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Two of the five AL East clubs made the playoffs, and both will begin their quest for the World Series later today. The Rays and Rangers play at 5pm ET, the Yankees and Tigers at 8:30pm ET. Let's round up some notes from the only division with four 81+ win teams in 2011…
- "It's a big priority, for obvious reasons," said Red Sox GM Theo Epstein to The Boston Globe's Michael Vega when asked about getting big money free agent signings John Lackey and Carl Crawford back on track. "We're going to leave no stone unturned, really, with all of our players and the organization as a whole."
- Orioles owner Peter Angelos is trying to convince Andy MacPhail to remain with the team in a decision-making or advisory role, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. MacPhail was expected to walk-away from the team after the season.
- Joel Sherman of The New York Post wrote about the Yankees and their transition from a team that relies on experience to one with youth in important spots.
- Jeff Passan of Yahoo!Sports broke down Evan Longoria's walk-off homer in Game 162, which sent the Rays to the playoffs for the third time in four years.
The Cardinals edged the Braves out for the National League Wild Card and are now preparing for their Division Series matchup against the Phillies. Here are some Cardinals-related links, as we await tomorrow's Kyle Lohse–Roy Halladay contest…
- Lance Berkman told Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he doesn't question his durability the way others do. The switch-hitting slugger adds that he feels great about his resurgent season and recent $12MM contract extension.
- Everyone wants to know how the Cardinals completed a seemingly impossible comeback and GM John Mozeliak tells Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch that the team succeeded because the starters pitched deeper into games and the bullpen became "more credible and more functional."
- Cardinals players told Strauss that they were impressed by the July trade that brought Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, and Corey Patterson to St. Louis. Here's a complete recap of Mozeliak's in-season trades.
11:35 pm: Francona will ask the Red Sox to decline his option years, reports Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times. A Major League source tells Van Schouwen that Francona "has had his fill of the whole thing" in Boston and wishes to leave.
11:10 pm: Terry Francona is likely on his way out as the manager of the Boston Red Sox, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Francona is scheduled to meet with team management on Friday.
Rosenthal's sources say that it isn't completely certain that Boston will cut ties with Francona, but "it is the likely outcome, in part because he is pressing for a resolution" as to whether or not the Sox will pick up the option years on the manager's contract. The two-year option pickup would pay Francona $8.75MM over the next two seasons, but it seems like Boston will instead pay Francona the $0.75MM buyout. As Rosenthal notes, Francona would be immediately free to go elsewhere, and he cites the Cubs and White Sox as potential suitors.
Francona's departure would put the exclamation point on Boston's unlikely September meltdown. Just three weeks ago it seemed like a lock that Francona's option years would be exercised and he would remain the Red Sox manager for years to come. The club's stunning collapse down the stretch, however, sealed Francona's fate, particularly when stories surfaced of Francona feeling "bulletproof" about his job security and Peter Gammons' claim of "an increasing disconnect" between Francona and Theo Epstein.
In eight years as Boston's manager, Francona has a 744-552 record, reaching the playoffs five times and winning two AL pennants. Though his tenure with the team may have ended on a sour note this September, Francona will always be a legendary figure in Red Sox history for managing the club to World Series championships in 2004 and 2007.
As if the Rays didn't already have the focus of the baseball world, Joe Maddon announced that Matt Moore will start Game One of the ALDS tomorrow against the Rangers. Moore (the 22-year-old consensus top pitching prospect in baseball) has all of 9 1/3 Major League innings to his credit, with a 2.89 ERA and 15 strikeouts against just three walks in his short career. As Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe put it, "the Rays are taking their house money and doubling down with it."
Some news from around the league as we prepare for the start of the postseason…
- Mike Quade believes he will manage the Cubs next season, though he understands if the incoming Cubs GM wants to make changes, reports Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago.
- Several players have told Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald that Javier Vazquez is "without a doubt…hanging up his spikes" and retiring. Vazquez said earlier this week that he would make his final decision in a few months' time.
- GM Dayton Moore more or less confirmed speculation that the Royals will look to deal some of their wealth of prospects for a proven starter, reports Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. "There’s always a few players in your organization that you view, (where) you gotta be extremely blown away to move them," Moore said. "And I won’t get in to who those pitchers are or players. And then everybody else, you look to make deals with." As we heard last week, several of K.C.'s top prospects are untouchable.
- Royals pitching coach Bob McClure and bench coach John Gibbons won't be back next season, reports Dick Kaegel of MLB.com.
- Matt Eddy of Baseball America has this week's rundown of minor league transactions.
- Travis Hafner will be back with the Indians next season, GM Chris Antonetti confirmed to Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Hafner is under contract for $13MM next season and Pluto reports that "for a while, there has been a feeling among the Indians string-pullers that if Hafner's production ever dropped low enough, ownership might be willing to eat a part of the contract."
On September 3, the Red Sox had a 99.6% chance of making the postseason, according to statistican Nate Silver. The next day, Silver notes that Bill Buckner played himself on an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm that spoofed Buckner's legendary World Series error. The Sox went 6-18 after Buckner's cameo. As Larry David himself would say, that is a prett-ay, prett-ay, prett-ay big coincidence.
Some notes from Boston as the fallout continues from the Red Sox' legendary collapse….
- Theo Epstein and Terry Francona met with the media today, and Alex Speier from WEEI had the details. Epstein said that the team had just finished an initial review of its baseball personnel and wouldn't make any decisions for a few days yet.
- Epstein said that Francona wasn't being singled out as the cause for Boston's collapse. "That would be totally irresponsible and totally short-sighted and wouldn’t recognize everything he means to the organization and to all our successes, including, at times, in 2011,” Epstein said. “So we take full responsibility for what happened, all of us. Collectively it was a failure….I’m the general manager so I take more responsibility than anybody. I don’t think we believe in – I know we don’t believe in scapegoats. In particular, no one blames Tito for what happened in September. Look, we all failed collectively."
- Epstein dismissed rumors about his connection to the Cubs' general manager's job as "just speculation."
- Francona said he wasn't yet prepared to discuss his future with the Sox, saying last night's devastating result was "still pretty fresh and pretty raw." The manager said he and Epstein would sit down within the next few days.
- Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated hears from several "baseball people" that Francona and the Sox could mutually decide to part ways. If Francona does leave, it probably won't be to the White Sox, as Heyman hears Chicago "may go younger" (both Twitter links).
- Epstein said the club would examine its process for evaluating free agents, given the failures of John Lackey, Carl Crawford and past free agents like Matt Clement and Julio Lugo. Though Lackey and Crawford struggled this season, Epstein said the team will do everything possible to get both players back up to par for 2012.
- Epstein praised the performances of David Ortiz and Jonathan Papelbon, saying he hopes the Sox can figure out a way to bring both pending free agents back to Boston this winter.
- Peter Gammons thinks Lackey may have to be traded for another bad contract like Barry Zito or Carlos Zambrano, reports WEEI.com's Paul Flannery. "I'm not sure John is ever going to fit in Boston again. I understand how upset he is but I think it's going to be hard for fans to warm up to him again," Gammons said. Gammons notes that other teams who suffered late-season breakdowns underwent major organizational changes, though he thinks Francona will return as manager.
- ESPN's Buster Olney looks at some key figures on the Red Sox and Braves whose status is in question in the wake of both teams' terrible Septembers. Olney thinks Lackey has to be moved, predicts changes to Boston's coaching staff and hears it's "highly unlikely" Epstein leaves, though friends of the GM say he would embrace the challenge of running the Cubs.
- Jim Donaldson of the Providence Journal thinks Epstein should take the fall for building a roster with too many holes.
Mets GM Sandy Alderson gave an end-of-the-year review today at Citi Field and, unsurprisingly, most of the talk was about Jose Reyes' future. Andy McCullough of the Star-Ledger has the full transcript of Alderson's remarks, but here are some of the highlights…
- Alderson expects to be in contact with Reyes' representation within the next couple of days, though he is very doubtful that they could agree to an extension during the Mets' exclusive negotiating window. "If history is any guide, most players who get to this point don’t see any reason to make a decision within the next 30 days, that close to free agency," Alderson said.
- If Reyes doesn't return, Alderson didn't rule out the possibility of going after another major free agent, noting that "it's a fluid market."
- Alderson has a "choking point" in mind as to how much the Mets are willing to spend to retain Reyes' services. The GM noted, however, that this figure could rise depending on how the rest of the market for Reyes plays out.
- The Mets' 2012 payroll will in the range of $100-110MM, though this could obviously be boosted should Reyes be re-signed.
- The Bernie Madoff scandal and its financial fallout "has a lingering effect" on the Wilpons, Alderson believes. The Wilpons received a favorable court ruling yesterday, which Alderson said provides a better outlook for both ownership and the club itself.
- The Mets' defense "needs to be improved dramatically." Alderson also wants to improve the bullpen and figures he'll probably spend more on relievers than he did last winter.
- In response to a question about who New York's center fielder will be next year, Alderson spoke of the need for improved outfield defense and didn't mention Angel Pagan. McCullough figures this is a sign that Pagan will be non-tendered, as "the new front office has not been impressed with his play."
We've already looked at the other Los Angeles team tonight, so let's turn our attention to Anaheim for some Angels news…
- Kendrys Morales is making progress after ankle surgery and is cautiously optimistic he'll be ready for Opening Day, reports Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.
- "We have to make moves, we can’t stand pat,” said Halos GM Tony Reagins during an appearance on The Max & Marcellus Show on ESPN LA 710 radio. “We have to improve in a number of areas and I think there are opportunities out there to improve. We’re going to be aggressive in pursuing those.” Reagins said the team would focus on acquiring bullpen help and a quality hitter, though the latter problem could be solved if Morales returns to form.
- While the Angels all agree they need a bat, Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles wonders if the team could instead add to their already-impressive rotation. "There is a glut of pitching entering the free-agent market this fall, while the premium offensive players tend to play a position — first base, shortstop or outfield — where the Angels are either set or logjammed," Saxon writes.
- Also from Saxon, he speculates that the Angels and Marlins could be trade partners for Bobby Abreu, provided the Halos pay most of Abreu's $9MM salary. Abreu could be reunited with his good friend Ozzie Guillen and serve as mentor to Florida's young players. I'm not sure Abreu would enjoy being a backup in Miami (unless the Fish trade Logan Morrison to free up space in left field) and if the Angels are going to pay Abreu's salary anyway, they might as well just keep him as bench depth themselves.
- Mike DiGiovanna projects the Angels to have an Opening Day payroll of roughly $121MM for next year, which leaves room for "one significant free agent" unless the team is willing to surpass last season's $142MM payroll.
2011 may have been the most tumultuous season in Dodger history, but it was still a winning one as the club finished with an 82-79 record. Here's the latest from Chavez Ravine….
- "Andre Ethier's quirky personality has begun to wear thin on teammates and staff alike," several sources have told ESPN Los Angeles' Tony Jackson. While Ethier would bring back a solid return on the trade market, Jackson doesn't think a move is likely to happen since Ned Colletti said the club needs Ethier's bat.
- Also from Tony Jackson, a source close to the Dodgers says assistant GM Logan White was recently in Japan scouting left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. Wada will be a free agent this winter and is known to be looking at a move to Major League Baseball. NPB Tracker's Patrick Newman compared Wada to Dallas Braden, pitching-wise.
- Don Mattingly's first season may be "more of a managerial audition than a chance for Mattingly to establish himself as a Los Angeles fixture in the dugout," writes T.J. Simers for the Los Angeles Times. Simers suspects a new owner will want to "fumigate the place" of past Frank McCourt decisions, including hiring a new manager.
- Alex Tabin has been hired as the Dodgers' new Director of Baseball Contracts, Research and Operations, according to a club press release. As Steve Dilbeck of the L.A. Times explains, Tabin will fill many of the duties handled by former assistant GM Kim Ng.
- The Dodgers will have roughly $105MM committed to their 2012 payroll, projects Jon Weisman for ESPN Los Angeles. This could mean L.A. will have little to spend this winter, especially if any extra money goes into multiyear extensions for Ethier, Clayton Kershaw, and/or Matt Kemp.
Once the regular season ended, the Elias Sports Bureau took all players over the 2010-11 period, divided them into five groups for each league, and ranked them based on various statistics. Each player was labeled a Type A, B, or none. Those designations and the possible accompanying arbitration offers determine draft pick compensation (click here for a refresher). Draft pick compensation may change with the upcoming collective bargaining agreement, though the old rules are expected to stay in place for the upcoming offseason and 2012 draft.
Eddie Bajek has reverse-engineered the Elias rankings, and he's providing that information exclusively at MLB Trade Rumors. Here's a look at his 2010-11 projections, to tide you over until the official ones come out from Elias. There are a lot of moving parts in reverse-engineering the Elias rankings, so these are subject to change if we find errors. Our last set of Elias projections is here, in case you want to see what changed during the season's final week.
The Marlins are more likely to look internally for third base help than they are to sign a major free agent like Aramis Ramirez, a source close to the team tells Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.
We'd heard the Fish had interest in Ramirez and the team is known to be willing to spend this winter, but Miami also has top prospect Matt Dominguez waiting in the wings at third. Dominguez has just a .255/.325/.418 batting line in five minor league seasons but is considered to be a Gold Glove-caliber fielder. The Marlins could decide to spend at positions where there's a more glaring need, since signing Ramirez would block Dominguez for at least the next few years.
Ramirez recently said that he would enjoy playing for Ozzie Guillen in Miami and expounded on that thought to Wittenmyer. "[Guillen] knows how it is because he played the game,’’ Ramirez said. “No disrespect to all the other managers that haven’t — that doesn’t mean they don’t respect the players. I don’t think [Mike Quade] played a lot. But I never had any problem with him. I respect him, and he respects me back. But it’s a little different when you get a guy who played the game and knows how things work.’’
Guillen, for his part, says the Marlins have already asked him about some Chicago players, but the manager said he wasn't going to go out of his way to lobby the front office to acquire particular names. Besides Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano has been connected to a possible move to Florida, and Wittenmyer also adds Mark Buehrle's name to the mix. Buehrle recently said he would be intrigued by pitching in the NL after spending his first 12 seasons with the White Sox.