Andy Pettitte and MLB's 25 Biggest Remaining Offseason Questions
You can almost smell it, can't you?
The warm breezes of spring air gently blowing across green grass. The intoxicating aroma of dirt mixed with chalk. You're starting to hear the distant sounds of wood cracks and leather pops.
It's sometimes difficult to think of baseball being just around the corner when you're stuck in the doldrums of a cold, snowy January. But the college football season is over. The NFL playoffs are in full swing and will be a memory before long. That means that Spring Training will be here before we know it.
Before we get there, though, there are a number of things that still need to be addressed as we look towards the coming season: free agents left to sign, trades left to make and Hot Stove news to evaluate.
Who's done enough to hoist that trophy next October? And who still has to do more? Get all that information and more, right here, right now, while it's piping hot.
25) Will the All-Star Game Still Be Played In Arizona?
There was much controversy last year when Arizona’s new immigration law was passed, a law that was seen as discriminatory in many circles. Cries immediately erupted for Major League Baseball to move the 2011 All-Star Game away from Phoenix’s Chase Field.
Those cries fell largely on deaf ears at the league office, however. Bud Selig and company have already invested too much time and energy in planning this season’s Midsummer Classic to uproot it at this point.
The federal government has stepped in to seek to adjust some of the more objectionable aspects of the law at this point, but MLB is largely trying to stay out of the crosshairs.
24) Will The A's Ever Get a New Stadium?
This drama hasn’t gotten much attention outside of the Bay Area, but it’s been dragging on for years now.
The Oakland A’s want a new stadium. Oakland doesn’t want to give it to them. They seemed to be ready to strike a deal to move to Fremont a couple of years ago, but that plan died in committee. Now talks with San Jose are heating up.
San Jose wants to be a major league city, but the hang up is the fact that the Giants hold territorial rights there, due to the presence of their Single-A affiliate. The A’s will have to pony up some cash to convince the Giants to relinquish Silicon Valley.
I see a deal getting done eventually. The fact is, no matter how much of a genius GM Billy Beane is, without a new stadium (and the infusion of cash that will come along with it), the A's will continue to struggle to compete.
San Jose already has the Sharks, they’re soon to get the 49ers (well, Santa Clara, but still), and now the A’s? Time to put the South Bay on the sports map.
23) Will We Really See More Replay or Expanded Playoffs?
Bud Selig and his special committee addressing on-field issues have had various issues on the table to discuss, but none more compelling than these two.
There seems to be growing sentiment in favor of adding an extra Wild Card team in each league to the postseason. Leagues, of course, always seek to add playoff games, since it inevitably means more sold-out, nationally-televised games for them to pocket extra revenue. But it would need to be collectively bargained with the Players’ Association and so it’s not in the cards for 2011. For 2012 and beyond, though, stay tuned.
As for more replay, most people around baseball seem to slowly be coming around to the idea, with last year’s imperfect game debacle serving as a bit of a tipping point. The problem is, Selig himself remains skeptical, for whatever reasons, so count on this issue not seeing a resolution this coming season, either.
I think there’s just too much of a growing consensus in favor of it, though, to keep ignoring it for too much longer. I’d bet on more replay becoming a reality as early as 2012.
22) Is the Dodgers Ownership Saga Finally Coming to an End?
Let’s all cross our fingers and hope so.
The messy, ugly divorce of the McCourts has been dragging on for far too long and has been dragging the fortunes of the Dodgers down with it.
One of the proudest franchises in baseball has been turned into nothing more than an expensive toy being squabbled over by two children. But alas, Frank and Jamie continue to bitterly fight over control of the franchise.
A ruling in December seemed to pave the way towards an eventual resolution, but there’s still a long way to go. The evidence is pointing in the direction of the team being declared marital property so that the McCourts would mostly likely be forced to sell the team and split the proceeds.
But despite that being the most likely (and most desired) outcome, don’t count on everything being sorted out for good yet this season, unfortunately.
21) Johnny Damon, Where Art Thou?
Oh, Johnny, I kinda feel for you.
He’s been spurned by the Yankees for two straight offseasons now. Last year, he eventually was forced to take a one-year deal with Detroit and now he might be left with simply heading back there, even though he continues to be reasonably effective on the field and an energetic, positive presence in the clubhouse.
Another option is Anaheim, which is looking for one more option for their outfield, as well as someone who could fill a role at the top of the order. If they land Vlad, forget about Damon, but otherwise, I could see a real fit in California for the ex-bearded hippie.
20) Who Will This Year's Breakout Rookies Be?
Last year we saw an exciting crop of young talent blossom on the big stage, led by NL Rookie of the Year and World Series hero Buster Posey of the Giants, sweet-swinging Jason Heyward of the Braves, and No. 1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg.
This year, the Giants seem poised to unveil the next great young talent emerging from their farm system, left-handed first baseman and outfielder Brandon Belt. In his first professional season in 2010, one split between three separate levels of the minors, Belt mashed everywhere he played.
Saying he was impressive is an understatement. He finished the year batting a combined .352 with 23 homers, 112 RBI, and 22 steals. He also boasted a .455 OBP and a 1.075 OPS. With Aubrey Huff back in town, Belt should transition to more of a full-time outfield role and could join the big club sooner rather than later.
As for other prospects to watch, keep an eye on Domonic Brown of the Phillies. With Jayson Werth moving down I-95 to Washington, Brown can now step in as the right fielder in Philly.
Finally, Jesus Montero is getting awfully close to making himself a necessity in the Yankees’ lineup. They just need to figure out if he’s actually a catcher.
19) Is Stephen Strasburg the Next Brien Taylor?
Brien Taylor was drafted first overall by the New York Yankees back in 1991 after a phenomenal high school pitching career. But after two decent seasons in the minors, he injured his arm and was never the same pitcher again. He never even reached the major leagues.
Beyond having been No. 1 overall picks as pitchers who hurt their arms early in their careers, Strasburg’s situation is very different, for a number of reasons. Firstly, he was drafted out of college, not high school, so he’s already far more polished and mature than Taylor ever was.
Secondly, he injured his arm on the mound, not in a bar. Tommy John surgery has become much more common and less serious than it was just a few years ago. The All-Star Game each year is peppered with pitchers who’ve come back from the procedure as good as new, from Josh Johnson to Chris Carpenter.
All indications are that, while it was certainly a disappointing end to a whirlwind 2010 season for Strasburg and he’ll be out all of 2011, he should be able to return in 2012 and continue his same career trajectory.
Who knows, maybe he’ll even be better by having had an entire year off. Nats fans can dream, right?
18) Can Jason Heyward Take the Next Step?
Heyward came to the majors with tons of hype after a stellar Spring Training last year and made a big splash on Opening Day, kicking off his career with a three-run homer. After that, he was still very good, but the hype cooled a bit after a summer hampered by a thumb injury that sapped his power.
He comes into 2011 that much more mature and experienced, though, and should be healthy and ready to go come March. There’s every reason to believe he can take that next step this season and start truly delivering on all the expectations that were heaped on him one year ago.
Heyward still has all the makings of a perennial All-Star for some time to come.
17) Will the Angels Make Any Waves In the Coming Weeks?
Usually one of the bigger players on the Hot Stove, the Halos have been surprisingly quiet so far.
That seems likely to change, though. Coming off a disappointing 2010 season (really, anything short of the postseason every year has become disappointing for them), they need to do something else to rally the troops.
Their only moves so far have been landing the underrated Scott Downs to fortify the bullpen and getting Hisanori Takahashi, who was quietly effective in various roles for the Mets in 2010.
One rumor gaining steam recently has been the idea of bringing Vladimir Guerrero back on board. It would make sense, but at this point, it’s still just speculation. Still, it would make sense …
16) Where Do the DH's Land?
I just mentioned Vladimir Guerrero’s developing courtship to go back to Anaheim. That may be his best bet now, if the rumblings in Texas prove true.
Those rumblings include a pursuit by the Rangers of Jim Thome for a platoon DH role with Michael Young (forced to vacate third base with Adrian Beltre now in tow).
With Carl Pavano likely to get a hefty raise from Minnesota, Thome’s bat might be deemed too rich by the Twins at age 40.
That leaves Manny. Well, let’s count the usual DH landing spots. Anaheim, no. Texas, no. Minnesota, no. Tampa? Maybe. Retirement? Ehh…not likely.
15) Where Will Rafael Soriano Sign?
The jury is still out on this one, and it continues to be a puzzling situation.
Soriano established himself as a bona fide closer in 2010, sporting a 1.73 ERA and leading the league with 45 saves. He’s also still only 31, so why teams haven’t jumped at the chance to add him is beyond me.
It seems that he’s not being flexible on wanting a multi-year deal for top closer money, but is running into issues because he’s a type-A free agent, meaning that any team who signs him will have to give up a first round draft pick. Many teams are hesitant to do that, especially teams that would want him as a setup man (Yankees, etc.)
So we’re still at a bit of a stalemate. He seems willing to keep waiting it out. Eventually, he’ll get his. For now, I’ll say he ends up with the White Sox, the only team (other than the Yankees) that has shown legitimate interest so far.
14) Who Are the Best Starting Pitchers Left On the Market?
Carl Pavano leads the remaining free agent class of starters, but it now seems likely that he’ll soon be off the market, finally ready to agree on terms to return to the Twins.
Until today, Brad Penny was another decent available option, but he reached an agreement with the Tigers on a one-year, incentive-laden deal to fill out the rotation.
That leaves more guys with question marks due to injury, like Chris Young, Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Duchscherer, Freddy Garcia and Jeff Francis. Each of these guys could be effective if they stay healthy, but that’s the big caveat.
Teams likely to still be in this market include the aforementioned Yankees if Pettitte retires, the Mets who need bodies with Johan Santana a major question mark, and the Royals, looking for a veteran arm with the departure of Zack Greinke.
13) What Available Bullpen Arms Can Still Make an Impact?
Rafael Soriano is clearly at the top of this list and we’ve already discussed him.
After that, it’s probably another former Ray, Grant Balfour, in a similar situation. One of the top middle relievers in the AL over the last three years, he’s shackled with Type A status, hampering his appeal for many clubs, as well as concerns about dwindling velocity. Surprisingly, at this point he may be tempted to take a shorter deal to return to Tampa, in the hopes of setting up a better market next offseason.
Brian Fuentes is also still out there and you would imagine he holds decent appeal for enough teams that he’ll get decent money somewhere. He’s a veteran, he can still close and he’s a lefty.
Then there’s Trevor Hoffman, the all-time saves leader. He apparently still wants to play at age 43, but does anybody want him after a year when he sported a 5.89 ERA and lost his closer job in Milwaukee?
12) What Other Intriguing Players Are Still Free Agents?
As far as non-pitchers go, I wouldn’t sleep on Nick Johnson.
He’s another player who’s been effective as long as he’s been healthy. He just hasn’t been healthy that much. He only played 24 games in 2010, but in his last healthy season, 2009, he batted .291 with a .426 OBP. He could be the next Aubrey Huff (i.e., surprise impact player picked off the scrap heap).
Then there’s Scott Podsednik, whose market hasn’t developed, but who remains intriguing. All he’s done the last two seasons is bat around .300 and steal about 30 bases. There are lots of teams who wouldn’t mind adding that kind of production in their leadoff spot.
11) Is It Time To Take The Nationals Seriously?
The Washington Nationals have been one of the most active teams this Hot Stove season.
They made a big early splash when they inked Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract to be their new right fielder and they’ve also gone out and added Adam LaRoche to play first base and Rick Ankiel to join Werth in the outfield.
They lost power bat Adam Dunn to the White Sox, but he’s more suited to be a DH in the American League, anyway. Besides, they won’t really miss his 200 strikeouts a season.
The problem for the Nationals remains pitching. Stephen Strasburg is set to miss the entire season recovering from Tommy John surgery and they missed out on their pursuit of a top arm in free agency.
They’re definitely headed in the right direction, especially with top pick Bryce Harper predicted to move quickly through the system. But they’re still another year or two away from truly contending.
10) Will Zack Greinke Make the Brewers a Contender?
One of the quietest big splashes of the offseason came after the Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford and Cliff Lee sweepstakes had been won.
The Milwaukee Brewers were able to swing a deal to acquire Zack Greinke from the Royals. They gave up a lot, but Greinke is an impact pitcher who should certainly be helped by a fresh start in a new environment. He’ll be helped most simply by having a better offense, boasting bats like Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, backing him up.
It’s a bit of a surprising move for a small market team like the Brewers to pull off, but Greinke is a personality that might be best suited by staying away from the harsh glare of the big cities. Look for him to rebound from a bit of a down year and rediscover the form that helped him dominate the AL in 2009. In an improved, but still relatively weak, NL Central, the Brewers should certainly contend.
9) Are Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki's Contracts Good for Colorado?
Wow, Colorado, did you learn nothing from your experiences with Mike Hampton and Todd Helton?
The Rockies have gone out this winter and lavished massive contract extensions on shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (seven years, $134 million) and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez (seven years, $80 million).
While Tulo and CarGo are certainly two of the brightest young stars in the game, these deals seem a bit premature. Tulowitzki is now guaranteed almost $160 million over the next decade and Gonzalez is only 25, with just one full season under his belt.
And that season was a career year. Gonzalez earned MVP consideration while leading the league with a .336 average to go along with 34 homers and 117 RBI. His value has never been higher. With plenty more years left before he’s eligible for free agency, why commit that much money now?
As for Tulowitzki, his status as a shortstop gives him extra value, but the Rockies might be too enamored of his record-setting power binge down the stretch last year, when he hit 14 home runs and drove in 31 in just 15 games.
The Rockies have had big contracts weigh them down like albatrosses before and just took a major risk of having that happen again. Plus, they still need to try to extend ace Ubaldo Jimenez’s contract next year. Will they have enough money left now to give him what he’ll be seeking? Hrmmm ...
8) Can the Mets Get By Without Johan Santana?
The status of Johan Santana is one of the biggest unknowns for the Mets as they head into 2011.
The rock of their rotation went down late last year with a torn shoulder capsule that is expected to sideline him at least through May, but in reality, it could be much longer. All-Star break? Trade deadline? Nobody really knows until they’re able to watch him throw again and see how he’s progressing in his recovery.
If he is out for any significant length of time, the Mets are in trouble. Their rotation was already thin and, even with minor signings like Chris Capuano, it’s even thinner now. They’ll probably be in on bringing in one of the remaining available starters, someone like a Chris Young or a Jeff Francis, but they’ll still have to hope for no other injuries and another surprisingly effective year from guys like R.A. Dickey.
This looks to be more of a, not so much rebuilding, but more of a "bide your time" year in Queens, with Sandy Alderson’s new administration laying low until they get more flexibility next year, with major contracts like Carlos Beltran’s coming off the books. Until then, they’ll have to try to compete with what they have and while they can certainly be better than they’ve been of late, it’ll be an uphill climb to be in the mix if they're without their stud.
7) Have the Rangers Done Enough to Make Up for the Loss of Cliff Lee?
It’s hard to really know the answer to this question in January.
They signed former NL Cy Young winner Brandon Webb to replenish the rotation, but he’s a question mark after two years on the shelf with shoulder issues. They also inked one of the blue-chip bats on the market, signing Adrian Beltre to a $96 million contract in an effort to make a big splash to help its fan base forget about what they lost.
On the other hand, Beltre’s signing probably spells the end of Vladimir Guerrero’s days in Arlington and he was one of their most consistent run producers in 2010.
It does seem like the philosophy surrounding this club has changed for the better, with new owner Nolan Ryan instilling his old-school ideas to help the pitching staff reach its potential. And Lee did lose both of his World Series starts, anyway.
The question is, can they get back there without him? I say they’ll contend, but the road will be much tougher this time around, as the hunted rather than the feel-good party crashers.
6) Has the Balance Of Power Re-Shifted in the AL East?
In contrast to the Yankees disappointing winter, the Red Sox have made major waves.
In two headline-grabbing moves made just days apart, the Red Sox swung a trade to acquire Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego and signed outfielder Carl Crawford to a massive seven-year, $142 million contract.
Both of these moves will certainly make the Sox a better team. Adrian Gonzalez is arguably the best all-around first baseman in baseball not named Pujols and Crawford is an energetic sparkplug at the top of the order.
With the Yankees missing out on both Jayson Werth and Cliff Lee, it certainly seems as if the Red Sox should be the favorites in the AL East. I’d never count the Bronx Bombers out and, as we’ve discussed, there are still more moves to be made, but certainly at this point, advantage Nation.
5) Will Andy Pettitte Retire?
At this point, all indications are that he will.
Pettitte has been wrestling with this questions for the last couple of offseasons, and it appears that the scales have finally tipped the other way. Every day that he delays this decision any longer is another day closer to the decision being made for him, as he’s already late in terms of starting a conditioning program to get ready for Spring Training.
Of course, he could always pull a Roger Clemens and take the spring off, returning in June or so as a hired gun for half a season. That’s a move that’s become more en vogue in recent years with older stars in various sports (Scott Niedermayer, anyone?).
One thing is for sure: the Yankees will do everything in their power to convince him to keep that left arm loose.
4) Will Yanks Make a Play For Another Pitcher?
This question goes hand-in-hand with Pettitte’s decision.
The Yankees have had themselves a somewhat lackluster offseason by their lofty standards, and if Pettitte is home come summer, they’ll have a fairly significant hole in their rotation to deal with.
It would certainly be prudent for them to bring someone else who can start into the fold as an insurance policy, if nothing else, either through trade or via free agency. They don’t want to go the Carl Pavano route again (been there, done that), so it would probably be someone relatively cheap that they can give a one-year deal to.
I’d be surprised if they stand pat at this point. Someone like Chris Young, Jeff Francis, or Justin Duchscherer (even with his injury woes) may fit the bill.
3) Are the Phillies a Sure Thing With Lee and Halladay?
I already wrote about this at some length a few weeks ago, and I’ll reiterate my thoughts here.
Their rotation certainly becomes better. Adding Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, they have the most formidable rotation in baseball this side of McCovey Cove. And as we saw last year, pitching can take you a long way.
Their downside is that the offense will be hurt by the loss of Jayson Werth and the slow-but-clear decline of mainstays like Jimmy Rollins. Even Ryan Howard’s production crept downward last year.
Even with these questions, though, they should still have enough to continue to be the class of the NL East. I’m just not sure if they have enough to get over that last hump and back to the October promised land.
2) Was the Giants' Run a Fluke?
A bit surprising perhaps, yes. But a fluke? Not at all.
At its core, the Giants run was built around great starting pitching. And that starting pitching is legit. With Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner, the Giants have the best young pitching staff, top to bottom, in the game today. And the much-maligned Barry Zito still certainly has his moments. There are plenty of worse fifth starters around the league.
San Francisco also did a good job of keeping its supporting cast intact, re-signing Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell, and even adding a rejuvenated Miguel Tejada. They lost Juan Uribe and World Series hero Edgar Renteria, but Uribe probably just had his career year and Renteria was largely ineffective for two seasons until the big home run.
The Giants should continue to be a legitimate contender in the NL West.
1) Can the Cardinals Keep Albert Pujols?
Albert Pujols’ contract status is the 10-ton elephant in the Cardinals’ clubhouse.
His deal is currently set to expire at the end of the upcoming season, but St. Louis would be wise to not let it get to that point. He would be arguably the best player ever to hit free agency, and on the open market, teams would fall all over themselves to secure his services.
So the Cards are wise to try to lock him up long term sooner rather than later, but the questions are will he be receptive to their overtures and just how much green will they need to shell out?
If we’re using the extension that Ryan Howard signed last year with the Phillies, as well as Alex Rodriguez’s Yankee deal, as a starting point, it’s realistic to figure that Phat Albert can honestly expect to get somewhere in the range of $30 million a year.
Last offseason, the Cardinals signed Matt Holliday to a seven-year, $120 million contract to protect Pujols in the lineup. They’ll have to part with significantly more than that to keep the three-time MVP.
Pujols has been the face of the Cardinals for a decade and has been a model citizen to boot. I say that, somehow, they find a way to get this deal done.