The Rumor Mill is starting up again. Who will be moved, who will be kept?
The 2011 Major League Baseball regular season has officially come to a close. And what a dramatic and historic end it was. Now, the eight best clubs in baseball turn their attention to October play, with one goal in mind—winning the World Series.
But the other 22 teams will be surveying their payrolls and will start to prepare for the looming free-agency period. Managers and coaches will be hired and fired. Some players will receive multi-year contract extensions from their current clubs.
And some star players will be dealt to other clubs this offseason. This past July trading season left a number of players with new homes. But the offseason trading period tends to be much more intriguing. So, with that in mind, let's take a look at 10 big-name talents who you will probably be hearing about this winter.
The Houston Astros almost traded their star left-hander at this year's trading deadline
The Houston Astros have officially entered re-building mode. This summer, they dealt away two of their best players (Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence) and came very close to trading their ace left-hander as well.
The rumors swirling around Wandy Rodriguez on July 31 actually got quite intense. He reportedly was almost traded to the New York Yankees, as well as some additional teams at the deadline. Nonetheless, Rodriguez finished the year in Houston and put up respectable numbers in 2011 despite playing for the worst team in baseball.
He signed a three-year contract extension prior to this past season, and he's owed $23 million over the next two seasons (plus a $13 million club option for 2014, which becomes a player option if he's traded). Rodriguez has shown glimpses of ace-like stuff on the mound, and on a winning ball club he could finally reach the pinnacle of his career (he hasn't finished a season with an ERA over 4.00 since 2007). He won't come all that cheap but could provide benefits that make the cost well worth it.
B.J. Upton has been the focus of trade rumors for the past several seasons.
It seems like just about every offseason, and every summer Hot Stove period, we are hearing trade rumors about young B.J. Upton. Just this past July, the Tampa Bay Rays were reportedly very close to trading their fine center fielder.
Upton is about to enter his final year of arbitration eligibility and will be a free agent at the end of the 2012 season. His production has been somewhat inconsistent since his breakout campaign in 2007. The tools are all there for the 27-year-old. He just hasn't been able to put it all together yet.
The Washington Nationals, who were one of the teams to almost acquire Upton at the trade deadline, remain one of the more likely suitors for Upton. They have longed for a full-time center fielder with the skills and talents that he possesses.
Derek Lowe had one of the worst seasons in his professional career in 2011.
Derek Lowe's career took a major hit 2011. He finished with a 9-17 record and a 5.05 ERA (his highest ERA since 2004). At 38 years of age, Lowe did show his durability, making 34 starts for the Braves this year. Unfortunately, they weren't all very pretty.
He is now entering the final year of a four-year contract he signed before the 2009 season, and there have already been talks about bumping Lowe from the rotation in 2012. Lowe does have bullpen experience. Remember, he saved 81 games for the Red Sox between 1999-2001.
It's anyone's guess what a 38-year-old Lowe can provide for a club in 2012. But his name will be out there on the rumor mill, and the Braves may find his services are no longer needed for the coming season.
If the White Sox choose to re-build their club, Carlos Quentin could be one of the first major pieces moved.
Ladies and gentlemen, Ozzie Guillen has left Chicago. And if ownership decides this is the time to rebuild, he may not be the last to go. After what was a rather disappointing 2011 season, the South Siders could try to unload some of their heavy contracts this winter.
One of them could very well be outfielder Carlos Quentin, who garnered much interest at the July trade deadline.
The 29-year-old is arbitration eligible for the final time this season, and he's scheduled to become a free agent after the 2012 campaign. He provides plenty of thump in a lineup, when he's healthy. Since arriving in Chicago in 2008, he's smashed 107 home runs.
But he's also missed some time with a variety of ailments over his career. Despite the injury concerns, Quentin would be an added benefit to any club looking for a right-handed power bat. Don't count out the Red Sox and the Braves—they each have a collapse to erase.
Francisco Liriano has been a coveted left-handed starter for the past few seasons.
Over the last few seasons, Francisco Liriano's name has been popping up in trade rumors. And though the Minnesota Twins constantly claim they will not trade their left-handed starter, the rumors are always there.
Any why wouldn't any team be interested in Liriano? He's had some injury issues, sure. But when he's healthy, he puts up darn good numbers. In 2010, he struck out 200 batters in 191 innings pitched. This year, his numbers were down some, but he's still just 27 years old.
Liriano is set to become a free agent at the end of the 2012 season, so any team that is able to pry him away from the Twins may want to think about locking this kid up for a few years.
Huston Street saved 29 games for the Rockies in 2011.
Huston Street has had a rocky time in Colorado (pun intended). Since coming to the Rockies in 2009, he has a composite ERA of 3.50 and nine blown saves. And despite saving over 80 games during that time, Street hasn't exactly been effective as the closer for the Rockies.
His current contract expires after the end of this season, though, there is an option for 2013. And the Rockies seem to be comfortable with letting Rafael Betancourt close out games in 2012, which could very well lead to Street latching on with another club this winter.
The market for closers will be an interesting one. Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon and Ryan Madson, who are all free agents, will likely require multi-year contracts from any club. Street, meanwhile, could provide a team with a one-year stopgap, with the potential for an extension depending on his performance in 2012.
Can the Mets afford to trade their franchise player? Can they afford not to?
2011 was a challenging year for the face of the New York Mets, David Wright. He missed two months of the season after suffering a stress fracture in his back. And when he was healthy, he didn't perform nearly up to his standards (.254/14/61).
Wright is owed $15 million next year, the last guaranteed year of a six-year deal signed during the '06 season. The Mets have a $16 million option for 2013, which can be voided if Wright is dealt. They also have a star shortstop, Jose Reyes, knocking on the door of free agency.
In order to maintain Reyes, it will likely take somewhere in the ballpark of $19 million per season for about six or seven years. The Mets may have enough money to keep Reyes, but they may look to get Wright off of the books to gain some extra cash.
If the Mets are indeed looking to deal Wright, currently the Colorado Rockies have shown some significant interest in the All-Star third baseman.
Remember when Barry Zito won the American League Cy Yong award?
It's a sad story when you think about where Barry Zito's career once stood compared to where it stands now. A decade ago, this left-hander was the American League Cy Young award recipient and was looking like a true star in the making.
But after the 2006 season, Zito signed the largest contract ever for a pitcher at the time. He and the Giants inked a seven-year, $126 million deal, which in turn the Giants are certainly regretting here in 2011.
Since signing that mega-deal, Zito has not finished a season with a winning record, nor an ERA under 4.00. And to think he is still owed $19 and $20 million each of the next two seasons. You can be sure that GM Brian Sabean would not mind getting this contract off of the books just about anyway possible.
Melky Cabrera had a nice resurgent season in 2011, his first with the Kansas City Royals. He finished the year with career-highs in just about every offensive category, including hitting over .300 for the first time in his career.
Cabrera remains under team control through next season, when he will become a free agent for the first time. But if the Royals have any surplus, it would be in outfielders. They recently signed Jeff Francoeur to a two-year extension, and could decide to trade Melky for some much needed pitching help.
He's only 27 years of age, though, it feels like he's been in the league forever. He will look to build on his bounce-back season, and he could provide a team with a surprising boost as an everyday center fielder. He could be a cheap fit for the Nationals, should someone like B.J. Upton prove to be too expensive.
Before the 2011 season began, there was reason for excitement in Baltimore. They brought in a new core of offensive guns who were supposed to make the Orioles a threat in the American League. Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero all joined the O's lineup last winter.
Also joining the club for the first time was closer Kevin Gregg. And after saving 37 games for the rival Blue Jays in 2010, it seemed like a great move to solidify the back-end of the bullpen for the Orioles. So they signed him to a two-year deal worth $10 million (along with a $6 million club option for 2013).
But despite the star power added to the O's roster, glory was not meant to be theirs. They still finished in last place in the AL East and Gregg had a rough year. He saved just 22 games for the O's and ended with a 4.37 ERA.
The Orioles could be comfortable handing the closer keys over to Jim Johnson in 2012, which could make Gregg expendable.