TEMPE, Ariz. -- John Lackey realizes he's in a comfortable position -- you might call it the driver's seat -- as he looks beyond the immediate horizon.

While this is not necessarily in step with the Angels' today-is-everything philosophy, there are long, empty spaces during seven weeks of Spring Training when the future inevitably is contemplated.

"We're probably going to start talking soon," Lackey said on Wednesday morning, having been asked if there's anything new on the contract front. "If we can get something done, that'd be great. But I'm not going to worry about that.

"I'll let my guy take care of that and handle my business."

Lackey's guy is agent Steve Hilliard, who has had conversations with Angels general manager Tony Reagins regarding what the future might hold for the 6-foot-6 Texan who has anchored the rotation for six seasons.

"We've had discussions," Reagins said. "They've been positive so far."

Asked if the talks were ongoing, Reagins nodded.

Lackey's $10 million option for 2009 was exercised by the club, but this could be his final season as an Anaheim fixture if a new deal isn't constructed.

Given the riches that were distributed, primarily by the Yankees, to top-shelf starters over the winter, Lackey fully grasps what the market appears to bear for a durable starter in his prime, with his talent and resume.

"The top guys still got theirs," Lackey said, needing to expand no further.

The Yankees awarded CC Sabathia, the biggest prize in the marketplace, a seven-year package worth a total of $161 million.

A.J. Burnett was the next beneficiary of the Yankees' largesse, agreeing to a five-year, $82.5 million deal.

Derek Lowe accepted a four-year, $60 million commitment from the Braves.

If he doesn't autograph an extension with the Angels, Lackey figures to be in the pole position among next winter's free-agent starters.

Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks, Josh Beckett of the Red Sox and the Indians' Cliff Lee could be free agents, but each is likely to have his option for 2010 picked up by his current club.

There is nobody else in Lackey's league among potential free-agent starters.

"If you look at the guys who can be free agents," Lackey said, "I think I know where I stand. I should be OK."

The man from Abilene, Texas, is clearly a master of understatement, among other things.

How Lackey Stacks Up
John Lackey, a potential free agent after the 2009 season, has comparable career numbers with the three premier starters from the 2008 free-agent class.
Pitcher
Games
Starts
IP
SO
W-L
ERA
Lackey2072061324 2/3106291-633.81
CC Sabathia2542541659 1/31393117-733.66
A.J. Burnett2152111376 1/3127887-763.81
Derek Lowe5332551940 1/31275126-1073.75
In terms of career performance and age, Lackey appears to fall somewhere between Sabathia and Burnett.

Lackey, who turns 31 on Oct. 23, has a 91-63 career record in 206 starts, with a 3.81 ERA. He pitched and won a World Series Game 7 as a rookie, giving him the cache of a money pitcher that he has upheld -- even if it isn't reflected in his 2-3 record in 11 postseason games, nine as a starter. His 3.39 ERA more accurately mirrors the quality of his October work.

Sabathia, who will be 29 on July 21, is 117-73 with a 3.66 career ERA in 254 starts. On the downside, comparatively, Sabathia has thrown 225 2/3 more innings than Lackey, despite being almost two years younger, and the big southpaw has struggled (2-3, 7.92 ERA) in five postseason outings.

Burnett, who turned 32 on Jan. 3, is 87-76 with a 3.81 lifetime ERA in 211 starts. He has reached 200 innings in three seasons, one fewer than Lackey, and has no postseason profile.

Lowe, who will be 36 on June 1, is 126-107 with 85 saves and a 3.75 career ERA. He has delivered in the postseason, helping Boston claim a World Series title in 2004 (going 3-0), and is 5-5 overall with a 3.33 postseason ERA.

All of those numbers -- age, innings, record, postseason performance -- come into play in an evaluation of Lackey. There also is the matter of leadership, an area where he has had an impact on younger teammates observing his work ethic and attitude.

Lackey has said he doesn't want to have contract negotiations hanging over him during the season. He'd like to get something done by Opening Day.

While he makes no secret of his affection for the Angels, and, as a resident of Newport Beach, values the Southern California lifestyle, Lackey also is a down-home Texas boy who wouldn't mind having to uproot if necessary.

Lackey knows his value, and he also knows what a big season will do for him if he lands in the marketplace next winter.

His two perfect innings in his Cactus League debut on Monday in Tucson, Ariz., following a winter spent strengthening his shoulder and elbow muscles suggest that Lackey's ready to make himself as attractive as possible -- to the Angels now, and perhaps to others down the road.

"We'll just have to see what happens," Lackey said, grinning. "I'm not going to worry about it. I'm here to pitch and help us win."