It’s open season on baseball’s free agents

November 9, 2010

BASEBALL/After a World Series and San Francisco Giants triumph that fittingly capped a Major League Baseball campaign known as the Season of the Pitcher, the sport has barely skipped a beat before quickly beginning its next chapter — open season on free agents. 

License to begin the hunt in a season of big spending has been granted 10 days earlier than in the past due to rules changes intended to make the wheeling-dealing easier.

The top ticket item among more than 150 free agent players is Texas Rangers pitcher Cliff Lee, and as expected the deep-pocketed New York Yankees have already reached out to his agent to express their interest.

Lee, who had amassed a 7-0 postseason record the past two years before two uncharacteristic Fall Classic stumbles against the Giants, figures to command in the neighborhood of his old Cleveland Indian team-mate CC Sabathia’s deal with the Yanks at $23 million per year.

The Yankees might have to sweeten the pot for the best pitcher available after the sour treatment Lee’s wife met at her last visit to New York’s new $1.6 billion stadium.

Kristen Lee said she was spat on and cursed at by fans at Yankee Stadium during Game Three of the AL Championship Series. “It’s hard not to take it personal,” she told USA TODAY.

Lee, a brilliant 48-25 with a 2.98 earned run average over the last three regular seasons, said he wouldn’t hold it against prospective buyer Yankees, brushing off the incident to a few “goofballs” among the 50,000 packed into the seats.

The Giants won the Series with a cast of young, sensational pitchers backed by an offense comprised of castoffs and misfits — many of whom are once again available for the taking.

San Francisco sluggers Aubrey Huff, Juan Uribe, Pat Burrell and Series MVP Edgar Renteria are on the free agent list.

Renteria’s possible exit after being so instrumental to a championship would follow the footsteps of 2009 Fall Classic MVP Hideki Matsui of the Yankees.

Matsui, who moved from New York to Los Angeles to play for the Angels, may need to leave another forwarding address as he again has landed on the free agent list.

The Yankees themselves have some vibrant names on the list in captain Derek Jeter and closer Mariano Rivera, though those stalwarts of five New York title teams are both expected to sign juicy deals to remain dressed in the pinstripes as much to honour their legacy as their production.

Other big fish in the pool are Tampa Bay’s swift outfielder Carl Crawford, Phillies slugger Jayson Werth and Washington power-hitter Adam Dunn.

A slew of potential closers are also up for grabs, including J.J. Putz, Brian Fuentes, Kevin Gregg, Jon Rauch, Koji Uehara and all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman, 43, who hit the 600-save mark last season for Milwaukee and would like to catch on with a new team if he can continue to close games.

PHOTO: Texas Rangers starting pitcher Cliff Lee delivers to the San Francisco Giants in the first inning during Game 5 of Major League Baseball’s World Series in Arlington, Texas, November 1, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Segar

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