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12/29/08 7:14 PM EST

Free-agent class thin after '09 season

A's outfielder Holliday is marquee player hitting open market

One of the key factors on the free agent front this offseason has received little attention.

It has to do with the list of players who will be eligible for free agency following the 2009 season. It is, at best, a thin class in comparison with the current group.

It is a factor that the New York Yankees had to have in mind with they placed first baseman Mark Teixeira and pitcher CC Sabathia in the rather exclusive $100 million-plus club.

If you are looking for a star slugger or pitcher and planning on making your purchase after next season, you will not find a Teixeira or Sabathia on the list.

The only notable slugger on the list of players who figure to be free agents in one year, assuming they don't sign long-term contracts prior to that time, is A's outfielder Matt Holliday.

And if you're waiting for Holliday, you had best be prepared for a long wait. His agent is Scott Boras, who likes to take his time when it comes to negotiations (see Manny Ramirez and Derek Lowe of this year's free-agent crop and a long list of others through the years).

The Colorado Rockies had hoped to sign Holliday to a long-term contract in the spring of last year after coming off of a successful season, but they were not able to take their star player out of the upcoming free-agent class. The A's and general manager Billy Beane don't figure to have any better luck in signing Holliday long-term and probably have no plans to even try.

When it comes to pitchers who may be free agents after 2009, the lead performer would appear to be John Lackey of the Los Angeles Angels, but you would have to think there is a good chance Lackey could be signed to a long-term deal by the Angels in view of the way manager Mike Scioscia values pitching.

"I do think next year's class of free agents is weaker," says one general manager. "For that reason, I believe the Yankees and Red Sox pursued Teixeira with such a sense of purpose."

Team executives have no interest in talking about individual players who could be free agents in 2009 since these players currently are under contract and thus we turned to two young Web site operators who follow free agency and contracts closely to get their views of what the future may hold -- Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com and Jeff Euston of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

Both Dierkes and Euston placed Holliday at the top of their position player list, with Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves second. They agreed that Lackey figures to be the leading pitcher if he doesn't sign before becoming a free agent.

Hot Stove

Dierkes also made mention on his preference list of Jose Valverde (Houston), Brian Roberts (Baltimore), Jayson Werth (Philadelphia), Brian Giles (San Diego) Todd Wellemeyer (St. Louis), Adrian Beltre (Seattle), Mike Cameron (Milwaukee), Brett Myers (Philadelphia), Jason Bay (Boston), Troy Glaus (St. Louis) and Vladimir Guerrero (Angels).

Euston followed his top three selections of Lackey, Holliday and Jones by listing Guerrero, Carlos Delgado (New York Mets), Roberts, Rich Harden (Chicago Cubs), Myers, Valverde, Bay, Adam LaRoche (Pittsburgh), Beltre, and Justin Duchscherer (Oakland).

This is not a group of players that figures to generate a great deal of excitement and the number of potential free agents likely will dwindle.

One could make a safe bet that Atlanta will do everything possible to retain Jones as a Brave for his total career and the Angels are fully aware of the contributions of Guerrero to their organization.

Even with a number of record-setting signings this offseason, one could make a case that the remaining free agents hold more value than next year's class.

This has yet to play out but at some point you know that the teams looking for offense will find a spot for the likes of Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, Milton Bradley, Pat Burrell, Orlando Hudson, Bobby Abreu, Orlando Cabrera and Jason Giambi.

And with pitching always at the top of the priority list, there will be spots open for Lowe, Oliver Perez, Juan Cruz, Brian Fuentes, Brandon Lyon, Ben Sheets, Randy Wolf and Andy Pettitte.

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises in the way all of this seems to be playing out is that only two of the 24 free agents who were offered arbitration by their respective teams accepted the offering -- veteran pitchers Darren Oliver of the Angels and David Weathers of the Cincinnati Reds.

By accepting arbitration, Oliver and Weathers assured themselves of contracts for next season and if they don't reach an agreement through negotiations, they will have some attractive contracts to point to in the arbitration process.

"I was particularly surprised that so many ranking free agents refused arbitration," observed a general manager. "It would seem that next offseason would be a better marketplace from a player's perspective. I think a few agents didn't offer the best advice to their clients [at the arbitration deadline on Dec. 7.]"

One thing is for sure in all of this financial evaluation -- markets are never easy to evaluate, be it Wall Street or baseball.

And the outlook for 2009 is one where no one can predict the outcome.

Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as executive vice-president and general manager. His book -- Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue -- was published by SportsPublishsingLLC. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.