Although winter is almost here and Major League Baseball teams should be taking time off, the offseason is already in full swing. Player options are being accepted or denied, and free agents are entering the market.
Free agency can be a blessing or a curse depending on how successful a team is at reeling in its targets. When teams lose players to free agency, it can be particularly dangerous. Key players can depart and ruin pitching rotations or batting orders.
That is why it is so important for teams to carefully assess their free-agent options. Certain teams have players who they can't afford to lose, while others have room to maneuver.
Whichever camp a team falls into, it needs to aggressively pursue that strategy to put its franchise in the best position for 2013.
The only free agents that the Diamondbacks could potentially lose are 41-year-old backup catcher Henry Blanco and 42-year-old relief pitcher Takashi Saito.
With Miguel Montero starting, Wil Nieves as a very capable backup and the fact that Blanco only hit .188 last season with one home run and seven RBI, the Diamondbacks should let him go and reinvest that money elsewhere.
Similarly, Saito had a difficult campaign with a 6.75 ERA, so it might be best for him to move on.
Michael Bourn may not have a lot of power, but he can certainly steal a base. He hit .274 last year with a career-high nine home runs, 57 RBI and 42 stolen bases.
Although his on-base percentage is a little bit low for a top of the order hitter (.348 in 2012), that type of dynamic speed adds another dimension to the Atlanta Braves offense that it would be difficult to lose. On top of that, he plays solid defense in center field.
Joe Saunders is one of the most underrated pitchers in all of baseball. He is by no means fantastic, but he can eat a lot of innings and keep his team in the game.
Last year, he finished 9-13 with a 4.07 ERA while playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Baltimore Orioles. He doesn't strike out a lot of hitters, but he gets outs, and that is ultimately what the Orioles will need to round out their rotation.
This position would have gone to David Ortiz, but the Boston Red Sox have already taken care of that one, so now the mission should be about Cody Ross.
Ross was one of the few players who functioned well in Boston last year. He hit .267 with 22 home runs and 81 RBI. Obviously, the Red Sox have a lot of pieces they need to replace this winter, but bringing Ross back to hold down right field would be a good start.
Shawn Camp appeared in 80 games last season for the Chicago Cubs, and I think that explains his value better than anything.
His 3.59 ERA is respectable, and he is clearly durable. He is not an overwhelming star and will not command a lot of money, but his reliability will be highly valuable out of the bullpen for Chicago.
A.J. Pierzynski is one of the best catchers in Major League Baseball, and even though the White Sox have Tyler Flowers ready to take over as starting catcher, they can't just let Pierzynski go.
Last season, he hit .278 with a career-high 27 home runs and 77 RBI. Even though the White Sox fell apart at the end of the season, Pierzynski was a large part of the success they had. Bringing him back next season makes a lot of sense if they want to continue to improve.
Jonathan Broxton bounced back from a difficult 2011, saving 27 games and posting a 2.48 ERA for the Kansas City Royals and Cincinnati Reds.
The Reds' bullpen played a huge role in their success last year, and having Broxton for an entire season would only make it stronger. The offense is obviously going to win the Reds a lot of games, but a strong bullpen will help them hold on to the close ones.
Grady Sizemore has struggled with injuries over the past few seasons. But before that, he was a pretty safe bet for at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases.
Given his struggles with injuries, his contract demands will be low. For the potential that he once had, the Indians should definitely consider bringing him back for another trial. The Indians still have some work to do, so saving money on a somewhat risky yet high potential investment makes sense. They can then use the rest of their money to fill in other holes.
Jeff Francis is probably not going to win 17 games again like he did in 2007. However, he is capable of rounding out a rotation and going deep into games.
Last season, after a one-year hiatus with the Kansas City Royals, Francis posted a 6-7 record and 5.58 ERA. Obviously, that number is inflated by a home ERA of almost seven. Nobody pitches well in Colorado, but on the road, he did post a respectable 4.35 ERA.
Anibal Sanchez is going to be a hot commodity on the market this winter, but the Tigers would be wise to try their hardest to bring him back. The top of the rotation would benefit from a trio of Justin Verlander, Doug Fister and Sanchez.
In 2012, Sanchez went 9-13 with a 3.86 ERA. With such a strong offense at his back, he should be able to build on that success.
The Houston Astros have Chris Snyder, Travis Buck, Brian Bixler and Francisco Cordero entering the free-agent market. However, none of these players played a significant role for the team this past season.
Houston needs to rebuild, and it needs money to do that. It does not make sense to spend money on older players who would provide mediocre production at best.
Jeremy Guthrie was a different pitcher after he was traded to the Royals at midseason. Once he arrived, he went 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA.
Of course, the Royals need a lot more work than simply retaining Guthrie in the rotation, but he can be a solid contributor because of his durability. On most nights, he can be counted on for at least six innings, which is valuable for a team with a somewhat suspect bullpen.
Zack Greinke will be on the top of the priority list for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this winter, and he certainly deserves it. Last season, he went 15-5 with a 3.48 ERA and averaged almost a strikeout per inning.
Surely, the Angels will be looking to rebound from what was a disappointing finish to the 2012 season. Locking down one of the best pitchers in baseball can help make that happen.
Joe Blanton could fit nicely in the back end of the Dodgers' rotation. For a team that is surely going to spend a lot of money courtesy of their new ownership, it will also need pieces to fill in the gaps.
Blanton is that type of pitcher. He is not going to blow away the competition, but he can be counted on for a reasonable number of innings and moderately successful performances.
Carlos Lee is a consistent run producer. Last season, his average dropped to.264 and he only hit nine home runs, but he still managed to drive in 77 runs.
Of course, the Marlins are trying to rebuild from what was a disappointing debut in their new ballpark last season. It might take time to build a young team, but bringing back a proven run producer will help solidify their lineup.
Shaun Marcum is another incredibly under-appreciated pitcher. Even though he saw limited action last season, he still managed to go 7-4 with a 3.70 ERA.
Because he is so under-appreciated, it should not be very expensive to bring him back. Additionally, he is incredibly low risk. Over the past three seasons, his production has been almost identical. Next season should be no different.
Scott Baker is actually a lot like Shaun Marcum. Neither one is overwhelming, but they consistently put up solid numbers from the middle to the back of a rotation.
In 2012, Baker went 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA. That was the best ERA of his career, and it seems to indicate that he is only going to get better. His strikeouts and per nine-inning averages have only gotten better every season, which is another promising sign.
Scott Hairston was one of the only bright spots for the Mets in 2012. He hit .263 with 20 home runs and 57 RBI.
Although he is supposedly a little bit past his prime at the age of 32, his yearly home run total keeps growing. At the very least, the Mets should bring him back as a solid option as they continue to rebuild.
I was going to put Mariano Rivera in this position, but we all know that if he does come back, there is no way that he will play anywhere but New York City.
Consequently, Hiroki Kuroda earned this position because he went 16-11 last season with a 3.32 ERA. It is easy to forget about him on the star-powered roster of the Yankees, but he is a great pitcher who will continue to thrive with all of the offensive support the Yankees provide.
Brandon McCarthy has not won many games since he came to the Oakland Athletics, but he knows how to stop runners from crossing the plate. During his tenure in Oakland, he has posted a 3.29 ERA.
Since Oakland is a team on the rise, McCarthy and his low ERA should start turning into high win totals and even more value in the future.
Most of the Phillies who are now free agents were bench players with the exception of Placido Polanco. Their team had problems coping with injuries, and part of that struggle came from a largely ineffective bench.
This season, they need some new blood to fill in these gaps, so the Phillies should let their free agents move on to new homes.
Jason Grilli floated around Major League Baseball as a middle relief pitcher, but he has finally found a home with the Pirates.
Over the last two seasons, he has posted a 2.76 ERA and struck out an average of 12.5 opponents per nine innings. Those are remarkable numbers compared to what he has posted throughout the rest of his career, and the Pirates should try to keep him around for a while more.
Jason Bartlett, Jason Marquis and Kip Wells are the only potential free agents from the San Diego Padres, but none of them had especially stellar campaigns in 2012.
This team is starting to put the pieces together, and they need every dollar they can get to build a strong franchise. Consequently, it is not in its best interest to sign veterans who will not be able to help them in the long term and could potentially be more expensive than youth.
There are definitely outfielders with bigger names on the market this winter, but Angel Pagan might provide the most impact per dollar spent. He can do everything well and hit .288 last season with eight home runs, 56 RBI and 29 stolen bases.
Obviously, the Giants want to end 2013 in the same manner that they finished 2012, and bringing back the strong pieces of that team seems to be a pretty good strategy.
Kevin Millwood is not the top-of-the-rotation option he used to be, but he is easily capable of filling out the end of the rotation and providing veteran leadership. That leadership could be especially important if Mike Zunino makes his debut behind the plate. Having veteran pitchers helps young catchers.
Last season, he went 6-12 with a 4.25 ERA. While there's definitely plenty of room for improvement in that ERA, the record would look a lot better if the Mariners were able to provide more offense.
The Cardinals exceeded expectations this season, and Kyle Lohse had a lot do with it.
He went a remarkable 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA. He also exhibited the best control of his career with a 1.090 WHIP. Although it took a while and a few different teams, Lohse seems to be ready to continue putting up great numbers for the Cardinals.
Jeff Keppinger can play any of the infield positions and hold his own at the plate as well as any utilityman in baseball.
Last year, he hit .325 with nine home runs and 40 RBI. Of course, those numbers are not astronomical, but it is great for a team to know that they have this type of player who can excel anywhere on defense and not be an offensive liability.
Josh Hamilton is one of the best hitters in baseball, and his departure would take the heart out of the Rangers' offensive attack. Last season, he hit .285 with 43 home runs and 128 RBI.
Of course, Hamilton will draw a lot of attention this winter and teams will almost definitely end up in some type of bidding war to bring him to town next season. As long as that price does not become unreasonably high, the Rangers need to bring Hamilton back.
Bullpen pitchers are often forgotten, but they have an influence on almost every game. For the Blue Jays, Brandon Lyon posted a 3.10 ERA last year while striking out more than a batter per inning.
2012 was definitely disappointing for the Blue Jays, and if they want to compete in 2013, they will need to make some big moves. However, it is important for them to keep the pieces that were functioning well, and Lyon was one of them.
Adam LaRoche was the main muscle in the Washington Nationals' lineup last season, hitting .271 with 33 home runs and 100 RBI.
The Nationals burst onto the scene in 2012, and they undoubtedly want to hold off the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies who should be chasing right behind them. LaRoche could definitely help them do that in a major way.
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