In Buster Olney's New Year's Day column (Insider link), the ESPN senior writer covered his ten top MLB storylines for the coming year. While I recommend a full read of the piece, here are a few of Olney's notes that are of particular interest from a transactional perspective:
- Both MLB and the MLBPA face leadership questions owing to the announced retirement of commissioner Bud Selig and the untimely death of union chief Michael Weiner. Olney says that he has heard three possible scenarios regarding the commissioner's chair: first, that Selig could be enticed to stay on; second, that COO Rob Manfred will be the hand-picked successor; and third, that a new leader has yet to be chosen (and could be the subject of disagreement due to increasing unrest from middle- and small-market clubs). On the union side, Olney says that much remains unknown about how the leadership transition to Tony Clark will impact the organization's power structure and approach.
- Yankees GM Brian Cashman is only under contract through the 2014 season, and Olney hints that his fate could be tied to the club's transition as it faces a "crossroad season" with aging star Derek Jeter. Across the country, a veritable "cold war" between the Dodgers and manager Don Mattingly will also be worth close attention, says Olney.
- Meanwhile, several front offices are dealing with financial pressures and high expectations that could result in major changes if things don't break right. Olney lists the Phillies, Royals, Diamondbacks, Orioles, and Blue Jays as clubs that are facing high-stakes seasons.
- Several key contract situations are reaching points of decision around the game. Clayton Kershaw and Hanley Ramirez of the Dodgers have been the subject of extension rumors. The Rays still have to decide how to proceed with ace David Price. And extension speculation is set to ramp up for the Tigers, who have cleared future payroll space but will soon need to chart a path on two of their best players in Max Scherzer and Miguel Cabrera. Finally, says Olney, Braves closer Craig Kimbrel is set to reach new heights in arbitration salary — indeed, his unique statline has already busted MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz's arbitration model — that could force Atlanta to consider a trade.