Supply and demand - any economist will tell you that in a free market, this is what determines a price. As the government has not yet taken over MLB, we have a free agency free market. As a player in this market, I'd sure like to be any position other than an outfielder.
Free agents with OPS > .800 include: Manny Ramirez, Pat Burrell, Adam Dunn, Milton Bradley, Raul Ibanez, Cliff Floyd, Bobby Abreu, Jim Edmonds, Rocco Baldelli (in 28 games), Jerry Hairston, and Casey Blake (though he'll likely play 3rd).
Granted, all of these players have flaws, ranging from Manny being Manny, low BA's lots of K's and bad defense for Burrell and Dunn, age with Ibanez and Floyd, injury issues with Bradley and Baldelli, and, is Hairston really on this list? Really?
Of the above free agents, only Ramirez, Bradley, Ibanez, and Blake were offered arbitration, meaning the 'only' cost of a free agent is money. This means that teams like the Reds who should value draft picks won't lose one from signing most of these free agents.
Potential trade targets: Names that have popped up as potentially being available for trade include Jermaine Dye, Brian Giles, Xavier Nady, Magglio Ordonez, and one of the St. Louis outfielders (Ankiel and Ludwick).
From the trade targets, we have a team that looks like they'll suck next year (Padres), a team that looks like it's in sell-off mode (White Sox), a team where jobs are being lost like crazy (Tigers), a team that wants to get a young outfielder up (Cards), and a team with excess outfielders (Yankees). And I'm sure there are many more available outfielders than those I mentioned.
We've read numerous sportswriters say that they're seeing the market affecting free agent salaries due to lower projected revenues from ticket sales and corporate sponsorships. Even the Yankees, moving into their goldmine of a park, seem to be affected (Ken Rosenthal brings up the fact that the Mets, Yankees, Jets, and Giants all move into a new ballpark in the coming 20 months). Other teams will take a double hit, due to reduced ticket sales and reduced revenue sharing from the Yankees as the Yankees can deduct operating costs of the new ballpark from local revenue, meaning less $$ in the revenue sharing pool from its biggest contributor.
The current market conditions seem to be making teams hesitant not only to sign free agents, but to offer arbitration to their own free agents who look likely to get multi-year deals (an aside, that Dunn trade looks like a steal now, doesn't it?). Additionally, teams are looking at their own payroll and financial flexibility, and seem to be favoring younger (i.e. less expensive) players. This, too, lowers demand for the middle-age and older free agents.
Teams appear to be wanting to control costs and unload expensive ballplayers. Additionally, teams are valuing younger players more. From the trades of Matt Holliday and Nick Swisher, it appears that even trading for an outfielder will cost less in terms of prospects than it would have in other offseasons.
The end result will be depressed player costs for the corner outfielders, both via trade and via free agency. This is not going to be the case for many other positions - SS, 2B, CF, C, SP - where there seems to either be a dearth of quality players available, or a never-ending need for quality players (SP).
Should the Reds pull the trigger on one of the bigger-names available?
This is where the GM gets paid to do his job. I'm a firm believer that in baseball, one player does not make a huge difference. We're looking for a corner outfielder to replace Adam Dunn, whose annual 40 HR, 100 BB, 100 RBI is not overlooked here as it is on certain local radio stations.
If adding one outfielder is all we do, are we basically back at the team we had in the middle of last year? Do we end up just hoping Cueto and Harang improve on last year's numbers and that Volquez's 2008 was no fluke? We've been there and done that - see 2008, where we signed 1 big-name player who came in and did fix the problem the team had the prior year, but didn't get us much closer to contention.
I don't like the sign 1 player and hope the rest improve strategy. My opinion is that if we can only add a corner outfielder, we better improve the team somewhere else (shortstop, catcher, 3B defense, starting pitching depth). Otherwise, I'll pass - despite a favorable buyers market..