Less than a year after the Oakland Athletics proved it was possible to reach the playoffs with a small-market payroll, there are rumblings that the rising tide of baseball economics will soon submerge them again.
The club's attempt to re-sign 2000 American League Most Valuable Player Jason Giambi has run aground, leading to speculation that the A's may trade him before the July 31 waiver deadline.
Sounds crazy, but it's not.
Giambi and the A's have been trying to finalize a six-year, $91 million deal since spring training, but the negotiations have been hung up over Giambi's desire for a no-trade clause. Now, agent Arn Tellem says that the $91 million figure is off the table, and he's giving every indication that Giambi will enter the free-agent market at the end of the season.
"The deal was there for them in March and now it's no longer there," Tellem told The Oakland Tribune recently. "We'll talk after the season and see where they want to go. To me, they missed a golden opportunity. ... They made a business decision and you have to respect that. But they missed a golden opportunity to lock up a franchise player."
That's typical agent talk, of course, but Tellem may be right. The going rate for a franchise power hitter is pushing $20 million a year, though the free-agent market may be affected by the coming labor negotiations.
General manager Billy Beane has said so far that he won't consider dealing Giambi, but he needs to determine whether his ownership is going to be willing to pay $100 million or more to sign him. If not, Beane needs to move now to get maximum value for the 30-year-old slugger. This isn't the kind of guy you want to give up for draft picks.
Beane faces similar situations with speedy outfielder Johnny Damon and reliever Jason Isringhausen, who also appear headed for free agency. The A's still have an outside chance to earn a wild-card berth, but that isn't worth the long-term impact of losing three front-line players without getting any major-league talent in return.
Giambi, by the way, would be a nice centerpiece for the Orioles' rebuilding project, but don't hold your breath. If he becomes available, the New York Yankees will be first in line to acquire him.
Rocker after rocking
Cleveland Indians closer John Rocker has been guilty of a lot of things during the past couple of years - from political incorrectness to poor judgment to general unpleasantness. Now, you can add one more fault to the list: bad taste in music.
Rocker sparked a minor controversy in Cleveland last weekend when he flew back to Atlanta after a game to attend a concert by the heavy-metal group Black Sabbath. He returned in time for the next day's game at Jacobs Field, but served up two walks and a hit in the ninth inning to take a 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Manager Charlie Manuel discussed the situation with Rocker but took no action because the veteran left-hander did not break any team rules.
No word on whether he stopped in Baltimore to pick up Sidney Ponson.
Rockies to unload
The Colorado Rockies all but sealed the fate of pitcher Pedro Astacio when they lost 16 of their last 19 games before the All-Star break. Now, there is no reason not to trade the veteran right-hander to a contender by the waiver deadline.
Astacio is 6-10, but he is a solid pitcher who is expected to draw strong interest from several big-market contenders, including the Boston Red Sox, the Indians, the Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Rockies are eager to move him because they hold a $9 million option on him for next season and expect to need some payroll flexibility this winter. The club already has $41 million committed for next year to nine players, including Mike Hampton, Todd Helton, Jeff Cirillo, Denny Neagle and Larry Walker, so keeping Astacio next year would leave them with just $15 million of their $65 million payroll budget to pay the other 15 players on the 25-man roster.
Don't be surprised if the Rockies also dangle shortstop Neifi Perez in front of some clubs. They like him, but don't know if he's worth the $5 million or so he might get in arbitration after another solid offensive season.
Hart slows down
One of the most active guys at last year's waiver deadline was Indians GM John Hart, who made three trades in one day (July 28) to acquire David Segui, Wil Cordero and pitchers Bob Wickman, Jason Bere and Steve Woodard.
Hart is looking for pitching again, but doesn't figure to make more than one significant move.
"We have a full club and we don't have a lot of room to maneuver," he said. "That's not to say we won't do something."
The Indians have expressed interest in Astacio, Woody Williams, Sterling Hitchcock and Albie Lopez, among others. If they can acquire a solid starter and get Chuck Finley back from the disabled list, they should be in position to press the surprising Twins.
Twins seek another arm