We're still in January, but most MLB team's rosters are taking shape for 2011.
Almost all of the major free agents have been signed, and we can start to look forward to Spring Training and the regular season beyond, anticipating the action on the field finally taking center stage again.
But we still have a few weeks of Hot Stove action left to get through and there are still plenty of juicy rumors to address. Here is a look at some of the latest.
There have been rumors at various times this offseason flying around about King Felix's various possible destinations in a trade. But none of them seem to have any validity at this time.
Columnists like Larry Stone of the Seattle Times have pondered about what teams like the Yankees might be willing to part with to get a talent like Hernandez, especially after failing in their attempt to woo Cliff Lee to the Bronx. But as far as anyone connected to the team is concerned, the reigning AL Cy Young award winner is staying put.
Hernandez will still be just 25 years old this season and is entering just the second year of a five year, $78 million deal that keeps him in Mariner navy and green through the 2014 season. Seattle might not be contending for a World Series in 2011, but unless somebody absolutely blows the M's away with a ridiculous, lopsided offer, he's about as untouchable as they come right now.
They didn't lock him up long-term, but Prince Fielder will continue to swing his mighty bat for the Brewers for at least one more season.
Milwaukee has agreed to terms with the slugging first baseman on a one year, $15.5 million contract that will allow the two sides to avoid arbitration. The deal will make Fielder the highest paid player in Brewers history.
Of course, Fielder doesn't want to sign a long term deal now, because he's due to hit free agency for the first time next year. With Scott Boras as his agent, you can rest assured he'll break the bank wherever he goes, and you can also be pretty sure that he won't be staying in Wisconsin.
The Boston Red Sox have agreed to one year contracts with Jonathan Papelbon and Jacoby Ellsbury, two of their top young players.
As for other players around baseball coming to terms and avoiding arbitration with their respective clubs, Kendry Morales has signed with the Angels for one year and $2.975 million. John Danks and Carlos Quentin agreed to terms with the White Sox. And Shin Soo-Choo reached a one year agreement with the Cleveland Indians.
The Papelbon deal is noteworthy because it is reportedly worth $12 million and will ensure that the Red Sox' closer will become a free agent after the season. There will be a number of clubs that will be hungry for his late-inning services in 2012, should he choose to test the market.
Not generally the most active team on the free agency front, the Oakland Athletics have nonetheless proved themselves capable of pulling off a coup or two this winter.
First, in December, they coaxed Hideki Matsui to take a one year deal to be their designated hitter in 2011. And while they failed in their pursuit of Adrian Beltre, now the news comes in that they've landed two more prizes.
Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour, two of the best relief pitchers still on the market, are both joining the Oakland pitching staff. Balfour's deal is reported to be for two years at $8.1 million, while Fuentes' contract will also be for two years, for slightly more money.
Fuentes has been a closer throughout his career, but will probably stay in the lefty setup role he filled after his trade late last season to Minnesota, since the A's already have star incumbent closer Andrew Bailey. Balfour, meanwhile, fills the righty setup role he's performed admirably in for the Rays for the last three seasons.
Quietly, Oakland has given themselves one of the best bullpens in baseball.
This isn't the most headline-grabbing news you'll find, but for a Mets team that has largely sat on its wallet this offseason, this qualifies as a big story.
Chris Young, the oft-injured former Padre, has come to terms with New York on a contract after having his $8.5 million option for 2011 turned down by his former team. The details of the new deal have not been announced and not for nothing, he still must pass a physical to finalize things. For a player who made just four starts last year and has missed significant time each of the last three seasons with various maladies, that's a not inconsequential step.
But assuming he passes and is able to stay at all healthy for the Mets this year, he should be a decent and inexpensive addition. Whenever he's been able to take the field, he's been effective, as evidenced by his 48-34 career record and 3.80 career ERA.
And the Mets need all the help they can get, with ace Johan Santana sidelined until most likely midseason, if not longer, after September shoulder surgery.
Joey Votto was the feel-good story of 2010, rebounding from a severe bout with depression that had threatened to derail his career to lead the Reds to a division title and win the NL MVP Award.
Now he's been rewarded by Cincinnati with a three year contract extension that will pay him $38 million over the next three seasons. Even better news for him, he'll still be eligible for his first year of free agency after the 2013 season, when he'll still be only 30 years old.
The deal works out for the Reds too, as they lock up the fan favorite—who batted .324 with 37 homers and 113 RBI in 2010—for a bit of a discount. In his first year of arbitration eligibility, he would've been due far more than the $5.5 million he'll now get this year, coming off such a fantastic season.
Maybe the Reds will be more than one-hit wonders, after all.
Jim Thome signed a one year contract with a base value of $3 million (and the potential to earn another $1.4 million in incentives) to continue playing for the Minnesota Twins the other day. In the process, he turned down a larger offer from the Texas Rangers, which will make him even more of a fan favorite in the Twin Cities as he chases 600 homers.
But the other two big designated hitter names out there this offseason still haven't found a home. Vladimir Guerrero is the more surprising of the two, as he's coming off a fantastic rebound year when he batted .300 with 29 homers and 115 RBI in helping the Rangers to their first World Series appearance. But he won't be headed back there with Adrian Beltre now in Arlington, and so his options are dwindling.
At this point, his best bet may be to return to Anaheim to play for the Angels, for whom he starred for six seasons through 2009. But he seems to want a longer term deal than any team is willing to offer, so unless he decides he's willing to settle for something less, this may still take a while.
Manny Ramirez is in a similar situation, although he's actually coming off a down year in which he wore out his welcome in L.A. while appearing in just 90 games and hitting nine home runs. The current market for his services is colder than the North Pole in a snowstorm, as teams shy away from the always moody slugger. Tampa might throw him a bone, but most other teams' DH needs are set.
I don't think we've seen the last of Manny, but can he possibly swallow his pride to keep playing? This question may not be settled by the start of Spring Training.
The Yankees have been toying with the idea of bringing in Andruw Jones for weeks, and now it seems they might be done playing.
After finally getting things squared away on Rafael Soriano's three year, $35 million deal, discussions have intensified between Yanks' GM Brian Cashman and Jones' agent, Scott Boras (who also represents Soriano).
Jones wouldn't start out as the everyday starter, but would fill the role of a fourth outfielder, part-time DH and right-handed bat off the bench. The Bronx Bombers would be his fifth team in five years and he hasn't been the same player since leaving his first team, the Braves, after 2007.
But balance in the lineup was one of the Yankees' problems in 2010 and so Jones will get one more chance to recapture his old stroke. This could mean that Johnny Damon's services are officially no longer on the table for the Yanks.
After the Winter's longest waiting game, it appears that the Yankees are done waiting.
Andy Pettitte still hasn't officially retired, but he also hasn't been able to commit to returning to action. So at this point, the Yankees have decided to move on without him.
ESPN New York reported that GM Brian Cashman is conducting business as if he won't have the southpaw's services. He said: "Andy has told me he's not in play, and that's what I'm assuming," according to the story. Another source within the Yankee hierarchy says that chances of seeing Pettitte in pinstripes this year are now "50/50 at best."
Of course, a midseason return a la Roger Clemens a few years back is not out of the question. I personally am leaning more and more towards that idea, as it makes sense for all parties involved. Pettitte gets to be at home more and rest in the beginning of the year, while the Yanks would get the shot in the arm of a top starter returning fresh and ready to go for the stretch run.
It seems that the bidding for starting pitcher Carl Pavano's services is all but over.
Pavano and the Minnesota Twins appear to have reached an agreement in principle for him to rejoin the defending AL Central champions, but the specific details of the contract have not yet been finalized. According to MLB.com, manager Ron Gardenhire has said: "I think something will get done this week. We're so close...there is no reason to believe that something won't get done soon."
The delay is believed to be due to today's deadline for exchanging salary proposals for players going to arbitration, which is at the forefront of Minnesota's front office machinations for the moment. So while it's theoretically possible that another team could swoop in, I wouldn't count on it.
The deal is rumored to be for two years.
Of course, one of the biggest stories that will be looming over baseball until it's resolved is Albert Pujols' contract status. His impending free agency will be the baseball equivalent of last season's year-long LeBron James saga.
The Cardinals, of course, are working feverishly to get a deal done. The clock is ticking, especially because Pujols has indicated a desire to not negotiate once the season starts. He hasn't set a specific deadline to cut off talks, but the general idea is that once the calendar turns to April, it might be too late.
Pujols is making $16 million this year, but as the undisputed best player in baseball, he will more than likely command a contract in the $25-$30 million a year range, for between 7-10 years, in any extension.
The Cardinals say they are optimistic about getting a deal done, but admit that nothing concrete has happened yet. The two sides don't seem like they've even entered formal negotiations.
St. Louis has no time to lose.