James Burns: Fuentes finds free agency to be slow moving

12/13/2008 1:29 AM

12/13/2008 1:30 AM

Brian Fuentes understands the reality of his current situation.

The former Merced star is unemployed, a baseball free agent floating unattached in a pool teeming with talent, potential and huge price tags.

The caveat, of course, is that Fuentes isn't like many of the millions around the country without a job right now.

He's in high demand.

Always has been.

With a coveted left arm that can bend and speed up a baseball on command, the former Colorado Rockies closer will land another gig.

That much we're sure of.

That much he's sure of.

However, just when that multi-million-dollar deal arrives -- and where it takes Brian and his family -- remains to be seen.

The hard truth is that Fuentes may be no closer to a deal than when he started meeting with general managers at the beginning of the week.

As of Thursday afternoon, while Major League Baseball was shutting down its winter meetings in Las Vegas, Fuentes was sitting in a school parking lot.

Waiting on a bell.

Waiting for his kids.

The irony was a bit unnerving -- even for a guy charged with performing during baseball's hairiest moments.

For now at least, one of the game's top relief pitchers was nothing more than a stay-at-home daddy.

Just another car in a long line of sedans, SUVs and yellow buses.

"It's tough. You wait a long time to have this kind of leverage (in free agency) and have some idea where you're going," said Fuentes, who won back the closer role in Colorado last season and finished with 30 saves.

"Now that it's here, I feel like I've put myself in a good position, but...

"I'm unemployed. I haven't hooked up with a team yet, so there is a shadow of doubt there.

"Where am I going to move my family? When do I pack my things? Where am I going to pitch next?

"You just don't know."

To be fair, Fuentes expected contract talks to stall. He approached the "Hot Stove League" -- baseball's cutesy nickname for its winter meetings -- with measured expectations.

"I knew going down there that I wasn't going walk away with a job," Fuentes said. "I just wanted a firm idea of where I would go.

"Obviously, I don't have a job right now, so I didn't solidify any prospective employers. But at the same time, I got to see who was serious and who was just posturing."

Fuentes can draw a red line through two possible destinations: the New York Mets and the Cleveland Indians.

Francisco Rodriguez was the first big-name free agent to make a splash at the winter meetings, parlaying a record-setting 62 saves this past season into a three-year, $37 million deal with the Mets.

Kerry Wood's new two-year deal with the Indians is pending a physical he took Thursday night.

So where does that leave Fuentes, the last remaining marquee name in a thinning market?

Four clubs spring to mind: the Los Angeles Angels, St. Louis, Detroit and Milwaukee.

For obvious reasons, Fuentes would love to pitch for the Halos -- a team with obvious need and a pitcher-friendly manager in Mike Scioscia.

"Anaheim would be a great fit, being a California kid," Fuentes said. "That would be my first choice."

St. Louis wouldn't be a bad option, either.

Fuentes grew up as a fan of manager Tony La Russa, who helped turn the Oakland A's into a league power in the 1980s and '90s.

"It's a bit of a waiting game right now," Fuentes said. "Early on, we had five or six teams in the mix, but since then there have been a couple of teams who have picked up closers.

"Am I worried? No, I'm not worried. It's a good thing, actually.

"In one sense, there are two teams gone, but it also narrows the field down a little bit.

"I'm the last top-end closer left. There are some other closers out there, but not many with my kind of experience or the track record I've had."

Yes, Fuentes understands the reality of his current situation.

For now, he's a stay-at-home dad, taking his kids to school and waiting for his agents to call with an offer.

For now, he's unemployed.

But it won't last long.

He'll close a deal.

That's what he does.

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at jburns@mercedsun-star.com.

The Fuentes File

Games W L Sv SO BB

2001 Sea10 1 1 0 10 8

2002 Colo31 2 0 0 38 13

2003 Colo75 3 3 4 82 34

2004 Colo47 2 4 0 48 19

2005 Colo78 2 5 31 91 34

2006 Colo66 3 4 30 73 26

2007 Colo64 3 5 20 56 23

2008 Colo67 1 5 30 82 22

TOTALS438 17 27 115 480 179

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