Top 2009 MLB Free Agent Pitchers

Ben WeixlmannSenior Writer IAugust 29, 2008

Every year, quality players enter free agency. In 2009, though, there seems to be an abundance of superstar pitchers who will certainly command top-dollar.

It’s clear who heads the list

—none other than the Milwaukee Brewers’ hefty lefty CC Sabathia. After narrowly defeating Boston Red Sox ace Josh Beckett for the AL Cy Young award just a year ago, Sabathia has made the midseason move to the National League with relative ease.  The 6’7”, 290-pound behemoth has compiled an 8-0 record since joining the NL Wild Card leaders.

Perhaps the most underrated “ace” in the major leagues is John Lackey, who will also be up for free agency in 2009. After putting together an 11-2 season thus far in 2008, Lackey is a lock to make a lot of dough as his suitors drool over his abilities.

The Angels have a $9 million option on Lackey for 2009, and are most certainly expected to exercise that option on their finest starter.

This free agent offseason isn’t all about starters, though. Outside of Sabathia, Angels’ closer Francisco Rodriguez will undoubtedly command an insane amount of money.

Rodriguez, who is having a career year with 50 saves, may just end up breaking Bobby Thigpen’s single-season saves record which would boost his stock even into the stratosphere. Some experts have estimated that “K-Rod”, as he is often referred to, may sign for as much as $18 million per season when it’s all said and done.

Toronto Blue Jays’ A.J. Burnett signed a 5-year, $55 million deal back in 2003, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another deep-pocket owner take an expensive chance on Burnett.

At times, Burnett can really show off some amazing talent, but his next start could be a complete blow-up. He has had a decent season in 2008, winning 16 games, although his ERA is north of 4.50.

I know I’m going out on a limb by saying that NL All-Star starter Ben Sheets will be overpaid, but ever since Sabathia has come into Milwaukee to take over the “ace” title, Sheets has struggled. In fact, Sheets has won just two of his last ten starts, losing five times during the same span. Granted, his ERA is still 3.05, Sheets will be paid quite handsomely, in the ballpark of Sabathia’s contract.

Many readers may not have heard of him, but after years of horrid baseball in Kansas City, Jeremy Affeldt has revitalized his career.

The 30-year-old lefty has allowed just one run in his last ten appearances, and could be a huge and cheap addition to a middle-market bullpen, such as the St. Louis Cardinals. I truly feel as though Affeldt will fly under the radar because he doesn’t play in a big market, or for a winning team for that matter.

After the high-stakes bidding for K-Rod is complete, those who lost out will be forced to throw their checkbooks at Colorado Rockies’ lefty Brian Fuentes.

Although Fuentes was thought to have been on the move earlier in the season, the Rockies retained him, and it seems to have paid off as Fuentes has a sub-3.00 ERA, despite his 1-4 record. General Managers throughout the major leagues know how good Fuentes has been as the staple of the Rockies bullpen since 2002.

With the plethora of talent at the top of this free agent class, I think that the average pitchers will be evaluated rather well, and paid fairly. That is to say, pitchers such as Braden Looper, Oliver Perez, and Derek Lowe will not be overpaid, but rather paid according to their perceived value.

I think it will be hard to determine whether or not Arizona Diamondbacks’ future Hall-of-Famer, Randy Johnson, will be overpaid, but he is sure to find a new home as he closes in on the end of his career as one of the most prolific pitchers in the game’s history.

Sabathia, Rodriguez, and Lackey may be the cream of the crop in the 2009 class, but they will all be worth the significant chunk of money handed to them.

As for the rest of free agent class, no preposterously huge deals should be signed, but expect several agents to take full advantage of their clients’ free agent title.