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Hot stove time: What will be the biggest stories this offseason?

Nov 2, 2010, 12:00 PM EDT

Hot stove

The carpet of the visitor’s clubhouse down in Texas is still wet with bubbly and the Giants are still several hours from having their hangovers kick in, but it’s never too early to think about what’s next. That’s especially true this year with the free agency season getting into full swing so soon after the season starts.  If previous years are any guide we can expect the unexpected. But before  fate, karma, juju, the whammy and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle take over the hot stove season, let’s take a quick look at what will likely be the biggest stories this offseason:

  • Albert Pujols’ deal:  Yes, there may be more ink spilled about Cliff Lee, but the Cardinals locking up Albert Pujols to a long term deal is easily the biggest task facing any team this winter, and the one with the greatest implications for baseball.  He’s under contract for 2011, but the Cards would be insane to let him get to spring training without locking him up. Why? Odds are he won’t negotiate during the season and if he gets to next fall without a deal being struck, he’ll almost certainly test the open market. If that happens the best case scenario is that it would cost St. Louis tens of millions of dollars, as no small number of teams would likely get in on the bidding. Worst case: Pujols walks and the Cardinals are left as a smoking crater of a baseball team. It took the Indians 35 years to get over the Rocky Colavito trade. Who knows how long losing El Hombre will keep the Cardinals down, psychologically or otherwise. Either way, this needs to get done now.
  • Cliff Lee’s free agency: The Yankees obviously have their heart set on the guy. The Rangers have talked a big game about keeping him in Texas. Even Lee’s wife has gotten in on the act.  Ultimately, however, where Cliff Lee pitches next year is going to depend on (a) his wishes, not anyone else’s; and (b) the Benjamins.  While it’s always wise to bet “the field” in a 30 horse race, the fact of the matter is that about 25 of the horses don’t have the giddyup  to stay in the Cliff Lee Derby. I would have a hard time predicting him ending up anywhere but New York, but I suppose stranger things than the Yankees not getting a coveted free agent have happened.  I just can’t think of what they are at the moment.
  • The inevitable Prince Fielder trade: It’s dangerous to say that a trade is definitely going to happen. Just look at the Adrian Gonzalez stuff from last year. He didn’t go anywhere despite the fact that all the big media websites were messing with their graphics to change his cap and uniform in their file photos as early as December.  With that caveat out of the way, Fielder does look poised to go. He too faces free agency. He’s represented by Scott Boras, who has already suggested that he’s expecting Mark Teixeira money.  The Brewers are highly unlikely to pay Fielder that kind of dough, so their best bet is to trade him.  It’s an open question as to whether one can get better value for an in-season trade to a desperate contender at next year’s deadline or during the offseason when more teams can picture themselves competing the following year, but rest assured there will be tons of Prince Fielder rumors flying between now and when pitchers and catchers report.
  • The McCourt divorce and the fate of the Dodgers:  We can expect a decision from the judge presiding over the Frank and Jamie McCourt divorce any day now, but no later than Thanksgiving. If he rules that Frank is the sole owner, the Dodgers will likely see little turbulence going forward. At least not related to the divorce. If he rules, however, that Jamie is the co-owner, Katey bar the door, because we’re going to have a mess on our hands, most likely involving a sale of the team to satisfy what will be a hefty divorce settlement.
  • Derek Jeter/Mariano Rivera:  Both are free agents, and both are almost 100% certain to return to the Yankees. But for how much? And how long? And even if there’s no doubt about any of that, if you think the matter isn’t going to be analyzed to the nth degree in the media, you’re crazy.
  • The direction of the Mets:  This will be an ongoing story, as the second banana in the Big Apple appears to be on the brink of a major overhaul.  Sandy Alderson is in place as the new GM, and if he was truly promised a free hand in running the team, expect big changes, because he sees the world a little differently than Jeff Wilpon does.  The first order of business will be the new manager, but there will be all manner of personnel decisions this winter. They may not all change the Mets’ 2011 roster that much, will have lasting implications for the direction of the team.
  • Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth’s new home: They’re different men, but I include them together because where one of these big ticket free agents signs will almost certainly impact the other.  It’s a thin offensive free agent class out there once you get beyond these two, so competition will be fierce.  If it helps, think of this as Glengarry Glen Ross: the winner gets the Cadillac (Crawford). Second place gets steak knives (Werth) and third place gets fired.

Those are the biggies as far as I can see, my friends. Let’s chat about it all — including my unfortunate but dramatically necessary comparison of Jayson Werth and steak knives — in the comments.  If you have nothing to say, at least start a fire in the stove, pour yourself a beverage and enjoy baseball’s crazy season with the HBT Crew.

  1. mcsnide - Nov 2, 2010 at 12:07 PM

    Craig,

    What’s your take on the McCourt thing? If you had to put money on it, which way do you think it goes? Help us non-lawyers out by handicapping it.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Nov 2, 2010 at 12:15 PM

      Personally, I think Jamie McCourt lied through her teeth at the trial, that she knew full well what she was doing when she signed that agreement and that she fully intended to exchange her ownership interest in the Dodgers for the real estate in the event of divorce. Everything about the document makes sense if seen in those terms. There’s no reason for the document at all if what she says is true. And that’s before we get to the part where she — the former family lawyer — would have us believe that she had no idea what the document was supposed to do and was oh-so-confused about it all.

      But that business about Frank’s lawyers changing the documents after the fact is big trouble. I believe that he made a mistake and was merely trying to fix it without anyone knowing, but courts, as a rule, don’t give lawyers that kind of benefit of the doubt. I think there’s a good chance that, because of it, the court rules that the post nup is invalid and community property rules apply, giving Jamie half the team. It will be resolved in a settlement that will almost certainly result in the sale of the team.

      But that’s just my gut. I’ve been wrong about this stuff before, as has been anyone else who tries to predict what a court will do.

      • mcsnide - Nov 2, 2010 at 12:41 PM

        Thanks. In a funny way, a win by Jamie followed by the forced sale of the Dodgers to someone not named McCourt might be the best thing to happen to the club.

      • Jonny 5 - Nov 2, 2010 at 1:23 PM

        I think, if everyone wishes hard enough, all at the same time, that is exactly what will happen. I’m pretty sure most baseball fans would agree that this would be the best thing for the Dodgers. And yes, If I were to pick one part of your assessment to wish upon. It would be the sale of the Dodgers. Mark Cuban will do a much better job I think.

      • Utley's Hair - Nov 2, 2010 at 1:40 PM

        Has an owner ever been tossed from a MLB game? ‘Cause umps are a lot less forgiving than NBA zebras, and Cuban would give Bobby Cox a run for his money—of which Cuban has a lot more to be surrendered in fines.

      • BC - Nov 2, 2010 at 2:39 PM

        Actually, I think Ted Turner got thrown out of a game once if I recall.

      • mcsnide - Nov 2, 2010 at 2:43 PM

        I can’t remember an owner being tossed. I do seem to remember that part of the reason Loria decided he didn’t like Girardi back in the day was something about Loria yelling at an umpire from the stands near the dugout and Girardi telling him to shut up.

      • Utley's Hair - Nov 2, 2010 at 2:49 PM

        I thought Girardi was canned because he turned the Feesh around and damn near got them to the postseason.

  2. Kevin S. - Nov 2, 2010 at 12:08 PM

    I think Sherman pretty much nailed it when he said 3/$45 MM for Jeter. FG’s Contract Crowd sourcing had essentially the same result. As for Mo, I think he’s an ideal candidate for the Tim Wakefield Perpetual Option contract, albeit at a much higher base.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 2, 2010 at 12:42 PM

      No way he takes that much of a pay cut; however, the number of years is perfect. I’d rather go overboard on the money and cut the years, than vice versa. 3/$60M is far better than 4/$60 or 5/$80.

      • Kevin S. - Nov 2, 2010 at 1:06 PM

        I dunno, I don’t get how he can have the worst year of his career and not expect to take a paycut. That contract offer still has a good deal of goodwill built into it, even with the most generous projection of Jeter going forward I can make.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 2, 2010 at 1:18 PM

        Because you are looking at the contract negotiations rationally, and we all know there’s nothing rational about the process. [Assuming the down year is indicative of how Jeter will play going forward] You’d think the Yanks would say that he wasn’t worth the $20M he was paid last year, and will offer him a contract comparable to what he was worth. But they never happen that way.

        His agent will trump his “intangibles” and “how much he means to the Yanks outside of baseball playing (promotions, jerseys, etc)” and how much money he’s made the Yanks that he wasn’t paid for.

        And, don’t forget that Jeter isn’t all sunshines and lollipops like the media makes him out to be. He’s really petty when it comes to grudges [see Rodriguez, Alex] so you can bet his agent is going to ensure there are some serious bonus dollars for milestones.

      • Kevin S. - Nov 2, 2010 at 2:08 PM

        Oh, I know Jeter isn’t the perfect guy the media makes him out to be. I still think he has no leverage. And that $15 million AAV does figure in a bounceback. I just don’t see him getting the money befitting an MVP candidate when he isn’t one any more. Casey Close can talk about intangibles until he’s blue in the face – Brian Cashman will tell him to go find a better offer if he can. He won’t.

      • mcsnide - Nov 2, 2010 at 2:50 PM

        Well said, Kevin. Who else is going to bid for Jeter at anything above $6-8 mil/year? Cashman probably doubles that, just to make a legend happy, but I don’t see him getting into a bidding war against himself.

  3. yankeesfanlen - Nov 2, 2010 at 12:14 PM

    Yeah, let’s do the Cliff Lee and Carl Crawgford to the Universe thing, it’s time for Hal to write big checks again. Even year, no rings, $250 mil to spend one way or the other-does that buy 2 or 3 free agents at this point?
    Core four all back-one by non-contract year onlyAnd best news of all-FAT TOAD as trade-bait!
    104 wins, #28.Sweep Minnesota, Tampa in 6, Phillies in 6.

  4. sdelmonte - Nov 2, 2010 at 12:15 PM

    I would add that with new ownership in place in Chicago, the future of the Cubs is sort of like a Second City version of the future of the Mets. Not quite the same sort of overhaul, but the past is prologue for both.

  5. kander013 - Nov 2, 2010 at 12:43 PM

    Craig,

    What about a potential Zack Greinke trade?

    Len,

    Go to hell.

    • yankeesfanlen - Nov 2, 2010 at 12:45 PM

      We might take Zack too if Andy doesn’t come back. Give KC the FAT TOAD!

      • mcsnide - Nov 2, 2010 at 1:28 PM

        Wow, Greinke in NY? I don’t normally buy the whole “that guys isn’t suited for the big market” thing, but I think I do here. I really don’t think a guy who’s had some of the struggles he’s dealt with would be a good fit.

        Wait, what am I saying? Please, Yankees, trade Montero for Greinke and give him a $200 million, 8 year extension.

      • BC - Nov 2, 2010 at 2:40 PM

        I’ll trade you Jeff Wilpon for Greinke….

      • pisano - Nov 2, 2010 at 7:27 PM

        Amen , give anyone that Fat Toad .

  6. scatterbrian - Nov 2, 2010 at 12:59 PM

    Weren’t the Yankees expected to sign Vladimir Guerrero and Carlos Beltran back in the day?

    • Kevin S. - Nov 2, 2010 at 1:08 PM

      I’m pretty sure they didn’t go after Beltran because they weren’t quite ready to push Bernie off the position yet, and IIRC, they had some concerns about how well Vlad would hold up.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 2, 2010 at 1:21 PM

      iirc, Steinbrenner had a hard on for Sheffield while Cashman/Torre wanted Vlad. And the Beltran rumor at the time was that Boras told the Yanks that Beltran would take a discount to go to the Bronx compared to what the Mets offered. Rumors of course, since no one ever puts stuff like that on the record.

      • scatterbrian - Nov 2, 2010 at 2:51 PM

        thanks guys. For some reason I remember both of them nearly fitted for pinstripes before those season were over….

  7. BC - Nov 2, 2010 at 1:34 PM

    This just in: The Mets are in negoitations with Katie Couric to be their next manager. Meredith Viera is rumored to be the choice as bench coach.
    (Had to get a bench coach reference in)

    • mcsnide - Nov 2, 2010 at 1:44 PM

      Whoopi Goldberg for 3B coach.

    • Utley's Hair - Nov 2, 2010 at 1:59 PM

      And Bobby Valentine as bat boy? Or ball girl?

      • BC - Nov 2, 2010 at 2:01 PM

        No, Drew Barrymore will be the ball girl. I need SOMETHING exciting to look at during a Mets game.

  8. willmose - Nov 2, 2010 at 2:18 PM

    Like last year when the Cardinals got the Cadillac (Holliday) and the Mets got a dull set of steak knives (Bay).

  9. lateralsymmetry - Nov 2, 2010 at 2:23 PM

    “the second banana in the Big Apple”
    I can’t read that and not think of a “food metaphors” tag.

    RIP FJM

  10. Utley's Hair - Nov 2, 2010 at 2:45 PM

    The biggest story this offseason: Pablo Sandoval’s diet and workout regimen to get him to the Prince Fielder physique.

    • BC - Nov 2, 2010 at 2:50 PM

      But will he be in the best shape of his life?

      • Utley's Hair - Nov 2, 2010 at 3:21 PM

        As long as he’s not in the worst shape in the league.

      • mcsnide - Nov 2, 2010 at 3:42 PM

        Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

  11. pisano - Nov 4, 2010 at 12:44 AM

    Hopefully the Yankees find an owner strung out on crack to taks AJ Burnett and Joba , and to non tender Jeter . That would be a great Christmas gift to alot of Yankee fans .

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