However, when you observe with a Canadian perspective, this is without doubt our country's greatest collection of un-signed baseball talent ever available in the same off-season. It isn't a long list, with only three names on it (sorry Eric Gagne), but what it lacks in length it certainly makes up for with pure talent.
The class is headed by Trail, B.C. native Jason Bay. The right-handed, power hitting right fielder burst onto the scene by winning the NL rookie of the year in 2004 with Pittsburgh, but really made a name for himself when he was traded to Boston in the Manny Ramirez deal in 2008. It was in Boston where Bay, fueled by the constant national and local media attention as well as his first taste of a pennant race, finally had his considerable talent noticed.
In 200 games with the Red Sox, Bay hit 45 homers, drove in 157 runs, had a .380 OBP and carried Boston to within one game of the 2008 World Series. Bay reportedly turned down a four year $60 million offer from the Sox and will likely end up signing for somewhere in the neighborhood of $85 million. Unfortunately for Blue Jay fans, that neighborhood will not be in Toronto.
Bay has consistently been mentioned as one of, if not the premier free agent of the 2009 class (along with Matt Holliday and John Lackey), but seemingly forgotten are two other highly talented Canadian pitchers who have been marred by injury.
The first is Erik Bedard, who reportedly spent the last two seasons fighting with teammates and the coaching staff in Seattle. Bedard has a career record of 51-41 with a 3.71 ERA but has only managed to make 15 starts in each of the last two years. The lefty from Ottawa was so highly sought after two years ago that Seattle traded Adam Jones and George Sherill for him prior to the 2008 season (both became All-Stars in Baltimore). Not surprisingly, Bill Bavasi, the Seattle GM who made that trade, is no longer the Seattle GM.
The second is Victoria's Rich Harden, who followed up an impressive 2008 (25 starts, 10-2, 2.07 ERA, 181 K's) with a mediocre 2009 (26 starts, 9-9, 4.09 ERA, 171 K's) but has a 50-29 career record and averages better than a strikeout an inning. Harden broke into the big leagues as a 21 year-old with the Oakland Athletics and appeared to be destined for stardom but injuries have been a constant issue. He has topped 150 innings only once in his seven seasons but continues to tantalize scouts with his repertoire.
Harden turned 28 on Monday of this week and Bedard is only 30, so perhaps both will follow in the footsteps of former Blue Jay Chris Carpenter, who stuggled with injuries in his mid-twenties before blossoming into a Cy Young winner and World Series champion with the St.Louis Cardinals.
Both players, because of their injury histories, will be forced into accepting short-term deals at what will likely be deep paycuts (Bedard made $7.75M and Harden $7M in 2009). However, if both can stay healthy they certainly have the ability and talent to provide excellent value to whichever clubs end up signing them.