Also in this column:
• Why the Price was wrong
• The problem with the draft
• Red Sox catch a break
• More news and notes
What was already the weakest free-agent starting pitcher market in years was made worse with the signing of Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano to a five-year, $91.5 million extension. There aren't any Zambrano replicas in the crop that remains, not even close. And it's likely no starting pitcher will get even a quarter of Zambrano's haul.
Zambrano and recently signed White Sox star Mark Buehrle were the potential gems of a free-agent class that now features a lot of age (Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Jon Lieber), pain (Randy Wolf, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Matt Clement, Eric Milton) and a combination of both (Kenny Rogers).
"It's a joke," is the way one general manager classified a group that contains a never ending supply of question marks to go along with some obvious talent.
Big free-agent signings have surprised us all before. But between the issues of age and pain, there may be only one or two multiyear contracts to be had here.
"There's nothing available," the GM added, before identifying the 40-year-old Schilling, who missed seven weeks with a shoulder issue, as the cream of the demonstrably weak crop.
Here are the best of the weakest free-agent group in years (side note: pitchers with options are not considered here; those include Steve Trachsel, Kris Benson, Tim Wakefield, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Kip Wells):
1. Schilling (7-5, 4.25). The Red Sox were probably wise not to rush into the two-year deal Schilling sought this spring and he later amended his request (at least publicly, via Boston radio station WEEI) to one year. They have up-and-comers Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, but Schilling is more of a certainty, especially when healthy. The guess here is he returns for about the same $13 million guaranteed he made this year.
2. Clemens (5-5, 3.92). He's no longer a No. 1 pitcher but has been valuable as a solid No. 3 starter, adding credibility and a spark to the Yankees. If he returns at 46, he would still be well-paid on a one-year basis (though $28 million pro-rated won't be repeated).
3. Carlos Silva, Twins (9-12, 4.17). He's perhaps the sleeper of the class and is turning in a solid season but is often lost in a rotation led by Johan Santana.
4. Jeff Weaver, Mariners (5-10, 5.57). He's come on strong after another typically dreadful start, dropping his ERA from 14.32 entering June, while winning five of nine decisions.
5. Colon, Angels (6-6, 6.72). A former ace, he's talented, and at 34, he may have a few years left. But he's been injury-plagued the past couple (he's 7-11 since the start of '06), and his weight isn't a selling point, either.
6. Randy Wolf, Dodgers (9-6, 4.73). Wolf took a reasonable one-year deal to go home to the Dodgers when he could have gotten multiple years from the Cardinals, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Mets and others. A shoulder injury is expected to keep him out until at least September, and he's probably looking at no better than one-year offers this time.
7. Livan Hernandez, Diamondbacks (9-7, 4.86). He eats innings but seems to be all out of those dominating games we saw in the 1997 postseason. He's been surpassed by his older, more fit brother El Duque.
8. Freddy Garcia, Phillies (1-5, 5.90). Right from spring training, he never was right. When he is, he's one of the better clutch pitchers in the game. He could be a steal for someone.
9. Jason Jennings, Astros (2-8, 6.16). Jennings sought $12 million a year for four years about the time Houston surrendered three young players for him. But after an injury-ruined year in which his highlight was an game-winning pinch hit in extra innings, he'll be lucky to get guaranteed money.
10. Rodrigo Lopez, Rockies (5-4, 4.42). Lopez appeared to be on his way to a decent season when he was felled by a torn flexor tendon in his pitching arm. Might be a bargain for the back end of a rotation somewhere.
11. Rogers (3-2, 5.23). Returned from blood clot issue, but he's out now with a sore elbow. Lately he's been speaking of a quick return for what might be one last hurrah before possible retirement.
12. Lieber, Phillies (3-6, 4.73). Someone might prosper taking a flier on him after he didn't live up to his contract in Philly, which may not be the right park for him (or any other pitcher, for that matter). Yet another who's currently hurt.
13. Matt Clement, Red Sox (0-0, 0.00). It's been a pretty much a disaster there ever since he was shelled in his 2005 Division Series start at Chicago. Didn't pitch this year after shoulder surgery.
14. Eric Milton, Reds (0-4, 5.17). Milton has been associated with the gopherball almost since he got to Cincy. Out for the year after elbow surgery.
15. Josh Fogg, Rockies (7-8, 4.82). Fogg is strictly a back-end guy.