Beimel waits out uneasy market
Dodgers reach out, but left-hander isn't getting hopes up for deal
LOS ANGELES -- Baseball's version of rising unemployment includes Joe Beimel, whose strategy for finding work has been reduced to waiting patiently.
He's a job seeker coming off three consistently efficient seasons as a Major League reliever, and left-handed at that. He wasn't looking for Manny Ramirez money, but when the comparable Jeremy Affeldt signed a two-year, $8 million deal with the Giants in November, Beimel (who earned $2.045 million last year) figured he'd be fine.
He figured wrong. The free-agent market suddenly collapsed with the economy, especially at his position. He said he's spoken with 16 teams, none making an offer worth accepting. Not even an offer in hindsight he'd accept.
On the eve of Spring Training, Beimel actually heard from the Dodgers on Tuesday -- for the first time this winter -- but after three months of dashed hopes, he hesitates before getting excited that he might return to the club that picked him off the scrap heap and allowed him to break through.
"It's a good sign when a club calls, but in this market, you can't get optimistic just because a club calls," Beimel said. "A lot of teams say they're interested, but turning words into action hasn't happened. It's been strange."
That the Dodgers hadn't called earlier, Beimel speculates, was nothing personal. Having watched a dozen free-agent Dodgers leave while the payroll's been dramatically slashed, Beimel said it wasn't a surprise.
"I just figured that they'd thought I'd be too expensive and they'd go younger and cheaper," he said. "I always loved the organization. The people in the front office were straight up with you. This was never a case where I felt a victim. It was a business decision by them."
In 2008, Beimel remained a workhorse with 71 appearances and posted his best statistics (5-1, 2.02 ERA), although he slipped a notch in the bullpen as Hong-Chih Kuo became the key lefty used by new manager Joe Torre while Beimel's average against left-handed hitters rose to .278. The Dodgers also have spoken with veteran relievers Will Ohman, Dennys Reyes and Jamey Wright.
"It's been strange and I can't put my finger on it," Beimel said. "I put up good numbers three straight years, I'm durable. Usually that means you get a good contract, but it just hasn't happened this year. It's just really weird. I haven't even had a reasonable offer to negotiate with. I don't want to sign just to sign. It's definitely discouraging, but you've got to deal with it. I'll just wait it out."
Beimel, who turns 32 in April, isn't sure whether Tuesday's exchange of voicemails between the Dodgers and his agent are an indication he'll get the kind of offer he's looking for, or just that the club is hoping he's lowered his sights.
To that, Beimel is bewildered. He thinks clubs were scared off by perception of his desires, not by reality.
"People were saying I wanted too much money or years, but neither I nor my agent said anything like that," he said. "I don't know where they're getting it. People don't realize, they think you're holding out for multiyears or a bunch of money. That's not the case with me. I'm just waiting to get something halfway decent. I'm sure as Spring Training goes on, guys get hurt or don't perform and there will be plenty of opportunities."
Beimel was asked if, considering the economy in general and baseball's in particular, he's lowered his expectations.
"You'd have to be pretty naïve not to," he said. "You can't lower too much and accept a bad deal just to sign. A lot of players had expectations that just didn't happen. I'm not the only one. There are 70 free agents left out there. A lot of them are going to be disappointed. It's just the way it's going this year. If I was the only one still looking, I'd look at myself and wonder if maybe I'm wrong. Obviously, I'm not the only one."
Beimel, who moved this offseason from his native Pennsylvania to Manhattan Beach, Calif., has been throwing regular bullpen sessions. He said he's healthy and ready to go when he gets the call.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.