Blockbuster trades, nine-figure free agent contracts and shrewd minor league signings will all be completed in the coming months, as MLB executives attempt to mold their rosters into World Series contenders. There are inevitably hundreds of rumors and deals to track, but rest assured that MLBTradeRumors.com will have constant updates before, during and after the biggest moves. Here’s a look ahead at ten of the offseason's biggest storylines…
1. Who will pay Josh Hamilton?
There’s no doubt Hamilton could make any team better. Yet so many questions surround the 31-year-old as he hits free agency for the first time. Can he sustain this level of production without landing on the disabled list? Might his poor plate discipline become a serious problem? Should teams worry about his past addiction issues? The Rangers are best-equipped to answer these questions, so other teams figure to monitor Texas’ bidding closely.
Hamilton has a case for a long-term deal worth considerably more than $100MM given his on-field production. Plus, team owners might expect him to generate fan interest and boost TV ratings.
2. Could Alex Rodriguez be traded?
General manager Brian Cashman has acknowledged that the Yankees don't consider Rodriguez a superstar caliber player anymore. Now 37 years old, Rodriguez doesn't resemble his former self. The Yankees know it, and so do the 29 other teams. Trading the three-time MVP will presumably be extremely difficult unless the Yankees absorb most of the $114MM remaining on his contract. That’d be unappealing for New York executives, especially at a time that the trade and free agent market for third basemen looks thin. Like it or not, it seems probable that Rodriguez will return to the Bronx for another year.
3. Who will win the bidding for Zack Greinke?
Greinke, the year’s top free agent starter, could draw interest from both Los Angeles teams. The Angels, who acquired the 29-year-old midseason, have interest in re-signing him. The Dodgers, now flush with cash after an ownership change, could also make an offer. Many other clubs will check in on Greinke, who could obtain the largest contract ever for a right-handed pitcher.
4. Will the Dodgers keep spending?
The Dodgers have made hundreds of millions in future payroll commitments since new ownership gained control of the team this spring. Expect a busy offseason now that they can finally bid on free agents. The Dodgers could pursue free agent starting pitchers such as Greinke, Jake Peavy and Hiroki Kuroda.
There’s no guarantee Wright and Dickey will be playing for the Mets beyond 2013. Both players will hit free agency a year from now if they haven’t signed contract extensions. It’s difficult to imagine that ownership could convince Wright to stay without offering considerably more than $100MM. Determining Dickey's value is more difficult considering his rapid ascent from journeyman knuckleballer to Cy Young candidate.
6. Will the Rays trade pitching?
The Rays have enviable starting pitching depth and clear needs on offense, so they’ll exchange starters for hitters this offseason, right? Not necessarily. Executive VP Andrew Friedman has said the Rays might keep their starting pitching.
David Price's salary continues rising, so it's time for the small-market Rays to consider a trade. He’s still three seasons away from free agency, which means there’s no rush to complete a deal. But at a time that Price’s salary could rise to the $10MM range through arbitration, Friedman will have to explore the possibility of dealing the left-hander.
It could be time for the Indians to trade two of their most prominent players. Perez, the All-Star closer who publicly criticized ownership toward the end of the regular season, might never have more trade value. His salary projects to rise to the $7MM range this winter, not that that would be an obstacle for large market teams.
Choo will hit free agency a year from now, which means Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti has two chances to make a trade: this winter and at next summer’s trade deadline. It’d make sense for the Indians to trade Choo for a controllable, young player if possible, as a contract extension seems unlikely.
8. Will the new collective bargaining agreement make a difference?
Players, agents and team executives won’t have to overhaul the way they do business this winter, the first full offseason under baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement. Free agents will be able to sign generous long-term contracts just as easily as before. In fact, the elimination of the Elias rankings system will be a welcome change for the middle relievers and role players who will no longer be linked to draft pick compensation. However, baseball’s luxury tax will continue to create a deterrent for large market teams who might otherwise spend more aggressively. The Yankees, for example, say they aim to avoid the tax by 2014, which means they’re not expected to be bidding quite as aggressively as in years past.
9. What’s next for Melky Cabrera?
Cabrera's free agent value plummeted once he received a 50-game suspension for testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone. But he could be an intriguing buy-low option for teams seeking an impact bat. He has put together consecutive All-Star caliber seasons and at 28, he's still in his prime. However, he’s hitting free agency at the same time as many other All-Star outfielders. There’s lots of competition with Hamilton, Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, Nick Swisher, Angel Pagan and Shane Victorino also seeking new contracts. Still, many teams will have interest in signing Cabrera for one year and a multiyear contract can’t be ruled out.
10. Where do the Red Sox go from here?
Replacing Bobby Valentine with John Farrell should be a positive development for the Red Sox, but they’ve still got lots of work ahead following their first 90-loss season since 1966. They'll need to obtain more starting pitching depth and add to their outfield. Plus, rival general managers will be interested to see if the Red Sox hold onto Jacoby Ellsbury or trade him with one year to go before free agency.