Hot Stove heating up a little early
Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
There is certainly no rest for the weary anymore in Major League Baseball. Within minutes of the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series, 142 players filed for free agency. Twenty more have filed since.
And rather than the 15-day waiting period free agents had to endure before talking to new teams, they can negotiate after five, meaning we will be in full Hot Stove mode by the end of the weekend.
So with that said, let's take a look at some items to prime you for the start of the offseason and free agency.
STORYLINES TO WATCH THIS OFFSEASON
WHAT THE YANKEES DO WITH THEIR AGING CORNERSTONES
For years people knew this was going to be a tough offseason for the Yankees. What do they do with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera? Rivera continues to pitch at a Hall of Fame level, but he will be 41 at the start of next season. He has to start slowing down at some point, right? Then there is Jeter, who is clearly not the same player he once was and is coming off the worst statistical season of his 16-year career. This is probably a non-story because the Yankees have to and are going to pay both of them. But how much is too much? There are already reports that Jeter wants a six-year deal that would end when he is 42. Hard to say no since the Yankees' deal with Alex Rodriguez runs until his early '40s. Bottom line there is no way either Jeter or Rivera will be anywhere other than with the Yankees on Opening Day 2011.
WHERE WILL CLIFF LEE WIND UP
There is no doubt who the big fish in this free agent market is and that is none other than left-hander Cliff Lee. Through the first two rounds of the playoffs it looked as if Lee could have named his price, but two losses in the World Series brought him back to Earth. Lee still has one thing going for him and that is the fact that the New York Yankees want him. The Rangers could also retain him, as they just inked a very lucrative television deal. He won't sign quick, though. I expect him to still be in play at the Winter Meetings in early December. The Yankees and the Rangers are probably the frontrunners, but all the usual suspects will be in on this one.
Two losses in the World Series brought Cliff Lee back to Earth.
INSTANT REPLAY DEBATE
There is no doubt the instant replayers will be out in full force this winter and that topic will be addressed perhaps as early as the owners meetings in Orlando. I am all for expanding it in some fashion. Give a manager challenges like in the NFL or something like that. I don't want to hear about the purity of the game. That stuff is nonsense. If there is a way to get it right, get it right. You would think the umpires would be for it so they don't have to hear how inept they are all the time.
BESIDES LEE, WHO ARE THE FIVE BEST FREE AGENTS AVAILABLE:
If Lee is the best pitcher on the market, then Carl Crawford is the best position player. Hands down. Crawford is coming off a terrific year with the Rays, as he hit .307 with 90 RBI and 110 runs scored. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim want him, but don't count out the Yankees if Lee stays in Texas. Boston could also be a destination. How much will he get? Think Matt Holliday's 7-year, $120 million deal from a year ago.
For the teams that miss out on Crawford, Jayson Werth is a pretty solid fallback plan. In fact he may even be better. A true five-tool superstar, Werth can do it all. The Phillies should do everything they can to keep him, but some think he is intent on leaving anyway. Werth led the league with 46 doubles this past season. Imagine how many he would hit at Fenway? The Red Sox are in the market for an OF and he certainly fits the bill.
Rafael Soriano picked a pretty good year to post the best numbers of his career. He set just about every Tampa Bay Rays' record this season as a reliever, and saved 45 games for the AL East champions. Teams will be lining up for his services.
It appears as if the Red Sox are not going to re-sign him. Victor Martinez is a great hitter, batting .300 with an OPS above .840 in five of the past six seasons. However, he is 32 and is nothing special behind the plate, as he has thrown out just 19-percent of baserunners in the last two seasons. I am sure somebody will put him behind the plate at the start of a new deal, but nowhere he is there at the end of what could be a five or six year deal. He is a terrific hitter, though.
Adam Dunn's name was mentioned a lot last July at the trade deadline. Nothing happened, though. He is one of the premiere sluggers in the game. It will be interesting to see what kind of contract he winds up with. He has AL DH written all over him. The Chicago White Sox were hot on his tail last summer so he could wind up there, but don't count on him replacing Jim Thome in Minnesota either.
FIVE SURPRISING NAMES YOU'LL HEAR IN TRADE TALKS
I guess Adrian Gonzalez's name being bandied about this offseason isn't much of a surprise since everyone assumed he would be dealt last winter. But after the way the Padres competed this season you would think they may keep him around. Think again. Although they just picked up his option for the coming season the Padres aren't going to be able to sign him after the 2011 season. The time to deal him is now.
I have thought the Red Sox were going to deal Jonathan Papelbon each of the last two offseasons. This winter, though, they may not have a choice. Papelbon is going to be a free agent at the end of the year and the Red Sox already have closer-in-waiting Daniel Bard ready to take over. Bard is probably better at this point anyway. What about a Papelbon for Prince Fielder deal?
Talk about a team that needs an overhaul. The New York Mets desperately need to change their identity. The fans want a change. It may be time for Jose Reyes to go. When healthy he is one of the most electric players in the game, but it seems as if he is always nicked up. The Mets would still get more for him than David Wright. Now I don't think they will deal him, but I won't be shocked if teams come a calling for the 27-year-old shortstop.
The Seattle Mariners need a lot of help. They are not going to win anytime soon, especially while Ichiro Suzuki is still there. Why not deal him now, get a few pieces back in return and start over? Depending if they get major league ready players in return they may not be that far off considering they have the best young pitcher in baseball on their team in Felix Hernandez.
Zack Greinke was the AL Cy Young Award winner in 2009. This past season he was 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA. Which is the real guy? Greinke never really seemed to get on track in 2010. Since the Royals are once again in rebuild mode it may be time to think about dealing their ace for some prospects. The problem is he does not want to go to a big city. The perfect fit would be the Minnesota Twins, but even the Royals won't deal their star player within the division.
THIS YEAR'S RECLAMATION PROJECT: BRANDON WEBB
Last year it was Ben Sheets as the pitcher who missed all of the previous season then hit the free agent market. It didn't work out well for the Oakland Athletics who paid him $10 million only to watch him go down with another season-ending injury in July. Brandon Webb has made just one start in the last two years, but is a former NL Cy Young Award winner and won 22 games as recently as 2008. I think Arizona would love to keep him. He would be a perfect mentor to an impressive young staff, but there will be plenty of other options. Let's hope that it turns out better for him than Sheets, though.
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