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Baseball’s Wal-Mart now open for business

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On Wednesday, pitchers and catchers begin reporting to spring training camps. The Rays are among the last to begin, their players not arriving in Port Charlotte until Feb. 21.

Baseball is in the pre-spring training period where clubs often intensify their efforts to sign free agents and fill out rosters. Signings might consist of middle relief pitchers, a fourth or fifth starter, or perhaps an infielder or outfielder who adds depth to their bench.

The blockbuster signings are already completed by the big market teams. Former Tampa Bay Ray David Price jumped from Toronto to Boston for $217 million over seven years; Zack Greinke left the Dodgers for Arizona after accepting a $206 million offer for six years; the Chicago Cubs gave Jason Heyward $184 million over eight years to leave St. Louis.

There are some pretty good players left. Outfielder Dexter Fowler rejected the Cubs’ qualifying offer of $15.8 million for one year and has yet to find another taker. The same is true for shortstop Ian Desmond, who turned down a similar offer from Washington.

The February free agent market is there for any team to pick up a bargain. Players falling into this category are guys like Matt Joyce, who spent time with the Rays. How about former St. Louis World Series hero David Freese, an infielder who most recently played with the Los Angeles Angels?

Reliever Burke Badenhop, formerly of Miami, Cincinnati and other clubs, can fill an open spot in someone’s bullpen. Manny Parra showed he could still effectively get left-handed hitters out last year. Marlon Byrd is an outfielder, who even at age 38, showed he can still hit and play adequate defense.

Over the next two weeks, expect a flurry of activity in the free agent market. This is one shopping trip where even the small market teams can buy.

Call it the baseball Wal-Mart.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at

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