All eyes were on John Lackey as a 23-year-old rookie when he won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series, and all eyes are on him seven years later now that he's finally a free agent.

The big Angels right-hander is in the enviable position of being the top name in the pitching category of the Hot Stove season, and already the clubs are lining up to have a word with his agent, Steve Hilliard.

As a busy Friday turned into a relatively quiet Saturday, Hilliard and Lackey could take a weekend to reflect on the interest that's already white-hot even before the Angels lose exclusive negotiating rights next Friday a minute after midnight.

The Red Sox, Mets and Brewers have already had discussions with Hilliard, the Yankees keep popping up as a possible destination for Lackey, and a Seattle newspaper said it expects the Mariners to put themselves in the mix for their American League West rival, too.

Lackey, 31, went 11-8 with a 3.83 ERA in 2009 and is 102-71 with a lifetime 3.81 ERA, but only made 27 starts in '09 and 24 in '08 because of various arm injuries. This has the Mets and Red Sox doing what reports described as "due diligence" on Lackey's health.

The Mets already signed one free agent away from the Angels when they plucked closer Francisco Rodriguez from near the top of the pile last winter. They're also reportedly in the mix for the Angels' do-everything third baseman Chone Figgins, with several New York newspapers identifying the speedy leadoff man and the Mets as a potential fit.

MLB.com confirmed Friday that Boston general manager Theo Epstein met with Hilliard at the recent GM meetings in Chicago, so if the Red Sox can't swing a deal for Seattle phenom Felix Hernandez or Toronto ace Roy Halladay, look for the possibility of two Texans -- Lackey and Josh Beckett -- in the Red Sox rotation.

Here's another heaping helping of the fresh goodies simmering on the Hot Stove:

Names in the news

Jose Valverde, Astros: The agent of the Astros' 31-year-old closer, who had 25 saves and a 2.33 ERA in 2009, confirmed in an email to MLB.com that his client is eager to become a free agent.

"The Astros have communicated to Jose their desire to bring him back," Gene Mato wrote. "He really enjoyed his time there and is open to the idea of returning. With that said, he is intrigued with the whole free agency process and the interest that is being generated."

Eric Wedge: The former Cleveland manager is a possibility for the Mets' bench coach job, according to FOX Sports, and the speculation is that it could be a prelude to the managerial gig since Jerry Manuel has one year left on his contract. According to FOX, Bob Melvin and former Orioles bench coach David Jauss are also up for the bench coach job.

Josh Willingham, Nationals: FOX Sports on Saturday also reported that Washington is getting a lot of calls about Willingham, although the club might not want to trade the outfielder, who hit 24 home runs and compiled an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .863 in 2009. The report cited the Atlanta Braves as interested.

The buzz

• The Seattle Times reported that the Mariners might sign veteran backup catcher Mike Redmond, who has ties to the Washington area and is a free agent.

• MLB.com reported that Nationals first-base coach Marquis Grissom will not return in 2010.

• The Angels made a pair of front office moves, promoting Dennis Kuhl to chairman and John Carpino to president.

• More on Lackey: ESPN.com's Buster Olney tweeted that the right-hander turned down a $72 million offer from the Angels earlier this year.

• The New York Post got a hold of former All-Star second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo, who hasn't played in the big leagues since 2006, but says he can be a valuable utility guy.