Baseball BeatSeptember 05, 2007
A Preview of This Year's Free Agent Class: Part Two - The Pitchers
By Rich Lederer

Before we know it, the baseball season will be over and the discussion will have progressed from the pennant race to the playoffs to the World Series to this year's class of free agents. We got a jump on the latter by previewing the free agent position players yesterday. Today, we review the starting pitchers and relievers about to hit the open market.

If you didn't care for the hitters, you won't like the starters at all. Yes, this year's class of starting pitchers is thinner than Julian Tavarez. In fact, other than a few oldies (and maybe one goodie), there isn't a single pitcher that could be much more than a fourth or fifth starter on a middle-of-the road team.

Starting Pitchers

Kris Benson         BAL
Paul Byrd           CLE
Shawn Chacon        PIT
Matt Clement        BOS
Bartolo Colon       LAA
Scott Elarton       CLE
Josh Fogg           COL
Casey Fossum        DFA
Freddy Garcia       PHI
Livan Hernandez     ARZ
Jason Jennings      HOU
Brian Lawrence      NYM
Jon Lieber          PHI
Kyle Lohse          PHI
Rodrigo Lopez       COL
Wade Miller         CHC
Eric Milton         CIN
Odalis Perez        KC
Joel Pineiro        STL
Kenny Rogers        DET
Curt Schilling      BOS
Carlos Silva        MIN
Julian Tavarez      BOS
Brett Tomko         SD
Kip Wells           STL
Randy Wolf          LAD
Jaret Wright        BAL
Victor Zambrano     TOR

Who could have imagined that a soon-to-be-41-year-old pitcher would headline this year's crop of pitchers? Curt Schilling may not have much left in his tank but could garner some interest from a few contending clubs interested in signing him to a one-year deal. Don't rule out the Red Sox and Schilling agreeing to an incentive-laden deal that could bring back the veteran pitcher to Beantown for a fifth season.

In a similar vein, the Tigers and Kenny Rogers may see fit to work out a one-year contract to keep the 42-year-old southpaw in Detroit. Rogers, who is scheduled to start tonight for the first time since late July, is 3-2 with a 5.23 ERA in only 32.2 innings. He began the season on the disabled list after having surgery in March to remove a blood clot from his left shoulder and has spent additional time on the DL with inflammation in his elbow.

Teams may also take a flyer on Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia but neither is likely to earn the big bucks that would have been thrown at them had they been healthy all year.

As for club options, Paul Byrd ($8M) is the only pitcher who is apt to be renewed. The likes of Kris Benson ($7.5M) and Odalis Perez ($9M) are overpriced, while several pitchers with such options have already been released or designated for assignment (Casey Fossum and Brett Tomko) or are on the disabled list and out for the season (Randy Wolf). In picking up Joel Pineiro's contract, the Cardinals and their newest addition to the starting rotation have a mutual option for 2008. Depending on how Pineiro pitches in September (and possibly October) could determine his fate next year.

Relief Pitchers

Jeremy Affeldt      COL
Armando Benitez     FLA
Hector Carrasco     LAA
Francisco Cordero   MIL
Rheal Cormier       CIN
Vic Darensbourg     DET
Elmer Dessens       MIL
Scott Eyre          CHC
Jason Isringhausen  STL
Todd Jones          DET
Jorge Julio         COL
Joe Kennedy         TOR
Byung-Hyun Kim      FLA
Scott Linebrink     MIL
Ron Mahay           ATL
Trever Miller       HOU
Mike Myers          CWS
Joe Nathan          MIN
Chris Reitsma       SEA
Mariano Rivera      NYY
Rudy Seanez         LAD
Mike Timlin         BOS
Mike Venafro        MIN
Luis Vizcaino       NYY
Bob Wickman         DFA
Scott Williamson    BAL
Jay Witasick        TB

The relievers are a horse of a different color. Five closers top this group, including a future Hall of Famer and another who currently ranks among the best in the business. However, the cream of the crop may never become free agents because of loyalty and club options.

Mariano Rivera, who has made $10.5M in each of the past three seasons, will be free to negotiate with any team in a couple of months. It's hard to fathom him pitching for any team other than the Yankees, but I guess one has to at least ponder the possibility. Like teammate Jorge Posada, New York can afford to keep him if it so chooses. Unlike Posada, Rivera is not coming off a career season. However, if his K/BB numbers (62 SO and 8 BB in 59.2 IP) mean anything, he is far from done (despite an ERA which is the highest since his rookie season in 1995 when he started 10 out of 19 games).

Unless Joe Nathan suffers a major injury over the final four weeks of the season, consider it a foregone conclusion that the Twins will pick up the $6M club option on their All-Star closer. Although his strikeout rate is down from 2006, Nathan is enjoying another marvelous season. He would probably command a contract in the neighborhood of $10M per year in the open market.

The Cardinals hold an $8M club option on Jason Isringhausen with a $1.25M buyout. With a 1.77 ERA and 28 saves, a healthy Izzy is a good bet to be back in St. Louis next season.

Source: Cot's Baseball Contracts


What a bland list, though one correction. Rheal Cormier retired as a Braves farm hand this season. He was signed after he was released by Cincinnati and then decided to retire.

Thanks, Rain Delay. There may be one or two others like him that I missed. The focus was on the players rather than the teams. Unless a club holds an option, it doesn't matter all that much which team a player is on at this point. They will be free to negotiate with any organization in a couple of months.