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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Rieber: Damon looks as if he'll be this season's Abreu

Johnny Damon said he is close to a

Johnny Damon said he is close to a deal with Cleveland. Credit: John Dunn

When veteran players such as Bobby Abreu and Orlando Hudson were forced to scrounge for last-ditch, low-ball, one-year contracts right before spring training last year, it was looked at as something of an aberration - a product of a weak national economy.

Well, here we are a year later, and Johnny Damon has become this year's Abreu - a talented veteran who is going to have to lower his sights quite a bit in terms of years and dollars just to get a big-league job.

Hudson? He's out there again, hoping to get two years from the Washington Nationals.

Is this the way it's going to be? It looks as if baseball's owners and general managers have figured out that you don't have to overpay for talent when there is plenty of talent available.

The top guys still will get their money, and the bottom guys will sign for minor-league deals. It's the middle guys who are getting squeezed.

With the glut of players still available a month before spring training, we offer the all-unsigned team (see chart). It's based on players who still were available before the weekend.

Take a look at our team. We're a little weak in centerfield and at closer, and Pedro Martinez really isn't a No. 1 anymore, and we're carrying a lot of age, so injuries could be a problem.

But look at our lineup and rotation again and ask yourself this: Would you rather have this team or the Carlos Beltran-less Mets at the start of the season?

The all-unsigned team

( With stats from 2009)

C: Bengie Molina (.265, 20 HRs, 80 RBIs)

1B: Russell Branyan (.251, 31 HRs, 76 RBIs)

2B: Orlando Hudson (.283, 9 HRs, 62 RBIs)

SS: Orlando Cabrera (.284, 9 HRs, 77 RBIs)

3B: Miguel Tejada (.313, 14 HRs, 86 RBIs)

LF: Johnny Damon (.282, 24 HRs, 82 RBIs)

CF: Rick Ankiel (.231, 11 HRs, 38 RBIs)

RF: Jermaine Dye (.250, 27 HRs, 81 RBIs)

DH: Jim Thome (.249, 23 HRs, 77 RBIs)

SP: Pedro Martinez (5-1), Joel Piñeiro (15-12), Jarrod Washburn (9-9), Jon Garland (11-13), Ben Sheets (13-9*)

RP: Mike MacDougal (20 saves)

MGR: Bobby Valentine

*2008 record

Cat for Mets?

Smithtown's Frank Catalanotto, who played with the Brewers last season, is another free agent. The 13-year major-league veteran would be a perfect fit for the Mets as a lefthanded bat off the bench who could fill in at multiple positions, especially with Angel Pagan likely moving into a starting role in centerfield.

A scan of the Mets' roster shows a glaring need for a lefthanded-hitting bench player, among their other glaring needs.

Catalanotto's agent, Alan Nero, said Friday he is talking with a few clubs, but the Mets are not one of them. Catalanotto, 35, is a lifetime .292 hitter.

The Yankees recently signed Long Island product (and Mets fan) Reid Gorecki to a minor-league deal. Gorecki, a 29-year-old outfielder who went to Kellenberg High School in Uniondale, made his big-league debut at Citi Field last August for the Braves.

Fish out of water

Here's another headache for the Mets: The Marlins are starting to spend money.

The news Thursday that Florida had agreed to a four-year, $39-million contract extension with ace Josh Johnson came two days after the team, MLB and the players' union released an unusual joint statement about the team's spending habits.

The union said it had "concerns that revenue-sharing proceeds have not been used as required . . . The Marlins have assured the union and the commissioner's office that they plan to use such proceeds to increase player payroll annually as they move toward the opening of their new ballpark."

The Marlins' new ballpark is scheduled to open in 2012. They had the lowest payroll in baseball last season at $36.8 million - and still won 17 more games than the Mets.

After Mark McGwire’s steroid admission, here are . . .
Three people who look good
1. Jose Canseco: At this point, if Canseco said Gandhi and Mother Teresa did steroids, you’d have to believe him.
2. Paul Bunyan: Got mentioned in so many articles this week (McGwire is always referred to as “Bunyanesque’’), the big guy might be ripe for a comeback.
3. Roger Maris: 61 never looked better — or cleaner.
Three people who look bad
1. Tony La Russa: Defended McGwire’s reputation to no end, usually rather rudely.
2. Sammy Sosa: If this prodigious home run hitter comes clean, maybe the steroid era really will be behind us.
3. Barry Bonds: See No. 2.
Three people who should really keep quiet about this
1. Bud Selig: No amount of wishing will make his complicity in the steroid era go away.
2. Goose Gossage: Fine, he got in the Hall, but do we need to hear his opinion on every single thing?
3. Pete Rose: What he did is still worse.
Three actual statements McGwire made during the 2005 congressional hearing:
1. “I’m not here to talk about the past.”
2. “My message is steroids are bad. Don’t do them.”
3. “It should be enough that you consider the source of the statements.” (About Canseco).
Three dubious assertions McGwire probably shouldn’t repeat the next time he talks about this:
1. Steroids didn’t help him play better.
2. He doesn’t remember what he was taking.
3. He would have welcomed drug testing during his career.

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