Expect moves, moves and more moves
Johnny Damon, John Lackey and Matt Holliday are among the hot offseason topics
The baseball offseason is one of the great misnomers in the game. There is no offseason anymore in baseball. The winter months are filled with signings, trades and moves of all kinds.
Here are 10 offseason stories to watch.
1. How will the world champion Yankees rework their roster?
Last winter, the Yankees didn't even make an offer to Bobby Abreu or Jason Giambi, allowing each to leave via free agency even though each had recorded pretty good numbers in 2008. Look for the same thing to happen with Damon and Matsui even though Matsui won the World Series MVP on the strength of his record-tying six RBIs in the clinching Game 6. The Yankees seem to be slowly moving away from having too many DH types, and going with more athletic players. Plus, one of their top prospects is outfielder Austin Jackson, who is very athletic, but it's unclear when he will be ready to play in the big leagues.
As for Pettitte, look for the Yankees to re-sign him for at least one year. The Yankees also have to determine what they're going to do with Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. They might put Hughes in the rotation and put Joba in the bullpen as the eventual replacement for closer Mariano Rivera.
2. Which future Hall of Famers will announce their retirement?
Smoltz says he wants to pitch in 2010, and certainly showed at times in 2009 that he can still pitch. Martinez also proved that, and seemed to truly enjoy the stretch run and the postseason despite not looking very good in losing Game 6 of the World Series (he said he's going to talk to his mother about retiring).
Glavine didn't pitch in 2009; if he is indeed done, he would be inducted into Cooperstown the same year as his good friend, Greg Maddux.
Johnson won his 300th game last season, then got hurt, then finished the season in the Giants' bullpen. He is one of the 10 best pitchers of all time. Logically, at 46, he might say this is it. Griffey, who will turn 40 on Nov. 21, is a hard one to read. He hit .214 while playing on bad knees last year. He said he would go home this winter, and talk with his family about possibly playing next year.
3. Where will Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman sign?
He is 21, he is left-handed and he throws in the upper 90s, and has been clocked as high as 102 mph. He is young and raw and undisciplined, but he could command a contract in the range of what Jose Contreras, another Cuban defector, got from the Yankees years ago: four years, $32 million.
"I love his arm,'' one GM said. "But he's got a ways to go before he's ready to pitch in the major leagues, physically and emotionally.''
Indeed, Chapman's ERA was 4.03 in 118 2/3 innings in the National Series this year in Cuba. The asking price will be high, but the ceiling is high on this kid. The Yankees are always considered a player in these types of signings.
4. How will turmoil among Dodgers ownership affect the team's on-field plans?
Owner Frank McCourt hasn't had significant funds with which to work since he bought the club several years ago, and now, it seems, he will have even less money with which to deal given that he is getting a divorce.
The Dodgers need to acquire at least one topflight starting pitcher, but there is already speculation that they will not have enough money to re-sign left-hander Randy Wolf. If they don't have the money to improve the club, they might have to make a trade or two, and that has to begin with pitcher Chad Billingsley. For him to not make a start in the National League Championship Series -- but Hiroki Kuroda did, and Vicente Padilla made two -- means it's time for him to go.
If the Dodgers don't think Billingsley has the stomach to be a top-of-the-rotation guy, then they should trade him now for pitching help.
5. How will the economy affect the free-agent class this offseason?
Clearly, the economy has not rebounded as quickly as some would have liked. But this is not a strong free-agent class.
Matt Holliday and Jason Bay lead a decent collection of hitters, but the pitching class "is about as weak as I've seen it in a long time,'' said one general manager. John Lackey leads the way, along with Wolf, Rich Harden and Kevin Millwood.
If there are only a few big deals out there this winter, there will be no screams about collusion because there are so few big-name players, not like last year when CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Francisco Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez dominated the winter signings.
6. With the sale of the Cubs completed, will they get back into contention?
After 2009, they have a lot of questions to answer.
The first point of business will be trading volatile outfielder Milton Bradley, but they likely won't be able to do that without picking up most of the two years, $20 million left on his contract. Then they have to sign, find or trade for a dominant personality for that clubhouse -- they haven't replaced the leadership they lost with the departures of Mark DeRosa and Kerry Wood last offseason. And, with the way their offense fell off last year, they have to find a big bat for the middle of the order, someone even bigger than Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, and someone much, much better than Alfonso Soriano.
Then the Cubs have to ask themselves if their pitching is good enough to contend. Is Carlos Zambrano reliable enough to be a No. 1 starter for a championship-caliber club? Is Carlos Marmol the answer at the end of the game?
7. Will the Mets improve enough to get back into the race in the NL East?
They lost 92 games in 2009, and not all of them were due to the fact that half the team was hurt. The Mets played some uninspired, ragged, sloppy baseball last year, and that has nothing to do with the many injuries they had.
Certainly, a healthy Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran will make the Mets significantly better, but there are still holes at first base, left field, behind the plate and at least two spots in the rotation -- and that's assuming ace Johan Santana comes back healthy from surgery on his left elbow. Signing Holliday or Bay to play left field seems imperative, as does signing a top free-agent starter, such as Lackey. There is a question whether the Mets have the finances to do that, but that might be their only choice because it doesn't appear as if they have the farm system to deal for a stud starting pitcher or outfielder.
8. Will the Angels be able to keep their team together?
The Angels do not appear to be particularly aggressive in re-signing Lackey, but they have to. He won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series as a rookie, and even though he has won more than 14 games in only one season in his career, he remains one of the best starters in the American League, a bulldog who never wants to come out of games, as seen in Game 5 of the ALCS against the Yankees.
Figgins had a poor postseason at the plate, but will be coveted by several teams (White Sox? Orioles?) if he gets to free agency. Chances are, the Angels won't let him get away.
9. Will Jason Bay get paid?
He is a free agent. It has been forgotten, but when David Ortiz and the rest of the Red Sox's lineup labored in the first two months of last season, it was Bay who kept the team upright with tremendous production. He hit a major slump early in the summer, but rebounded somewhat at the end of the year.
The Red Sox reportedly offered Bay a four-year contract at $15 million a year, but that apparently was not enough. The Red Sox have some serious decisions to make this winter. Is Ortiz still a significant run producer? Will Mike Lowell stay healthy enough for one more season? If the Red Sox can't sign Bay, Matt Holliday would seem to be perfect in Fenway Park.
10. How much will Matt Holliday get paid?
He is the premium free agent out there. He is a real baseball player, a baseball junkie, the son of a coach. He tore it up in the National League for several years, then was traded to the A's, where, for the first two months, he didn't look like a dominant hitter.
Then he went to the Cardinals and hit .353 with power for the final two-plus months of the regular season. Is he just a National League player? Is he a product of all those years at Coors Field? Were the first two months in Oakland's spacious park the aberrant sample? These are important questions, but given his age, his character and his incredible strength, you have to think he's worth the risk, even at around, say, $18 million a year.
The Mets need him. So, too, might the Red Sox. The Yankees might even get involved. Holliday is a perfect fit for the Cardinals, but with Scott Boras as his agent, Holliday might be too expensive for St. Louis.
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and became available in paperback in May 2008. Click here to order a copy.