What's Left? Free Agent Starters

In the final installment of a two-part series, Dustin Mattison looks at the remaining free agent starting pitchers

With less than two weeks left until pitcher and catchers report to spring training, there are still some viable candidates the St. Louis Cardinals can look at to help shore up the starting rotation. Chris Carpenter has made only four starts the last two seasons and his status is uncertain heading into the upcoming season.

The team's fifth starter, Joel Pineiro, finished with an ERA over five in the first year of a two-year, $13 million contract. Bill James, Marcel, and Chone project that it will be much of the same for the 30-year-old in 2009.

But have no fear Cardinal fans; there are still viable contracts left, that is, if the Cardinals and General Manager John Mozeliak are interested. Coming off a 14-win season, Jon Garland received only a $6.5 million, one-year deal from the Arizona Diamondbacks. It is definitely a buyer's market and the Cards could find a good bargain as the team departs for Jupiter.

Kris Benson The Cardinals have been identified as one of nine teams that recently scouted Benson last week. Benson underwent labrum surgery in March of 2007 and still struggling to make it back to a major league mound. The 34-year-old has not pitched in the majors since 2006 when he posted a 4.82 ERA while striking out only 88 in 183 innings.

Earlier in January, Benson reported the Cardinals and Dodgers were the two teams most interested in his services. He was mediocre in the minor leagues last season after not competing at any level in 2007.

Livan Hernandez

Once of great interest to the Cardinals, Hernandez is coming off a disappointing season split between the Minnesota Twins and Colorado Rockies. Listed as 33 years old, he is a veteran of 381 MLB starts. He was respectable with the Twins but really struggled in the thin air of Colorado.

Hernandez still is able to give a team 200 innings, something the Cardinals could really use. Maybe, Dave Duncan could squeeze one more season out of the 1997 World Series MVP.

Chuck James

If you wanted to role the dice on an injured pitcher, James might be the guy. Only 27, he is battling his way back from labrum and rotator cuff surgery. Very promising before his injury, the southpaw had a career ERA of around four in just less than 300 innings.

The southpaw is expected to miss the majority of the 2009 season but maybe the Cardinals could offer him a deal similar to the one they gave Chris Carpenter when he first joined the organization.

Jason Jennings

The 2002 National League Rookie of the Year has struggled to stay on the field due to injuries the past two seasons. The 30-year-old logged only 27.1 innings due to a right flexor tendon. Jennings reports that he is completely rehabbed after his August surgery.

With the pace of the free agent market, Jennings is resigned to the fact that he will probably have to sign a minor league deal. If healthy, he could help stabilize the back end of the Cardinals rotation.

Rodrigo Lopez

Coming off of Tommy John surgery, the Braves signed Lopez to a minor league contract this past August. After signing, he only logged five innings in the minors. Atlanta chose not to exercise its team option making Lopez available once again.

A steady yet unspectacular performer before his injury, I think that Lopez is going to be a good bargain for the team that takes a chance on him. He was very good in the first half of 2007 before he began to fade due to his injury.

Pedro Martinez

If not Manny, how about Manny's former teammate? One of the most flamboyant pitchers to ever step on the bump, Martinez is definitely on the downside of a possible Hall-of-Fame career.

Martinez doesn't look like he has much left. But if used in the right situations with the right amount of rest, maybe he could be primed for one last run towards Cooperstown.

Odalis Perez

Sure, I would like to see him somewhere in the National League Central. The Cardinals have posted an 8.53 ERA against him in his career. He has struggled against the Astros but has had some success against the Cubs, Reds, Brewers, and Pirates.

A lot cheaper than the other O.Perez, Oliver, their career numbers are quite similar. Odalis posted a 4.34 ERA and a 2.2-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio in 159.2 innings. Meanwhile, Oliver's ERA was only slightly better, 4.22, while his strikeout to walk ratio was worse, 1.71-to-1. Sure, Oliver offers quite a bit more upside but he would cost the Cardinals' first round pick in the 2009. (Writer's note: Oliver Perez was not included in this piece because it appears he is set to resign with the Mets.)

Ben Sheets

The best pitcher left on the market is an elite talent when healthy. Even though he was injured in 2008, he still managed 198.1 innings while posting an impressive 3.09 ERA. The 30-year-old was so good in the first part of the season that he was named the starting pitcher for the National League in the All-Star game.

Yes, Sheets is an injury risk. He has not thrown more than 200 innings since throwing a career high 237 in 2004. But, if the Cardinals stepped up and signed Louisiana native, the balance of power would shift to the Gateway City.

Sheets is a Type A free agent that was offered arbitration. He would cost the Cardinals the 19th overall pick in the 2009 MLB First Year Player Draft.

Randy Wolf

Rumored to have turned down a 3-year, $28.5 million contract from the Astros, I would suspect Wolf is having regrets now. The 32-year-old is coming off a season in which he posted a record 12-12 and a 4.30 ERA. The native Californian is supposedly the Los Angeles number one target to shore up its rotation.

The Southpaw, once a target of the Cardinals, has not thrown 200 innings in a season since 2003. Wolf is a Type B Free Agent that was not offered arbitration.

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