The offseason is here and the coals of the Hot Stove are already being stoked with trades, decisions on contract options, and potential free agents being re-signed. The furnace will crank up another notch when free agency begins Saturday and the general managers' meetings take place next week in Palm Springs, California. So, let's not waste any time; let’s take a look at five off-season subjects that figure to create some buzz:
Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke
The slugging outfielder and the former Cy Young Award winner figure to be the two hottest commodities on the free-agent market. While both are great talents, they also have issues. In Hamilton's case, it is the drug addiction that he has fought hard to overcome. However, he still occasionally falls into relapses. With Greinke, it's the social anxiety disorder that can sometimes cause him to be an enigma with his manager and teammates.
Everyone in baseball is interested to see where the market goes for both players. Will the fact that they have non-baseball issues hold their price tags under $100 million? It's doubtful. Still, many people who know both players believe Hamilton and Greinke would be better-served by taking less money to play in smaller and less-stressful markets.
"Milwaukee or Pittsburgh or somewhere where the fans would embrace him wholeheartedly would be best for Josh," said a former teammate of Hamilton. "Getting booed by the fans in Texas hurt him more than he let on. I don't think Josh is the type of guy who is going to chase every last dollar. I think his decision—whatever it may be—is going to surprise some people."
Said an associate of Greinke's: "All things being equal, he's probably better off staying with the Angels. I know they play in a big market, but Orange County isn't Los Angeles. I don't think Zack would be comfortable being in a city where he would be under constant scrutiny."
The only way the Yankees could be more obvious about wanting A-Rod to disappear would be if they threw him off the George Washington Bridge. They played on his pride in the postseason by benching him in three games and pinch-hitting for him three other times. Rodriguez isn't a superstar anymore—Yankees general manager Brian Cashman made that clear—but he is still a useful player. The Yankees ate 60 percent of A.J. Burnett's contract in February to make him go away by trading him to the Pirates. If they do the same with Rodriguez, then the team acquiring him would still be on the hook for $56 million over the next four seasons.
Would any team be willing to pay Rodriguez $14 million a year when they know how desperately the Yankees want to be rid of him? Furthermore, Rodriguez lives for being in the spotlight, and it shines no brighter than in New York, so he might be bluffing when he says he will not waive the no-trade clause in his contract.
"My inclination is that Alex is going to be back here next year and everyone will have to find a way to make it work," said a Yankees insider.
The one team most people in the game think might take a shot on A-Rod? The Dodgers, of course; they currently spend the way the Yankees used to spend.
Not surprisingly, the Mets exercised club options on third baseman David Wright and right-hander R.A. Dickey for 2013. Heaven knows what the Mets' record would have been had they not had either player in 2012; Wright provided 5.7 WARP, while Dickey compiled 2.9 WARP for a team that finished 74-88.
Mets insiders say the club will make every effort to sign Wright, who is 29 and should still have a number of good years left, to a long-term contract this winter since he can become a free agent after next season. He is also the favorite of a fan base that has been eroded by four straight losing seasons.
Dickey is another matter. While knuckleballers can last forever—Tim Wakefield was 45 when he retired this spring—the Mets would prefer to not enter into a longer-term contract with a pitcher who is 38.
"David Wright is going to be a lifelong Met," predicted one Mets person. "That's the way both sides want it to be, and that's why it's going to happen."
Now that they've exercised right-hander James Shields' contract option for 2013, the Rays have eight viable major-league starting pitchers. Shields is in that group with left-handers David Price and Matt Moore and right-handers Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Alex Cobb, and Chris Archer.
The Rays finished 11th in the American League and 18th in the majors in scoring with an average of 4.30 runs per game. The lack of offense is the biggest reason why they missed the postseason for just the second time in the last five seasons. Thus, it seems logical that the Rays can fill the holes in their lineup by trading some pitching. However, that might not necessarily be the case, as vice president of operation Andrew Friedman is rarely pressured into making a bad trade.
"Everyone thought trading a pitcher for a hitter was what the Rays were going to do last offseason, but they aren't going to give those pitchers away unless they're sure they are getting the right deal," one AL front-office type said.
During the final two months of the season, it was generally assumed that the Indians would go into rebuilding mode this winter and trade closer Chris Perez and right fielder Shin-Soo Choo. Instead, the Indians hired a big-name manager in Terry Francona and plan to make a run at the AL Central title in 2013, even though the Tigers are the early-line favorites to win the World Series and general manager Chris Antonetti will have to build the club on a tight budget.
"I didn't take the Indians' job just to be a major-league manager again," Francona said during the World Series, as he concluded his duties as an ESPN analyst. "If I didn't think we could win, I wouldn't be there."
A few minutes with Giants general manager Brian Sabean
On being the architect of two World Series-winning teams in three years: "It's not just me, it's a group effort. No one person wins a championship. You need a team, not only the team on the field, but the team off the field, guys no one ever sees like our scouts and the people in our player development department. We're very blessed to have talented and dedicated people at all levels of our organization that all have one common goal in mind."
On the perception that the Giants eschew sabermetrics: "That is not correct. We look at the numbers. We have people who analyze the statistics. I just happen to believe that you need to know both sides of a player, both from a statistical standpoint and from a makeup standpoint. You need players with the right makeup, the right personality, to win a championship. You look at our team this year. Ryan Theriot did not complain when we traded for Marco Scutaro to play second base. When we asked Tim Lincecum to move to the bullpen for the postseason, all he did was go down there and pitch great. It wasn't easy for us to make that move, because Timmy has done a lot of great things for us as a starting pitcher, including winning two Cy Young Awards, but he accepted his role without complaint, and we don't win the championship without his contributions."
On why the Giants don't seem to draw a lot of attention nationally: "Probably because we're not the type of organization that seeks attention. We're low-profile people. I’m that way. (Manager) Bruce Bochy is that way. If people want to say or write nice things about us, that's great, but we don't seek publicity. We're satisfied to do our jobs and let the results speak for themselves."
Giants: "Their scouts did a heckuva job of figuring the Tigers' hitters out. The Giants' pitching staff worked those guys over in the World Series, particularly Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. It was just great work by their advance scouts."
Tigers: "Their lack of athleticism really showed against the Giants. By no means do they need to blow their roster up, but they do need to get more athletic because they play too much station-to-station baseball and they're bad defensively."