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Texas enters pitching market cautiously

Rangers eye pitching, but cautiously

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers spent the General Managers Meetings trying to gauge the trade market for starting pitching.

The next step is to gauge the free-agent market. It is deep in starting pitching, although some of the biggest names available are in the twilight of their careers and may be ready for retirement. If this was 1999, this could be the greatest starting pitching market in the history of the game.

But it's 2008, and it's still buyer beware. The Rangers are exactly that and have made it clear they are not going to give out expensive long-term contracts to starting pitchers. They consider it the biggest risk in baseball.

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The list is still worth considering for a team desperate to bolster its rotation. Much needs to be considered, including recent performance, age and history of injury. Print and save this list:

Prime-time starters

CC Sabathia: The biggest name on the list, literally and figuratively. Sabathia won 17 games for the Indians and the Brewers last year and is 28. His next contract could exceed $20 million annually. That's too rich for the Rangers. Sabathia is 2-3 with a 7.92 ERA in five playoff starts and has lost three straight.

Ben Sheets: He lives in the Dallas area. That didn't help the Rangers last year with outfielder Torii Hunter. Sheets was on his way to a big payday until he was shut down with elbow problems in September. He has been on the disabled list six times in his career and hasn't pitched 200 innings since 2004.

A.J. Burnett: He opted out of his contract with the Blue Jays after a career-high 18 wins and 221 1/3 innings in 2008. It was only the third time in nine years that he pitched 200 innings and the first time he has won more than 12 games. He has been on the disabled list 10 times in nine years.

Derek Lowe: He is 35, but is one of the most durable pitchers on the market. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2002, he has averaged 208 innings and 15 wins. His 11.10 baserunners per nine innings over the past three years is the 11th best in the game. But he benefited by pitching at Dodger Stadium. Over the past three years, he has a 2.95 ERA at home and a 4.24 ERA on the road.

Ryan Dempster: He went back into the rotation after three years as a closer and won 17 games for the Cubs with a 2.96 ERA. Fourteen of the 17 wins came at Wrigley Field. Dempster, 31, had severe elbow trouble in 2003-04, but has been healthy since then.

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Jon Garland: He is another pitcher who ranks high on the durability scale. Garland, 29, has averaged 205 innings and 13 wins over the past seven years without seeing the disabled list. He won 18 games in both 2005-06 and 14 last year for the Angels, but with a 4.90 ERA, and he was not used in postseason.

Brad Penny: He won 16 games in both 2006 and 2007 before shoulder problems dropped him to 6-9 with a 6.27 ERA in 19 games, including 17 starts, for the Dodgers last year. Penny is 30, but has pitched 200 innings just twice in nine years.

The ancient warriors

Greg Maddux: He's probably going to retire. If not, he'll stay in the National League. He's too smart to switch, even for his brother, the new Rangers' pitching coach.

Pedro Martinez: Over the past three years, he has made just 48 starts, pitched 269 innings and won only 17 games with a 4.74 ERA. Martinez is 37 and has been on the disabled list four times in three years.

Randy Johnson: He is 45 and has a bad back. Johnson needs five wins to reach 300, so the motivation is there. It's 50-50 if he'll retire and return to the Diamondbacks, but that 300-win target is a powerful inducement. Very close to Nolan Ryan.

Jamie Moyer: He turns 46 this month after winning 16 games for the Phillies, but hasn't been on the disabled list since 2000. Moyer probably stays in Philadelphia.

Mike Mussina: He turns 40 in December after winning a career-high 20 games in 2008. Mussina may retire. If not, he likely stays on the East Coast, probably with the Yankees.

John Smoltz: He is coming off shoulder surgery and won't be ready for Opening Day. May or June is more like it. He wants to stay with the Braves, but more won't be known until later in the winter.

Tom Glavine: He is 42 and had a torn flexor last season. Glavine has 305 wins and a spot reserved in Cooperstown. There is no reason for him to consider Arlington. It's probably either the Braves or retirement.

Curt Schilling: He is 42 and missed all of last season because of shoulder surgery. Schilling might try a half-season ploy like Roger Clemens did a few years ago. High maintenance, but a big-time pitcher.

Andy Pettitte: He still wants to pitch for the Yankees. Their interest may depend on what happens with Mussina. Pettitte might return to the Astros.

Kenny Rogers: He's contemplating retirement after an injury-plagued season. A fourth term with the Rangers might seem improbable, but if Ryan mediates ...

Second-tier pitchers

Randy Wolf: He won 12 games for the Padres and Astros last year. The Astros would like to re-sign him. That was his most wins since 16 in 2003, which was also the last time he pitched 200 innings.

Paul Byrd: He's a solid No. 4 starter who just seems to have no interest in pitching for the Rangers.

Livan Hernandez: The ultimate workhorse. He has never been on the disabled list in his career going back to his rookie season of 1997. He pitched 180 innings last year for the Twins and Rockies, ending a streak of eight straight years with at least 200. Problem is, he has given up more hits in the past four years than any other pitcher -- and it's not even close.

Braden Looper: He won 12 games for the Cardinals in each of the last two seasons as a starter after a nine-year career as a reliever. Good teammate and good competitor, but gives up a lot of hits.

Odalis Perez: The 31-year-old left-hander is a perennial free agent. He won 15 games for the Dodgers in 2002, but hasn't pitched 200 innings since then. He is just 35-45 with a 4.63 ERA over the past five years.

Oliver Perez: He is 27 and left-handed. Perez is also 25-17 with a 3.91 ERA over the past two years with the Mets. Opponents hit .231 off him. He was 5-3 with a 3.72 ERA in nine starts against American League teams.

Round up the usual suspects

This is a rite of the offseason as much as anything: the winter-long grabbing of leftover pitchers who will have to settle for either Minor League contracts or one-year deals with low salary and high incentive. These are pitchers who are considered damaged goods and/or haven't pitched as well as expected.

This year, the list includes Tony Armas, Bartolo Colon, Shawn Estes, Josh Fogg, Freddy Garcia, Mike Hampton, Jason Jennings, Jon Lieber, Mark Mulder, Mark Prior, Carl Pavano, Sidney Ponson and Kip Wells.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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