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Marquis, Giambi top list of Rox free agents

Marquis, Giambi top list of Rox free agents

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DENVER -- Various on-and-off field personnel for the Rockies had a common theme in recent conversations about the World Series: It was difficult to watch. The Rockies lost to the Phillies, three games to one, in the National League Division Series, but the team felt much closer to the Fall Classic than that.

But it's over, with the Yankees having defeated the Phillies for the title. Now it's time for free agency, and the Rockies are much more willing spectators.

Players could begin filing Thursday. The Rockies, however, have chosen to develop their own players in lieu of bidding on high-priced free agents. So don't expect them to make serious plays for the big names.

That figures to include their two biggest free agents, right-handed pitcher Jason Marquis and first baseman Jason Giambi. Marquis and Giambi were the first two Rockies to file Thursday.

That Giambi is expected to depart is no surprise. Giambi's strong pinch-hit performance in September allowed him to re-establish his value, but he fits better as an American League designated hitter who can periodically play first base.

If Marquis becomes one of the most coveted free-agent right-handers on the market, the Rockies will have difficulty competing.

Marquis earned $9.9 million last season, the end of a three-year deal he signed with the Cubs. But when the Rockies acquired him from Chicago last winter, they dealt reliever Luis Vizcaino, who was making $4 million, and the Cubs kicked in $875,000. That meant Marquis inflated the Rockies' payroll by $5 million. It is likely to require far more than that to retain him.

The most intriguing name among Rockies free agents is right-hander Jose Contreras, whom the club acquired from the White Sox at the end of August. Contreras earned $10 million last year at the end of a three-year deal, but faces an uncertain free-agent market because of a difficult year with the Sox and age.

However, the Rockies liked his work in the bullpen during the season's final days. After he recovered from a hamstring strain in early September, Contreras shifted to the bullpen and showed increased velocity on his fastball. Manager Jim Tracy praised Contreras' work, and said he has a future there if he chooses it. If so, maybe the Rockies can fit him into their budget.

As for pursuing free agents from other clubs, the Rockies are likely to look for economical deals in the bullpen. Last year's big expenditure was for left-hander Alan Embree, but the Rockies also benefited from shrewd decisions on low-cost deals. Colorado started to repeat that process on Thursday by reaching one-year contract agreements with right-hander Matt Belisle and left-hander Randy Flores, both of whom came aboard last winter on Minor League deals.

But an in-house possibility is left-hander Joe Beimel, who went 0-1 with a 4.26 ERA in 26 games for the Rockies after being acquired from the Nationals at the July non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Beimel was a victim of last winter's tight market. He wound up signing with the Nationals for $2 million a little more than three weeks before the season began. It's possible that Beimel could be in the Rockies' price range this winter.

Even more pressing than free agency at this point are decisions about catcher Yorvit Torrealba and right-handed reliever Rafael Betancourt, both of whom performed well in the run-up to the playoffs.

Torrealba has a $4 million option that becomes mutual if the Rockies choose to keep him. The club has five days after the World Series to make a decision on the option, but both sides could negotiate a different deal, most likely one that has a lower 2010 price tag.

The Rockies have a $5 million option on Betancourt, and have 10 days after the World Series to make a decision. That could be another opportunity to negotiate a different deal.

Thomas Harding 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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