THE NEWBERG REPORT — NOVEMBER 28, 2006

Sixteen free agents have signed big league contracts with new teams.

The top three outfielder contracts have gone to Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee, and Gary Matthews Jr.

The top second baseman contract went to Mark DeRosa.

The top starting pitcher contract, pending a physical, belongs to Adam Eaton, who will be number seventeen to switch teams.

And the top catcher contract appeared to be a signature away from belonging to Rod Barajas, though that deal (with Toronto) was reportedly falling apart last night.

Now, Eaton isn’t going to end up making more per year than Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt or half a dozen others — including Vicente Padilla (whether he changes teams or not) — but it’s still bizarre to see how Texas players are, so far, dominating the early stages of free agency this winter.

Eaton and Philadelphia (the team that drafted him in the first round in 1996) reportedly agreed to terms yesterday on a three-year deal worth approximately $24 million, with a mutual option year that would make the total package worth more than $33 million.

The Rangers get no draft pick compensation for the loss of Eaton, who was neither a Type A free agent nor a Type B.

The Phillies hired Steve Smith to serve as their third base coach and infield instructor, the dual role that Art Howe was slated to serve in Philly before the Rangers hired him to be Ron Washington’s bench coach.

So that makes it Eaton, Ricardo Rodriguez, David Dellucci, Fabio Castro, Charley Kerfeld, and Smith for Padilla, Robinson Tejeda, Jake Blalock, Daniel Haigwood, Don Welke, and Howe. Sort of.

Kerfeld, in the last couple years, has moved from the Seattle organization to San Diego to Texas to Philadelphia. Eaton, a Seattle native, has gone from San Diego to Texas to Philadelphia in the last year.

The Barajas situation is bizarre. Hours after reports indicated that Toronto had agreed to pay him nearly $6 million for two years, pending a physical, came word that the deal was off, that Barajas was changing agents, and that the Jays had pulled the offer from the table and were possibly planning on re-offering a similar package to Gregg Zaun, even though he’d recently declined a Toronto offer at the same level.

This isn’t a particularly good development for Texas, which plans to go forward with Gerald Laird as the starter behind the plate and has no intentions of bringing Barajas back. While Barajas’s value may be no more than $3 million per year on the open market, he’d possibly command 50 percent more than that through arbitration, and as a result Texas probably can’t risk offering him arbitration (by December 1) just to get the supplemental first-rounder as compensation if he signs elsewhere — because he just might accept the arbitration offer . . . especially if there’s a physical issue that caused the Jays deal to fall apart.

As it stands, the Rangers have surrendered pick number 16 in the first round in June (for the signing of Frank Catalanotto), but have added two first-rounders (17th and 24th overall, subject to other signings by Anaheim and Houston), as well as supplemental picks between rounds one and two for the losses of Lee, Matthews, and DeRosa. It appeared that Texas was about to land another supplemental first due to the Jays’ signing of Barajas, but that pick is now up in the air. If Padilla leaves, he’ll generate yet another supplemental first.

All of that bodes well for June. But that’s June. Padilla is the one remaining Rangers free agent that the club wants to keep. To pay him what it’s going to take to prevent him from going somewhere else, it’s going to take some blind faith, a nervous trust that he’ll perform with the security of a long-term contract as well as he performed in 2006, when he was pitching for his first free agency deal. Frankly, you’ll have to overpay Padilla and summon up a heaping helping of that blind faith that the Cubs (Soriano), Astros (Lee), Angels (Matthews, Justin Speier), Phillies (Eaton), Dodgers (Juan Pierre) have mustered.

This winter, not unlike most in this era, it’s more than just cash that teams have to commit in order to compete for the top tier of free agents. And even the next tier. And the next. But you have to do it, unless you’re willing to empty your farm system and overpay via trade.

I’m glad the Rangers (who couldn’t offer DeRosa a starting job) didn’t agree to the contracts that Lee and Matthews got, the one that Eaton’s about to get, or the one that Barajas seemed poised to get. But for me, Padilla’s a different story, unless his price gets to be something like $12 million a year or more, for more than three years. And who knows? At this rate, it might.

With the Winter Meetings six days away, and especially with starting pitchers now beginning to choose their teams, it’s time for Rangers news to start bearing less on their increasing firepower in the amateur draft and more on the 40 players they will take to camp in 11 weeks.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

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