Free Agent Season

Sunday, November 03 2002 @ 12:36 PM EST

Contributed by: Coach

With several more expected to declare before the November 12 deadline, here's the free agent list so far. No tears will be shed in Toronto to see the last of Heredia or Loaiza, and few of us will miss Steve Parris. Obviously, the Jays won't be shopping for the high-ticket items (Jim Thome, Pudge Rodriguez, Jeff Kent, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Cliff Floyd and the Big Pain, I mean Hurt.) But J.P. has suggested he's targeting a few guys, so let's speculate.

Pitching is at the extremes of supply and demand. Not only will the Braves have to dig deep just to maintain their aging staus quo, somebody is sure to give the likes of Ismael Valdes, Omar Daal, Jimmy Haynes and Paul Byrd long-term, guaranteed deals. Not that any of them wouldn't be an improvement over Mike Smith, but why overpay or over-commit? I would at least talk to Byrd, whose 3.90 ERA and 7 complete games were probably not a fluke, just a matter of arm soundness. Ramiro Mendoza is an intriguing possibility for a team willing to risk converting him to a starter, and won't be as expensive.

Outfielders aren't as likely to break the bank, so I would invite a guy like Orlando Palmiero to town. As a fourth OF, lefty pinch-hitter, occasional DH and potential starter, he's worth a million-five. DeWayne Wise may fill that role, or turn out to be a 5-tool AAA guy who never hits or slugs enough in the bigs.

I am assuming that Cruz and Stewart are being actively shopped, and one (or both) will not return. While I agree that 2003 is an ideal year to give Jayson Werth his opportunity to become a regular, some concerns linger about his bat speed on the high, tight ones, and it would be nice to have more depth in the corners, with the option of more time in Syracuse for Werth and/or Wise. Palmiero, three years younger than the otherwise similar John Vander Wal, could be promised more AB than he's likely to get in Anaheim, and a better opportunity to start. Tyler Houston (born to DH but serviceable at 1B, 3B and in a dire emergency, C) is another lefty bat, only 31 and more of a slugger, who might be affordable.

At the risk of being ridiculed, I would also recruit Rey Sanchez. A 35-year-old defensive whiz who is content to be a backup at both middle infield positions is better for clubhouse chemistry than a pouting, inconsistent 22-year-old, and my fears about Chris Woodward's durability just won't go away. Rey (at a million, tops) allows the Jays to give Felipe Lopez more AAA experience, or include him in a trade package, and keeps them reasonably competitive if Woody gets hurt.

If I thought the Jays were legitimate playoff contenders, I would consider lefty reliever Alan Embree, ageless Jamie Moyer, and others who could offer short-term help in a playoff race. But for now, it remains more logical to have a two-year plan, and spending big bucks on immediate upgrades isn't a priority. All that could change if a genuine #2 starter arrives sooner than expected.