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redsmetz
11-26-2006, 10:50 AM
Here's an interesting article from Friday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch regarding the current free agent market for pitchers, as well as some insight into the Cardinals' approach to the market:


Seeking a new Suppan
By Derrick Goold
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Friday, Nov. 24 2006

As the free-agent market went bonkers for outfielders this past week, the
Cardinals and other teams targeting pitching lingered outside the fray "just
touching gloves," as one agent put it.

The arms race has been slower to develop than the dash for bats, and the
Cardinals patient shoppers to begin with have their eye on a pool of
players whose market isn't yet set. They have as many as three spots to fill in
their starting rotation, a list of pitchers they wish to court with Jeff
Weaver and Adam Eaton among them and a sense that some of this is vaguely
familiar.

Between the 2003 season and 2004's opening day, the Cardinals infused three new
starters into their rotation. One of those pitchers, Jeff Suppan, was signed
with cash freed up by trade. Three years and two World Series later, the
Cardinals are making a similar search.

Seeking Suppan, or someone like him.

"Everybody benefited," is how Suppan's agent, Scott Leventhal, described the
contract Suppan signed with the Cardinals in December 2003. His option bought
out by Boston, Suppan became a free agent with at least 10 wins in four of his
previous five seasons. The Cardinals got 44 wins, valuable regular starts and
two sterling Game 7 starts from Suppan after signing him for what would
ultimately pay $9 million over three years.

That's as much as he's expected to make annually on his next deal.

"There's nothing serious happening right now," Leventhal said Wednesday. "I
think a lot of clubs may be hanging back a little bit to see where the market
is headed. We're in a stage right now where we are just keeping in touch."

Leventhal made that statement just a few hours after emerging from the frenzy
of representing a free-agent outfielder this past week. The Chicago Cubs'
signing of Alfonso Soriano triggered a run on outfielders that continued with
another Leventhal client, Gary Matthews Jr., signing a five-year, $50 million
contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Houston is among the teams in the
high-dollar bidding for the best remaining outfielder, Carlos Lee.

The Cardinals haven't had their say in the free-agent market, but the market
has said a lot about the Cardinals.

Consider how the $19 million, two-year extension signed by Jim Edmonds before
the binge on outfielders looks through the prism of Matthews' signing and Juan
Pierre's new five-year, $44 million contract with the Dodgers.

It's all timing.

"It's sort of like it always is. There are bigger and bigger deals," Cardinals
chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said this past week. "We've got a couple of openings,
but there are still a lot of free agents out there for us."

As of Thanksgiving, only three free-agent starting pitchers had signed, all
with their previous team. Clubs pursuing pitching, like the Cardinals, have
only been window-shopping. Lefty Barry Zito and righthanded starter Jason
Schmidt are considered the trendsetters for the starters' market, and their
signings will serve to set the price for a second tier of pitchers.

It is in that group that the Cardinals are believed to have set their sights.
It's where Suppan and perhaps the next Suppan can be found.

"I'm going kind of slow, still getting a gauge for the market," said Eaton's
agent, Jim Lindell. "I believe (Eaton) has one of the highest ceilings of
anybody who is out there. That will be his market. Teams are holding back,
holding back, and waiting to see what other stuff is happening. I think teams
are just starting to be more aggressive."

Lindell said that he has received two offers for Eaton and that the Cardinals
are one of several teams he has been in contact with about his client. He
expects to talk to them again as early as this weekend. Eaton, who could land a
three-year deal, missed time this past season because of surgery on a finger.
In the 2003 and '04 seasons, Eaton made at least 31 starts, pitched at least
180 innings, won at least nine games and got at least 220 groundouts.

That's part of the profile Suppan had when the Cardinals signed him in '03. He
had five consecutive seasons of 200-plus innings. His ERA wavered from 3.97 to
4.22 while making 172 of 205 starts in the American League. Reliability is a
relatively undervalued asset.

When trolling through the current pool of free agents for pitchers to fill out
a rotation, the Cardinals could use some of those ingredients as their guide
for the best buy in this wacky market. The Cardinals have often complimented
Texas' Kip Wells, whom the Rangers acquired this past season in a trade with
the Pirates. The righthander's 2006 was complicated by a blocked artery,
shoulder soreness and foot surgery. From 2002 to 2005, though, he had three
eight-win seasons, pitched at least 180 innings three times and twice had an
ERA less than 3.60 for Pittsburgh. Like Suppan in 2003, Wells is 29.

Another Texas free agent, Vincente Padilla, has at least 30 starts and 200
innings in three of his previous five seasons. His ERA with Philadelphia and
Texas in that stretch is 4.04. Though older than the other free agents, Miguel
Batista, 35, has trace Suppan elements as well at least 29 starts and 184
innings in the past four seasons. Weaver, whom the Cardinals are interested in
re-signing, also has the blend of durability and stuff.

Then there is Suppan himself.

Leventhal said more than a dozen teams have contacted him about Suppan. The New
York Yankees and Seattle Mariners are reportedly two.