St. Louis Cardinals will begin making calls today as free agent period opens
Los Angeles Dodgers' Rafael Furcal./ (Mark J. Terrill/Getty Images)By Rick Hummel
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
The baseball free-agent class for 2009 becomes official today, with the filing period having ended Thursday at midnight and with all teams now having an opportunity to talk money to all free agents.
A survey of the candidates suggests that the crop is strongest in left field, of all places, and on the mound.
In left field, for example, there are Manny Ramirez (who is expected to return to the Los Angeles Dodgers), Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell, Raul Ibanez and Garret Anderson, although only Dunn (29) and Burrell (32) are not at least 36 years old.
Among starting pitchers available are more than a half-dozen who have won anywhere from 16 to 19 games at some point in the past three seasons and have one Cy Young Award (CC Sabathia). And that doesn't even count two other pitchers who have won eight National League Cy Young Awards between them in Randy Johnson, 44, and Greg Maddux, 42.
Sabathia, who was 11-2 with a 1.65 earned run average in 17 starts with the Milwaukee Brewers after being dealt to them by Cleveland, clearly is at the head of the class and already has a reported $100 million, five-year offer from the Brewers.
The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels are likely to go higher than that, and the Brewers might, too, but there is little doubt that Sabathia's ultimate contract, on the average, will exceed that of lefthander Johan Santana, who received $137.5 million over six years from the New York Mets last offseason.
But after Sabathia, there is plenty from which to choose in the starting pitching arena, including Derek Lowe, Ryan Dempster, A.J. Burnett, Jon Garland and perhaps Randy Wolf if Houston doesn't retain him.
"There's no doubt," said Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, "that from a year ago, there are a lot more opportunities in the starting pitching market."
Last year, only two starting pitchers signed free-agent contracts longer than two years. One was Hiroki Kuroda, who was 9-10 in the first year of a three-year deal with the Dodgers. The other was Carlos Silva, an awful 4-15 with a 6.45 earned run average in the first year of a four-year, $48 million deal the Seattle Mariners already regret.
The biggest pitching fish, however, is righthander Jake Peavy, whom the San Diego Padres are trying to trade (with Peavy's permission) to several teams. Peavy, who has had some injury issues, has a contract that pays him $11 million next year, $15 million in 2010 and $16 million in 2011. And there is a $22 million option for 2012, so he doesn't come cheaply.
The Atlanta Braves, who finally have some payroll room, are believed to be the leading contenders for Peavy, and Peavy has said he would go to Atlanta.
Mozeliak, like the other 29 general mangers, will be making initial calls to free agents today. That group is likely to include former Cardinals shortstop Edgar Renteria, who was with Detroit; Arizona second baseman Orlando Hudson; Los Angeles shortstop Rafael Furcal; and lefthanded relievers Arthur Rhodes (Florida), Will Ohman (Atlanta) and Brian Fuentes (Colorado) â€” although the last named is likely to be too pricey.
The Cardinals already have made an offer to free-agent second baseman Felipe Lopez, who finished the season with the Cardinals, hitting .384 over two months, and he remains in play, although the number of years desired by the Lopez camp could be a factor.
As for righthanded relief help, the Cardinals are unlikely to pursue career saves leader Trevor Hoffman, let loose by San Diego. Nor are they anxious to make a bid for Huston Street, now with Colorado, as a potential closer.
The Cardinals also have interest in starting pitching, but that quest is likely to wait until another nerve exam on righthander Chris Carpenter's shoulder later this month.
Among the Cardinals' rivals in the National League Central Division, the division champion Cubs seem eager to find a lefthanded hitter whose name is not Kosuke Fukudome, the $48 million bust (so far) imported from Japan last year.
"We need to add some lefthanded hitting and a little more athleticism," said manager Lou Piniella.
Chicago may go after Bobby Abreu, who hit .294 with 100 runs batted in for the Yankees, but if the Yankees offer Abreu arbitration, he might take it and make some $19 million next year on a one-year deal.
Meanwhile, while the Brewers wait for Sabathia's decision, their bullpen â€” not exactly their strength anyway â€” has gone farther south. Eric Gagne, Guillermo Mota and Brian Shouse have filed for free agency and capable Salomon Torres, who had 28 saves and seven wins, suddenly has retired.
But as Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "We haven't given a lot of thought to the bullpen yet. We've got other holes to fill first."