Teams, start your engines ...
It's time to rev up for next week's winter meetings in Indy with the top five plotlines
Originally Published: December 4, 2009By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com
Every other week of every other year, the big names in beautiful downtown Indianapolis are Peyton Manning, Larry Bird and Helio Castroneves.But not next week. Next week, we can pretty much guarantee that the name uttered more than any other will be Mr. Roy Halladay, a man who has never run a no-huddle offense, launched a 3-pointer in the NBA finals or driven a motor vehicle 166 miles per hour in his life. But none of that will be necessary next week, when baseball's winter meetings roll into Indy (at slightly under 166 mph). Oh, it's very possible, maybe even highly likely, that Halladay will still be a Blue Jay when those meetings end. But we'd bet you a "Hoosiers" DVD that he'll still be the most talked-about name in town. He'll be far from the only name floating through that Indy ozone, though. So let's look ahead to the five biggest plotlines of the 2009 winter meetings:
Happy HalladaysFor the sake of all of us who have to cover this monstrosity, it's mandatory that somebody has to emerge as the No. 1 Human Trade Rumor of every winter meetings. In 2007, it was Johan Santana. In 2008, it was Jake Peavy. And this December, it's Halladay's turn.
The Blue Jays continue to insist they don't have to trade their ace. And that they haven't been ordered to move money. And that they don't feel any sense of urgency to trade him next week, next month or before the do-it-by-spring-training deadline tossed out there by Halladay's agents the other day. Nevertheless Roy Halladay is eminently available. And he's available because the Blue Jays know they can't keep him from bolting out the free-agent escape hatch next winter. So "they should trade this guy and move on," said one longtime AL executive, "and get on with what they're going to be for the next couple of years -- which is a team that's rebuilding." But it's easier to say than do. The Angels, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Mets all look to have some level of interest. And every once in a while, a Cubs rumor bounces through the industry. But here's why this is going to be tough to get done in the next week: The price tag still seems higher than any of those teams want to pay for a player who's a year away from freedom. There are no indications Halladay is inclined to sign an extension instantly with whatever team deals for him. And the offseason is still young. So remember two things, no matter how many juicy Halladay tidbits you hear next week: (1) He still holds every card in this deck, because he won't waive his no-trade clause for just any old team. And (2) the Santana and Peavy deals never did get done at the '07 and '08 winter meetings, hot and heavy as the yakking may have gotten. The Santana trade took another seven weeks. The Peavy trade took another seven months. So it shouldn't shock you to hear that nearly every baseball man we surveyed predicts that Roy Halladay won't be dialing up American Van Lines before these meetings vroom past the checkered flag -- and he might never get traded at all.
Cyril Ma/Icon SMIThere's no guarantee Roy Halladay will be traded at all, let alone at the winter meetings.
Will the big three sign?CC Sabathia hit the lottery at last year's winter meetings. K-Rod cashed in at last year's winter meetings. Raul Ibanez and Kerry Wood signed at last year's winter meetings. So The Big Free Agent Deal does go down at these meetings -- some years. But 12 months later, the Neiman Marcus shop down at the old Free-Agent Galleria has only three large-ticket items in the display window -- Matt Holliday, Jason Bay and John Lackey. And when we polled a dozen prominent baseball men this week, just two thought any of those three would sign by the end of the winter meetings. Here, for your viewing pleasure, are the results of that poll:
|PLAYER||EARLIEST DATE||LATEST DATE||AVG. DATE|
|Matt Holliday||Dec. 15||Jan. 20||Jan. 2|
|Jason Bay||Dec. 9||Jan. 24||Dec. 28|
|John Lackey||Dec. 9||Jan. 11||Dec. 25|
Most likely to get tradedWhen the Cubs told Milton Bradley in September, after one too many tantrums, that it was time to just go home, we know lots of people who thought he seemed about as tradable as Jack the Ripper. But if that's a conclusion you jumped to, better jump again.
Free agent most likely to signIt's Dec. 4, and exactly three of Keith Law's top 50 free agents have signed -- Placido Polanco (Phillies), Marco Scutaro (Red Sox) and Billy Wagner (Braves). So just the sheer force of offseason gravity tells us that some of these guys have to sign in the next week.
Who's driving the market?This wasn't a question anybody had to ask last December. The Yankees weren't just driving the free-agent market last winter. They were the market. And CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira were darned happy about it, too. To refresh your memory: Free-agent dollars committed by the Yankees: $441 million. Free-agent dollars committed by the other 13 AL teams combined: $176.28 million. But where are the big market-setting free-agent bucks coming from this winter -- starting with these meetings next week? Good question. "Last year," said an official of one AL team, "you had the New York Yankees desperate to make an impact. But this year, the Yankees are not desperate. And the Red Sox are not desperate. So I don't know who else is desperate, unless it's the Mets." Well, the Mets may know the meaning of "desperate" without clicking on dictionary.com. But they're not $441 million kind of desperate. So when we asked the poll question -- "What team will hand out the biggest contract of the winter?" -- the Mets were one of five clubs that got votes. Here's the rundown: • MARINERS -- Always watch out for the team that just lopped the most money off its books. And this winter, that's the Mariners, who waved sayonara to nearly $50 million in departing contracts. So that explains why you've seen them connected with just about every high-profile free agent, from Bay to Lackey to Figgins to Rich Harden. "They're very well-funded," said the same AL official quoted earlier. "They want to win. Ichiro is getting older. They've got to show Felix Hernandez they're serious about winning. So this is the year they'll really try to spend money." • RED SOX -- Everyone who voted for the Red Sox voted with this premise: They're the team most likely to sign Matt Holliday. Hence, they're the team most likely to dole out the biggest contract. And since they're also shopping for a starting pitching and just added Scutaro, they're a great bet to lay out the most total dollars.