Offseason Outlook Rumors
New ownership, a new front office, a new manager, even a new league. In many ways the 51-year-old Astros are the closest thing MLB has to an expansion franchise.
Arbitration Eligible Players
- Jed Lowrie, SS: second time eligible
- Edgar Gonzalez, P: non-tender candidate
- Wilton Lopez, RP: first time eligible
- Wesley Wright, RP: first time eligible
- Bud Norris, SP: first time eligible
- Chris Snyder, C: $4MM mutual option with a $500K buyout
The Astros have more needs than can be addressed in a single offseason. They don’t score runs, they have trouble preventing runs, and the roster lacks players who project as MLB regulars on a contending team.
While the upcoming offseason offers general manager Jeff Luhnow the chance to make meaningful additions, it seems unlikely that Houston will court top free agents. If last offseason is any indication, the Astros will be among the sport's most restrained teams. A year ago, in his first offseason as Houston's GM, Luhnow signed two players to guaranteed contracts for a total of $1.45MM. It’d be a surprise if this winter unfolds much differently.
The Astros figure to pursue short-term contracts, minor league free agents and non-tendered players while exploring trades. They spent approximately $61MM on payroll in 2012, their first season under Luhnow and owner Jim Crane. Remarkably, they have less than $10MM committed to next year’s team before accounting for arbitration eligible players. Most of that sum goes to Wandy Rodriguez, who will be starting for the Pirates next year. As a result, the Astros should have financial flexibility even if they lower payroll for the 2013 campaign. This is a team with no bad contracts (and no good, team friendly ones, for that matter).
Adding veterans on one-year deals could make sense for the Astros, as long as the established players aren't displacing those in need of development at the MLB level. There’s value in winning as often as possible, even for non-contenders. It was once possible for teams to flip veterans on one-year deals for legitimate prospects, but those trades are becoming less common. Signing players with the intention of trading them for prospects midseason could also dissuade free agents from signing in Houston.
The Astros rank last in MLB in runs scored, which means offense is a clear need this winter. They have some promising middle infielders in Jose Altuve (pictured) and Jed Lowrie. But among the 30 MLB teams Houston ranks in the bottom ten in OPS at catcher, first base, left field, center field and right field. Then there’s the designated hitter role, which the Astros will have to fill for the first time in the 51-season history of the franchise. Jason Castro is in place behind the plate and Justin Maxwell has probably earned another shot in the outfield. Even so, there are plenty of positions at which Houston could potentially upgrade.
The Astros could also use starting pitching depth following a season in which the team's ERA exceeded 4.50. Ed Wade, Luhnow's predecessor, selected Lucas Harrell off of waivers toward the end of his tenure in Houston and this is precisely the sort of move the current Astros front office will look to replicate. Luhnow claimed three players off of waivers last winter, showing interest in allocating roster spots and playing time to players who have fallen out of favor elsewhere. This is advisable for the Astros, who should continue to prioritize upside over certainty. Only a fraction of pitchers who hit the waiver wire become valuable MLB starters, yet it’s still a worthwhile pursuit. Harrell, who posted a 3.88 ERA in 31 starts this year, joins Bud Norris and Jordan Lyles in Houston’s projected rotation. For now we'll assume Roger Clemens' role with the Astros will be limited to coaching.
If teams closer to contention pursue Norris aggressively it would make sense for Houston to listen. The Astros could aim to copy last year’s Gio Gonzalez trade and turn one established pitcher into multiple players close to the MLB level (the asking price for Norris would presumably be lower). Norris is under team control through 2015, and if the Astros don't expect to contend by then, they should consider trades that might bring long-term pieces to Houston.
The Astros don't have any departing free agents this year after parting ways with players like Carlos Lee, Brett Myers and Francisco Cordero midseason. They have one contract option, a $4MM mutual option for Chris Snyder. The catcher hit just .176/.295/.308 in 258 plate appearances this year, so expect the Astros to decline their side of the option and seek a more affordable backup.
The Astros have a relatively manageable arbitration class led by Norris, the first time eligible starter, and Lowrie, the second time eligible shortstop. Norris should do well after completing lots of innings early in his career and Lowrie's due for a raise after hitting 16 home runs. This isn't a particularly intimidating class from a team standpoint, however.
The Astros could explore an extension for Altuve this winter. The pre-arbitration eligible second baseman hit .274/.331/.351 in the second half after playing at an All-Star level for the first three months of the season, so Luhnow must determine what to expect from the 22-year-old going forward. It'll never be more affordable to lock Altuve up, but the team could easily wait another season before making a substantial commitment. They don't have as much time to decide on Lowrie, who's on track for free agency following the 2014 season. If the Astros aren't interested in extending their shortstop, this winter would be a good time to explore trades.
The Astros may have already made their most significant offseason addition, hiring Bo Porter as the team's new manager. Now that Porter's been hired, Luhnow and other Astros officials can focus on the team's roster instead of prolonging the managerial search unnecessarily.
The Astros will select first overall again next summer, when they'll have the opportunity to add another impact amateur player. Until then, Houston can take steps toward becoming a winning team. Just don't expect this organization to hasten the process in search of a quick fix.
Photo courtesy of US Presswire.
Over the course of the past month, Tim Dierkes and I have examined the challenges facing each of baseball's 30 teams. The resulting series provides a comprehensive look ahead to the offseason from the perspective of all 30 clubs. Many thanks to Jessica Velez for her contributions as the editor of the series. Here's a link to each piece with a one-sentence summary for every team:
American League East
- Yankees - The Yankees' offseason is all about their search for starting pitching, though they'll look to add bench help and a second left-handed reliever as well.
- Rays - The Rays will work within their budget in an attempt to boost their offense, but they don’t intend to sacrifice run prevention along the way.
- Red Sox - Ben Cherington will try leading the Red Sox to their first playoff appearance since 2009 by improving the pitching staff and tinkering with the offense.
- Blue Jays - The Blue Jays will look for a second baseman, relief pitching and rotation help this offseason. They might consider some of the top free agents available.
- Orioles - Once the Orioles sort out the uncertainty in their front office, they'll have to improve a disappointing rotation and add balance to their promising lineup.
American League Central
- Tigers - The Tigers have openings at second base, the back of the rotation and in the bullpen, but the AL Central champions' core will return in 2012.
- Indians - The Indians face major decisions in center field and in the rotation this offseason. GM Chris Antonetti begins the winter with the expectation that payroll will rise.
- White Sox - Expect the White Sox to consider trading established players as they retool for manager Robin Ventura's rookie season in 2012.
- Royals - The Royals' offseason revolves around their search for top-of-the-rotation pitching.
- Twins - The Twins must add pitching and stabilize their offense this winter if they are to rebound from an awful 2011.
American League West
- Rangers - The two-time defending American League champions will focus on acquiring pitching this offseason.
- Angels - The Angels, soon to be under new leadership, will look to add a minimum of one starting pitcher, improve their offense and tinker with their bullpen.
- Athletics - As the Athletics await resolution on their stadium situation, they’ll look to restore outfield depth and improve their weak offense.
- Mariners - Jack Zduriencik is back and he’ll have to improve Seattle’s tepid offense for the Mariners to be relevant all season long in 2012.
National League East
- Phillies - The Phillies are poised to spend big on a closer and also must consider acquisitions at left field, shortstop, and third base.
- Braves - The Braves are unlikely to do much free agent shopping, but improvements at left field and shortstop are possible.
- Nationals - The Nationals aim to add an outfield bat and a starting pitcher this offseason, which might be enough to vault them into contention in 2012.
- Mets - The Mets' attempt to re-sign Jose Reyes will dominate their offseason and determine how much they can spend on other areas of need, like the bullpen.
- Marlins - Prepare for the most exciting Marlins offseason in recent memory. With new manager Ozzie Guillen's arrival and the opening of the team's new ballpark, ownership wants to make 2012 unforgettable.
National League Central
- Brewers - The Brewers could compensate for the probable loss of Prince Fielder by acquiring corner infielders, a shortstop, and a few late-inning relievers, but payroll flexibility may be limited.
- Cardinals - Their offseason revolves around re-signing Albert Pujols, who is on the brink of free agency for the first time in his career.
- Reds - Look for the Reds to be active on the trade market, as GM Walt Jocketty decides whether to use his trade chips and limited payroll flexibility on a front-of-the-rotation starter or a middle-of-the-order bat.
- Pirates - The Pirates have money to spend this offseason, but their team has more holes than free agency can possibly fill.
- Cubs - The Cubs are at a crossroads this offseason, as they seek a new GM and face the temptation of adding more big free agent contracts.
- Astros - Expect a quiet offseason for the Astros, who conducted their fire sale in July. Intrigue may come from possible ownership, GM, and league changes.
National League West
- Diamondbacks - Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers seems to be planning a quiet offseason, though the team must address second base and determine the future of Joe Saunders.
- Giants - The Giants want to determine the long-term futures of their top starting pitchers, and support them in 2012 with improved offense at shortstop or in the outfield.
- Dodgers - The Dodgers' ownership battle may be coming to a close, but Ned Colletti must endure uncertainty for one more offseason as he tries to improve the team's offense and sign a veteran starter.
- Rockies - The Rockies intend to add an innings-eater and a right-handed hitter this offseason, likely focusing on the trade market rather than free agency due to budgetary constraints.
- Padres - Prepare for another offseason of short-term free agent deals from the Padres in their attempt to stop the bleeding on a perennially lousy offense. The Friars also have more bullpen patchwork ahead than usual.
The Phillies are poised to spend big on a closer and must also consider acquiring a left fielder, shortstop, and utility infielder.
- Roy Halladay, SP: $40MM through 2013, vesting option for 2014
- Ryan Howard, 1B: $125MM through 2016
- Cliff Lee, SP: $109MM through 2015, unless 2016 option vests
- Chase Utley, 2B: $30MM through 2013
- Joe Blanton, SP: $8.5MM through 2012
- Shane Victorino, CF: $9.5MM through 2012
- Placido Polanco, 3B: $7.25MM through 2012
- Carlos Ruiz, C: $4.2MM through 2012
- Jose Contreras, RP: $3MM through 2012
- Jim Thome, PH: $1.25MM through 2012
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Cole Hamels, SP: $14MM
- Hunter Pence, RF: $11.1MM
- Kyle Kendrick, SP/RP: $3.2MM
- Ben Francisco, OF: $1.5MM
- Wilson Valdez, IF: $900K (non-tender candidate
- Jimmy Rollins (Type A SS), Raul Ibanez (Type B LF), Brian Schneider (unranked C), Ross Gload (unranked 1B/OF), Roy Oswalt (Type A SP), Ryan Madson (Type A RP), Brad Lidge (Type B RP)
The Phillies won a franchise-record, MLB-best 102 regular season games in 2011, but didn't make it past the first round of the playoffs. They made the playoffs in each of the last five seasons, winning one World Series and participating in another. With several key free agents and ten players already under contract, here's a look at how GM Ruben Amaro Jr. might go about trying to sustain his success.
The Phillies' payroll should rise to the $175MM range next year, according to MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. Including the team's arbitration eligible players they have about $138MM in 2012 commitments before accounting for minimum salary players. The Phillies could have approximately $35MM to spend on 2012 salaries.
Howard ruptured his Achilles tendon in the final game of the season, and although he may not be ready for Opening Day, the Phillies will probably fill first base internally until he's ready. Potential needs remain plentiful: shortstop, left field, multiple relievers, and perhaps a utility infielder. Re-signing Oswalt or replacing him in the rotation with an outside veteran is an option, but seemingly not a priority given viable internal candidates and three aces at the front.
It appears to be time to move on from Rollins, if he insists on four or five years at $13MM or so annually. Whether the Phillies use internal option Freddy Galvis or a lesser free agent, it's a hit they seem prepared to take. I'm a little surprised signing Jose Reyes isn't being entertained, but I won't rule it out given the team's history of moving quickly and aggressively. Otherwise, the Phillies should at least invest in Rafael Furcal, Clint Barmes, or Jamey Carroll to minimize the loss of Rollins. Carroll, in particular, could contribute at other infield positions if Polanco and Utley need days off.
Ibanez provided little value to the Phillies in the last two years of his three-year deal, yet they appear to be headed down the same path with Michael Cuddyer as his replacement. The Phillies' first-round draft pick would likely be part of the cost. Cuddyer turns 33 in March and has been inconsistent offensively, plus his defense does not come well-regarded. His versatility could come in handy in 2012, though, as he could back up the infield corners and second base. Given that possibility, he wouldn't necessarily block top prospect Domonic Brown in the long-term. I understand that the Phillies are in win-now mode, but their best moves have been acquiring star-caliber players. Granting that the Phillies wouldn't be overly concerned about the back-end of either contract, they should pursue Reyes at the expense of Cuddyer.
Whether or not the Phillies lock down Madson at a reported four years and $44MM, Amaro's willingness to make that level of a commitment to a reliever is troubling. The team just finished paying Lidge $37.5MM for 123 2/3 innings of 4.73 ERA ball. Madson and Jonathan Papelbon aren't Mariano Rivera, and giving either closer $40MM+ will be a mistake. Overpaying for relievers is something win-now teams sometimes have to do, but Madson would be looking at half the money without the 32 saves this year.
It feels odd to so easily criticize the moves of a team after an impressive five-year run. Despite the annual handful of questionable contracts, the Phillies have authored enough shrewd acquisitions and extensions that perhaps Amaro and company deserve the benefit of the doubt. Much of the Phillies' success over the last five years is owed to four players with uncertain futures: Hamels, Utley, Rollins, and Victorino. Perhaps Amaro has already begun to acquire the next wave of stars, as the elite Halladay-Lee tandem may be together through 2014 and Pence is under control for two more seasons. Hamels could remain a cornerstone beyond 2012, but only if the Phillies are willing to commit over $100MM. The Phillies still won't be immune to criticism if they embark on another five-year playoff run, but at some point we'll have to acknowledge that they get the major decisions right.
The Brewers could compensate for the probable loss of Prince Fielder by acquiring corner infielders, a shortstop, and a few late-inning relievers, but payroll flexibility may be limited.
- Zack Greinke, SP: $13.5MM through 2012
- Randy Wolf, SP: $11MM through 2012
- Corey Hart, RF: $19MM through 2013
- Rickie Weeks, 2B: $31MM through 2014, plus 2015 vesting option
- Ryan Braun, LF: $131.5MM through 2020
- Yovani Gallardo, SP: $25.1MM through 2014
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Shaun Marcum, SP: $6.8MM
- Casey McGehee, 3B: $3.1MM
- Kameron Loe, RP: $2.8MM
- Nyjer Morgan, CF: $1.9MM
- Carlos Gomez, CF: $1.8MM
- Manny Parra, SP/RP: $1.2MM (non-tender candidate)
- George Kottaras, C: $800K
- Prince Fielder (Type A 1B), Yuniesky Betancourt (Type B SS), Mark Kotsay (unranked OF/1B), Craig Counsell (unranked IF), Jerry Hairston Jr. (unranked IF/OF), Josh Wilson (unranked SS), Felipe Lopez (unranked 3B), LaTroy Hawkins (unranked RP), Francisco Rodriguez (Type A RP), Takashi Saito (Type A RP)
Prior to a stellar 2011 season, Brewers GM Doug Melvin had a fantastic offseason. He put together a team that won a franchise-record 96 games, set an attendance record, and fell just two wins shy of a World Series appearance. He also managed to lock up Braun and Weeks within a two-month span. Melvin's follow-up act will be challenging -- he's likely to lose first baseman Prince Fielder, and he drained his farm system of trade chips and potential impact players last winter.
Though Fielder said in September this was "probably" his last season with the Brewers, owner Mark Attanasio said, "We're planning on participating in the sweepstakes." There is one scenario where I can see the Brewers retaining Fielder. Say Fielder and agent Scott Boras do their thing all throughout December, visiting mystery teams and such, and all the offers fall short of Adrian Gonzalez's seven-year, $154MM deal. Also say the Brewers refrain from making a major commitment to someone like Jose Reyes and keep first base open. Then, in theory, they could jump in for around $120MM in January. However, I can't remember Boras failing with a free agent in his prime. There's no obvious candidate to overpay for Fielder right now, but the smart money is on Boras.
26-year-old Mat Gamel hit .310/.372/.540 with 28 home runs in 545 Triple-A plate appearances this year, and the Brewers hope he's a late bloomer and potential Fielder replacement. Otherwise, the free agent market features Michael Cuddyer, Carlos Pena, Casey Kotchman, and Derrek Lee as potential regulars for Milwaukee.
The left side of the infield presents another opportunity for the Brewers to improve. The smart move at third base just might be hoping McGehee bounces back from a dismal season, because the market is bleak outside of the potentially pricey Aramis Ramirez. McGehee would represent an arbitration gamble of $3.1MM or so. If the Brewers do not intend to use McGehee as a starter, they should consider trading him. Minor leaguer Taylor Green could be an internal option at third base. Shortstop offers many opportunities to upgrade over Betancourt. There's Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins at the high end, with Clint Barmes and Jamey Carroll also representing improvements on both offense and defense.
The Brewers' final need is at the back end of the bullpen, with Hawkins, Saito, and Rodriguez now free agents. Melvin could re-sign Hawkins and/or Saito or look at many other free agent options.
The problem with all these upgrades is cost. Perhaps the Brewers' record attendance will result in a payroll increase, but right now they appear to have less than $10MM in flexibility. The fact that the Brewers are willing to entertain re-signing Fielder suggests they could fit in a $20MM player and still address other needs. However, we don't know if money potentially earmarked for a franchise player like Fielder would be reallocated to players like Reyes, Ramirez, or Cuddyer. The Brewers gave up a lot to acquire Greinke and Marcum last winter, and the moves paid off. With both pitchers eligible for free agency after 2012, the Brewers should take advantage of this window of rotation riches and stretch payroll as far as possible in an attempt to make another playoff run.
Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers seems to be planning a quiet offseason, though the team must address second base and determine the future of Joe Saunders.
- Chris Young, CF: $17MM through 2013
- Stephen Drew, SS: $9.1MM through 2012
- Justin Upton, RF: $45.25MM through 2015
- J.J. Putz, RP: $6MM through 2012
- John McDonald, IF: $3MM through 2013
- Geoff Blum, IF: $1.35MM through 2012
- Henry Blanco, C: $1.2MM through 2012
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Joe Saunders, SP: $8.7MM (non-tender candidate)
- Miguel Montero, C: $5.3MM
- Brad Ziegler, RP: $1.8MM
- Ryan Roberts, 3B/2B: $1.7MM
- Micah Owings, RP: $1.3MM (non-tender candidate)
- Jason Marquis (unranked SP), Lyle Overbay (unranked 1B), Xavier Nady (unranked 1B/LF), Willie Bloomquist (unranked IF/OF), Aaron Hill (Type B 2B), Zach Duke (unranked SP)
The Diamondbacks pulled off the difficult worst-to-first feat this year. Several different executives deserve credit for crafting the 2011 D'Backs, but GM Kevin Towers will continue to mold the club in his second offseason. However, Towers is due for a relatively quiet winter, based on his October conversation with Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic.
One area of need is second base, a position Towers shook up midseason by shipping the disappointing Kelly Johnson to Toronto for Hill and McDonald. Hill's $8MM club option didn't make sense for the D'Backs, and while Towers declined it, the idea of offering Hill arbitration should give the GM pause. The move would give the team a shot at a supplemental draft pick or the chance to have Hill back for around $6MM. But since Hill's stellar 142 plate appearances for Arizona were preceded by over 1,000 mostly bad ones, even $6MM seems generous. The idea of a second baseman worth three-to-four wins above replacement is tantalizing, and the D'Backs should be willing to commit $4MM in base salary to see if Hill can return to that level.
Towers has already addressed a couple of minor concerns, re-signing backups Blanco and McDonald for a total of $4.2MM. The D'Backs moved quickly on McDonald after Bloomquist declined his side of a mutual option, prompting agent Scott Boras to suggest, "They got upset when Willie opted out. They got emotional and they went out and signed a guy who hit .169." McDonald was a better fit, though, as a superior shortstop who can handle the assignment if Stephen Drew is not ready for Opening Day after July ankle surgery.
There's no trade market for a $9MM, mid-4s ERA southpaw, as the Pirates' inability to find a suitor for Paul Maholm attests. The D'Backs have a similar predicament with Saunders, whom they may non-tender by December 12th if they can't find a trade partner. Saunders is more of an innings eater, but the trade market will be very limited. Getting rid of Saunders means relying on Josh Collmenter as the team's third starter, a fairly risky proposition. If two of Tyler Skaggs, Pat Corbin, and Trevor Bauer round out the rotation, then a lot of pressure gets placed on Ian Kennedy and Dan Hudson to repeat phenomenal 2011 seasons.
Towers told Piecoro he doesn't think there are "big, big needs" for his team, yet he won't rule out a run at "the right kind of marquee guy." President and CEO Derrick Hall agrees that there are "not many holes to fill." But with a potential $30MM in payroll flexibility, the D'Backs should be more aggressive in replacing Saunders in the rotation and adding a productive player at second or third base.
Towers also has internal business to tend to, as Drew, Montero, and Kennedy could be considered for extensions. Drew and Montero are entering their walk years and therefore should be more pressing concerns. Drew's health uncertainty and Boras representation make an offseason extension unlikely, but the D'Backs must begin planning for life without their longtime shortstop. There's no obvious replacement for Montero, either.
The Diamondbacks must be wary of resting on their laurels, as their rotation lacks stability behind Kennedy and Hudson. Instead, Towers should take advantage of the team's payroll flexibility by adding depth throughout the roster.
The two-time defending American League champions will focus on acquiring pitching this offseason.
- Adrian Beltre, 3B: $66MM through 2015
- Michael Young, DH: $32MM through 2013
- Josh Hamilton, OF: $15.25MM through 2012
- Ian Kinsler, 2B: $7.7MM through 2012
- Scott Feldman, RP: $7.1MM through 2012
- Koji Uehara, RP: $4MM through 2012
- Yorvit Torrealba, C: $3.25MM through 2012
- Colby Lewis, SP: $3.25MM through 2012
- Yoshinori Tateyama, RP: $1MM through 2012
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Elvis Andrus, SS: $2.9MM
- Matt Harrison, SP: $2.9MM
- Nelson Cruz, OF: $5.7MM
- David Murphy, OF: $3.2MM
- Mike Adams, RP: $4.5MM
- Mark Lowe, RP: $1.6MM
- Mike Napoli, C: $9.2MM
- C.J. Wilson (Type A SP), Matt Treanor (unranked C), Brandon Webb (unranked SP), Darren Oliver (Type A RP), Mike Gonzalez (unranked RP)
The Rangers fell three wins short of a World Series win in 2010 and one strike short of a championship in 2011. There's no time for second-guessing or self pity in Texas, however. GM Jon Daniels will attempt to assemble another pennant winner this offseason by bolstering the team's pitching depth.
It's not that the Rangers struggled to prevent runs relative to other clubs in 2011. Only four American League teams allowed fewer runs than the Rangers, but with their top starter on the brink of free agency, they'll likely search for rotation depth this offseason.
The search could be quick, if they re-sign C.J. Wilson or move Neftali Feliz to the rotation, and it could be drawn out if they bid on Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish or explore deals for other free agent starters. Wilson said recently there's a "great chance" he stays in Texas and the Rangers do have some interest in retaining him. But Jon Heyman of SI.com reported in October that the Rangers probably won't offer the left-hander $75MM, a figure Wilson could probably surpass on the open market. The 30-year-old established a career high in innings (223 1/3) while improving on rate stats such as ERA (2.94), K/9 (8.3), BB/9 (3.0) and ground ball rate (49.3%). Some teams may hesitate to offer substantial contracts because of his postseason struggles, but now that the Yankees locked up C.C. Sabathia, there's no denying Wilson is the top MLB pitcher available.
Darvish is the other available pitcher with top-of-the-rotation potential. Though it's not clear how his ability will translate to the Major Leagues, there's no doubt he'll draw substantial interest from MLB teams. Daniels scouted the 25-year-old in person and the Yankees, Blue Jays and Nationals are also frequently mentioned as potential suitors. Agents told MLBTR's Tim Dierkes they predict that obtaining Darvish will require a commitment of at least $100MM.
With $71.45MM already committed to next year's payroll and an expensive arbitration class that will cost roughly $30MM to retain, the Rangers' payroll will almost certainly surpass $100MM in 2012. It's unclear how much the Rangers can spend this offseason -- their new TV deal doesn't kick in for another three years -- but their attendance increased substantially in 2011 and they played deep into the postseason. It seems likely they'll surpass their '11 payroll of $92MM by a significant margin in '12.
The Rangers have an affordable alternative to Wilson and Darvish in their own bullpen. They entertained the idea of moving Feliz to the rotation in the spring and they're again considering making the 23-year-old a starter. Instead of spending tens of millions on Darvish or a free agent, the Rangers could place Feliz and his electric arm on the mound every five days. The successful conversions of Wilson and Alexi Ogando to the rotation showed the Rangers can and will turn select relievers into starters. However, Feliz is something of an unknown in either role, after a mixed 2011 campaign.
Ogando, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis will return to the rotation in 2012 and Scott Feldman could join them if necessary. It's a solid group that has helped the Rangers reach the World Series in consecutive seasons, but expect Daniels to pursue top-of-the-rotation starters aggressively. If elite arms such as James Shields become available in trades, the Rangers will probably have interest.
If the Rangers move Feliz to the rotation, they'd likely look to restore bullpen depth and might explore a free agent market that features many shutdown relievers. Adams, Mark Lowe, Yoshinori Tateyama and Koji Uehara will return to the bullpen, so the Rangers won't be desperate for relief help, especially from the right side. In fact, Uehara, an imperfect fit in Texas' homer-friendly park, could be trade bait. Southpaws Darren Oliver and Mike Gonzalez hit free agency, so the Rangers are likely to pursue left-handed relief this offseason. If they offer arbitration to Oliver, a Type A free agent, he would likely accept. He told MLB.com he's leaning toward returning in 2012 and it's hard to imagine any team surrendering a draft pick for a 41-year-old reliever, so accepting Texas' offer would be in his best interest.
The Yankees and Red Sox were the only two clubs to score more runs than the Rangers last season and all of Texas' starting position players are under team control in 2012. There's room for improvement at first base and in center field, however. Led by Mitch Moreland, Texas' first basemen posted a .271/.331/.422 line in 2011, which was 23rd in MLB in OPS. Moreland's an effective hitter against right-handed pitching, but the Rangers, a team with World Series aspirations, may be looking for more thump from a traditionally offensive position. While Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols would represent a tremendous upgrade, don't expect the Rangers to spend on a luxury when more pressing needs exist on the pitching staff. Manager Ron Washington can simply rest Moreland against left-handers while playing Michael Young and Mike Napoli.
Free agent switch-hitters Coco Crisp and Carlos Beltran may intrigue the Rangers as center field options if they're interested in upgrading over internal candidates such as Julio Borbon, Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin. Grady Sizemore might interest the Rangers, who showed their willingness to gamble on injured stars when they signed Brandon Webb last offseason.
After erupting for 30 regular season homers and a 1.046 OPS, Naploi is an extension candidate as he enters his final season before free agency. The Rangers could also consider locking up Nelson Cruz or Elvis Andrus, two arbitration eligible players. Even though Josh Hamilton signed an extension last offseason, he's just a year away from free agency.
The Rangers' World Series loss was undeniably painful, but it shows Texas is doing many things right under Daniels and team president Nolan Ryan. By adding pitching this offseason, the Rangers would establish themselves as favorites to win the AL West and begin another playoff run. Maybe next time, it will end with a championship.
Congratulations to the Cardinals for winning a thrilling World Series after an unexpected surge to the playoffs. Their offseason revolves around re-signing Albert Pujols, who is on the brink of free agency for the first time in his career.
- Matt Holliday, OF: $86MM through 2016
- Jaime Garcia, SP: $27MM through 2015
- Chris Carpenter, SP: $21MM through 2013
- Adam Wainwright, SP: $21MM through 2013
- Kyle Lohse, SP: $12.2MM through 2012
- Lance Berkman, OF: $12MM through 2012
- Jake Westbrook, SP: $8.5MM through 2012
- Yadier Molina, C: $7MM through 2012
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Jason Motte, RP: $1.7MM
- Kyle McClellan, RP: $2.7MM
- Ryan Theriot, UT IF: $3.9MM (non-tender candidate)
- Skip Schumaker, UT IF/OF: $3.1MM (non-tender candidate)
- Albert Pujols (Type A 1B), Gerald Laird (unranked C), Corey Patterson (unranked OF), Nick Punto (unranked 2B), Edwin Jackson (Type B SP), Octavio Dotel (Type A RP), Arthur Rhodes (Type B RP), Rafael Furcal (Type B SS)
The 2011 Cardinals overcame odds, injuries and three worthy playoff foes to win the 11th World Series in franchise history. Their improbable championship is worth savoring, but it's now time for action, not reflection. Albert Pujols is hours away from free agency and the Cardinals also face uncertainty on the bench, since manager Tony La Russa has announced his retirement.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, their offseason preparations began in September when a playoff berth -- let alone a World Series title -- seemed improbable. Lance Berkman and Chris Carpenter signed extensions last month and the club has had preliminary discussions about retaining Rafael Furcal. Highly-regarded pitching coach Dave Duncan will return as well. But that's all secondary for now.
Pujols isn't simply the best free agent of the offseason, he's a Cardinals icon who will be enshrined in Cooperstown as soon as he's eligible. Even in a so-called off-year, Pujols posted a .299/.366/.541 line with 37 home runs. He punctuated the season with a dominant playoff run: five home runs and a .353/.463/.691 line, including a three-home run game in the World Series.
The Cardinals appear to have offered Pujols a nine-year deal worth more than $200MM before the season, but he didn't sign. Having waited this long, the 31-year-old will surely test free agency, where he will pique the interest of many teams. While the Rangers, Mariners, Orioles and Nationals could all have interest, the best fit of all may be in St. Louis. The Cardinals aren't going to offer Pujols more than the $275MM Alex Rodriguez got from the Yankees four offseasons ago, and no one else will, either. But if the Cardinals offer Pujols a $200MM contract again, he can sign for more than any player in baseball history except Rodriguez without having to leave St. Louis.
Zero National League teams outscored the Cardinals, despite a Major League-leading 169 double plays. If Pujols returns, their offense figures to be among the league's best once again. If he leaves, they could make Allen Craig an everyday outfielder and move Berkman to first base while collecting draft picks for Pujols.
The Cardinals already exercised their option Yadier Molina, but with Gerald Laird hitting the open market, they could look for a backup catcher. Yadier's brother, Jose Molina, will be available this offseason.
Furcal and Nick Punto will hit free agency, so the Cardinals will need middle infielders. If the Cardinals don't re-sign Furcal, they could pursue Clint Barmes, Alex Gonzalez or another free agent shortstop. The trade and non-tender market offers alternatives at short, so there's a real chance Ryan Theriot won't return -- at least not for a projected salary approaching $4MM. Skip Schumaker would have a salary in the $3MM range, so the Cardinals could let him go in favor of more affordable second basemen. Internally, Tyler Greene is one option at shortstop and they may attempt to retain Punto at second base after his strong 2011 performance.
The Cardinals' rotation is set, now that they've officially exercised their options on Adam Wainwright. He'll join Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook in a rotation that could include top prospect Shelby Miller at some point in 2012. With a full rotation plus swingman Kyle McClellan, the Cardinals don't need Type B free agent Edwin Jackson. They could offer him arbitration regardless, since he'd decline in pursuit of a multiyear deal, and the Cards would likely recover a 2012 draft pick.
Jason Motte, Fernando Salas, Mitchell Boggs, Eduardo Sanchez, Lance Lynn, McClellan and Marc Rzepczynski will return to the bullpen in 2012. They've been effective in 2011 and GM John Mozeliak and his front office deserve credit for assembling a capable and affordable group.
Unless the Cardinals are comfortable paying Octavio Dotel and Arthur Rhodes approximately $4MM each to join next year's staff, they shouldn't offer the relievers arbitration later in November. Dotel and Rhodes are ranked free agents and could theoretically net the Cardinals draft picks in 2012, but both have made their interest in returning to St. Louis clear. If the Cardinals decide against bringing Rhodes back, they will likely add another left-hander to pair with Rzepczynski, but the St. Louis front office doesn't need to focus on its 'pen this offseason.
The Cardinals spent $109MM in 2011 and if they re-sign Pujols, payroll will almost certainly rise again. They'll have committed $86MM in payroll if they retain Motte and McClellan through arbitration while non-tendering Theriot and Schumaker. Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira earn roughly $22MM per season, so Pujols will command an annual salary of at least as much. This would bring their projected payroll to $108MM before adding middle infielders, finalizing the bullpen and accounting for minimum salary players. However, the World Series title surely generated extra revenue for the Cardinals, who have had years to prepare for the possibility of paying Pujols an annual salary in excess of $22MM.
If the Cardinals find a successor to La Russa, sign Pujols to a long-term deal and add middle infielders, they can consider the offseason a success. Mozeliak has a busy offseason ahead, but with Wainwright on his way back, an effective, young bullpen and the NL's best offense, the 2012 Cardinals could threaten to play deep into October once again, in 2012.
The Braves are unlikely to do much free agent shopping, but improvements at left field and shortstop are possible.
- Chipper Jones, 3B: $13MM through 2012, unless 2013 option vests
- Dan Uggla, 2B: $52MM through 2015
- Tim Hudson, SP: $10MM through 2012
- Brian McCann, C: $12MM through 2012
- Matt Diaz, RF/LF: $2MM through 2012
- David Ross, C: $1.625MM through 2012
- Eric Hinske, LF/RF/1B: $1.5MM through 2012
- $10MM owed to Derek Lowe
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Michael Bourn, CF: $7.3MM
- Jair Jurrjens, SP: $5.1MM
- Martin Prado, LF: $4.4MM
- Eric O'Flaherty, RP: $2.6MM
- Peter Moylan, RP: $2MM (non-tender candidate)
- Scott Linebrink (unranked RP), Alex Gonzalez (Type B SS), George Sherrill (unranked RP), Nate McLouth (unranked CF/LF)
The 2011 Braves collapsed in epic fashion down the stretch, yet most of the pieces are in place for a competitive 2012 club. That's fortunate, because GM Frank Wren has limited financial flexibility.
Assuming Moylan is non-tendered, the Braves will have about $84MM in commitments before accounting for minimum salary players. That's $7MM less than the 2011 payroll of $91MM. The Braves were closer to $100MM in 2008-09, but with a 5% drop in attendance this year raising payroll could be difficult. Clearing $5MM of Lowe's salary yesterday was a win for the Braves, who did not envision him in next year's rotation. Wren told reporters in October that Prado is likely back in left field next year, but otherwise I can see him traded or non-tendered.
Trading Jurrjens could serve the dual purpose of shedding $5MM and bringing back a bat, but Wren said this month: "We have a lot of pitching but I think it’s not something that we’re looking to trade from." His statement could be interpreted in various ways, so we can't rule out a Jurrjens deal if the right offer comes along. The Braves have more depth than most teams with their "Big Four" of young starters: Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Mike Minor, and Arodys Vizcaino. With Lowe gone, Hudson will be the lone 2012 starter who exceeded 152 MLB innings in 2011. But if the Braves feel Brandon Beachy, Tommy Hanson, and perhaps Minor can handle full workloads, Jurrjens may be expendable.
I think teams will be wary of surrendering a lot for Jurrjens. SIERA suggests he's a 4.40 type pitcher, despite his career ERA of 3.40. His strikeout rate dropped to 5.3 per nine this year, and he's missed significant time the last couple years due to knee, oblique, and hamstring injuries. Any big league hitter the Braves get back would probably come with similar question marks or red flags.
I'm unconvinced the Braves won't look into left field upgrades, though a reasonable free agent target like Josh Willingham could prove a wash with Prado. Still, bringing in a left fielder would allow Prado to back up Jones at third base. The Braves will need an answer at shortstop, with prospect Tyler Pastornicky the favorite at the moment. The Braves showed with Freddie Freeman they're not afraid to pencil a rookie into a starting job, but Wren should probably bring back Alex Gonzalez or a comparable veteran as an insurance policy. Since Gonzalez is a Type B free agent, an arbitration offer makes sense.
The Braves' rotation averaged only 5.91 innings per start, 11th in the NL and worst among contenders. They were saved by the league's best bullpen, but Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel, O'Flaherty, and Cristhian Martinez probably can't provide 316 innings again. Free agents Linebrink and Sherrill didn't shoulder that kind of a workload, but the Braves should probably sign at least one veteran reliever to take some of the load. Overall it looks like another winter of limited free agent shopping, after the Braves spent only about $5MM on that market last offseason.
For the most part, the Braves' improvements will come from within, as better overall seasons from Uggla, Prado, Jason Heyward, and Bourn are entirely feasible. More innings from the rotation will be another key to success.
Longtime GM Theo Epstein is gone and recently-appointed replacement Ben Cherington will try leading the Red Sox to their first playoff appearance since 2009 by improving the pitching staff and tinkering with the offense.
- Adrian Gonzalez, 1B: $148MM through 2018
- Carl Crawford, OF: $122MM through 2017
- Josh Beckett, SP: $51MM through 2014
- John Lackey, SP: $47.85MM through 2014
- Dustin Pedroia, 2B: $29.25MM through 2014
- Jon Lester, SP: $19.5MM through 2013
- Kevin Youkilis, 3B: $13.25MM through 2012
- Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP: $10.33MM through 2012
- Bobby Jenks, SP: $6MM through 2012
- Jose Iglesias, SS: $4.12MM through 2013
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Jacoby Ellsbury, OF: $7.9MM
- Alfredo Aceves, RP: $1.7MM
- Daniel Bard, RP: $1.6MM
- Andrew Miller, SP: $1.6MM (non-tender candidate)
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C: $1.6MM
- Mike Aviles, UT IF: $1.5MM (non-tender candidate)
- Matt Albers, RP: $1.3MM (non-tender candidate)
- Jed Lowrie, UT IF: $1.2MM
- Franklin Morales, RP: $1.0MM
- Rich Hill, RP: $700K (non-tender candidate)
- Dan Wheeler, RP: $3MM club option with no buyout (Type B)
- Marco Scutaro, SS: $6MM club option/$3MM player option with a $1.5MM buyout (Type B)
- Jason Varitek (Type B C), David Ortiz (Type A DH), J.D. Drew (unranked OF), Conor Jackson (unranked OF), Erik Bedard (unranked SP), Tim Wakefield (unranked SP), Jonathan Papelbon (Type A RP)
To fully understand the challenges the Red Sox face this offseason, we must review the events of the past two months. Red Sox fans already know the unpleasant details, so I'll be brief: since the beginning of September, the Red Sox -- a franchise no longer accustomed to losing -- lost 20 games and their seemingly unshakable grip on a postseason berth. Days after the collapse, they lost their manager and within weeks their longtime general manager left, too. Now, they're about to see their designated hitter and closer hit free agency along with franchise icons Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek.
No, Cherington's first offseason in the GM's office won't be an easy one. But unlike his predecessor, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, Cherington doesn't face anything resembling a rebuilding process. Despite the chaos of the past eight weeks, Boston is well-positioned for success in 2012 and beyond.
It starts with the search for a new manager: someone who can restore order in a clubhouse that apparently featured more than its share of beer and fried chicken in 2011. Boston's search is in its early stages, with the team set to conduct first-round interviews soon.
The September version of the Red Sox played roughly at the level of the 1962 Mets or 2003 Tigers. A whole lot went wrong down the stretch, so it would be unfair to put all the blame on Boston's starting rotation. But make no mistake -- Cherington must obtain starting pitching this winter. Pencil Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz in and you have three above-average starters leading the rotation, as long as Buchholz recovers from the lower back stress fracture that sidelined him at the end of 2011. John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka will be recovering from Tommy John surgery, which leaves two openings in Boston's rotation.
Reinforcements could come internally, where the Red Sox have Andrew Miller, Kyle Weiland and Felix Doubront. They could re-sign Wakefield, since the knuckleballer contributes every season and was his usual self in 2011, even as a 45-year-old. Cherington will be looking for more.
At his introductory press conference, the new GM suggested he'll search for buy-low starters. Perhaps this means the Red Sox will offer veteran starters one-year deals and hope for better results than John Smoltz and Brad Penny provided in 2009. Roy Oswalt could be an option, if the Red Sox believe his back is healthy.
As usual, the Red Sox and Yankees engaged in a bit of gamesmanship at the other's expense last offseason. Boston expressed interest in Mariano Rivera and New York drove up the price for Carl Crawford. Boston should inquire on C.C. Sabathia if he hits the open market this offseason. Sabathia could help the Red Sox and interest from Boston would at least drive the price up for the Yankees, if they successfully re-sign him. While the Steinbrenners spend more than any owners in the game, there's no harm in making the Yankees pay more than they'd like to.
Cherington hasn't publicly ruled out the pursuit of other top free agent starters and until he does, the Red Sox will be linked to the likes of Yu Darvish, C.J. Wilson and Edwin Jackson. The team could also try luring Hiroki Kuroda to Boston, though he appears to favor Los Angeles.
The Red Sox could inquire on any number of trade candidates, including Fausto Carmona, Jonathan Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco and White Sox starters Gavin Floyd and John Danks. Though Orioles right-hander Jeremy Guthrie and all the Rays' starters are likely off-limits, the Red Sox should check in on the best arms available on the trade market. Unfortunately for them, the Yankees will be doing exactly the same thing. Depending on how the Red Sox approach their offseason, Jed Lowrie, Ryan Lavarnway, Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick could all be viewed as expendable in trade talks.
Jonathan Papelbon has anchored Boston's bullpen since 2006 and he recorded the final out of Boston's 2007 World Series championship. However, it's no secret he wants to follow the money and the Red Sox have a ready-made replacement in Daniel Bard, who should be fine in 2012, despite his awful September. Boston will surely offer Papelbon arbitration, as he's a Type A free agent, but I'll be surprised if he reports to Fort Myers with the Red Sox next Spring Training.
Like the rotation, the bullpen requires some offseason work. Bard, Alfredo Aceves and Franklin Morales will return and the Red Sox can hope for more from Bobby Jenks in 2012. Dan Wheeler, a valuable yet replaceable reliever, projects as a Type B free agent, so the Red Sox could decline his option and offer arbitration. This would assure them of one of two acceptable results: a draft pick or one more year of Wheeler at an affordable rate. Cherington will likely pursue relief pitching even if Wheeler and non-tender candidates Miller and Matt Albers return.
Lost in the drama of the past two months has been Boston's impressive offensive output. The Red Sox scored more runs than any team in baseball in 2011 and with most of their core players returning, there's no reason to believe they won't have one of the league's best offenses again. The Red Sox are likely to exercise Marco Scutaro's option for $6MM. This would give Jose Iglesias more time to develop and relegate Lowrie to the bench. The rest of Boston's infield is set, with Adrian Gonzalez at first, Dustin Pedroia at second and Kevin Youkilis at third.
The outfield features the American League's most surprising player this side of Mike Napoli and its most disappointing player this side of Adam Dunn, in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford, respectively. Likely joining the two as starters is Reddick, who hit .280/.327/.457 in roughly half a season of playing time. The Red Sox may explore an extension for Ellsbury, not that negotiating with a Scott Boras client coming off of an MVP-caliber season would be easy.
After yet another productive season, David Ortiz is the top designated hitter available on the free agent market. He posted a .309/.398/.554 line, and even though he turns 36 this November, he seems well-positioned for a generous contract. Will the Red Sox finally provide him with the long-term deal he's been seeking for years? Maybe. They'll probably start by offering arbitration, an advisable move given Ortiz's power. But there's no sense in overcommitting to a positionless player who may be approaching his decline phase, so expect the Red Sox to be prepared to walk away. Other free agent DHs are available and Lavarnway is an internal candidate for the job, so Boston isn't bound to Ortiz.
When he introduced Boston's new general manager, Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino pointed out that Cherington will not have the luxury of a peaceful start. “He will hit the ground running, in full stride, and no one will outwork him,” Lucchino said. The way the 2011 season ended, there's no other choice.
The Indians face major decisions in center field and in the rotation this offseason. GM Chris Antonetti begins the winter with the expectation that payroll will rise following a promising 2011 season.
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Justin Masterson, SP: $3.6MM
- Jack Hannahan, UT IF: $1.3MM
- Asdrubal Cabrera, SS: $4.8MM
- Shin-Soo Choo, OF: $4.3MM
- Chris Perez, RP: $4.2MM
- Joe Smith, RP: $1.6MM
- Rafael Perez, RP: $1.9MM
- Grady Sizemore, OF: $8.5MM club option with a $500K buyout (no Elias ranking)
- Fausto Carmona, SP: $7MM club option (would be arbitration eligible if Indians decline option)
The Indians' offseason begins with a pair of difficult decisions for GM Chris Antonetti. Cleveland has options for Grady Sizemore and Fausto Carmona, two of the club's longest tenured players. Neither one is guaranteed to return in 2012 and the Indians' decisions regarding the pair will shape the rest of their offseason.
The Indians have a $7MM option for Carmona, who would be arbitration eligible if the team declines the option. MLBTR projects Carmona would earn about $7.8MM if the Indians declined his option and went to arbitration with him, so it's the option or nothing in 2012.
Carmona doesn't strike many opponents out -- Indians starters as a group placed 27th in MLB in strikeout rate -- but there were some positives in 2011. He pitched 188 2/3 innings and though his 5.25 ERA wasn't pretty, his xFIP of 4.17 and SIERA of 4.18 suggest his ugly ERA may have been due to bad luck. Carmona had a 54.8% ground ball rate in 2011, so he could have trade value to teams in homer-friendly parks, like the Rockies, Rangers and Yankees, even if the Indians pick up his option and guarantee him a $7MM salary. I expect Cleveland to pick the option up and given how difficult it is to obtain starting pitching, that decision would be justifiable.
Regardless of how the Indians handle Carmona's option, they'll probably pursue starting pitching depth. Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin will lead the rotation, possibly with Carmona. David Huff, Zach McAllister and Jeanmar Gomez provide manager Manny Acta with internal alternatives and Antonetti will likely add an arm or two from outside of the organization.
Sizemore's knees have limited him to 104 total games in the past two seasons, so exercising his $9MM club option ($500K buyout) would be a bet on Sizemore's health. Why would a small-market team even consider such a gamble? From 2005-08, Sizemore combined power, speed and on-base skills as one of baseball's premier center fielders. When he's healthy, he's a force, but the Indians don't seem confortable paying him $9MM in 2012.
Sizemore offers more offensive upside than free agent alternatives such as Rick Ankiel, Cody Ross and former Indians center fielder Coco Crisp. The Indians already have 24-year-old Michael Brantley, who posted a .702 OPS in 114 games and spent considerable time in center field. Rookie Ezequiel Carrera played 55 games in center, but had an OPS of just .613. If the Indians decide to pursue experience and certainty in center field and are unimpressed by the available free agents, they could turn to trade targets such as Angel Pagan and B.J. Upton.
The Indians may pursue corner outfielders, regardless of how they handle Sizemore's option. Right-handed hitting outfielders such as Josh Willingham and Michael Cuddyer could appeal to the team. Sizemore, Brantley, Carrera and Shin-Soo Choo all bat from the left side and the Indians lineup also includes three other left-handed hitting regulars, so they may pursue right-handed hitting outfielders if possible. One such player, Matt Murton, hit .311/.339/.423 in Japan in 2011 and could be available this offseason. He just turned 30 and boasts a .788 OPS as a Major Leaguer, so Antonetti may decide to offer an incentive-based deal should Murton become available.
Jim Thome intends to play in 2012 and though he made a triumphant return to Cleveland in 2011, a new deal seems unlikely, since the Indians already have a left-handed hitting designated hitter in Travis Hafner.
First base presents more uncertainty for the Indians. Carlos Santana is a regular contributor, but Matt LaPorta hasn't produced enough at the plate in two-plus seasons and Shelley Duncan probably isn't an everyday first baseman. The Indians could pursue free agents such as Casey Kotchman if they're losing confidence in LaPorta as their primary option at first.
Second baseman Jason Kipnis and third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall have the minor league pedigree LaPorta boasted a few seasons ago. They'll enter the 2012 season with a chance to build on the successes of their rookie seasons. Meanwhile, 24-year-old Cord Phelps is another homegrown option on the infield and the versatile Jack Hannahan is also under team control.
The Indians have just $17.7MM in guaranteed contracts for 2012, but that figure will rise to the $40MM range if the club retains all of its arbitration eligible players, as expected. If the Indians pick up the options for Sizemore and Carmona, payroll would be over $55MM before accounting for minimum salary players or potential acquisitions. Antonetti says he expects the Indians to exceed this year's $49MM payroll and accommodating both Sizemore and Carmona without a substantial increase would be difficult.
Joe Smith, Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp and Vinnie Pestano will return to a bullpen that will mostly remain intact. Closer Chris Perez struggled down the stretch after making his first All-Star team, so he'll look to pitch as effectively as he did in 2010. Nick Hagadone, the 25-year-old southpaw who came to Cleveland in the Victor Martinez deal, posted a 3.35 ERA with 9.9 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 at Triple-A before making nine appearances as a September callup. He could be ready for a season-long stint in the Indians' 2012 bullpen and while there's no guarantee he'll replicate his minor league success, he deserves a shot.
Once the option decisions have been finalized and free agency has slowed down, Antonetti could explore extensions for Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera is closer to free agency than Santana, so the Indians would likely prioritize an extension for their shortstop. It's unlikely agent Scott Boras would encourage an extension for Choo, whose bargaining power dipped after a frustrating season.
Antonetti's first offseason as the Indians' GM led to an extended playoff run. They'll enter the 2012 season with elevated expectations and, if the winter goes according to plan, depth in the rotation and answers in the outfield.