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John Lackey's best option may be to wait

December 9, 2009 |  7:26 am

Lakcey_240 As the top pitcher on the free-agent market, former Angels right-hander John Lackey was expecting a big payday. But three days into baseball's annual winter meetings, it's looking as if Lackey's representatives may have priced their client beyond the reach of even the richest teams.

The Mets, who say their focus is a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, remain interested in Lackey. But they're also interested in cutting payroll, and after signing infielder Alex Cora ($2 million for 2010) and catcher Henry Blanco ($1.5 million), the Mets have just $25 million left to spend on contracts for next season. And Lackey's agent, Steve Hilliard, is asking for a better deal than the five-year, $82.5-million contract the Yankees gave to A.J. Burnett last season.

The Mariners, who Tuesday signed former Angel Chone Figgins to a free-agent deal, also kicked the tires on a Lackey offer, but they too have come away believing his demands to be too rich.

At 31, Lackey is on the wrong side of 30. And he started each of the last two seasons on the disabled list. So after throwing a career-high 224 innings -- and winning a career-best 19 games -- in 2007, Lackey has failed to reach 178 innings in a season since. Plus his ERA, as well as his WHIP and strikeout-to-walk ratio, has gone up each summer.

That leaves Lackey with a choice: Lower his demands and sign for less than he wants, perhaps taking a one-year deal as Brad Penny did with St. Louis that would allow him to prove his durability before returning to the open market again next winter. Or continue to hold out, hoping that the market comes to him, which it may do once the status of other top-tier starters such as Roy Halladay and Josh Johnson is settled.

Mets General Manager Omar Minaya suggested that, after the 30 big-league clubs have spent two full days talking, a flurry of deals could come down today. That might help Lackey. But it might also help the Angels, who would love to bring Lackey back -- just not at the price he's asking.

-- Kevin Baxter in Indianapolis

Photo: Angels' John Lackey reacts in game five of the ALCS against the New York Yankees on October 22. Credit: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images.