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On Black Friday, where have all the free-agent bargains gone?

Happy Black Friday. It’s the biggest shopping day of the year and at this hour, you’re likely either running through the aisle of a department store to snag that $99 high-definition TV or you're at home laughing at the thought of it.

First off, some full disclosure here. I was among the masses who spent the early morning hours chasing doorbusters and trying to get a leg up on holiday shopping. Part of it is to get some deals – or at least the idea of them – and the other part is the experience. You see a lot of interesting things.

But the purpose of this blog isn’t my new plum colored winter vest. No, in the spirit of Black Friday, we’re going to talk about the big bargains on the free agent market – of rather the lack of them.

So far any team looking for a steal is instead watching some free agents steal money.

As you awake from your tryptophan-induced slumber, you might have had to do a double take at the notion that former Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie received a three-year, $24-million deal from the Royals, which will include an $11 million payday in 2014.

That’s the same Jeremy Guthrie who lost nine of 12 decisions and compiled a 6.35 ERA in Colorado after the Orioles dealt him to the Rockies for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom, a deal that looks like a fleecing now. Guthrie figured things out in Kansas City, but I’m not sure many expected him to receive that hefty a reward.

The Orioles were after free-agent outfielder Jonny Gomes, but Gomes reportedly agreed to a two-year, $10-million deal with the Red Sox on Wednesday. Now Gomes had a solid season (.262/.377/.491 with 18 homers and 47 RBIs), but he still is a liability against right-handed pitching (a .209 average last year vs. .299 against left-handed pitching) and is limited defensively. It’s a stretch to say he’s an everyday player, but he commanded five times what he made last season with the A’s.

Add in the head-scratcher of a deal that Blue Jays – a team that’s suddenly printing out Canadian money – gave to Melky Cabrera, a two-year, $16-million deal for a player coming off a 50-game drug suspension, and there’s a weird feeling to this year’s free agent market.

There’s spending – and then there’s splurging.

We thought that the beginning of this year’s free agency could involve a lot of early movement because new rules in the collective bargaining agreement allow teams to know the available free-agent pool a lot earlier.

Meanwhile, the Orioles sit and wait. They were interested in Gomes, especially because of his numbers against lefties, but they weren’t going to give him anywhere near the $5 million a year salary he received from Boston. They’re not too heartbroken over losing him either, because they'd actually much rather put that money toward resigning Nate McLouth, who is a better overall player than Gomes.

But while they wait for the market to come back to earth, they could end up fazing themselves out on McLouth as well. All it takes is one team to over McLouth a similar deal to Gomes and it could price the Orioles out. They have an idea of what they want to play. And they feel it is reasonable, but whether the market agrees is yet to be seen.

Again, the free-agent market will calm down eventually. And trust that executive vice president Dan Duquette will scour for undervalues talents like he did last season.

And remember that two moves that ended up being the most significant – the acquisition of Hammel and Lindstrom for Gurthrie and the signing of free-agent right hander Miguel Gonzalez out of Mexico – didn’t officially happen until February and March, respectively. So there’s plenty of time left.

Whether there are any true bargains left on the shelves when it’s time for the Orioles to shop, we will see.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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