GMs proceeding with caution

In baseball's new economy, GMs are more sensitive than ever to red flags, and these players raise them.

Updated: November 26, 2003, 4:44 PM ET
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN Insider
Every free-agent contract is a risk. It's simply a question of degree.

The Seattle Mariners signed outfielder Raul Ibanez to a three-year, $13.25 million contract last week. If Ibanez builds on the progress he showed in Kansas City, he'll be worth the investment. If he reverts to the player who failed to cut it with Seattle from 1996-2000, he won't. But it's not a killer either way.

"What is he, a $3 million player instead of a $4 million player?" said an American League general manager. "Any contract in that range is never going to prohibit you from building a team. A turkey is going to be $8-10 million a year or more. This one can't be that bad of a deal."

If Vladimir Guerrero signs for six years and $80 million and turns into Ken Griffey Jr., that's a nightmare. If Kelvim Escobar turns out to be a bundle of terminally unfulfilled potential, that's $18.75 million the Angels will regret spending. If Fernando Vina is done because he's almost 35 and has hamstring problems, some team might be out $1-2 million. That's a mistake you swallow and move on.

General managers are paid to distill reality from hype and speculation, and no player is immune from scrutiny. So they'll spend the next few weeks asking themselves: Is Kevin Millwood a No. 3 starter in search of a No. 1 contract? What are the odds Tom Gordon won't blow out his elbow again, or Rondell White can give a team 500 at-bats? Will Mike Cameron be a better offensive player away from Safeco Field? And most important, which agent is representing Luis Castillo this week?

Sooner or later, teams will exhaust their trade possibilities and start picking off free agents. Before that process takes place, here are four categories that might require some extra attention. Welcome to Baseball Insider's "Buyer Beware" segment.

Jerry Crasnick

ESPN Senior Writer