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Thursday, December 6, 2012
The baseball world is just paralyzed

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It isn't unprecedented to have an entire edition of the winter meetings zip by without The Big Guys signing. Stuff, after all, does happen.

But here we are, with just hours remaining before 30 general managers start stampeding toward the airport, and Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton -- the two free agents at the center of the baseball solar system -- are right where we left them a week ago:

Unemployed.

Josh Hamilton
Which team will sign Josh Hamilton? The wait for that answer continues.

That'll change, of course. Sooner or later. But until it does, it feels as if the whole darned sport is stuck in a state of frozen lack of animation.

In a column Tuesday, we spelled out how Greinke's deliberate pace was holding up the entire starting-pitching market. But it became clear Wednesday, as agents and club officials did their best to keep their sanity through another day of limbo and frustration, that it isn't only the pitching market that has been stuck in neutral because of this guy.

It's every kind of market.

Let's try to draw you a little road map to help explain this mess:

It's obvious why other pitchers can't move until they wait for Greinke to pick a team and set the economic bar. But he also has managed to help paralyze a chunk of the free-agent hitters market -- because his free-agent fate and Hamilton's free-agent fate have somehow gotten tangled up together.

How'd that happen? Simple. The Texas Rangers are in on both of them. And they're sending signals that they can afford to sign only one of them. So because they've succeeded in signing neither of them, players of all shapes and sizes are stuck, waiting for the Rangers to make a decision.

But that's not all.

You know those entertaining rumors you've spent the past 24 hours hearing and reading about -- three-team trades, four-team trades, five-team trades that are being kicked around all over the sport? Most of them can't move forward until the Rangers sign Hamilton, sign Greinke or sign neither of the above.

Think about it.

Texas is in the middle of many of those scenarios, too. But the Rangers aren't going to trade for, say, Justin Upton if they're bringing Hamilton back. They're going to turn their attention to dealing for, say, James Shields.

On the other hand, they're not going to have any reason to make a monster trade for a pitcher if they hand over 150 million negotiable American dollars to Greinke, right? If they sign him, they'll be trying to trade for a bat -- such as Justin Upton, for instance.

So if the Diamondbacks think the most attractive destination for Upton is Texas, now they're on hold. And if the Rays think their best match for Shields is Texas, now they're stuck, too.

And if the Indians or the Royals or the Mariners or the Pirates or any of the other teams that have been drawn into some of these multiteam talks believe that's their own favorite trade scenario, now they get dragged into this waiting game, as well.

And if these clubs have concluded their Plan A is making a trade and Plan B is signing a free agent, every team and every player who could be connected to one of those plans also gets hung up.

So what do you have, when you add it all up? Gridlock. That's what.

Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan
It's still possible the Rangers, led by Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan, could land both Hamilton and Zack Greinke.

All because Greinke, Hamilton and the Texas Rangers haven't made up their minds yet.

And until they do or somebody out there gets tired of waiting, you'll just have to amuse yourself with those uplifting Sean Burnett and Nate Schierholtz signings.

This, said one longtime executive Wednesday night, is where the entire sport should miss the Yankees. Seriously. The entire sport.

In a normal year, at a normal winter meetings, he said, the Yankees would come roaring in with their checkbooks out, ready to round up the nearest superstar. And it would force the action.

But with the Dodgers focused on only the pitching market (led by Greinke) and not the big-bopper market (led by Hamilton), they can't assume that role. So that leaves the Rangers -- and the slow-moving free agents they're chasing -- to set the pace.

"This is all being driven by Texas," the same exec said. "And they move slow, anyway."

This is where we all need to remind ourselves that it's only the winter meetings that end Thursday. The offseason, on the other hand, keeps right on rolling. Thank heaven.

So eventually, Greinke will sign. And Hamilton will sign. And the red lights all over the sport will turn green again.

Eventually.

Or -- who knows? -- maybe even any minute.

But as Wednesday at the winter meetings came and went, it appeared those fun-filled Jeff Francis and Jeff Keppinger signings just weren't quite powerful enough to break this logjam.

That, we're afraid, is a job for The Big Guys. And we're ready any time they are.