have three outfielders better than the scowling slugger with the oversized noggin. And every team doesn't have a better fourth or fifth outfielder than Gonzalez, Green or Sanders. Or better pinch-hitters than Sosa or Piazza.

MLB insiders say a glut of aging free-agent hitters entered the offseason in need of a severe reality check to reduce their salary demands. Still on the market are 40 position players who were paid at least $1 million last year. Many will have to settle for a minor-league offer and an invitation to major league spring training.

"There's a pattern to this," one high-ranking club official said. "Agents try to get a multi-year deal, then when it's clear that won't happen they look for a one-year deal for money the player has been accustomed to getting.

"About now, some of them start to realize those deals aren't going to materialize and they look for a place where there will be playing time."

GMs, then, have gained leverage.

Save up to 90 percent on this Winter Warm-up Sale!

Bonds won't approach the $15.8 million he made last year. Piazza won't come close to the $8.5 million he was paid, and Green ($9.5 million), Gonzalez ($7.35 million) and Sanders ($5 million) are in for steep cuts as well. Sosa will be lucky to get the $500,000 he was paid by the Texas Rangers, if he gets an offer at all.

Teams needing an outfielder or corner infielder with a solid hitting resume have plenty of options. How about a sporty compact? Kick the tires on these former leadoff hitters who won't embarrass you batting eighth.

There's Kenny Lofton, who batted .296 with 23 stolen bases last season and ranks 15th all-time with 622 career steals.

And Shannon Stewart, who batted .290 in 146 games. And lesser light Corey Patterson.

Or how about medium-level pop? Any of these guys can be had for extra-low, shelf-clearing prices: Pedro Feliz. Tony Clark. Brad Wilkerson. Bobby Kielty. Kevin Mench. Ryan Klesko. Sean Casey.

Plus, check the aisle marked Final Clearance: Mike Sweeney. Preston Wilson. Olmedo Saenz. Trot Nixon. Rondell White. Jeff Conine.

Hurry in while supplies last!

"A handful of guys could still land on their feet and get guaranteed contracts for more money than they are probably worth," an NL executive said. "There are too many of them out there this year, though. A lot of guys are scrambling right now."

So, who is a likely sucker, er, buyer for an outfielder?

The Baltimore Orioles, who can't be sure Luke Scott – acquired from the Houston Astros in the Miguel Tejada deal – will cut it in left field. They also might need DH insurance because of Aubrey Huff's sports hernia. The Oakland Athletics are currently counting on unproven Chris Denorfia and ho-hum Emil Brown.

The Florida Marlins are thrusting Cameron Maybin into center field, hoping to quickly justify the Miguel Cabrera trade. The St. Louis Cardinals are banking on super prospect Colby Rasmus, not to mention Chris Duncan and Rick Ankiel. The San Diego Padres have only four outfielders on their depth chart and one is somebody named Callix Crabbe, a Rule 5 pick whose minor league experience is at second base.

Potential shoppers for bats to fill backup roles include the Atlanta Braves, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays. Are the San Francisco Giants really going to open the season with Dave Roberts in left field and Randy Winn in right? Do the Washington Nationals feel secure with Wily Mo Pena and Elijah Dukes?

There is a different dynamic in the pitching market, with few proven free agents and the always insatiable need for teams to accumulate as many arms as possible heading into spring training. Sign of the times: Brett Tomko, he of a 4-12 record and 5.55 ERA last season, just got a $3 million, one-year contract from the Kansas City Royals.

Soon a team is bound to cave in on a multiyear deal for Kyle Lohse. Probably Josh Fogg and Livan Hernandez, too. One-year contracts for guarantees upward of $1 million will be handed out like Skittles (sorry for borrowing your line, Roger) to the weak and infirm.

Hello, Bartolo Colon, Kris Benson, Freddy Garcia, Jeff Weaver, Eric Milton and Steve Trachsel.

Remember, all out-of-date models must go!

Of course, there are no warranties on these items. GMs are well-acquainted with the term caveat emptor.

But with prices dropping by the day, how can they resist. These are savings to savor.

The Spring Training Sales Spectacular is here!