Talk about being a free agent at the wrong time.
As of late Monday night, general managers have been free to pursue players in a hitter-dominated class headed by Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Moises Alou, Juan Gonzalez and Tino Martinez. Chan Ho Park is considered the top pitcher in a pitching-thin market that also includes John Smoltz.
But this year's group could be adversely affected if Commissioner Bud Selig succeeds in his contraction plan, diluting the market with players available in a dispersal draft from dissolved franchises. Owners are still far from the finish line in a race that has stalled in courts, but the situation continues to cast a shadow over the off-season, with open bidding underway.
Teams were given a 15-day window after the World Series to negotiate with their own free agents. Other clubs were permitted to contact only players' representatives to express interest.
The mandatory hands-off period ended at 9:01 p.m. PST Monday night, but the hot-stove league might not heat up despite the availability of some of baseball's top run producers.
The Dodgers and Angels are not expected to pursue the top-tier players. . Bonds and Giambi are believed to be the only players who might join Texas Ranger shortstop Alex Rodriguez in the $20-million club.
General managers are walking a fine line, trying to approach free agency as usual while preparing for a dispersal draft that might not occur.
Such is life with the possibility of contraction as a backdrop, and free agents are now in the mix.
"You have to know that it's a possibility, but you also have to make decisions," said Steve Phillips, general manager of the New York Mets. "There are a lot of decisions that we have to make in a timely fashion, and we can't wait for that answer."
Baseball officials and agents said players such as Bonds and Giambi would not be impacted as much as second-tier free agents by a dispersal draft, but the overall value of the market would be reduced.
"There is a premium placed on talent in this game," said agent Scott Boras, who represents Bonds, Park and other free agents. "There are certain players these clubs identify as unique talents.
"They separate themselves in their performances, and that won't change [in the event of a dispersal draft]. But, yes, there are other players whose markets would definitely be [affected]."
Many general managers acknowledge that contraction has added a twist to their free-agent plans, prompting evaluations of players under contract who might soon become available.
But there are still free agents to be courted.
The New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland Athletics are expected to engage in a bidding war for Giambi. Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman is focused on that issue--not contraction.
"We're going to go ahead with business as usual," Cashman said "That's what we've all been instructed to do...."
Clubs have had internal debates about how to approach free agency, trying to develop plans that would leave many options available.
"We had purposely left some players on [the 40-man roster] that we knew we could take off in the event of a multiplayer trade, even before the contract issue started," said Dan O'Dowd, general manager of the Colorado Rockies.
However, O'Dowd said that a dispersal draft would not be a cure-all. He believes that teams trying to bolster rosters would still look to the free-agent market.
"If there's any misnomer out there that anybody is going to add these four to five unbelievable players [through a draft], that's just not accurate," he said. "They haven't taken the time to look at it, because it's not going to happen
"I don't know if you're going to get beyond two picks at the major league draft. That's not to take a knock at [teams that could be dissolved], it's just that no organization has the depth that it used to anymore."
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A look at the Dodger and Angel free agents and major free agents for other teams:
ANGELS--Gary DiSarcina, ss; Jorge Fabregas, c; Pat Rapp, rhp; Ismael Valdes, rhp.
DODGERS--Terry Adams, rhp; James Baldwin, rhp; Tim Bogar, ss; Jesse Orosco, lhp; Chan Ho Park, rhp; Jeff Shaw, rhp.
BOSTON--Dante Bichette, of; Hideo Nomo, rhp.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX--Jose Canseco, dh; David Wells, lhp.
CLEVELAND--Juan Gonzalez, of; Kenny Lofton, of.
NEW YORK YANKEES--Scott Brosius, 3b; Chuck Knoblauch, of; Tino Martinez, 1b.
OAKLAND--Johnny Damon, of; Jason Giambi, 1b; Jason Isringhausen, rhp.
SEATTLE--Bret Boone, 2b; Aaron Sele, rhp.
ARIZONA--Reggie Sanders, of.
ATLANTA--Javy Lopez, c; John Smoltz, rhp.
FLORIDA--Charles Johnson, c.
HOUSTON--Moises Alou, of; Pedro Astacio, rhp.
SAN FRANCISCO--Barry Bonds, of; Jason Schmidt, rhp.