November is normally a quiet time for Major League Baseball. The awards are handed out, the free agents file and then the jockeying goes on quietly as teams prepare for the winter meetings in December.
Not so much this year.
For starters, the new collective bargaining agreement drastically changed free agency. Instead of a December deadline to offer arbitration to pending free agents, teams had a Nov. 13 deadline by which to choose to extend a one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offer.
Then, the Miami Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays got together to pull off one of the largest trades in baseball history, a 12-player blockbuster that completely altered the landscapes in the East Division of both the American and National leagues.
Free agents are beginning to sign, with outfielder B.J. Upton moving north from Tampa Bay to Atlanta on Thursday after signing a five-year, $75.25 million deal.
So with that as a backdrop, which five teams are seeing their stocks soaring?
The Texas Rangers have been a playoff team three years in a row—an unprecedented run of success for a franchise that spent much of its first half-century not enjoying a lot of it.
According to SI.com, the Rangers are also still in touch with free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton, a former MVP who has been the centerpiece of Texas’ high-powered offense the last five seasons. Hamilton had a career-high 43 home runs and drove in 128 runs in 148 games in 2012, and he was the Most Valuable Player in the American League in 2010.
Texas is also addressing concerns behind the plate and in the bullpen.
Mike Napoli, who spent the last two years with the Rangers, is a free agent, and Texas picked up Geovany Soto from the Chicago Cubs for the stretch run. The Rangers are facing a midnight EST deadline with Soto to tender a 2013 contract; if they non-tender him, he becomes a free agent.
There are a lot of things to like about the Rangers, even in an American League West that figures to remain competitive in 2013.
The Detroit Tigers capped off their second straight American League Central crown with a trip to the World Series. While the Tigers didn’t get their happy ending—they were swept by the San Francisco Giants—the team seems poised to keep right on winning in 2013.
Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and slugging first baseman Prince Fielder will still anchor the middle of the order and will get help with the return of Victor Martinez, who missed all of 2012 with a knee injury.
Detroit has already added free-agent outfielder Torii Hunter, a veteran right-handed bat who will help the defense in right field, as well.
There will be a new closer in town. Enigmatic and inconsistent Jose Valverde was allowed to walk into free agency. The plan, according to a tweet Thursday by Lynn Henning of The Detroit News, is for rookie Bruce Rondon to get a chance to win the job in spring training.
The Washington Nationals have some holes to fill, but they addressed at least one of those on Thursday by trading with the Minnesota Twins for outfielder Denard Span, according to The Washington Post.
Getting Span makes it more likely, the Post reported, that first baseman Adam LaRoche will be moving on. With Span set to play center field, Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper could be moved to either left or right field, freeing up Michael Morse to play first base.
The consensus around baseball was that the Nationals arrived a year early by winning the National League East in 2012. That makes the possibilities for 2013—the year they were supposed to be ready to win—that much more intriguing.
The stock of the Los Angeles Dodgers is rising…literally. The franchise is close to finalizing a television deal with Fox Sports that is said to be worth between $5 billion and $7 billion, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
This is a team that began 2012 with a payroll of $90 million. The club was purchased for $2.15 billion in April and pulled off a blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox in August. The team currently has $181 million in payroll already committed for 2013.
And the scariest part for everyone else in baseball might be this quote from club president Stan Kasten, per USA Today:
I am focusing on building the best team we can be and where exactly the payroll will be, we’ll worry about that later. This particular phase we’re in is building and returning the Dodgers to greatness.
Los Angeles is very much in the running to add free-agent starter Zack Greinke, who is expected to challenge the record for largest contract given to a pitcher. That mark was set in 2008 by CC Sabathia, who received $161 million from the New York Yankees.
ESPN.com’s Buster Olney tweeted Friday morning that the Dodgers are prepared to do just about anything to get Greinke, including offering him “Long Beach and parts of Bakersfield.”
There is a brave new world in Los Angeles, indeed.
It’s not every offseason a team can add four former All-Stars to the roster without giving up similar stock in return. But the Toronto Blue Jays pulled that off with their deal earlier this month with the Miami Marlins.
The four All-Stars include Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and John Buck. The team also added utility man Emilio Bonifacio. Going back to Miami were Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis and three minor leaguers.
The Blue Jays also rolled the dice and brought back former manager John Gibbons and added free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera, who missed the final six weeks of the regular season after being suspended for testing positive for excess testosterone in his system.
And just like that, the Blue Jays are in the mix in the rugged American League East, which had three teams finish with 90 wins or more in the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, and also includes the Boston Red Sox, who collapsed in their only season under manager Bobby Valentine in 2012.