The phonecalls started ringing minutes after the announcement was made public. At 10 PM Eastern time on the evening of December 14, Bip Bartee's agent officially anounced that Bip was declining a mutual option with the Portland Rain and would opt to be a free agent. Portland has been trying to reach a deal while they have exclusive negotiating rights, but a source close to negotiations reported that Bartee's agent and the team have not reached an agreement and that his client will test the open free agent market. There is no doubt that Bartee, a bona fide pitching ace who was won 100 games while only being 28, will demand top salary in the open market. Under strict conditions of anonimity, a source close to negotiations has reportedly told Buster Olney of ESPN that the Rain had offered an offer in excess of 100 million in 5 years with a no trade clause, but Bartee will hold his options open and not agree to anything until the end of the negotiation period. In a league with only a handful of proven pitchers available in the open market, aging stars have gotten salaries that had them making double digits well past their pitching prime. Bartee will sign and will sign for a lot of money, with a few teams openly expressing interest and a few others quietly having talks with Bartee's offer. But... a few other pitchers are out there to be had, and smart teams could get a good deal if they act quickly.
1. Bip Bartee - No doubt the creme de la creme in this offseason, he may get a 5 year deal worth 100 million, plus a signing bonus, if a team can afford him. It is not often that 28 year old pitchers in their prime hit the free agent market, and Bartee has generated more excitement than any free agent in recent history. If he doesn't return to Portland (where he is likely to return to the postseason), expect Las Vegas, Trenton and New Britain to make a serious push for his services.
2. Yogi Cooper - The 38 yr old Cooper has won >200 games in 13 seasons, and has been a 6 time all star. His age may deter some potential teams, but expect Cooper to sign with a team in need of a back of the rotation starter to round their staff with a veteran presence in a 1-2 year deal.
3. Jeremy Blauser - The skills of a 34 yr old starter may be starting to slow down, but Blauser is likely to do well in a competitive team in search for a #2 or #3 starter. Blauser is a durable starter who can give his team 30+ starts per year, even if his 133 wins are fewer than some of his veteran peers who have pitched for better teams.
4. Nick Doster - The 34yr old veteran southpaw from Tulsa, Oklahoma has been a constant presence for the Colorado Colorado Crush for the last 6 seasons, managing to win 73 games despite a significant injury two seasons ago. Interest in a 34 yr old left hander with a significant injury in his past may be cool at first, but once teams look closely at the numbers he compiled despite pitching in Coors Field and some of the more desirable free agents get locked up in contracts, Doster will be a nice addition to any team.
5. Oscar Lunsford - 36 yr old pitcher declined a 4.5 million option to become a free agent. Expect Lunsford to be signed to be a back of the rotation starter, much like Yogi Cooper, but interest will be lower for a pitcher likely to pitch less than 150 innings and whose skills are declining.