Most of the upcoming free-agent pool is already known. It's just a matter of those players with six or more years of major league service time whose contracts expire at the end of the season officially becoming free agents five days after the World Series ends.
However, another subset of free agents will reach the open market on December 2, the deadline for tendering contracts to arbitration-eligible players. The deadline has been moved up 10 days this year and will likely include some recognizable players set free as teams have become less willing to go through the arbitration process in recent years as a way to keep payrolls down.
Time will tell exactly what players won't be tendered. However, here are five interesting names that could be available following December 2:
Jack Cust. The Athletics also non-tendered the designated hitter last season then re-signed him to a minor league contract. Cust hit .272/.395/.438 with a 3.0 WARP this season but his home runs fell to 13, down from 25 in 2009 and 33 in 2008. While power and patience might not be as hot of a commodity as they were a few years ago, Cust is still a dangerous enough hitter than he should interest some teams.
Zach Duke. The left-hander was a sub-replacement pitcher with -1.5 WARP in 29 starts this season while making $4.4 million. Thus, it's hard to imagine the Pirates, as pitching poor as they are, bringing him back at such a high salary. However, teams are always on the lookout for left-handed starters, and Duke pitched at least 185 innings in three of the four seasons before this one. Therefore, there will be a market for him.
- Jeff Francoeur. The right fielder is allergic to walks, the bane of the sabermetric crowd and combined for -0.2 WARP while hitting .249/.300/.383 for the Mets and Rangers this season. However, Francoeur has interesting tools with raw power and a strong arm, along with loads of charisma. Thus, he is seductive to all but the most stat-savvy GMs.
J.J. Hardy. He followed up a bad 2009 with the Brewers with an even worse 2010 in what was likely to be his only season with the Twins as he hit .268/.320/.394 with 2.0 WARP. Hardy's salary would figure to reach $7 million if he went to arbitration, and even though Target Field has enabled the Twins to spend like never before, they are not foolish with their money. However, Hardy is theoretically in his prime at 28, and someone will take a shot as a reclamation project.
- Dioner Navarro. Hard to believe but he played in the All-Star Game and World Series in 2008. However, the pudgy switch-hitter spent most of this season in Triple-A as he dropped to third on the Rays' catching depth chart behind John Jaso and Kelly Shoppach. Navarro had just 142 plate appearances in the major leagues and hit a paltry .194/.270/.258 with 0.8 WARP. Nevertheless, with catching in short supply, Navarro should find a job this winter.
The Reds did not spend much time fretting over making a quick exit from their first trip to the postseason in 15 years. The final out had barely been recorded in the Phillies' sweep of the National League Division Series when the Reds began thinking about converging again next February for the start of spring training in Goodyear, Arizona.
"The guys took a bite of the pie," left fielder Jonny Gomes said. "You're hungry to get to the playoffs. Once you get here, you're starving for more."
Reds manager Dusty Baker looked at the team across the field at the end of the game, and it actually gave him a good feeling about his club. Making their first post-season appearance in 14 years, the Phillies were swept by the Rockies in the 2007 NLDS but then came back to beat the Rays in the 2008 World Series and lose to the Yankees in last year's Fall Classic.
"We'll be back," Baker said. "We'll be all right."
It was a year of accomplishment for the Reds as they won the NL Central for their first division title since 1995. They also snapped a string of 10 consecutive losing seasons that started in 2000.
"We achieved a lot," general manager Walt Jocketty said. "We've got something to build on for next year."
The Reds have a young team as evidenced by 19 of the 25 players on their NLDS roster having never appeared in the postseason.
"Our plan is that this is just the first of many good teams," right fielder Jay Bruce said. "We have a great team. We're looking forward to next year."
Giants manager Bruce Bochy got choked up in the aftermath of his team defeating the Braves in their NLDS. In fact, tears nearly came to Bochy's eyes.
Yet while Bochy was ecstatic that his team advanced to the National League Championship Series to face the Phillies, he was also sad that the Game Four loss on Monday night represented the last game of Bobby Cox's 29-year managerial career. Bochy and the Giants stopped in mid-celebration to applaud Cox when the Braves' manager stepped out of the dugout to acknowledge the Turner Field fans.
"I revere this man so much, what he's accomplished in this game," Bochy said. "It's going to be strange coming in here and not seeing Bobby on the other side. He's a man I've looked up to, not just how he manages the game, but his team, how professional it is. They're always in uniform. They play the game right."
Cox appreciated the Giants' saluting him. He also gave a thumbs-up to Bochy and his players.
"That was a nice, nice gesture by the Giants," Cox said. "I love Bochy. He's one of the best guys in baseball. If we couldn't win, I'm glad he did."
The Red Sox' Terry Francona is fond of saying "it's amazing how smart a manager becomes when he has good players." Indeed, Francona has won two World Series championships in his seven seasons in Boston after finishing under .500 in each of the four seasons of his managerial career with the Phillies.
Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon would like to follow in Francona's footsteps and get a second chance after a rough start to his managerial career. McClendon skippered the Pirates from 2001-05. The Pirates had five of their current streak of 18 consecutive losing seasons on his watch.
McClendon is expected to interview for the manager's position with the Mariners. It would be his first managerial interview since getting the ax five years ago.
"If I ever get the opportunity to manage again, I'll be better for a number of reasons," McClendon said. "One of them is the experience of having done it. The first time around, things move kind of fast for you."
McClendon spent the 2006 season as Detroit's bullpen coach before being switched to hitting coach the next year. He believes that versatility would aid him if he gets a second chance as manager.
"Being a bullpen coach gave me a greater appreciation of the grind that relievers go through on a daily basis," McClendon said. "They are the backbone of your club."
MLB Rumors & Rumblings: The Rockies are likely to make a play for Athletics first baseman/outfielder Conor Jackson, if as expected, he is non-tendered. … The Twins have no plans to re-sign Orlando Hudson and will fill the second-base hole internally with Alexi Casilla. … The Reds are receptive to re-signing Ramon Hernandez and having him again share time at catcher with Ryan Hanigan but are unlikely to exercise the option on Orlando Cabrera's contract for 2011 and instead go with Paul Janish at shortstop. … After turning down the chance to become the Marlins' manager in June, ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine is again being considered. … The Blue Jays seem to be talking to everyone in baseball about their manager opening as Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin and Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell have recently interviewed. … Former Astros manager Cecil Cooper, amazingly, is being considered for the Mariners' managerial position. … The Pirates' latest manager interviews have included one internal candidate in bench coach Jeff Banister along with Royals bench coach John Gibbons and former Athletics and Brewers manager Ken Macha.
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