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With season underway, big names still teamless

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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

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Never in free agency have this many prominent names been available after opening day.
Looking for a starting pitcher? Pedro Martinez is ready now, Mark Mulder could be ready soon and Ben Sheets might be ready by the second half, with the semi-retired Paul Byrd another potential option. A hitter? Available immediately: Frank Thomas, Jim Edmonds and Mark Grudzielanek; Geoff Jenkins; Frank Catalanotto, Luis Gonzalez and Jay Payton. The pitchers all figure to get jobs, assuming they are realistic in their salary demands; Martinez would be employed by now if he were not asking for $5 million. The hitters, though, are in a more difficult spot. "I think there is a two-week window and then the chances will rapidly diminish," says the agent for one of the hitters listed above. A general manager agrees. "The freely available guys — especially the position players — are going to become less and less attractive as time goes on because of all the time missed," the GM says. "It will take some time to get them ready at the major-league level." Yet the lingering availability of hitters such as Catalanotto also could affect the summer trade market. Teams might refrain from parting with prospects for mid-level veterans when they could sign a free agent at a bargain price. "If the market is flooded, why overpay?" a second GM asks. Or, as a third GM puts it, "No Carlos Santana for Casey Blake." In that trade, the Indians landed one of the top catching prospects in the game while sending the Dodgers not just Blake, but also all of his remaining salary. The trade market likely will function just as the free-agent market has in a poor economy. Impact players still will command high prices. Lesser talents will not. In other words, Padres right-hander Jake Peavy, Blue Jays righty Roy Halladay and A's left fielder Matt Holliday will bring sizable returns if they are moved. Players such as Mariners lefty Jarrod Washburn, Tigers lefty Nate Robertson and Nationals outfielder Austin Kearns might be more difficult to sell off.

Charlie's roulette wheel

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel changed his lineup for his team's second game, breaking up the left-handed 3-4-5 trio of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez by batting Jayson Werth fifth, with switch-hitter Shane Victorino replacing Werth in the No. 2 spot. That order might not last, either. Victorino batted sixth in the opener, and Braves right-hander Derek Lowe made a point afterward of saying that the Phillies gained an edge by using a second leadoff type at that spot. Manuel likes Victorino's on-base percentage in the No. 2 position, but his lineup could be a season-long work in progress, considering all of the variables involved. Teams that score first win the majority of games, Manuel says, so the idea of stacking three left-handed hitters against certain right-handers is to get the lead and worry about matchups against lefty relievers later. The Braves, who feature lefty closer Mike Gonzalez, present a unique challenge for the Phillies in such situations, considering the Phils' lack of right-handed bench power. But the Phillies' left-handed sluggers are not helpless against lefties. Utley owns a higher career on-base percentage against lefties than righties (.382 to .372). Ibanez hit lefties betters than righties last season, a reversal that might have been a one-year aberration. Howard is far more dangerous against righties, but since 2006 has hit 46 homers against lefties in 645 at-bats.

Cubs' rotation: Deep enough?

Depth is a concern for any rotation that includes oft-injured right-hander Rich Harden. A trade for Padres right-hander Jake Peavy would be the best possible alternative for the Cubs, but for the moment, the team is not lacking for internal options. Right-hander Mitch Atkins, who won 17 games between Class AA and AAA last season, is in the same position that righty Sean Gallagher was a year ago, waiting for his chance. Righties Jeff Samardzija and Jose Ascanio will be stretched out at Class AAA so they can either start or relieve. None of those pitchers is as appealing as say, Clay Buchholz or Phil Hughes. But if the Cubs lose Harden and get Peavy, their rotation would include right-handers Peavy, Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster plus lefties Ted Lilly and Sean Marshall. Not bad.

Orioles' rotation: Not deep enough!

Let's face it, the highlight of the Orioles' season might have been their 10-5 victory over the Yankees on opening day. Japanese right-hander Koji Uehara will be their Game 2 starter, and after that it's — gasp — righty Alfredo Simon, lefty Mark Hendrickson and righty Adam Eaton. The Orioles insist they will not rush prospects such as righty Chris Tillman and lefty Brian Matusz, but the question remains: Why didn't Andy MacPhail, the team's president of baseball operations, assemble a more presentable rotation? It wasn't for lack of effort; the Orioles, sources say, were the high bidder for Braden Looper, but the free-agent right-hander preferred to stay in the National League with the Brewers rather than pitch in the AL East. Righty Tim Redding made a similar decision, signing with the Mets. Given their difficulty in signing free agents, the Orioles should consider more creative alternatives — particularly if other teams start dumping expensive pitchers, the way the Phillies did with Eaton. Washburn and Robertson could be two such possibilities.

Thank you, Lastings

Marlins third baseman Emilio Bonifacio created excitement by hitting an inside-the-park home run and triple in his first two games, but both balls were misplayed by Nationals center fielder Lastings Milledge. The Nats, outscored 20-9 in their first two games, already look horrible. Manager Manny Acta, dealing with an overly crowded outfield, made a quick call on Milledge on Wednesday, benching him in favor of Elijah Dukes. Milledge, who also arrived late on opening day and was 0-for-8 in the leadoff spot, struggled in center field last season, when he ranked 23rd among qualifying players according to the plus-minus rankings on Bill James Online. Dukes, who did not start either of the Nats' first two games, is a better defender. As for Bonifacio, one scout was not impressed. "Once teams figure him out, he's going to hit .240," the scout said. "He also could be a 40-error guy at third base. I think he's afraid of the ball, personally. If he gets buzzed and then you throw a lot of breaking balls to him, he's in trouble."

Around the horn

The decline in players who opened the season on the disabled list is hardly the final word on the impact of the WBC. Take Pirates right-hander Ian Snell, who pitched eight innings for Puerto Rico in two high-intensity starts. Snell is 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, and some scouts wonder how he will hold up over the full season. Ditto for Astros right-hander Roy Oswalt, who is 6-foot, 170 and pitched 11 1/3 innings for Team USA . . . Colby Rasmus essentially is Cardinals outfielder 3A, a viable alternative to Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel or Chris Duncan on any given day. Manager Tony La Russa sat Ludwick in favor of Rasmus in the team's second game, and the rookie went 2-for-4 and scored two runs. The Cardinals' plan is to use Rasmus 4 to 5 times a week; if, after 3 or 4 weeks, he isn't getting enough at-bats, they always can return him to Class AAA. Duncan also can move to first on the rare days that Albert Pujols rests, creating an extra spot in the outfield . . . I had the Astros pegged as a "potential train wreck," but one rival executive notes that they played much better late in the spring, going 11-4 after their 1-16-3 start. The same executive says he was "totally shocked" by the improvement in right-hander Russ Ortiz, who looked the way he did in his best years with the Giants and Braves, giving every indication that he could be a quality No. 4 starter . . . In case you missed it, Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez was brilliant in a 3-0 victory over the Diamondbacks Tuesday night, pitching seven shutout innings to outduel D-backs righty Dan Haren, who merely struck out nine and walked none. One rival executive, watching the game on television, said Jimenez's changeup was "unhittable." . . . Can't imagine that free-agent catcher Paul Bako will be unemployed long. Bako remains an excellent catch-and-throw specialist, if offensively challenged, and just a few days into the season, the injuries to catchers already are starting to mount. Bako, beaten out by Koyie Hill for the Cubs' backup job, could be a possibility for the Twins if Mike Redmond recovers slowly from his pulled right groin. Cubs starter Geovany Soto left Tuesday night's game with a sore shoulder, a injury that is not expected to be serious. Paul Lo Duca and Gary Bennett also remain unsigned . . . And finally, in case you missed it, one of the young season's most touching moments occurred Sunday night, when former Phillies general manager Pat Gillick took the mound in tears to throw out the first pitch. Gillick, who always was more emotional than most executives, was visibly overcome by the memory of what happened last October, when the Phillies won the World Series in his final year as a GM.
Tagged: Orioles, Indians, Tigers, Brewers, Twins, Yankees, Athletics, Mariners, Blue Jays, Braves, Cubs, Astros, Dodgers, Nationals, Mets, Phillies, Pirates, Cardinals, Padres, Giants, Rockies, Marlins, Diamondbacks, Derek Lowe, Raul Ibanez, Ben Sheets, Ted Lilly, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Rick Ankiel, Albert Pujols, Ryan Dempster, Ryan Ludwick, Jayson Werth, Austin Kearns, Carlos Zambrano, Jake Peavy, Mark Hendrickson, Chase Utley, Koyie Hill, Dan Haren, Rich Harden, Michael Gonzalez, Matt Holliday, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, Geovany Soto, Sean Marshall, Ubaldo Jimenez, Phil Hughes, Alfredo Simon, Jose Ascanio, Clay Buchholz, Emilio Bonifacio, Jeff Samardzija, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman

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