NEW YORK -- Francisco Rodriguez said Monday that he plans to file for free agency after the season, setting the stage for one of three prominent decisions facing the Angels this winter.
Rodriguez, on pace to set the major league record for saves in a season, said he would not rule out re-signing with the Angels but would no longer consider an extension before soliciting offers from other teams.
"I'm going to go out there and explore the market," Rodriguez said. "They had six years. They didn't get anything done with me.
"If I wait six years, why not wait another 2 1/2 months?"
He could get the richest contract ever for a relief pitcher. Rodriguez will hit free agency at 26, with the most saves in the majors over the last four seasons.
He has 38 saves this season, a record for most saves by the All-Star break. He is on pace for 65, which would break the record of 57, set by Bobby Thigpen of the Chicago White Sox in 1990.
Rodriguez, an All-Star for the third time, said his success this season is not motivated by the chance to showcase himself before free agency. The Angels beat him in salary arbitration last winter, when he was awarded the $10 million the club offered rather than the $12.5 million he requested.
"They're still paying me to do my job," Rodriguez said. "I still have to get my job done, and whatever happens, happens."
The Angels offered Rodriguez three years and $34 million last winter. Brad Lidge, 31, signed an extension with the Philadelphia Phillies last week for three years and $37.5 million.
Mariano Rivera signed an extension last winter with the New York Yankees for three years and $45 million. Joe Nathan and Francisco Cordero signed for four years apiece, Nathan with the Minnesota Twins for $47 million and Cordero with the Cincinnati Reds for $46 million.
In addition to the contract dilemma with Rodriguez, the Angels face two other major decisions this winter.
They could negotiate an extension with outfielder Vladimir Guerrero or simply exercise a $15-million option to keep him under contract in 2009, with the possibility he would leave as a free agent after next season.
They are expected to exercise a $3-million buyout rather than a $14-million option to bring back outfielder Garret Anderson, but they could negotiate for Anderson to return at a lower salary.
Rodriguez earned the save in last year's All-Star game in San Francisco. He said he would love the chance to close today but would understand if American League Manager Terry Francona opted for Rivera, in this All-Star farewell to Yankee Stadium.
"I would never compare myself to Mariano," Rodriguez said, citing Rivera's career excellence.
The American League All-Star roster includes six closers.
For this season, Rodriguez said, he considers himself the best closer in the league.
"No doubt," he said. "Who's got the best numbers and the most saves?"
Dodgers closer Takashi Saito underwent an MRI exam on his tight right elbow, which forced him to make a premature exit from Saturday's game against the Florida Marlins.
Team physician Neal ElAttrache, who was in Florida on Monday, will return to Los Angeles today to review the MRI findings and examine Saito.
Times staff writer Dylan Hernandez contributed to this report.