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Lee tops thin market of free-agent starters

Lee tops thin market of free-agent starters

There's no uncertainty when it comes to measuring up this year's group of free-agent starting pitchers.

It's left-hander Cliff Lee and ... everyone else.

Lee stands alone atop what is considered by many to be a thin class. And the chasm only grew larger with Lee's accomplishments in the postseason for the Rangers.

Yes, there are options after Lee. Andy Pettitte's plans are for 2011 are not known, though as in recent years he has narrowed his choices between staying with the Yankees or retiring. Carl Pavano, coming off a 17-win season with the Twins, figures to get a multiyear deal, as should Jorge De La Rosa, formerly of the Rockies.

Hiroki Kuroda, Jake Westbrook and Javier Vazquez will be other options for teams looking to add veteran starters.

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The Dodgers got a jump on the competition on Oct. 19, when they re-signed left-hander Ted Lilly to a three-year deal worth $33 million. That won't affect Lee much at all, though it could set a benchmark for left-handers like Pettitte and De La Rosa.

The Lilly deal is close to the three-year, $29.75 million contract another left-handed pitcher, Randy Wolf of the Brewers, signed last offseason. Among pitchers, John Lackey was the big winner in free agency a year ago, getting five years and $82.5 million from the Red Sox.

Looking to buy: More like who isn't looking to buy? Several teams will be in the market for starting pitching, either by trade or adding through free agency. The Yankees could lose Pettitte and won't sign Vazquez -- and their starting pitching struggled mightily in the American League Championship Series. The Rangers are going to do their best to try to hold on to Lee. The Brewers are in dire need of starting help after ranking last in the Major Leagues in ERA by starting pitchers. The Royals have spots to fill. The Padres will look for an innings-eater for their young rotation. The Nationals have made starting pitching a priority and are looking to land a No. 1 type. The Pirates need help after their starters lost 84 games -- especially with no help on the farm ready to contribute immediately. The Indians would love to add a starter but might be limited financially. If the Rockies lose De La Rosa and Jeff Francis, they'll likely need to add a starter.

Top dog: Lee, Lee and Lee. Lee won 12 games between stints in Seattle and Texas, but his performance in the playoffs, where he resembled Sandy Koufax at times, reaffirmed that he's arguably the best left-handed pitcher in the game. Lee had the Majors' best strikeouts-to-walks ratio (10.28) by a wide margin. So ... let the bidding begin.

Best of the rest: Pavano is coming off a season in which he had a 3.75 ERA and won a lot of big games. His past two contracts were each for one year, but he is in line for a multiyear deal this time. The Yankees figure to be the favorite to re-sign Pettitte, though he hasn't said if he wants to pitch in 2011. De La Rosa won 16 games last season, is left-handed, and at times has shown dynamite stuff. Garland has topped 190 innings in each of the past nine seasons. Kuroda is 35 but had a 3.60 ERA in three seasons with the Dodgers. The Cardinals would like to re-sign Westbrook after he pitched well for them following a July trade with Cleveland. The Reds passed on Aaron Harang's $12.5 million option. Vazquez is an innings-eater, though he's coming off a rough season (5.32 ERA) with the Yankees.

Worth a shot? Vicente Padilla has surpassed 150 innings just twice since 2003 but keeps finding work. Livan Hernandez won 10 games and had a 3.66 ERA on a last-place team in Washington. Brad Penny had a 3.23 ERA in nine starts for the Cardinals before missing the last four-plus months of the season with a back strain. Kevin Millwood, 35, said he wants to keep pitching. Rich Harden was recently designated for assignment by the Rangers and hasn't pitched well since 2008. Jeremy Bonderman previously hinted at retirement but has now said he wants to pitch next season. Kevin Correia lost his spot in the Padres' rotation late in the season but had a 3.91 ERA in 33 starts in '09. Brandon Webb has appeared in one game since the start of '09. Others who have a recent history of injuries include Francis, Chris Young, Erik Bedard and Justin Duchscherer. Bruce Chen, Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan rate as potentially affordable options, too. There's also Jamie Moyer, who despite being 47 years old continues to defy the odds and has expressed interest in pitching again in 2011.

Potential 2012 class: A strong group of starting pitchers could hit the open market following next season: Mark Buehrle, Wandy Rodriguez and C.J. Wilson, among others. Also, the Cardinals hold club options on Chris Carpenter ($15 million) and Adam Wainwright ($9 million) for 2012. Roy Oswalt has a $16 million mutual option with the Phillies, with a $2 million buyout. CC Sabathia can opt out of the remaining four years of his contract with the Yankees if he believes he can do better than the $92 million he's owed over the remainder of that deal. Ryan Dempster could be a free agent, though he has a $14 million player option that he might find difficult to better on the open market.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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