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December 10, 2003

Stupid Free Agent Tricks
by Larry Mahnken

"A man who represents himself has a fool for a client."

The whole Gary Sheffield situation is getting weird. A week ago, it seemed that Sheffield in pinstripes was fait accompli, the only reason it wasn't announced, it seemed, was because the Yankees wanted to possibly save a draft pick--if the contract was signed before December 7th, Atlanta would automatically get draft pick compensation, but waiting until after the 7th created the possibility that Atlanta wouldn't offer Sheffield arbitration, as they ultimately didn't, and the Yankees wouldn't have to give any compensation to the Braves.

Was it sneaky and underhanded? Absolutely. But unless Sheffield's signature was on a contract, it wasn't against the rules. As George Steinbrenner and David Wells can attest to, handshake agreements are worth the paper they're written on. Sure, the Yankees might have had a contract drawn up, but until it was signed, Sheffield could sign wherever he wanted, and the Yankees had no obligation to give compensation.

On Sunday night, the Braves declined to offer Sheffield arbitration, and rumors surfaced that they would file a grievance against the Yankees for their ploy.

Now, let me say this: the Braves will lose this grievance, if indeed they file one. Their case relies entirely on whether or not Sheffield had actually signed a contract. If he didn't sign one, then the Braves are essentially arguing that negotiating before the arbitration deadline with a player that you eventually sign requires compensation, which of course it doesn't. The case that he had an agreement with the Yankees is weak at best. Sheffield's interview with USA Today Sports Weekly indicates that he did come to an agreement before the deadline (but still doesn't indicate the existance of a contract), and the assumption is that the Yankees didn't have him sign anything before the deadline to avoid compensation, while saying that the negotiations had hit a snag to encourage the Braves to not offer him arbitration, making them think it was possible that Sheffield would accept. Of course, it's also possible that Sheffield mislead USA Today about the state of negotiations to give the impression that his signing was imminent, and trick the Braves into offering arbitration.

Atlanta didn't offer arbitration because whatever the suspiscions were, they simply didn't know and didn't want to take the risk that Sheffield wouldn't sign and that they would again be stuck with an expensive player, like Greg Maddux last season.

Today, it got weirder, as reports have come out that the negotiations have hit a wall, as either Sheffield upped his demand from 3 years, $39 million to 3 years, $42 million or the Yankees demanded that a larger amount of the money be deferred. Maybe it's a ruse to avoid Atlanta's grievance, but I think that's unlikely, because A) the Braves really don't have a leg to stand on, and B) what's at stake for the Yankees is their third round draft pick, as they've already had to give up two picks to the Dodgers and White Sox--it's not worth the effort, I'd think.

So, maybe it's true--Sheffield fired Scott Boras this year, and is representing himself in these negotiations. It's not too difficult to imagine that Sheffield would make a mistake that could trip up a contract. Let's hope it's true, because if Sheffield is starting to raise his price higher than the Yankees want to pay, or has pissed Steinbrenner off enough, they're going to have to sign a different high-profile free agent, because you know that George doesn't want to end up empty-handed. And since the Yankees need an outfielder, you know who that means...

Mike Cameron!!!

Okay, maybe Cameron, but more likely Vlad Guerrero, who was a better option for the Yankees anyway. I don't think this will get resolved anytime soon, and Guerrero's agent is probably smart enough to wait until after the Yankees have signed an outfielder to sign with...well, Baltimore, probably, so this could still happen. Speaking of Cameron, his accquistion to play center isn't out of the question, either, since San Diego has started negotiating with Kenny Lofton, too. Okay, now I'm getting all hot and bothered, if I start thinking about an A-Rod trade to the Yankees, I might pass out.


I'm not really too concerned about all the A-Rod to Boston rumors floating around. I don't think a trade is too likely to happen anyway, there's a whole lot of obstacles that need to be crossed for the trade to happen, and the Red Sox will also have to accquire decent talent in left field and second base to just remain the same, which is possible, but tricky. The Red Sox might actually become worse with this trade. The enormous amount of money certain to be involved in this trade might even hamstring the Red Sox somewhat, as they, unlike the Yankees, are wary of the Luxury Tax. And even if everything went right for the Red Sox, this isn't checkmate, or even check. It's just a good move.

Of course, the best way to prevent this move would be for the Yankees to swoop in with a better offer and take A-Rod away from the Red Sox, and this is something the Yankees might actually be able to do. Soriano for A-Rod is a pipe dream, but if the Yankees throw in DePaula and Navarro, it might become doable.

But it will NEVER happen, or even be considered, because the Yankees are not going to consider moving Jeter from shortstop. But it's December, and in lieu of actual games, it's nice to dream.