2009 Free Agent Class - Starting Pitchers

In the second of our two-part report, we look ahead to the free agent starting pitchers potentially coming available next year at this time.

The St. Louis Cardinals head toward the 2008 season with a variety of question marks, the biggest of which involve the starting rotation.  With Chris Carpenter lost for most of the season and Mark Mulder's health status uncertain, the Cardinals will be without two of their leaders.  In 2007, Adam Wainwright had a fantastic season, his first as a big league starter.  But both he and the surprising Braden Looper are coming off career highs in innings.  Joel Pineiro was very good after being acquired from the Boston Red Sox but he hasn't pitched more than 200 innings in a season since 2003.  Also, that year he posted a career high in wins with 16 but has not posted double-digit wins since. 


In the final segment of a two-part series, we will look at the potential 2009 free agent pitchers.  The 2008 market is very thin with pitchers like Carlos Silva and Kyle Lohse garnering most of the attention, but the 2009 market is as deep as I can recall.  With a reigning Cy Young Award winner, multiple World Series winners, and the arguably the best pitcher in baseball, the talent pool will be deep for the Cardinals to dip into – if they choose to do so. 


A.J. Burnett -
Toronto Blue Jays


Let me clarify, Burnett is a potential free agent.  In December of 2005, Burnett signed a five-year/$55 million contract that allows him to opt out after the 2008 season.  With the amount of money being thrown at pitchers, this could be a possibility for Burnett.  On the other hand, he may choose to stay put being that this is a deep free agent class.  The Cardinals have long been rumored to have interest in Burnett who hails from North Little Rock, Arkansas.  Burnett has a big-time fastball but has never been able to stay healthy.  The last two seasons he has averaged 145 innings and has only two years in which he has logged over 200 innings, 2002 and 2005, the latter being his previous free-agent walk year. 


Jon Garland - Chicago White Sox


The former first-round pick has always been something of an enigma.  Just when it looks like he is ready to step up and be an ace, he stumbles.  After winning 18 games in 2005 and 2006, Garland posted a below .500 record in 2007.  What the big right-hander will give you is innings.  Over the past four seasons, the former first round selection has averaged over 200 innings.  Looking at his career stats, Garland has a career strikeout to walk ratio of 1.6 to one; this past season it was 1.7 to one. 


Rich Harden - Oakland Athletics


The oft-injured Harden is one of the most talented players on this list.  The 26-year-old has only appeared in 72 innings the past two seasons and has logged only 464 during his five-year career.  Signing Harden would be a gamble if he suffers through another injury-plagued season.  With all the hype that surrounds Harden, his career high for victories is just 11 and he has only reached double digits in wins and pitched 100 innings twice.  If he comes out and is healthy, the Athletics would probably pick up his option and trade him.  He reminds of another pitcher that appears on this list, Mark Prior.  The Athletics hold a $7 million option for 2009.  If declined, Harden is eligible for arbitration. 


John Lackey - Los Angeles Angels


One of the more underrated "Aces" in all of baseball, Lackey won a career-high 19 games in 2007 as the leader of the Angels team that won the AL West.  Since becoming a regular during the 2003 season, he has averaged 210 innings a season.  Over the past three seasons he has averaged an almost three-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio.  The 29-year-old finished first in the AL in ERA and was second in wins this past season. The Angels hold a $9 million option with a $500,000 option for 2009.

Derek Lowe -
Los Angeles Dodgers


To me, Derek Lowe is the ideal Tony La Russa/Dave Duncan type of pitcher; a veteran with post-season experience who gets lots of groundballs.  Lowe posted a National League-high 3.46-to-one groundball-to-fly ball ratio this past season.  The 34-year-old is still an effective sinkerball artist that has been durable over that past six seasons.  Lowe has not posted an ERA over four since his terrible regular season of 2004.  But 2004 wasn't so bad overall for the Michigan native; he went out and helped Red Sox to the World Series as he posted an ERA of under two during that postseason. 

Pedro Martinez -
New York Mets


Martinez is probably the least likely on this list to come to St. Louis but he is fun to mention.  Pedro will be 37 during the 2009 season and his better days are behind him.  The Dominican pitched in only 28 innings in 2007 after logging only 133 in 2006.  His short comeback in 2007 was impressive, notching three victories in five games while striking out 32 batters and posting an ERA of 2.57. 


Brad Penny - Los Angeles Dodgers


Penny has averaged 16 wins and close to 200 innings the past two seasons.  With so many young arms waiting in the wings, the Dodgers' interest in re-signing Penny could be waning.  It will be interesting to see how Penny holds up, as he did throw a career-high 208 innings in 2007.  On the upside, Penny was ranked tenth in the National League with a 1.6-to-one groundball-to-fly ball ratio in 2007.  The Dodgers hold an $8.75 million option with a $2 million buyout.  So he would cost the Dodgers an extra $6.75 million, quite a bargain for a pitcher of Penny's caliber.

Oliver Perez -
New York Mets


Perez is 26 and won't turn 27 until August of 2008, so he is still quite young.  He has a ton of ability but still can seem quite raw at times even though he has logged over 800 career innings. The native of Mexico won a career-high 15 games in 2007 and finished with a better than two-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio.  His 8.85 K/IP ranked second in the National League to Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy. 

Mark Prior -
Chicago Cubs


Yes, he is often injured.  Yes, he is more hype than performance.  But, how much fun would it be if the Cardinals could catch lightning in a bottle?  How perturbed would Wrigleyville be if Prior finally got healthy and put it all together for the Cardinals? 

C.C. Sabathia -
Cleveland Indians


The reigning Cy Young Award winner will be looking for a big payday if the Indians do not lock up the ace of their staff.  In 2009, Sabathia will only be 28 and will highly sought-after if/when he hits the open market.  The big lefty posted career highs in wins, innings, ERA, and strikeouts in 2007.  He will most likely price himself out of the Cardinals' plans but he is definitely worth taking a look at. 

Johan Santana -
Minnesota Twins


Santana has not yet been traded and the Twins have not signed him to an extension.  At it stands, he will be a free agent at the end of 2008.  Will the Cardinals get in on Santana when rumors of six years/$150 million are floating around? 


Ben Sheets - Milwaukee Brewers


Another young, talented starter that can seem to stay healthy, Sheets has averaged only 135 innings per season the past three years.  The 29-year-old won 12 games for the second time in his career and posted an ERA of 3.82 that falls in line with his career ERA of 3.83.  The three-time All-Star has averaged a strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly four-to-one during his career. 


Other names for the Cardinals to consider are Paul Byrd, Estaban Loaiza, Matt Morris, and future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson.  The Cardinals will also need to look at a couple of their own as Mark Mulder and Braden Looper will be free agents as well.



Dustin Mattison can be reached via email at dustin@whiteyball.com.


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