Free Agent Racism?

Twins second baseman Orlando Hudson hinted that racism is why Jermaine Dye is out of work, reports Yahoo's Jeff Passan.  Hudson's comments:

"You see guys like Dye without a job.  Guy with [27 home runs and 81 RBIs] and can't get a job. Pretty much sums it up right there, no? You've got some guys who miss a year who can come back and get $5, $6 million, and a guy like Jermaine Dye can't get a job. A guy like Gary Sheffield,  a first-ballot Hall of Famer, can't get a job.  We both know what it is. You'll get it right. You'll figure it out. I'm not gonna say it because then I'll be in [trouble]."

Passan is correct in that the perception of racism in the free agent market is a problem.  But let's look at individual cases referenced in the article:

  • Gary Sheffield hit well in 312 plate appearances for the Mets last year, but was lousy the year prior.  The 41-year-old is a big negative on defense.  He battled knee, back, and hamstring injuries, and sat out a game in August when the Mets declined his request for a contract extension.
  • Passan provides good examples in Kenny Lofton and Ray Durham.  But Lofton was said to be asking for $2.5-3MM by some, $6MM by others.  In the spring of '08 Lofton was a near 41-year-old part-time player with suspect defense.  Durham, 37 at the time, turned down an $850K offer from the Nationals.  He was still able to hit, but his defense was questionable.  Isn't it possible that the common thread here is age and defense rather than race?  Luis Gonzalez and Jim Edmonds couldn't find anything after the '08 season either.
  • Passan names three white players who did get paid this winter:  Aubrey Huff, Garrett Atkins, and Xavier Nady.  Presumably Passan is implying that if these three got $3-4.5MM, Dye should've too.  However, Huff and Atkins were both named by team execs are two of the worst signings of the offseason.  It's very possible that the Giants and Orioles just made bad signings.  One exec told me he preferred Hank Blalock, who signed a $925K minor league deal, to Huff.  And the Cubs made similar offers to both Dye and Nady.  Nady was coming off a lost season, but he's younger and had more first base experience. 
  • Dye has been picky; he said yesterday that to move his family to Washington, D.C. he'd require "a little bit more."  When the Rangers were interested, there was word that Dye did not want a full-time DH job.  Dye appears unwilling to settle for the $1.5-2MM players like Jim Thome and Russell Branyan received. 
  • Hudson referred to players who missed a year and got $5-6MM.  Presumably he's talking about Ben Sheets, but the situation isn't comparable to Dye.  Coco Crisp snagged $5.5MM (also from the A's) coming off a 49-game season cut short by surgeries on both shoulders.  The pair of moves was about the A's making injury upside plays.  Unlike the older free agents forced out of the game, Crisp is known for his defense.
  • Hudson's point deserves consideration, but he has to acknowledge the shift toward defense and youth as well.

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