The champion has been crowned, the fields are empty and winter is in the offing. Yes, the hinterland better known as the MLB offseason is upon us. While nothing compares to the game itself, baseball's pause still provides us with plenty of drama and intrigue. Trades, free-agent signings, rosters taking shape ... there's going to be something for everyone, regardless of rooting interests. So to get you in the Hot Stove state of mind, Dayn Perry is here to run down the top 10 offseason burning questions.
What changes will the Cubs make?
The Cubs have new ownership and promises of change. How much change takes place right away, though, remains to be seen. GM Jim Hendry and manager Lou Piniella are safe for the time being. But will the Cubs trade Milton Bradley away for pennies on the dollar? Or does the addition of hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo augur a second chance for the controversial right fielder? Will they attempt to re-sign Rich Harden? Will they shop Carlos Zambrano? Did they keep their receipt for Alfonso Soriano? When will Ted Lilly return from injury? Will Mark DeRosa be back on the North Side? How will they improve the bullpen? As always, questions abound at the corner of Clark and Addison.
Which stars will hang 'em up?
It's possible that we'll never again see luminaries Randy Johnson (pictured), Ken Griffey Jr., Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz take the field. Or maybe all four future first-ballot Hall of Famers will play again in 2010. There's reason to believe that Martinez and Smoltz can still contribute (especially Martinez). However, Griffey's lackluster production and Johnson's home-run issues mean they should probably walk away. If all four are done, then in 2014 we'll have one of the great Cooperstown classes of all time.
Who will be back in the Bronx?
The reigning champs face free-agent decisions on a number of core contributors. To wit, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui (pictured), Andy Pettitte and the injured Xavier Nady are all for hire. Will they re-up with Damon or pursue one of the left fielders on the market? Andy Pettitte seems likely to return, but what about Matsui? The DH market is more crowded, so the Yankees will have options when it comes to re-signing the World Series MVP.
Who will be in the 2010 Hall of Fame class?
The winter isn't all about trades and big contracts. In January, the BBWAA will announce the results of the 2010 balloting. Worthy players on the ballot for the first time include Roberto Alomar (pictured) and Barry Larkin. Holdovers who deserve induction include Bert Blyleven, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Andre Dawson and Mark McGwire. Trammell, McGwire and Raines (ridiculously) won't make it this time around, and only Alomar seems like a sure bet. What becomes of Larkin (no-brainer), Blyleven (no-brainer) and Dawson (also a strong case) is anyone's guess.
Which teams will take calculated risks on the free-agent market?
This isn't the splashiest crop of free agents we've ever seen, but value buys are out there. Need to improve the infield defense? Adrian Beltre, Placido Polanco (pictured), Mark DeRosa and Adam Everett are all available. Need left-handed pop? There's Russell Branyan. Willing to take a chance on high-upside pitchers with injury risk? Rich Harden, Justin Duchscherer, Ben Sheets and Billy Wagner fit the bill. Looking for a DH? Hideki Matsui, Jim Thome and Vladimir Guerrero are looking for work. No, this isn't a legendary class, but an enterprising GM can plug holes on the (relative) cheap.
Which superstars will sign contact extensions?
They're not free agents yet, but much attention will be focused on the contract status of a trio of stars: Albert Pujols of the Cardinals, Joe Mauer of the Twins (pictured) and Cliff Lee of the Phillies. St. Louis controls Pujols through the 2011 season, while Mauer and Lee are eligible for free agency next winter. Each player figures to command a nine-figure contract, and in the case of Pujols and Mauer, their annual salaries could approach $30 million. Will anyone but the biggest of the big spenders be willing to pay such a price? The winter ahead will be telling.
Who will ink John Lackey?
The Anaheim ace is the prize of the free-agent pitching market this winter. And that's for good reason. Usually, he's good for around 200 innings, and he's got a career park- and league-adjusted ERA that's 17 percent better than average. Lackey has battled injuries in recent seasons, but he still provides the most certainty of any free-agent starter. The Angels, of course, would love to re-sign him, and he'd also be a great fit for the Mets, who desperately need a known quantity behind Johan Santana. Other possible suitors include the Yankees (natch), Dodgers, Red Sox and a surprise team or three to be named.
Who wants Jason Bay?
Bay is a liability with the glove, but he's a quality hitter. Bay boasts a career batting line of .280 AVG/.376 OBP/.519 SLG, and he's coming off one of his best seasons (particularly once you adjust for strength of opposition). He's best suited to the DH role, but even when playing the field, he's a net asset. Holliday is the more-well rounded player, but Bay's a nifty consolation prize. Don't be surprised if a Sox-Yanks bidding war ensues ...
Where will Matt Holliday wind up?
The Mets sorely need a hitter like Holliday in the outfield, but he might not be open to playing in New York. Given his struggles in Oakland, will an American League team seriously pursue him? Maybe they will after his redeeming stretch in St. Louis (.353 AVG/.419 OBP/.604 SLG after the mid-season trade). Holliday provides good power and on-base skills, reverse platoon splits (a good thing in a right-handed hitter), a useful glove in left and surprising speed on the bases. He'll command a hefty contract, but Holliday should remain a top-tier hitter for the next handful of seasons. Will St. Louis once again turn on the regional charm and hold on to their big addition? Maybe, but it's hard to keep those Scott Boras clients from testing the market.
Will any blockbuster trades go down?
With the economy still sputtering and with a free-agent class that's short on depth, you may see more trades than usual go down this winter. Already, the Twins, Pirates and both flavors of Sox have made headline-grabbing swaps, and more will soon follow. If the rumors are any guide, then change-of-address candidates include Dan Uggla, Kelly Johnson, Garrett Atkins, Heath Bell, Jorge De La Rosa, Chris Snyder and Lyle Overbay, among many others. The big fishes, of course, are San Diego's Adrian Gonzalez and Toronto's Roy Halladay (pictured) two players who can change a pennant race. It's not certain that the Padres and Jays will part with their franchise talents, but you can bet contenders notional and genuine will be calling.