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Archive for Monday, December 22, 2003

Free-agent market swells by 58

Group of available players expands after teams decline to offer 2004 contracts by deadline

December 22, 2003

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— Outfielder Jay Payton and reliever Braden Looper were among 58 players dumped onto the free-agent market Sunday after their teams failed to offer them 2004 contracts.

The moves further glut a market that already has been soft -- a record 210 players filed for free agency after the World Series, and just 93 have agreed to new contracts.

Javy Lopez, one of the unsigned players, was on the verge of finding a new team Sunday. The All-Star catcher was working on finalizing an agreement with Baltimore on a three-year deal worth about $23 million, and the Orioles hoped to wrap it up today.

It appeared Tuesday would be the big day in the long-running Alex Rodriguez-to-Boston saga. Texas owner Tom Hicks set a 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline for the trade, which would sent outfielder Manny Ramirez to the Rangers.

"This potential trade is very complicated and involves multiple parties," Hicks wrote in an e-mail to the Associated Press Sunday night. "From the Texas Rangers' perspective, we need finality so we can proceed with our offseason plans."

Hicks wrote that the Tuesday deadline "is a reasonable timeframe for the various groups to make their decisions."

Colorado cut Payton loose after agreeing to a contract with Jeromy Burnitz that guarantees him $1.5 million, and Florida let go of Looper after picking up Armando Benitez for $3.5 million.

Also cut free were Cleveland pitcher Danys Baez, and Baltimore pitchers Damian Moss and Jason Johnson. Others made free agents included Tampa Bay infielders Marlon Anderson and infielder Sandberg; Cincinnati outfielders Ruben Mateo and Reggie Taylor and infielder Russell Branyan; Colorado pitcher Scott Elarton; Detroit catcher Ben Petrick; and Toronto pitchers Trever Miller and Cliff Politte.

Oakland pitcher Mark Redman became a free agent Saturday night when he and the Athletics failed to come to an agreement, but they reached a three-year deal worth about $12 million Sunday.

The Dec. 20 deadline has become increasingly important in recent years because teams are squeezing players to agree to contracts by threatening to make them free agents.

Players with more than three years of major-league service who are offered contracts are eligible for salary arbitration.

Facing the deadline, 20 players agreed to deals Friday and 10 more Saturday, a group that included Seattle pitcher Freddy Garcia ($6,875,000), Florida shortstop Alex Gonzalez ($6.2 million over two years) and Marlins pitcher A.J. Burnett ($2.5 million).

Catcher Michael Barrett, cut loose by the Cubs Saturday, agreed Sunday on a $1.55 million, one-year contract with Chicago. By letting him become a free agent first, Chicago got around the rule limiting the team from cutting his 2003 salary, $2.6 million, by more than 20 percent.

Chicago then traded catcher Damian Miller and $800,000 to Oakland Sunday for a player to be named.

Also Sunday, Ricky Ledee and the Philadelphia Phillies avoided salary arbitration, agreeing to a $1,225,000 contract. Ledee, 30, was used primarily as a pinch-hitter last season when he hit .247 with 13 home runs and 46 RBIs. He tied for third in the National League with two pinch-hit home runs.

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