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Thursday, December 11, 2008
Updated: December 12, 11:35 AM ET
Much more to watch this offseason

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

LAS VEGAS -- Mark Teixeira is still shopping. Manny Ramirez is still weeks -- maybe months -- from learning where he'll be parking his dreadlocks. And 150 free agents got to spend another fun-filled week on the unemployment line.

Once, there was a time when all the marquee free agents would have been wrapped up like a Christmas gift by the time the winter meetings ended. Well, not anymore.

So let's take a look at the many loose threads that are still dangling as the 2008 meetings fade into oblivion:

The Teixeira Watch

No agent who ever lived moves slower than Scott Boras. So even though CC Sabathia and Frankie Rodriguez already have managed to find their next homes, the Scott Boras Negotiating Olympiad has barely begun for guys such as Teixeira.

So all of a sudden, the crazy bidding rumors are flying. Eight years, $160 million from the Nationals. Seven years, $140 million from the Orioles. Seven years, $160 million from the Angels. No formal offers whatsoever from the Red Sox. Yet.

You can believe those numbers if you want to. You can believe none of them if you're as wary of Boras spreading inflated negotiating fiction as many people in baseball are. But somewhere in there, you can find the plot line that's beginning to form here.

The Nationals have decided they need to make Teixeira the face of their franchise. (Hey, it beats Elijah Dukes.) That's the sales pitch they've been throwing at Teixeira and Boras relentlessly.

It's also helpful that they've been throwing more money at Teixeira than they've paid their entire baseball team in the past three seasons combined.

But will it work? And will it work even if the Nationals outbid everybody else -- which seems entirely possible? That's the question people in baseball keep asking.

Mark Teixeira
How much money will Mark Teixeira really get? We'll have to wait and see.
"Here's what I wonder," one GM said. "Let's say the Nationals' bid is $5 million higher than the Red Sox or Angels. What happens then? Scott's clients always take the most money. But if Teixeira goes to the Nationals, how does he spin it? He sure can't say it was about winning. I guess he'll have to say it's about going home. Playing the family card always works."

Maybe that going-home speech is already in the hands of Boras' speechwriters. But in the meantime, you can bet Boras will be working 28 hours a day trying to prod the Angels and Red Sox to step up and outbid the losingest team in baseball this year.

The Manny Watch

Of all the free agents on your handy-dandy free-agent tote board, only one of them slugged over .600 this season. And it wasn't Teixeira.

It was good old Manny Ramirez, a guy who also hit .332 and had a .430 on-base percentage -- the seventh time in his career he has joined the .300-.400-.600 club, most of any active player.

So you'd think a hitter that legendary would have more job offers than Julia Roberts. But because he's Manny and there are certain, well, issues, he's a man who seems to have just about no market whatsoever.

Which means it's one of the greatest challenges of Boras' career to venture out into the marketplace and create one.

The popular theory has been that Boras would drive Teixeira to a team such as Boston, which he knows can't possibly pursue its old friend Manny. And that would leave all the losers in the Teixeira sweepstakes to turn their attention to Ramirez.

But there's a problem with that theory. The Angels keep insisting they have no interest. The Nationals don't need any more outfielders. And it takes a massive leap of the imagination to conceive of Peter Angelos' giving Ramirez a three-, four- or five-year deal.

So where's he going? Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said Thursday that when he and Boras talked about Ramirez this week, he was still looking for a contract of four or five years. The Dodgers, on the other hand, are stuck on the two-year deal they offered a month ago. Colletti hinted that the dollars could still be negotiable if the length is short enough. But that's not happening -- not before somewhere around Valentine's Day, anyway.

Which means Boras likely is going to trot out a strategy he has used many times before: parking Manny in the waiting room.

He's a good bet to leave Ramirez hanging out there for as long as it takes, position him as Clearly The Best Hitter Left At The Unemployment Office and hope somebody gets desperate. His best shot here, though, might not be desperation. It might be a decision by a team such as the Yankees to swoop in at the final hour and see whether it can make an out-of-the-blue score.

Could happen. But get back to us in a month. Or in the spring.

Rafael Furcal

Agent Paul Kinzer said this week that he has four teams with serious interest in Furcal -- the Royals, A's, Blue Jays and Dodgers. And all those teams know, he said, that it's going to take a three- or four-year contract (at $9-10 million a year) to get a deal done.

Rafael Furcal
It's hard to figure whether the market for Rafael Furcal really is as hot as it seems.
But the market might not be as hot on Furcal as it's been portrayed. Kansas City, for instance, has been rumored to be the high bidder. But despite GM Dayton Moore's longtime admiration for Furcal from their Atlanta days, he doesn't have $35-40 million to spend. And one source with knowledge of the Royals' thinking said they haven't done much more than kick the tires on Furcal.

The Blue Jays are in a similar mode, and would have to move money to pay a player this pricey. The A's are still interested, but the popular theory among other clubs is that if Furcal wanted to be in Oakland, he'd already be there. And the Dodgers haven't gone beyond two guaranteed years, plus a vesting option.

So an official of one team that checked in says that Furcal "seems like a guy who's waiting for something to happen that hasn't happened." Our best guess is: He wants to return to L.A. But is he willing to give up a guaranteed year or two to do it? We might be about to find out.

A.J. Burnett

This one is simple. Does Burnett want to be a Yankee? Or does he want to be a Brave?

True, the Yankees have the high bid out there (five years, $85 million, according to ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick). But the Braves have made it clear there's a fifth guaranteed year, for a total of $80 million, there for Burnett to grab if he merely says the magic words: "I want to be in Atlanta."

"If he just wants the most money, he'll be a Yankee," said an executive of one team that once had interest in Burnett. "When the New York Yankees decide they're not going to be outbid, they're not going to be outbid. And I think that's the decision they've made."

But in reality, this is Burnett's decision. And it might be a "where" decision, not a "how much" decision. Both teams say all there is to do now is wait.

Derek Lowe

Lowe's market didn't exactly collapse this week. It just seemed that way -- but only because it was obviously overblown by Boras' leak squad in the first place.

It's now apparent that neither the Phillies nor the Red Sox made an offer at all. And they no longer seem any more than mildly interested.

The Yankees are still an option -- but maybe not for long. If Burnett and Andy Pettitte say yes to offers already on the table, the Yankees are out. And although the Mets maintain interest, it appears they want no part of the four-year, $72 million price tag Boras was tossing out there early on. But there's a scenario in the making in which they become the last serious bidder standing. So maybe this will turn out to be Omar Minaya's lucky winter.

Other hitters

There are close to 100 bats still on the market. And most of them look as if they're going to have big trouble getting anywhere near the paycheck they had in mind.

The Phillies, Angels and Mets have serious interest in Raul Ibanez, so he'll be fine. The Cubs and Rays have zeroed in on Milton Bradley. And you can bet your inauguration tickets that Adam Dunn will land in Washington if Teixeira doesn't. But guys such as Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell and Jason Giambi look as though they're in for hefty pay cuts and maybe no more than a two-year deal. And everybody else would be best advised to grab for the first decent paycheck that comes along.

Other arms

The biggest question is what will become of the two big free-agent closers still out there -- Brian Fuentes and Trevor Hoffman. The Cardinals look like Fuentes' most serious pursuer. But Hoffman, one of the most underrated pitchers of all time, is scrambling.

The Dodgers have a smidgen of interest. The Tigers have interest, but not the budget. And Milwaukee and Texas might still be options. San Diego manager Bud Black tried to open the door this week for Hoffman to return to the Padres. But with Jake Peavy staying, it probably would have to be for a pay slash that Hoffman might find tough to digest. A pitcher this great deserves a happier ending than Hoffman seems headed for.

Of those other starting pitchers, Randy Wolf, Ben Sheets and Jon Garland are well-positioned to lead off the second tier once Burnett and Lowe sign. The Mets will try to bring back Oliver Perez if he ever comes off that five-year, $65 million talk. And Randy Johnson could land in Chicago, San Francisco, Texas or Oakland for a year.

But the most intriguing free-agent starter left might be John Smoltz, who had seven teams looking at his medical records this week amid rumors he's open to leaving Atlanta. Smoltz has been a Brave for so long that he was once a teammate of Bruce Sutter and Ken Griffey Sr. So can he really leave? Can Atlanta really allow him to leave? Might be the most riveting story line of the whole offseason.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.