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Shadows Searching in the Night

Just as I was beginning to write a piece advocating the White Sox pick up a number a former All-Stars on minor league or near-league-minimum contracts, Freddy Garcia, the Sox second possible scrap heap pick-up for the rotation, has agreed to terms with the Mets. Garcia's deal is a minor league deal, which means it's non-guaranteed, but reportedly carries incentives which could raise his salary to near 8 figures.

A few days ago, I mentioned that I though Garcia was worth more than Bartolo Colon, as Garcia, a year off of shoulder surgery, figures to be a better injury risk than the perpetually injured Colon. That being said, I don't think the Sox could have matched the Mets offer even if they had offered him a guaranteed deal.

We have the Sox current '09 salary obligations at about $94MM right now, but that doesn't include the $4M signing bonus to Dayan Viciedo, the '09 buyout of Pablo Ozuna's contract (yeah, they still owe him), and the $3+MM or so which will be paid to the near-minimum guys. The Sox are looking at about a $100MM opening day payroll.

Kenny Williams has said the Sox were bumping against their "payroll ceiling" numerous times since November, and given their actions this off-season we have no reason not to believe him. It's my feeling, however, based on nothing other than my own intuitions, that the Sox have a little bit of wiggle room left. They were "in" on the Garcia derby, after all.

That wiggle room is probably no more than a million dollars or two, nothing in baseball terms, certainly not enough to sway the hubris of a former All-Star from a possible $9MM payout. But I had hoped it would be enough to entice some semi-interesting guys looking for work in a tough baseball (and world) economy.

* * * * *

Three prominent members of the White Sox '05 World Series Champions team are looking for work, (Joe Crede, Jon Garland and Juan Uribe) and receiving tepid interest at best. Garland has drawn the most interest, turning down contract offer believed to be in the $4MM range from the D'backs because it contained two option years (Option years are bad in this case because they could possibly lock Garland into a below market contract for the next two seasons, with no upside on his end). Crede claims his back is all fixed up, and will hold a workout for scouts next week. Uribe, meanwhile, has drawn zero interest. There is a legitimate, albeit slim, chance that the trio will earn less in guaranteed money as free agents in '09 than they did in '05 as cost-controlled members of the White Sox ($4.15M).

The contrast between that trio's predicament and the situation Aaron Rowand found himself in last year is striking. I've generally thought of them as roughly the same players, albeit at different positions. They're all players who I thought of as average-to-above average, but not star caliber (whatever that means) at their respective positions. Juan Uribe has removed himself from that conversation with a steady decline since his Chicago debut, but I still think that stands for Rowand/Garland/Crede. The contract Rowand received versus the contracts that Garland and Crede are likely to be offered illustrate how important health and walk-year performance really is.

Which brings me back to what I had intended to write about today. Thanks to the economy, there might not have been a better time in the free agent era to go dumpster diving. For let's say $2M, you might be able to pick up 3 or 4 down-and-out players who have significant upside. And in the AL Central where there's no clear favorite--I'd give the nod to Cleveland right now--it might be those pickups in the last month of free agency that make the difference.