Cliff Lee first domino in free agency

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:47 PM ET

While there continues to be a trickle of free agent deals being signed, just about everybody in the baseball industry is waiting for Cliff Lee.

Lee, who led the Texas Rangers into the World Series for the first time in that franchise’s 50-year history, has his finger in the dike, holding back a torrent of player movement.

That is ironic, in that the Rangers and the Yankees are the only realistic destinations for Lee and his grand plans for a six or seven-year contract in the range of $140 million. And if the bidding actually gets to that level, it will probably be the Yankees bidding against themselves, as usual.

But no agent worth his salt wants to lock his client in until Lee is gone. The reason is simple. Whichever team, Rangers or Yankees, that doesn’t get Lee, will be a big player in the free agent and will surely influence the market for many of the other key players.

Lee is expected to make his decision sometime between now and the end of the baseball winter meetings that begin next week in Orlando.

The Lee sweepstakes will most certainly affect the markets for players like Carl Crawford, Adrian Beltre, Jayson Werth, Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko because either the Yankees or Rangers will have money to spend and, whether they are serious suitors or not, those teams will be used as leverage by cagey agents.

“It’s all connected,” said Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels.

Presumably, if the Yankees get Lee, then the Rangers will go hard after Crawford and maybe one of the first basemen. And who’s to say the Yankees stop after getting Lee?

Pen Renovations Costly

Already some GMs are experiencing sticker shock after the three-year, $16.5 million contract Joaquin Benoit, a middle reliever, signed with the Tigers, changing the landscape for teams trying to build a bullpen.

That just bumped up the value of some under-the-radar free agents like Jon Rauch or Jesse Crain.

As MLB.com’s Peter Gammons has written, Crain’s agents have already been approached by nine teams, including the Toronto Blue Jays. And why not? He’s coming off a decent season of set-up work for the Twins, with an ERA of 3.04 over 68 innings. He gave up 13 earned runs in 22 innings in April and May but from June 1 to the end of the season, he gave up just 10 earned runs and 30 hits, in 46 innings.

The Toronto-born righthander would be a nice solid catch, but the price of “nice solid catch” just went through the roof.

Jays In On Lance?

There’s no indication of serious intent, but the Blue Jays have made inquiries with free agent first baseman Lance Berkman’s handlers. Berkman, who was traded from Houston to the Yankees at the deadline in 2010, had hoped to return to Houston but the Astros have decided to pass, preferring to go young.

“After initially being pretty disappointed, I’ve gotten over it,” Berkman told Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle. “Now my focus is on who is going to contend that wants me to play for them. There’s been a lot of interest -- Cardinals, Cubs, Rockies, A’s, Pirates, Blue Jays, a bunch of teams. I haven’t had a single offer in terms of X amount of dollars, but I think this is the time of the year when there’s a lot of tire-kicking.”

Between 2000 and 2009, Berkman averaged 30 home runs and 103 RBIs with a .300 batting average and a .413 OBP. Last season, he hit only .248 with 14 HR and 58 RBI.

“I found a good groove in the playoffs,” he said. “It was back where it had been a couple of years ago. I’m definitely getting older, but I’m not old yet. There’s no reason I can’t have a great year next year.”

Juan Gone

Juan Uribe jumped from the World Series champion Giants to the Los Angeles Dodgers Monday, agreeing to a three-year, $21 million deal. Uribe played shortstop and third base while hitting .248 with 24 homers for San Francisco. He’s expected to play second base for the Dodgers.


Videos

Photos