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Strong crop of free agents
to fill up '04, '05 classes

Special to

Nov. 27

As the Phillies usher in this year's free-agent season, there are two issues to consider. The first is, what lies ahead in the next two free-agent classes, and each have the potential to be far stronger than this weak class.

Next offseason, Vladimir Guerrero will be the best free agent since Alex Rodriguez, considering his age (he'll be 28 entering the 2004 season) and all-around skills. Right behind him will be Miguel Tejada and Bartolo Colon.

Obviously, there will be many contracts worked out between now and the 2004 signing period, but take a look at the pitchers and players on the left side of the infield.

Pitchers: Pedro Martinez, Matt Morris, Derek Lowe, Kerry Wood, Odalis Perez, Javier Vazquez, Kris Benson, Eric Milton ...?

Infielders on the left side: Eric Chavez (who will be 26 at the time), Troy Glaus, Corey Koskie, Adrian Beltre (who will be 25 at the time), Mike Lowell, Nomar Garciaparra ...?

Teams which have flexibility and a lot of open slots at the end of the next two seasons can get a couple of players who should have dramatic impacts on their franchises, starting with Guerrero, Chavez and the many pitchers. If, for instance, the Indians lose Jim Thome, and if they show some improvement next season with all their young players, they could get into the Guerrero hunt.

Potential free agents at the end of the 2003 season
Kevin Milwood, Atl., RHP, 29*
Sidney Ponson, Bal., RHP, 27*
Bartolo Colon, Mon., RHP, 29*
Livan Hernandez, S.F., RHP, 29*
Kirk Rueter, S.F., LHP, 33*
Andy Pettitte, NYY, LHP, 32*
Pedro Astacio, NYM, RHP, 34*
Randy Johnson, Ari., LHP, 41*
Danny Graves, Cin., RHP, 31*
Keith Foulke, CWS, RHP, 31*
Kelvim Escobar, Tor., RHP, 28*
Scott Sullivan, Cin., RHP, 33*
Armando Benitez, NYM, RHP, 31*
Eddie Guardado, Min., LHP, 34*
Mike Williams, Pit., RHP, 34*
Javy Lopez, Atl., C, 33*
Luis Castillo, Fla., 2B, 29*
Fernando Vina, St. L., 2B, 35*
Craig Biggio, Hou., 2B, 38*
Miguel Tejada, Oak., SS, 28*
Rich Aurilia, S.F., SS, 33*
Roberto Alomar, NYM, 2B, 38*
Jose Cruz, Tor., 0F, 30*
Vladimir Guerrero, Mon., OF, 28*
Shannon Stewart, Tor., OF, 30*
Mike Cameron, Sea., 0F, 31*
* Opening Day age in 2004

Potential free agents at the end of the 2004 season
Kerry Wood, ChC, RHP, 28*
Matt Clement, ChC, RHP, 31*
Ryan Dempster, Cin., RHP, 28*
Odalis Perez, L.A., LHP, 27*
Javier Vazquez, Mon., RHP, 29*
Pedro Martinez, Bos., RHP, 34*
Derek Lowe, Bos., RHP, 31*
Curt Schilling, Ari., RHP, 38*
Matt Morris, St. L., RHP, 31*
Kris Benson, Pit., RHP, 30*
Russ Ortiz, S.F., RHP, 31*
Eric Milton, Min., LHP, 30*
Brad Radke, Min., RHP, 32*
Freddy Garcia, Sea., RHP, 29*
Scott Williamson, Cin., RHP, 29*
Bobby Howry, Bos., RHP, 32*
Jose Jimenez, Col., RHP, 32*
Braden Looper, Fla., RHP, 30*
Felix Rodriguez, S.F., RHP, 31*
Troy Percival, Ana., RHP, 36*
Robb Nen, S.F., RHP, 35*
Mariano Rivera, NYY, RHP, 35*
Jason Varitek, Bos., C, 33*
Paul Konerko, ChW, 1B, 29*
Derrek Lee, Fla., 1B, 30*
Richie Sexson, Mil., 1B, 30*
Carlos Delgado, Tor., 1B-DH, 32*
Jose Vidro, Mon., 2B, 31*
Mike Lowell, Fla., 3B, 31*
Corey Koskie, Min., 3B, 32*
Eric Chavez, Oak., 3B, 27*
Adrian Beltre, L.A., 3B, 26*
Aaron Boone, Cin., 3B, 32*
Troy Glaus, Ana., 3B, 28*
Cristian Guzman, Min., SS, 27*
Orlando Cabrera, Mon., SS, 30*
Nomar Garciaparra, Bos., SS, 32*
Trot Nixon, Bos., OF, 31*
Carlos Beltran, K.C., OF, 28*
J.D. Drew, St. L., OF, 29*
Magglio Ordonez, ChW, OF, 31*
Garret Anderson, Ana., OF, 33*
Geoff Jenkins, Mil., OF, 31*
* Opening Day age in 2005

The second issue to consider is, how much one can expect from a player whose position is essentially just that of a hitter.

A recent study of all hitters since 1980 showed a definite decline in power performance -- as measured simply by OPS -- after the age of 33. While Thome's OPS in 2002 was 48.6 percent above the league average and he has been at least 30 percent above the league OPS norm every year since 1995, there are reasons to worry about the last two or three years of the contract of a player who will be 33 in August.

The following players in that time have had an OPS 30 percent above the league average:

Age 33 (seven players): Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Edgar Martinez, Moises Alou, Luis Gonzalez, Ken Caminiti, Lonnie Smith.
Age 34 (seven players): Bonds, McGwire, Larry Walker, Martinez, Rafael Palmeiro, Rickey Henderson, Jack Clark.
Age 35 (three players): Bonds, McGwire, Walker.
Age 36 (one player): Bonds.
Age 37 (one player): Bonds.

All of this makes one wonder about the last three years of Jason Giambi's contract, when he will have three years left on his deal and be at the age of 35. The same can be said for Manny Ramirez, as well as Thome.

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