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Weak Free Agent Market Could Strengthen Trade Winds

The Consolation Prizes

For those teams that lose out on Santana, there still is no shortage of attractive pitchers available on the trade market.

Perhaps the best of those is left-hander Erik Bedard of the Baltimore Orioles, who is definitely available now that, according to league sources, he has informed the team he has no interest in signing an extension to stay in Baltimore beyond 2009, when he hits free agency.

And Bedard, who is perhaps one more solid year away from establishing himself as a true No. 1 starter, could be a poor man's Santana, costing a team half the talent and less than half the money (if they are interested in extending him) in a trade.

Among the other appealing pitchers available on the trade market: Dan Haren and Joe Blanton of the Oakland Athletics, Florida's Dontrelle Willis and Toronto's A.J. Burnett.

Third Basemen Named Miguel

Cabrera may become one of the best under-25 position players in history to be traded. He is accurately described as a young Manny Ramirez, and he would make the Angels, for one -- on top of their signing of Hunter -- a favorite to win the AL pennant next year.

The Orioles, meantime, are shopping "shortstop" Miguel Tejada -- whom everybody else in the league considers a third baseman. The only thing that could prevent a deal from occurring is if the Orioles continue to trade Tejada's value as if this were still 2005 -- which, we've been assured, it isn't.

Center Fielder Musical Chairs

The Angels' surprise signing of Hunter, only one year after investing $50 million in Gary Matthews Jr., threw off the whole center fielder market, easily the deepest sub-market on the free agent landscape.

Still out there are Andruw Jones, Aaron Rowand, Mike Cameron, Corey Patterson and Japanese free agent Kosuke Fukudome -- though Fukudome has not ruled out signing with a Japanese team.

Most of baseball assumes that Rowand will wind up back on the South Side of Chicago, where he came up with the White Sox before a 2005 trade to Philadelphia, and that Cameron will wind up back in San Diego.

Two teams thought to be in the market are no longer -- the Nationals, who filled their hole by trading for Milledge, and the Braves, who are willing now to consider stopgap players for a couple of months until prospect Jordan Schafer is ready this summer.

Free Agents

The lack of pitching talent in this winter's free agent class -- headed by Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse and Livan Hernandez -- doesn't mean the market is going to take a downturn. In fact, one NL executive predicted Friday that Silva will get a contract approaching that of Gil Meche last year, who signed with Kansas City for five years, $55 million.

"There's a lot of need," the executive said, "and very few guys out there."

Japanese right-hander Hiroki Kuroda is also drawing interest, but some East Coast teams have been informed by Kuroda's agents that he almost certainly will limit himself to West Coast teams.

The Mitchell Report

One MLB executive predicted several weeks ago that former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell, who is heading the sport's internal investigation into steroid use, could issue his long-awaited final report during the winter meetings -- since the media would already be on hand to attend a news conference.

Such timing now seems less likely, but what would the winter meetings be without a mystery guest?

Staff Writer Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.

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