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2016 MLB thread. THE CUBS HAVE BROKEN THE CURSE! Chicago Cubs are your 2016 World Series champions. - Page 120

post #3571 of 77346
Thread Starter 
Yea, it's definitely gone towards the bad side with this new CBA. But they wanted to make sure to stay strike free :/

Here's the article Kev:

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Spoiler [+]
Earlier today, MLB announced the details of a new collective bargaining agreement, which changes a lot of rules around the draft and international scouting as well as some rules for minor league free agents, on drug testing, and on the All-Star Game. The net result here is a big negative for the sport -- not enough to counteract the benefit of another five years without a labor stoppage, but enough of a negative to hurt the sport in the long run. I would hope Bud Selig's successor as Commissioner is open-minded enough to re-evaluate this CBA's provisions for limiting spending on amateur players after we see its effects over the next five years.

I'll respond to MLB's summary of the agreement point by point, omitting points where I don't have any thoughts to share. (The portions in italics come directly from the summary.)

III-a-3. Article XX(B) free agents signing minor league contracts who are not added to the Opening Day roster or unconditionally released 5 days prior to Opening Day shall receive an additional $100,000 retention bonus and the right to opt out on June 1.


So in effect, it's cheaper to add such minor league free agents to the 40-man roster than it is to stash them in Triple-A all year. This is a huge deal, especially for clubs that were aggressive with minor league free agents. (These rule XX(B) free agents have major league experience and have been outrighted off a 40-man roster before, so they can elect free agency at the end of the regular season if they're not on a 40-man at that time.)

b. Draft Pick Compensation
1. Starting in 2012, "Type A" and "Type B" free agents and the use of the Elias ranking system will be eliminated.


Really, the best news I've had all day. This system was designed to drag down free agent salaries. I think we know now that that didn't happen, but like most such taxes, it had unintended consequences -- in this case, limiting the markets for relief pitchers as teams didn't want to give up first-round draft picks to sign them. And the lunacy of some of the Type A and B designations is best consigned to the historical dustbin anyway.

A. Only Players who have been with their Clubs for the entire season will be subject to compensation.


Also known as the "screw you, Anthopoulos" clause.

B. A free agent will be subject to compensation if his former Club offers him a guaranteed one-year contract with a salary equal to the average salary of the 125-highest paid Players from the prior season. The offer must be made at the end of the five-day free agent "quiet period," and the Player will have seven days to accept the offer.


So it's no longer tied to performance -- this is probably good, as the odds of both sides agreeing on a performance measure were effectively zero -- but it's tied to the former club's perception of value. That average salary would be right around $12 million or so this year, so you're going to see very few relievers, fifth starters, or backup infielders carrying draft pick compensation in the future. That's a positive as well.

C. A Club that signs a player subject to compensation will forfeit its first round selection, unless it selects in the top 10, in which case it will forfeit its second-highest selection in the draft.


This is pointless. It's a strong deterrent for lower-revenue clubs that depend on drafting and development to sign any qualifying free agent, so while they might still gain picks from losing free agents, they're also much less likely to want to add a key free agent when they're in or near contention. I wish MLB would sever the artificial connection between free agency and the draft entirely.

D. The Player's former Club will receive a selection at the end of the first round beginning after the last regularly scheduled selection in the round. The former Clubs will select based on reverse order of winning percentage from the prior championship season.


So the boost a team gets from losing a free agent is less than the cost to the team that signs the same free agent. This makes it clear that the agenda here is not to help clubs that lose players, but to continue the 25-year-long attempt to drag down free agent salaries.

e. Rule 4 Draft
1. The draft will continue to be conducted in June, but the signing deadline will be moved to a date between July 12 and July 18 depending on the date of the All-Star Game.


This is about 90 percent good. Players typically signed near the deadilne anyway, so why not move it up and get them out and playing in the complex leagues or short-season minor leagues? You might even see a few first-rounders get to low Class A in their first year out, pushing them a little closer to the big leagues.

The earlier signing date means that the draft process will be completely over before the trading deadline, before the Cape Cod League holds its All-Star Game and finishes up its season, and before the series of major high school showcases that run from August 1-15. Those last two points are particularly relevant to scouting directors who often had to cut short their August scouting of the following season's amateurs to finish signing some of their top picks.

The 10 percent that isn't good? It hurts the Arizona Fall League. College players who didn't sign until August would make their pro debuts out here in the AFL. That group of players will largely disappear from AFL rosters because they'll have played six weeks of pro ball after signing.

There was some sentiment a year ago among scouting directors that the draft should be pushed back until late June, after the College World Series was over, but that is not addressed in the language that's currently available. There are still a lot of details for the union and MLB to hash out now that the Memorandum of Understanding is done.

2. Drafted players may only sign Minor League contracts.


This just protects teams from themselves. Very, very few draft picks actually merited major-league contracts and the 40-man roster spots those contracts bring with them, but teams handed them out far more often than they should have. It does remove a small bit of leverage from the players, who would often use the demand for a major-league deal as a way to get more money in a straight bonus on a minor-league deal.

3. Signing Bonus Pools
A. Each Club will be assigned an aggregate Signing Bonus Pool prior to each draft. For the purpose of calculating the Signing Bonus Pools, each pick in the first 10 rounds of the draft has been assigned a value. (These values will grow each year with the rate of growth of industry revenue.) A Club's Signing Bonus Pool equals the sum of the values of that Club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the draft. Players selected after the 10th round do not count against a Club's Signing Bonus Pool if they receive bonuses up to $100,000. Any amounts paid in excess of $100,000 will count against the Pool.
B. Clubs that exceed their Signing Bonus Pools will be subject to penalties as follows:
Excess of Pool Penalty (Tax on Overage/Draft Picks)
• 0-5 percent; 75 percent tax on overage
• 5-10 percent; 75 percent tax on overage and loss of 1st round pick
• 10-15 percent; 100 percent tax on overage and loss of 1st and 2nd round picks
• 15-plus percent; 100 percent tax on overage and loss of 1st round picks in next two drafts


This is the part where MLB tells talented young amateur athletes -- who, by the way, aren't union members and had zero voice in these negotiations -- that baseball is a lousy avenue for them to take, at least financially, and they should probably check out other sports. Yet MLB does not realize that it is to their substantial benefit to sign players early, and at relatively higher prices: You get the athletes into your system where football or basketball can't poach them, and you get to develop them yourselves rather than farming out that effort to the NCAA.

College coaches must be thrilled, as this will likely mean a lot more teenaged arms for them to blow out through overuse. It's also a boost to Team USA and the Cape Cod League, which have seen their quality drop over the past several years as players increasingly signed out of high school. I'm sure the NCAA is thrilled as well as they have the prospect of more high-profile prospects to harass for using attorneys during the draft process.

Of course, it also transfers wealth from these teenagers, many of whom come from lower economic strata, to the billionaire owners. So yay for the 1 percent, I guess.

The one thing we don't know here, however, is how big those signing pools will be. Perhaps the pools will be large, indicating that MLB understands the importance of paying for elite talent, but the fact that the figure for after the 10th round has been cut by about 40 percent to $100,000 is a terrible sign. The draft was the biggest bargain in the sport, and MLB, through some bizarre obsession with cutting bonuses (led by Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, perhaps the cheapest owner in the game when it comes to the draft), didn't realize it. The only possible effect here is to limit the pool of talent entering the sport. If anything, MLB should have looked to raise draft bonuses to attract more athletes. It's a huge disappointment to any fan of the game, and I know many executives who are unhappy with these changes.

Of course, it also transfers wealth from these teenagers, many of whom come from lower economic strata, to the billionaire owners. So yay for the 1 percent, I guess.

4. Proceeds generated by the tax will be distributed to payee Clubs under the Revenue Sharing Plan that do not exceed their Signing Bonus Pools. Draft picks that are forfeited by Clubs will be awarded to other Clubs through a lottery in which a Club's odds of winning will be based on its prior season's winning percentage and its prior season's revenue. Only Clubs that do not exceed their Signing Bonus Pools are eligible for the lottery.


If you're a good little boy and save something from your allowance, we'll give you extra money for you to not spend on players.

5. Competitive Balance Lottery
A. For the first time, Clubs with the lowest revenues and in the smallest markets will have an opportunity to obtain additional draft picks through a lottery.
B. The ten Clubs with the lowest revenues, and the ten Clubs in the smallest markets, will be entered into a lottery for the six draft selections immediately following the completion of the first round of the draft. A Club's odds of winning the lottery will be based on its prior season's winning percentage.
C. The eligible Clubs that did not receive one of the six selections after the first round, and all other payee Clubs under the Revenue Sharing Plan, will be entered into a second lottery for the six picks immediately following the completion of the second round of the draft. A Club's odds of winning the lottery will be based on its prior season's winning percentage.
D. Picks awarded in the Competitive Balance Lottery may be assigned by a Club, subject to certain restrictions.


Part D hints at potential trading of draft picks, which is interesting. Mostly this section hands out a few extra draft picks to teams that were horrible the previous season. This is essentially baseball welfare, if welfare checks were disbursed via bingo games.

E. Top 200 prospects will be subject to a pre-draft drug test and will participate in a pre-draft medical program.


The drug test isn't new, but I believe the medical program is. Standardizing some medical reporting would be great for scouts and for the players, who could (in theory) undergo one test and fill out one form and be covered for all 30 clubs.
[+] EnlargeJerry Reinsdorf
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJerry Reinsdorf has been fighting to keep draft bonuses down for years.

5 f. International Talent Acquisition
1. By December 15, 2011, the parties will form an International Talent Committee to discuss the development and acquisition of international players, including the potential inclusion of international amateur players in a draft or in multiple drafts.
2. For the 2012-13 signing season, each Club will be allocated an equal Signing Bonus Pool.
3. For each signing period after 2012-13, Clubs will be allocated different Signing Bonus Pools, based on reverse order of winning percentage the prior championship season (i.e., the Club with the lowest winning percentage the prior season shall receive the largest Pool).
4. Bonus Regulation of International Amateur Players
A. Beginning in the 2013-2014 signing period (July 2, 2013 - June 15, 2014), Clubs may trade a portion of their Signing Bonus Pool, subject to certain restrictions.
B. Clubs that exceed their Signing Bonus Pools will be subject to the following penalties in the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 signing periods: Excess of Pool Penalty (Tax on Overage/Draft Picks)
• 0-5percent; 75 percent tax
• 5-10 percent; 75 percent tax and loss of right to provide more than one player in the next signing period with a bonus in excess of $500,000.
• 10-15 percent; 100 percent tax and loss of right to provide any player in the next signing period with a bonus in excess of $500,0000.
• 15-plus percent; 100 percent tax and loss of right to provide any player in the next signing period with a bonus in excess of $250,000.
C. The penalties for exceeding the Signing Bonus Pool will increase beginning with the 2014-2015 signing period if a draft or drafts is not agreed to by July 2014.


Major League Baseball would like to inform aspiring athletes from Latin America and Europe that you should go play soccer.

5. All international amateur players must register with the Scouting Bureau to be eligible to sign, and the top 100 prospects will be subject to a drug test.


I'm all for this, particularly the registration part, which may help to eliminate the phenomenon of teams locking up players before the July 2 free agent period opened. Transparency in the process will be a net positive for both sides.

6. The Office of the Commissioner and the Union will form a joint committee to assist international players with their transition to educational/vocational programs after their baseball careers are over.


Looks like someone else saw Sugar too.

The rapid escalation in bonuses for top Latin American prospects is a reflection of the hidden value there, but also a reflection of the lack of information that causes wide variances in opinions on players. (The Rangers gave $5 million to Nomar Mazara this year, when other clubs saw him worth one-tenth of that. You don't typically see that kind of disagreement on a draft prospect.) Improve transparency, increase the organization of tryouts and games there (which has started, at least, with the Dominican Prospect League), and you will see some normalization of bonuses. They may not go down, but they will become more rational. This CBA section uses a machete on a problem that demanded a scalpel.

IX. DRUG PROGRAM
Commencing in Spring Training 2012, all players will be subject to hGH blood testing for reasonable cause at all times during the year. In addition, during each year, all players will be tested during Spring Training. Starting with the 2012-2013 off-season, players will be subject to random unannounced testing for hGH. The parties have also agreed on a process to jointly study the possibility of expanding blood testing to include inseason collections.


For one thing, there's no evidence that HGH actually improves athletic performance in men of playing age, so this is tilting at a giant windmills. For another, HGH is very difficult to detect, as it doesn't stay in the bloodstream for very long, so any test has to rely on proxies. And for yet another thing, what the heck is "reasonable cause?" If a player just, you know, "looks" like he's using something, is that reasonable cause? Will we have players ratting out other players? And what happens to the samples? Are we headed for a day when a team voids a contract because they used a blood sample from an HGH test and discovered that a player has a degenerative disease?

I can't believe the union went for this. Their members may make more money than members of most other unions, but that should have only increased their resolve to fight this silly, wasteful invasion of their privacy.

Stephania Bell offered this quick reaction to my query about the efficacy of HGH testing, given how briefly it stays in the bloodstream: "There are confounding factors (like how much is present naturally and fluctuations that occur under various conditions) along with what happens with supplemental injections."

X.. OTHER
a. Participation in the All-Star Game will be required unless the Player is unable to play due to injury or is otherwise excused by the Office of the Commissioner. Players Trust will receive an increased contribution and players will receive additional benefits.


I don't particularly like the All-Star Game, but if the union is fine with this, I am too. If you're going to have the game, you need the best players there. Wouldn't hurt to shrink the rosters a little.

b. All Players will be subject to a policy governing the use of Social Media.


Also known as the "Logan Morrison rule."

c. Weekend waivers during the regular season will be implemented beginning in 2012.


So if you ask for waivers for a player on Thursday, those waivers will now expire on Saturday instead of Monday. It makes roster management a little easier.

d. The parties will agree upon a comprehensive international play plan in which Clubs and Player will visit countries in which games have not been staged in the past.


Approve. Approve. Approve. To market the game overseas, you must play the game overseas.

e. Non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation were added to Article XV.


There's no reason a gay player should face any discrimination at any level of this industry. It's sad that this even had to be stated explicitly.

f. Instant Replay will be expanded to include fair/foul and "trapped" ball plays, subject to the Office of the Commissioner's discussions with the World Umpires Association.


'Bout time.

g. Modifications to Fourth Option and Outright Assignment rules.


This could be quite interesting, but we lack the details. I know many agents who loathe the fourth option rule, and it could be gutted or eliminated.

h. The parties agreed to an improved process for challenging official scorer decisions.


Official scoring is hopeless. It's funny to me that the CBA summary ended on this note.
post #3572 of 77346
Thank you.

#occupymlb
post #3573 of 77346
Thank you.

#occupymlb
post #3574 of 77346
Thread Starter 
They wanted to focus on tobacco bans I guess.
post #3575 of 77346
Thread Starter 
They wanted to focus on tobacco bans I guess.
post #3576 of 77346
And Logan Morrison's Twitter.
post #3577 of 77346
And Logan Morrison's Twitter.
post #3578 of 77346
I know teams like the Royals & Rangers scoff at this new CBA deal.
post #3579 of 77346
I know teams like the Royals & Rangers scoff at this new CBA deal.
post #3580 of 77346
Quote:
Originally Posted by abovelegit1

Instant decline? I don't know about that, because such a trade would surely involve 2 of Nova/Betances/Banuelos, and then maybe another mid level prospect. As for Montero, you seem to be undervaluing him as a top hitting prospect - his bat would play anywhere in any park, and I assume he'd move to 1B in such a scenario. * > Aubrey Huff



Considering the Giants flat our rejected Jesus Montero, Nick Swisher AND two higher level prospects for Matt Cain, yes, instant decline of Montero and prospects for Timmy. Instant.
post #3581 of 77346
Quote:
Originally Posted by abovelegit1

Instant decline? I don't know about that, because such a trade would surely involve 2 of Nova/Betances/Banuelos, and then maybe another mid level prospect. As for Montero, you seem to be undervaluing him as a top hitting prospect - his bat would play anywhere in any park, and I assume he'd move to 1B in such a scenario. * > Aubrey Huff



Considering the Giants flat our rejected Jesus Montero, Nick Swisher AND two higher level prospects for Matt Cain, yes, instant decline of Montero and prospects for Timmy. Instant.
post #3582 of 77346
Thread Starter 
If the Giants rejected that offer then Sabean isn't as bright as I thought he was laugh.gif I never heard that before BTW.
post #3583 of 77346
Thread Starter 
If the Giants rejected that offer then Sabean isn't as bright as I thought he was laugh.gif I never heard that before BTW.
post #3584 of 77346
Thread Starter 
Free-agent bear market.

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Spoiler [+]
Major League Baseball’s winter meetings begin next Sunday at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, and there will be fireworks.

Make no mistake, general managers are savvy enough to take advantage of being in a spotlight under which they can get their clubs national attention and maximize their teams' ability to sell tickets, luxury boxes, promotions and advertising. I predict there will be a flurry of movement this year because the free-agent market has remained somewhat inert thus far.

Players: Free agents and possible trades


• Indeed, the three best position players available have had very little play thus far despite being clear impact players. Albert Pujols (No. 1 on my free-agent value rankings) has had two offers -- his standing offer from the St. Louis Cardinals since last winter and the Miami Marlins’ offer, which didn’t even match the Cardinals’. Frankly, the Cardinals have found no need to increase their offer.

Prince Fielder has seen so little action that there is a growing sentiment that a return to the Milwaukee Brewers is not out of the realm of possibility. That which seemed so unlikely at season’s end is now seemingly a bona fide consideration. There has been some outside interest, including from the Seattle Mariners and Chicago Cubs.

• Many thought that Jose Reyes, by improving his on-base percentage and becoming one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball, would have suitors lining up. Indeed, considering Reyes is a 27-year-old shortstop entering his prime who sports above-average defense and a strong arm, teams like the San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers should be in an all-out bidding war for Reyes’ services, but that simply has not been the case.

• However, the top free-agent pitchers in this market, left-handers C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle, are enjoying at least 10 teams vying for them. The Los Angeles Angels and New York Yankees are the early favorites on Wilson, while the Washington Nationals and Cubs are making loud noise on Buehrle. Wilson continues to meet with the Angels and although they haven’t made the offer he’s looking for, it seems like it would be the perfect fit for both him and the Angels. A rotation of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Wilson and Ervin Santana certainly would improve the Angels' postseason chances, especially if first baseman Kendrys Morales can come back healthy in the middle of their lineup.

• The Cubs have been fascinating to watch this offseason. They have been very aggressive with a wide range of free agents and have been in on trade talks with at least a dozen clubs. What’s been interesting is for a club that struggled so much in 2011, the conversations have not been limited to long-term solutions, but rather, they’ve included everyone from prospects to one-year stop-gap players.

• The drama surrounding whether Japan League star pitcher Yu Darvish will be posted or not by his team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, took an unfortunate twist this week with the announcement that Darvish’s pending divorce could delay his posting until the proceedings are final. The attorney for his wife wants to make sure that any new contract with a major league club is included in the settlement. Get ready for the soap opera, as Darvish is clearly the best free-agent right-handed starter, if he’s available.

• The Cincinnati Reds are getting serious inquiries on Yonder Alonso from teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, Cleveland Indians and Oakland Athletics. However, with Joey Votto eligible for free agency after the 2013 season, there are several Reds executives that would prefer to hold on to him as protection and let him continue to develop in left field, just in case he can become adequate out there. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t make a deal for Wade Davis, Gio Gonzalez or Justin Masterson in a package deal, but that type of trade likely will not be presented to them.

• Jerry Hairston’s postseason with the Brewers has really increased his value as a utility player, as several contending teams are playing for his services, including the front-running Giants.

Managers and front office personnel


• The Red Sox are expected to name their manager this week to have him in place by the time they land in Dallas. Here are my odds: Bobby Valentine remains the favorite at 2-1; Gene Lamont at 5-1 and Torey Lovullo at 25-1.

• New Houston Astros owner Jim Crane has yet to give public endorsements to Tal Smith or GM Ed Wade, which is normally not a good sign during an ownership transfer. The Rays' Andrew Friedman and Gerry Hunsicker, and the Rangers' Thad Levine are considered as possible GM targets if Crane decides to make a change, according to people in the know. Hunsicker served as the Astros' GM in 1995-2004, leading the Astros to four NL Central titles and reaching the NLCS four times.


Phillies, Rollins at an impasse.

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Jimmy Rollins turns 33 years old today, and even if he doesn't play another game in his career, he'll have had a pretty good run. He's won three Gold Gloves and an MVP award and served as a centerpiece on a championship team. Sometime in 2012 he may collect his 2,000th career hit and his 400th career stolen base, and it's possible that in 2013 he will hit his 200th homer.

Within the echelon of shortstops, in which a 93 OPS+ can get you into the Hall of Fame, Rollins is among the best players of his generation at his position, and yes, he is building a case as a borderline candidate for induction at Cooperstown. Remember, most of his at-bats have come since baseball implemented serious testing for performance-enhancing drugs in 2006.

So Rollins is in a unique position as a free agent this fall. He is a legacy player for the Philadelphia Phillies, as some in their organization believe, and if he re-signs he'll probably become their all-time hit leader sometime in 2014. Outside of Jose Reyes, Rollins is easily the best available shortstop on the free-agent market, as many teams are scrambling for shortstops -- the St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, Milwaukee Brewers, Miami Marlins, New York Mets and, yes, the Phillies.

Rollins has said he wants a five-year deal, something the Phillies don't want to give him. His numbers declined every season from 2007 to 2010, but he put the brakes on that in 2011, posting a .736 OPS. The backbone of his value can be found in his defense: At one of the game's most crucial positions, he is regarded as one of the best.

What is he now, at this stage of his career? I emailed some talent evaluators for an assessment, and these are two of the responses:

From an NL evaluator: "I'm not sure if Rollins will get five years, but he's a safer bet for me than any starting pitcher on the free agent market -- and some of those (or at least C.J. Wilson) will get five years.

"Rollins shows you five average or better-than-average tools on any given day. There's some concern about whether or not Rollins comes to play every day, but he's at his best when it matters most. He still plays shortstop well, relying more on instincts than pure range, but is still above average for me. He was a 15-30 guy this year [home runs-stolen bases] and isn't a beneficiary of Citizens Bank Park. He's arguably one of the five best shortstops in baseball and can hit anywhere from leadoff to second to fifth to sixth in a lineup. A former MVP who plays with high energy, and he's a winner; he will get paid. The only question is whether it will be four years or five years."

From an AL evaluator: "I think that Rollins is one of the more underrated defenders in the game at shortstop. Across the board his game remains solid, because of his ability to do many things well on each side of the ball, but he's no longer the guy that is a truly outstanding threat at the plate in particular.

"Defensively, he's so fundamentally sound at shortstop, with his footwork and hands. He is so good at reading and anticipating hops that he'll often be in much better position to make a tough play on the move, enough to make the plays look routine. His instincts at shortstop are tremendous, and when combined with his solid anticipation and decent range that is still plenty capable, I think he has another couple of seasons in him as a solid-plus defender at shortstop. Basically, his defensive tools and instincts should keep your club feeling good about his glove anchoring your infield. He still moves around well, has a plus arm and is consistently one of the more accurate throwing shortstops across the diamond.

"While he's not the force at the plate that he used to be, if he's getting on base enough and is enough of a threat to swipe a bag, then he's certainly worth considering placing near or at the top of your lineup. The injury issues have obviously held him back over the past couple of seasons, and clearly any nagging or new physical issues with his lower half are going to be particularly detrimental to his game on both sides of the ball. I'd be concerned about his ability to remain healthy, but if he's staying within himself at the plate, letting the ball travel deep into the zone and working from gap to gap, he should continue to be plenty valuable on offense as well. His ability to drive the ball consistently, to make pitchers truly pay for their mistakes isn't what it used to be, and if he's able to focus more on finding the gaps and controlling the zone he could certainly provide adequate value for what will likely be a fairly expensive deal."

In the end, the Phillies may not be convinced they are going to get full value for a long-term investment in Rollins. But this appears to be a situation for which they may have to go beyond their comfort level to make something happen.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Teams will spend the winter learning all the practical impact of the new labor agreement, writes Paul Hoynes.

2. The Texas Rangers have been extremely aggressive in the international market, but now they must adjust, writes Jeff Wilson.

3. The new CBA has transformed the Toronto Blue Jays' general manager from an artist to a house painter, writes Richard Griffin.

4. The Cleveland Indians traded Luis Valbuena to the Jays.

5. The Boston Red Sox will celebrate Valentine's Day soon, writes Troy Renck. The Red Sox will soon name their new manager, and Nick Cafardo has some suggestions for the work that will follow. The Red Sox have business to address other than picking a new manager, writes Michael Silverman.

One of the questions being asked by some of Ben Cherington's peers with other teams: If he prefers Gene Lamont as manager and knows that his bosses prefer Bobby Valentine, is it worth it for him to step in now and fight for his choice? Or would it be better, this early in his tenure as general manager, to defer to their wishes? If he wants Lamont and fights to get him the job and it goes badly for the Red Sox in 2012, he could immediately lose some ground with the Boston ownership.

6. The Oakland Athletics have hired Chili Davis as their hitting coach.

7. Josh Byrnes is setting a fresh course, writes Don Norcross.

8. The Phillies' rotation is likely to change, writes Bob Brookover.

From the mailbag

Q: A couple of years ago, MLB collected all of the game busted bats for a study. What ever became of that? Will it all become moot with the new collective bargaining agreement?

John Moosey
Palmer, Ark.

A: John, the union and management agreed to ban all low-density maple bats for incoming major leaguers, so over time, those bats will go away. It's a welcome change, because in recent seasons, the situation has felt a little like Russian roulette -- bats have exploded in all directions, including the stands, and it seems it's only a matter of time before a fan or player is injured or worse.

The Associated Press tracked down a spokesperson for a maple bat company to get a reaction.

Stat of the day

Ted Lilly allowed the most stolen-base attempts in 2011, with baserunners swiping 35 bags in 37 chances off the Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander. The remaining top five: John Lackey (33-for-36), Josh Beckett (31-for-35), Felix Hernandez (31-for-39) and Tommy Hanson (30-for-33).



Biggest position/lineup holes to fill.

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With the new labor agreement freshly minted and all of the compensation and arbitration issues settled, a lot of executives and agents stated their intention to ignore their cell phones this holiday weekend. Or, at the very least, not check them every 36 seconds, glancing away while a great aunt tells a story about how the weather affects her arthritis.

But throughout the sport, there is still lots of work to be done, weaknesses to be addressed, and a lot of that figures to be taken care of in the next four weeks. There are the big-picture problems that need fixing -- for example, the Houston Astros simply need a lot more good players -- and then there are the specific holes for contenders to fill.

Here are some (and to be clear, this is not meant to be a comprehensive list for all 30 teams):

1. Cardinals, first base. St. Louis has its safety net in place in the event that Albert Pujols walks away: Lance Berkman will move to first and World Series hero Allen Craig will take over in right field. But the Cardinals' preference, of course, is to re-sign Pujols, and very soon we'll know exactly which teams are willing to compete with St. Louis for the services of one of the greatest players of all time. The Cardinals' offer last winter was thought to be in the range of $200 million over nine years. Friends say Pujols is prepared to leave if other teams create the opportunity for him to go.

Pujols is not changing agents, he tells Derrick Goold.

2. Red Sox, manager. The biggest question around the Red Sox as the Theo Epstein era came to a close was how the role of Boston president Larry Lucchino would change. Epstein had won a power struggle with Lucchino and had an autonomy that was fostered by owner John Henry, who tends to be a reluctant player in the chain of command.

It's apparent in the first days of Ben Cherington's tenure as general manager that Lucchino has more elbow room; Bobby Valentine's patron saint in the Boston organization, as a managerial candidate, is Lucchino. Cherington had forwarded Dale Sveum to the Red Sox leadership as his candidate, but Henry never made a formal offer. As one agent noted, it's as if Lucchino immediately took the Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip.

It was widely reported that Valentine's first challenge, in his interview, was to win over Cherington, but ultimately, the hire may belong to Lucchino, in terms of practical power.

3. Brewers, one big bat. If Prince Fielder leaves -- and that's an if, because we still don't know which other team will covet Fielder enough to sign him away from Milwaukee -- the Brewers will need some kind of help with their offense. GM Doug Melvin has mentioned that right now, Mat Gamel would be the first guy penciled in to take over at first base, but it's unlikely he would be the only part of the solution for the Brewers' lineup.

4. Angels, catcher. Of all the positions in the majors -- including the DH work of 14 AL teams and excluding the pitchers -- the Angels' catchers ranked 249th of 254 in OPS, at .555, and last in runs scored (37). Little wonder, then, that the Angels are said to be aggressively seeking some help at catcher. The best free agent at the position is Ramon Hernandez, who hit .282 with 12 homers for the Reds last year; under the terms of the new labor agreement, no team would have to surrender a pick to sign Hernandez.

5. Braves, a solid right-handed hitter, either at shortstop or corner outfield. Atlanta is knee-deep into the transition from the Chipper Jones era, because the future Hall of Famer can no longer be counted on for 140 games and 100 RBIs every season. Jones played in 126 games last season and drove in 70 runs, with 18 homers, and by the end of the season he was hitting as low as the sixth spot.

The Braves' challenge is to find some hitter who can make up for Jones' production. Brian McCann is an All-Star and the team's best hitter, but the Braves got a taste of what the Mets learned in the Mike Piazza era -- it can be problematic to have a lineup built around a catcher, because of the nagging injuries inherent to the position. McCann is a left-handed hitter, and so are Freddie Freeman, Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward, who will go into next spring training needing to show improvement.

Right-handed balance is needed, and maybe the best way for the Braves to get that is to land a corner outfielder. The Braves will go into next season probably feeling confident that Dan Uggla will hit along the lines of his .296/.379/.569 production he generated in the second half of the 2011 season, rather than the .185/.287/.365 of his first half.

6. Phillies, shortstop. Jimmy Rollins has indicated he wants a five-year contract -- and while the Phillies want him, they might not want to give that kind of deal. But Rollins is in an excellent negotiating position as one of the few front-line shortstops available; for him, it's a seller's market, because the Braves need a shortstop, and the Giants need a shortstop, and the Cardinals, and a handful of other teams. The Phillies are either going to have to get used to the idea that they'll pay more than they want to pay to keep Rollins, or they'll have to find an alternative, such as the Padres' Jason Bartlett, who is available for trade.

7. Giants, outfielder. They've already added Melky Cabrera through a trade this offseason, but they are focused on adding one more bat; re-signing Carlos Beltran would be a natural fit.

8. Tampa Bay, first base and DH. Casey Kotchman did a nice job at first base in 2011, but it's unclear whether his production has priced him out of the Rays' budget; it's a situation that will have to play itself out. The Rays' preference would be to find solutions at the two positions that complement each other.

9. Red Sox, closer. Boston seems to be in a good position to get somebody good, because there are a number of excellent free agents available, from Heath Bell to Ryan Madson, as well as possible trade targets, such as Andrew Bailey.

10. Toronto, closer. The Blue Jays are combing the ranks of free agents and trade possibilities, in an effort to plug a hole that was a major problem for them last year; only two teams blew more saves.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Tigers could make a move for Yeonis Cespedes, writes John Lowe.

2. The odds of the White Sox retaining Mark Buehrle aren't good, writes Joe Cowley.



Road to relevance begins in Houston.

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You have to wonder if Thanksgiving bought Ed Wade and Tal Smith a few extra days with their respective titles. Jim Crane took over ownership of the Houston Astros last Monday, and it would've seemed ugly if he had executed his first firings right before a family holiday.

Either way, the deed is now done. The timing doesn't really fit what's happening with the baseball calendar, but hey, Crane wants to put his own hires in place, and that's his prerogative. Andrew Friedman is from Houston, but he is not expected to be a candidate for the Houston job, and generally, it wouldn't be surprising if some would-be candidates turn down the Astros.

There are a lot of industry-wide questions about the direction of the organization, about what kind of owner Crane will be, and until that becomes clearer, some folks who have alternatives may choose to wait rather than join the Astros. Here are some other options for the job, from Steve Campbell.

Whoever takes over the organization, however, will inherit a challenging but workable situation. The bottom line is that Houston doesn't have a lot of talent, certainly not at the major-league level. The Astros lost 106 games last year and they earned that; only four teams scored fewer runs, only two teams allowed more runs, and just three teams made more errors. And just before the July 31 trade deadline, the Astros swapped their two best position players, in Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn.

But while Theo Epstein will spend his first couple of seasons in Chicago fighting his way through the last flames of bad contracts, with Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano, Wade's replacement will come in with a relatively clean slate. Carlos Lee is about to enter the final year of his six-year, $100 million deal, at $18.5 million. Wandy Rodriguez has two guaranteed years left on his deal, for $25.5 million (including a buyout of a 2014 option) -- and beyond that, there are no players under contract for 2013.

The Astros were already facing a rebuilding situation no matter who the general manager was, so Wade did the dirty work of swapping Pence and Bourn before their market value completely disintegrated. And while Wade was criticized for not getting enough in return, Houston does have a core of pretty good talent at the lower levels, with Jared Cosart, Jonathan Singleton and others.

As Smith and Wade depart, it's not as if the Astros are teeming with talent. But remember, for many years, Houston was among the small handful of teams that honored the slot recommendations from the Commissioner's office, and in recent years, owner Drayton McLane drastically cut the Astros' budget. Wade wasn't given a lot to work with and has had some dead money to work through, and the sudden shift to austerity is the root cause for the disintegration of the franchise.

If the Astros were a construction site, what you'd see now is a plot completely cleaned out, the sledgehammers and the wrecking ball gone and the ugliest work completed. The next foreman -- working under the limits and ambitions set forth by Crane -- will be in position to do a lot of building, rather than tearing down. The construction may take years, especially given the draft-and-signing shackles imposed by the new labor agreement. One really smart executive estimated that the Astros will take four-to-seven years to make respectable again, which means that a lot of the images you will see coming out of Houston in the next few years could be those of empty seats.

But there is growth potential with the Astros, in the NL Central, and the raising can start immediately.

Ed Wade's legacy with the Astros is complicated, writes Richard Justice.

Notables

• The Seattle Mariners traded for catcher John Jaso. This is another case of the Tampa Bay Rays always having to stay ahead and proactively bailing financial waters rather than waiting. Jaso was a productive player in 2010, posting a .372 on-base percentage and establishing himself as one of their more efficient base-runners. But Jaso, 28, had a down year in 2011, with an OPS of .651, and the fact is that a year from now he would've been arbitration-eligible.

So the Rays had a choice: Should they wait and gamble that Jaso would rebound, or should they move him now before he became too expensive for them. They have bet that they would be better off reallocating the dollars that would have been needed to keep Jaso. Tampa Bay is expected to announce the signing of Jose Molina any day.

The pitcher the Rays got in the deal has a checkered past, as Marc Topkin writes.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Detroit Tigers have their sights set on Mark Buehrle, writes Lynn Henning.

2. The Chicago White Sox are evaluating Yonder Alonso.

3. In Major League Baseball, experience is wanted, writes John Tomase.

4. The Miami Marlins will host C.J. Wilson today but have no plans to host Prince Fielder, writes Juan Rodriguez.



Rumors.

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Eye of the Tigers on Ramirez?

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The Detroit Tigers, who are looking for an upgrade at third base, have inquired about free agent Aramis Ramirez, reports SI.com's Jon Heyman.

The Tigers have Brandon Inge under contract for one more year and $5.5 million. Inge hit just .197 last season and was even demoted to Triple-A at one point, but did bounce back to hit .318 in two postseason rounds.

Paul Kinzer, the agent for Ramirez, insists that his client is drawing plenty of interest. The Milwaukee Brewers have been mentioned as a logical fit to replace the struggling Casey McGehee. Angels GM Jerry Dipoto, however, recently told ESPN Insider's Jim Bowden on SiriusXM Radio that his team has no interest in Ramirez.

- Doug Mittler

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Keith Law

Ramirez a risk

"Pitchers can attack him with velocity, especially away where he can't try to start his bat early and pull it, but he hasn't yet experienced the big loss of bat speed you'd expect given his age and body type. That will come in the next few years, of course, as Ramirez (like all of us) faces that penalty for a crime he hasn't committed, one that already has turned him from an indifferent defender at third into an outright bad one. Moved to first base, he could turn in a few productive years as a second-tier power hitter who makes enough contact to get on base at a reasonable clip. He's also one of the most likely players in this market to go all Adam Dunn on his new employers."


GM candidates in Houston

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When the long-awaited sale of the Houston Astros was completed, incoming owner Jim Crane vowed to meet with all his executives and "make some very, very quick adjustments."

Crane didn't let the Thanksgiving weekend run its course before making a move, announcing Sunday night that general manager Ed Wade and team president Tal Smith have been fired. Assistant general manager Dave Gottfried will serve as interim GM, but will not be considered for the permanent job.

Over the weekend, ESPN Insider's Jim Bowden wrote that the Rays' Andrew Friedman and Gerry Hunsicker, and the Rangers' Thad Levine would be considered as possible GM targets if Crane decided to make a change at the top.

Friedman is a Houston native, but so far has expressed no real desire to leave Tampa Bay. Hunsicker, currently a senior VP in Tampa, served as the Astros' GM in 1995-2004, leading the Astros to four NL Central titles.

Jon Heyman of SI.com tweeted Sunday night that outgoing owner Drayton McLane took care of Smith financially upon turning over the team to Crane.

The changes in the front office immediately calls into question the future of manager Brad Mills, who lost 106 games this season. Mills is under contract through next season with a club option for 2013, so the Astros will be eating some salary if a change is made. If Mills does manage to keep his job, he will have a short margin for error.

- Doug Mittler

Methodical pace with Pujols

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The St. Louis Cardinals have hardly been practicing the full-court press when it comes to the pursuit of Albert Pujols. In fact, ESPN Insider's Jim Bowden wrote over the weekend that there is no reason for the club to alter its offer from last spring since no other club has trumped it.

The club reportedly offered Pujols a nine-year deal worth about $200 million.

Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and general manager John Mozeliak met with Pujols' longtime agent, Dan Lozano, at the general managers' meetings earlier this month, reported Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch, but things have been quiet since. Strauss says the Cardinals would apparently wait before modifying the club's 10-month-old offer that was rejected before spring training.

The process could accelerate as soon as team begin to put out feelers on Prince Fielder, the other top free agent first baseman on the market.

So far, the only team other than the Cardinals to publicly step forward in the pursuit of Pujols is the Miami Marlins, and the seriousness of their interest as been called into question.

With the threshold rumored to be in the nine-year and $200 million range, just a handful of teams are expected to be in the bidding. In last week's Miami Herald, Dan Le Batard wrote that a nine-year offer to Pujols is "insanity," since "like a lot of teams, the Marlins believe Pujols to be older than the 31 he claims to be."

- Doug Mittler

Right field in Boston

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Michael Cuddyer was a hot commodity in Philadelphia earlier this month, but the Phillies' interest may have subsided once they struck a deal with Colorado for Ty Wigginton. Cuddyer, however, still appears to be a target of the Colorado Rockies and perhaps the Boston Red Sox. Nick Cafardo writes this weekend that the Sox could prefer Cuddyer to Carlos Beltran for a number of reasons, and that the club may have a taste for Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier.

Ethier and second baseman Dustin Pedroia are close friends and the former MVP has long been a proponent of the Red Sox going after his buddy. The Dodgers may choose to trade Ethier after inking Matt Kemp to a $160 million deal.

One executive told me Sunday morning, however, that a healthy Ryan Kalish is a much better idea than Ethier. "He's a better fielder and his bat is headed in the right direction. Ethier is a nice player but for that kind of money and a trade cost, too, it's not a value, in my mind."

Ethier made $9.25 million last season and will be a free agent this time next winter. He could earn as much as $15 million via arbitration this offseason.

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Free-agent bear market.

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Major League Baseball’s winter meetings begin next Sunday at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, and there will be fireworks.

Make no mistake, general managers are savvy enough to take advantage of being in a spotlight under which they can get their clubs national attention and maximize their teams' ability to sell tickets, luxury boxes, promotions and advertising. I predict there will be a flurry of movement this year because the free-agent market has remained somewhat inert thus far.

Players: Free agents and possible trades


• Indeed, the three best position players available have had very little play thus far despite being clear impact players. Albert Pujols (No. 1 on my free-agent value rankings) has had two offers -- his standing offer from the St. Louis Cardinals since last winter and the Miami Marlins’ offer, which didn’t even match the Cardinals’. Frankly, the Cardinals have found no need to increase their offer.

Prince Fielder has seen so little action that there is a growing sentiment that a return to the Milwaukee Brewers is not out of the realm of possibility. That which seemed so unlikely at season’s end is now seemingly a bona fide consideration. There has been some outside interest, including from the Seattle Mariners and Chicago Cubs.

• Many thought that Jose Reyes, by improving his on-base percentage and becoming one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball, would have suitors lining up. Indeed, considering Reyes is a 27-year-old shortstop entering his prime who sports above-average defense and a strong arm, teams like the San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers should be in an all-out bidding war for Reyes’ services, but that simply has not been the case.

• However, the top free-agent pitchers in this market, left-handers C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle, are enjoying at least 10 teams vying for them. The Los Angeles Angels and New York Yankees are the early favorites on Wilson, while the Washington Nationals and Cubs are making loud noise on Buehrle. Wilson continues to meet with the Angels and although they haven’t made the offer he’s looking for, it seems like it would be the perfect fit for both him and the Angels. A rotation of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Wilson and Ervin Santana certainly would improve the Angels' postseason chances, especially if first baseman Kendrys Morales can come back healthy in the middle of their lineup.

• The Cubs have been fascinating to watch this offseason. They have been very aggressive with a wide range of free agents and have been in on trade talks with at least a dozen clubs. What’s been interesting is for a club that struggled so much in 2011, the conversations have not been limited to long-term solutions, but rather, they’ve included everyone from prospects to one-year stop-gap players.

• The drama surrounding whether Japan League star pitcher Yu Darvish will be posted or not by his team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, took an unfortunate twist this week with the announcement that Darvish’s pending divorce could delay his posting until the proceedings are final. The attorney for his wife wants to make sure that any new contract with a major league club is included in the settlement. Get ready for the soap opera, as Darvish is clearly the best free-agent right-handed starter, if he’s available.

• The Cincinnati Reds are getting serious inquiries on Yonder Alonso from teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, Cleveland Indians and Oakland Athletics. However, with Joey Votto eligible for free agency after the 2013 season, there are several Reds executives that would prefer to hold on to him as protection and let him continue to develop in left field, just in case he can become adequate out there. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t make a deal for Wade Davis, Gio Gonzalez or Justin Masterson in a package deal, but that type of trade likely will not be presented to them.

• Jerry Hairston’s postseason with the Brewers has really increased his value as a utility player, as several contending teams are playing for his services, including the front-running Giants.

Managers and front office personnel


• The Red Sox are expected to name their manager this week to have him in place by the time they land in Dallas. Here are my odds: Bobby Valentine remains the favorite at 2-1; Gene Lamont at 5-1 and Torey Lovullo at 25-1.

• New Houston Astros owner Jim Crane has yet to give public endorsements to Tal Smith or GM Ed Wade, which is normally not a good sign during an ownership transfer. The Rays' Andrew Friedman and Gerry Hunsicker, and the Rangers' Thad Levine are considered as possible GM targets if Crane decides to make a change, according to people in the know. Hunsicker served as the Astros' GM in 1995-2004, leading the Astros to four NL Central titles and reaching the NLCS four times.


Phillies, Rollins at an impasse.

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Jimmy Rollins turns 33 years old today, and even if he doesn't play another game in his career, he'll have had a pretty good run. He's won three Gold Gloves and an MVP award and served as a centerpiece on a championship team. Sometime in 2012 he may collect his 2,000th career hit and his 400th career stolen base, and it's possible that in 2013 he will hit his 200th homer.

Within the echelon of shortstops, in which a 93 OPS+ can get you into the Hall of Fame, Rollins is among the best players of his generation at his position, and yes, he is building a case as a borderline candidate for induction at Cooperstown. Remember, most of his at-bats have come since baseball implemented serious testing for performance-enhancing drugs in 2006.

So Rollins is in a unique position as a free agent this fall. He is a legacy player for the Philadelphia Phillies, as some in their organization believe, and if he re-signs he'll probably become their all-time hit leader sometime in 2014. Outside of Jose Reyes, Rollins is easily the best available shortstop on the free-agent market, as many teams are scrambling for shortstops -- the St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, Milwaukee Brewers, Miami Marlins, New York Mets and, yes, the Phillies.

Rollins has said he wants a five-year deal, something the Phillies don't want to give him. His numbers declined every season from 2007 to 2010, but he put the brakes on that in 2011, posting a .736 OPS. The backbone of his value can be found in his defense: At one of the game's most crucial positions, he is regarded as one of the best.

What is he now, at this stage of his career? I emailed some talent evaluators for an assessment, and these are two of the responses:

From an NL evaluator: "I'm not sure if Rollins will get five years, but he's a safer bet for me than any starting pitcher on the free agent market -- and some of those (or at least C.J. Wilson) will get five years.

"Rollins shows you five average or better-than-average tools on any given day. There's some concern about whether or not Rollins comes to play every day, but he's at his best when it matters most. He still plays shortstop well, relying more on instincts than pure range, but is still above average for me. He was a 15-30 guy this year [home runs-stolen bases] and isn't a beneficiary of Citizens Bank Park. He's arguably one of the five best shortstops in baseball and can hit anywhere from leadoff to second to fifth to sixth in a lineup. A former MVP who plays with high energy, and he's a winner; he will get paid. The only question is whether it will be four years or five years."

From an AL evaluator: "I think that Rollins is one of the more underrated defenders in the game at shortstop. Across the board his game remains solid, because of his ability to do many things well on each side of the ball, but he's no longer the guy that is a truly outstanding threat at the plate in particular.

"Defensively, he's so fundamentally sound at shortstop, with his footwork and hands. He is so good at reading and anticipating hops that he'll often be in much better position to make a tough play on the move, enough to make the plays look routine. His instincts at shortstop are tremendous, and when combined with his solid anticipation and decent range that is still plenty capable, I think he has another couple of seasons in him as a solid-plus defender at shortstop. Basically, his defensive tools and instincts should keep your club feeling good about his glove anchoring your infield. He still moves around well, has a plus arm and is consistently one of the more accurate throwing shortstops across the diamond.

"While he's not the force at the plate that he used to be, if he's getting on base enough and is enough of a threat to swipe a bag, then he's certainly worth considering placing near or at the top of your lineup. The injury issues have obviously held him back over the past couple of seasons, and clearly any nagging or new physical issues with his lower half are going to be particularly detrimental to his game on both sides of the ball. I'd be concerned about his ability to remain healthy, but if he's staying within himself at the plate, letting the ball travel deep into the zone and working from gap to gap, he should continue to be plenty valuable on offense as well. His ability to drive the ball consistently, to make pitchers truly pay for their mistakes isn't what it used to be, and if he's able to focus more on finding the gaps and controlling the zone he could certainly provide adequate value for what will likely be a fairly expensive deal."

In the end, the Phillies may not be convinced they are going to get full value for a long-term investment in Rollins. But this appears to be a situation for which they may have to go beyond their comfort level to make something happen.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Teams will spend the winter learning all the practical impact of the new labor agreement, writes Paul Hoynes.

2. The Texas Rangers have been extremely aggressive in the international market, but now they must adjust, writes Jeff Wilson.

3. The new CBA has transformed the Toronto Blue Jays' general manager from an artist to a house painter, writes Richard Griffin.

4. The Cleveland Indians traded Luis Valbuena to the Jays.

5. The Boston Red Sox will celebrate Valentine's Day soon, writes Troy Renck. The Red Sox will soon name their new manager, and Nick Cafardo has some suggestions for the work that will follow. The Red Sox have business to address other than picking a new manager, writes Michael Silverman.

One of the questions being asked by some of Ben Cherington's peers with other teams: If he prefers Gene Lamont as manager and knows that his bosses prefer Bobby Valentine, is it worth it for him to step in now and fight for his choice? Or would it be better, this early in his tenure as general manager, to defer to their wishes? If he wants Lamont and fights to get him the job and it goes badly for the Red Sox in 2012, he could immediately lose some ground with the Boston ownership.

6. The Oakland Athletics have hired Chili Davis as their hitting coach.

7. Josh Byrnes is setting a fresh course, writes Don Norcross.

8. The Phillies' rotation is likely to change, writes Bob Brookover.

From the mailbag

Q: A couple of years ago, MLB collected all of the game busted bats for a study. What ever became of that? Will it all become moot with the new collective bargaining agreement?

John Moosey
Palmer, Ark.

A: John, the union and management agreed to ban all low-density maple bats for incoming major leaguers, so over time, those bats will go away. It's a welcome change, because in recent seasons, the situation has felt a little like Russian roulette -- bats have exploded in all directions, including the stands, and it seems it's only a matter of time before a fan or player is injured or worse.

The Associated Press tracked down a spokesperson for a maple bat company to get a reaction.

Stat of the day

Ted Lilly allowed the most stolen-base attempts in 2011, with baserunners swiping 35 bags in 37 chances off the Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander. The remaining top five: John Lackey (33-for-36), Josh Beckett (31-for-35), Felix Hernandez (31-for-39) and Tommy Hanson (30-for-33).



Biggest position/lineup holes to fill.

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With the new labor agreement freshly minted and all of the compensation and arbitration issues settled, a lot of executives and agents stated their intention to ignore their cell phones this holiday weekend. Or, at the very least, not check them every 36 seconds, glancing away while a great aunt tells a story about how the weather affects her arthritis.

But throughout the sport, there is still lots of work to be done, weaknesses to be addressed, and a lot of that figures to be taken care of in the next four weeks. There are the big-picture problems that need fixing -- for example, the Houston Astros simply need a lot more good players -- and then there are the specific holes for contenders to fill.

Here are some (and to be clear, this is not meant to be a comprehensive list for all 30 teams):

1. Cardinals, first base. St. Louis has its safety net in place in the event that Albert Pujols walks away: Lance Berkman will move to first and World Series hero Allen Craig will take over in right field. But the Cardinals' preference, of course, is to re-sign Pujols, and very soon we'll know exactly which teams are willing to compete with St. Louis for the services of one of the greatest players of all time. The Cardinals' offer last winter was thought to be in the range of $200 million over nine years. Friends say Pujols is prepared to leave if other teams create the opportunity for him to go.

Pujols is not changing agents, he tells Derrick Goold.

2. Red Sox, manager. The biggest question around the Red Sox as the Theo Epstein era came to a close was how the role of Boston president Larry Lucchino would change. Epstein had won a power struggle with Lucchino and had an autonomy that was fostered by owner John Henry, who tends to be a reluctant player in the chain of command.

It's apparent in the first days of Ben Cherington's tenure as general manager that Lucchino has more elbow room; Bobby Valentine's patron saint in the Boston organization, as a managerial candidate, is Lucchino. Cherington had forwarded Dale Sveum to the Red Sox leadership as his candidate, but Henry never made a formal offer. As one agent noted, it's as if Lucchino immediately took the Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip.

It was widely reported that Valentine's first challenge, in his interview, was to win over Cherington, but ultimately, the hire may belong to Lucchino, in terms of practical power.

3. Brewers, one big bat. If Prince Fielder leaves -- and that's an if, because we still don't know which other team will covet Fielder enough to sign him away from Milwaukee -- the Brewers will need some kind of help with their offense. GM Doug Melvin has mentioned that right now, Mat Gamel would be the first guy penciled in to take over at first base, but it's unlikely he would be the only part of the solution for the Brewers' lineup.

4. Angels, catcher. Of all the positions in the majors -- including the DH work of 14 AL teams and excluding the pitchers -- the Angels' catchers ranked 249th of 254 in OPS, at .555, and last in runs scored (37). Little wonder, then, that the Angels are said to be aggressively seeking some help at catcher. The best free agent at the position is Ramon Hernandez, who hit .282 with 12 homers for the Reds last year; under the terms of the new labor agreement, no team would have to surrender a pick to sign Hernandez.

5. Braves, a solid right-handed hitter, either at shortstop or corner outfield. Atlanta is knee-deep into the transition from the Chipper Jones era, because the future Hall of Famer can no longer be counted on for 140 games and 100 RBIs every season. Jones played in 126 games last season and drove in 70 runs, with 18 homers, and by the end of the season he was hitting as low as the sixth spot.

The Braves' challenge is to find some hitter who can make up for Jones' production. Brian McCann is an All-Star and the team's best hitter, but the Braves got a taste of what the Mets learned in the Mike Piazza era -- it can be problematic to have a lineup built around a catcher, because of the nagging injuries inherent to the position. McCann is a left-handed hitter, and so are Freddie Freeman, Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward, who will go into next spring training needing to show improvement.

Right-handed balance is needed, and maybe the best way for the Braves to get that is to land a corner outfielder. The Braves will go into next season probably feeling confident that Dan Uggla will hit along the lines of his .296/.379/.569 production he generated in the second half of the 2011 season, rather than the .185/.287/.365 of his first half.

6. Phillies, shortstop. Jimmy Rollins has indicated he wants a five-year contract -- and while the Phillies want him, they might not want to give that kind of deal. But Rollins is in an excellent negotiating position as one of the few front-line shortstops available; for him, it's a seller's market, because the Braves need a shortstop, and the Giants need a shortstop, and the Cardinals, and a handful of other teams. The Phillies are either going to have to get used to the idea that they'll pay more than they want to pay to keep Rollins, or they'll have to find an alternative, such as the Padres' Jason Bartlett, who is available for trade.

7. Giants, outfielder. They've already added Melky Cabrera through a trade this offseason, but they are focused on adding one more bat; re-signing Carlos Beltran would be a natural fit.

8. Tampa Bay, first base and DH. Casey Kotchman did a nice job at first base in 2011, but it's unclear whether his production has priced him out of the Rays' budget; it's a situation that will have to play itself out. The Rays' preference would be to find solutions at the two positions that complement each other.

9. Red Sox, closer. Boston seems to be in a good position to get somebody good, because there are a number of excellent free agents available, from Heath Bell to Ryan Madson, as well as possible trade targets, such as Andrew Bailey.

10. Toronto, closer. The Blue Jays are combing the ranks of free agents and trade possibilities, in an effort to plug a hole that was a major problem for them last year; only two teams blew more saves.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Tigers could make a move for Yeonis Cespedes, writes John Lowe.

2. The odds of the White Sox retaining Mark Buehrle aren't good, writes Joe Cowley.



Road to relevance begins in Houston.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]

You have to wonder if Thanksgiving bought Ed Wade and Tal Smith a few extra days with their respective titles. Jim Crane took over ownership of the Houston Astros last Monday, and it would've seemed ugly if he had executed his first firings right before a family holiday.

Either way, the deed is now done. The timing doesn't really fit what's happening with the baseball calendar, but hey, Crane wants to put his own hires in place, and that's his prerogative. Andrew Friedman is from Houston, but he is not expected to be a candidate for the Houston job, and generally, it wouldn't be surprising if some would-be candidates turn down the Astros.

There are a lot of industry-wide questions about the direction of the organization, about what kind of owner Crane will be, and until that becomes clearer, some folks who have alternatives may choose to wait rather than join the Astros. Here are some other options for the job, from Steve Campbell.

Whoever takes over the organization, however, will inherit a challenging but workable situation. The bottom line is that Houston doesn't have a lot of talent, certainly not at the major-league level. The Astros lost 106 games last year and they earned that; only four teams scored fewer runs, only two teams allowed more runs, and just three teams made more errors. And just before the July 31 trade deadline, the Astros swapped their two best position players, in Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn.

But while Theo Epstein will spend his first couple of seasons in Chicago fighting his way through the last flames of bad contracts, with Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano, Wade's replacement will come in with a relatively clean slate. Carlos Lee is about to enter the final year of his six-year, $100 million deal, at $18.5 million. Wandy Rodriguez has two guaranteed years left on his deal, for $25.5 million (including a buyout of a 2014 option) -- and beyond that, there are no players under contract for 2013.

The Astros were already facing a rebuilding situation no matter who the general manager was, so Wade did the dirty work of swapping Pence and Bourn before their market value completely disintegrated. And while Wade was criticized for not getting enough in return, Houston does have a core of pretty good talent at the lower levels, with Jared Cosart, Jonathan Singleton and others.

As Smith and Wade depart, it's not as if the Astros are teeming with talent. But remember, for many years, Houston was among the small handful of teams that honored the slot recommendations from the Commissioner's office, and in recent years, owner Drayton McLane drastically cut the Astros' budget. Wade wasn't given a lot to work with and has had some dead money to work through, and the sudden shift to austerity is the root cause for the disintegration of the franchise.

If the Astros were a construction site, what you'd see now is a plot completely cleaned out, the sledgehammers and the wrecking ball gone and the ugliest work completed. The next foreman -- working under the limits and ambitions set forth by Crane -- will be in position to do a lot of building, rather than tearing down. The construction may take years, especially given the draft-and-signing shackles imposed by the new labor agreement. One really smart executive estimated that the Astros will take four-to-seven years to make respectable again, which means that a lot of the images you will see coming out of Houston in the next few years could be those of empty seats.

But there is growth potential with the Astros, in the NL Central, and the raising can start immediately.

Ed Wade's legacy with the Astros is complicated, writes Richard Justice.

Notables

• The Seattle Mariners traded for catcher John Jaso. This is another case of the Tampa Bay Rays always having to stay ahead and proactively bailing financial waters rather than waiting. Jaso was a productive player in 2010, posting a .372 on-base percentage and establishing himself as one of their more efficient base-runners. But Jaso, 28, had a down year in 2011, with an OPS of .651, and the fact is that a year from now he would've been arbitration-eligible.

So the Rays had a choice: Should they wait and gamble that Jaso would rebound, or should they move him now before he became too expensive for them. They have bet that they would be better off reallocating the dollars that would have been needed to keep Jaso. Tampa Bay is expected to announce the signing of Jose Molina any day.

The pitcher the Rays got in the deal has a checkered past, as Marc Topkin writes.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Detroit Tigers have their sights set on Mark Buehrle, writes Lynn Henning.

2. The Chicago White Sox are evaluating Yonder Alonso.

3. In Major League Baseball, experience is wanted, writes John Tomase.

4. The Miami Marlins will host C.J. Wilson today but have no plans to host Prince Fielder, writes Juan Rodriguez.



Rumors.

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Spoiler [+]

Eye of the Tigers on Ramirez?

8:23AM ET
Aramis Ramirez | Cubs
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The Detroit Tigers, who are looking for an upgrade at third base, have inquired about free agent Aramis Ramirez, reports SI.com's Jon Heyman.

The Tigers have Brandon Inge under contract for one more year and $5.5 million. Inge hit just .197 last season and was even demoted to Triple-A at one point, but did bounce back to hit .318 in two postseason rounds.

Paul Kinzer, the agent for Ramirez, insists that his client is drawing plenty of interest. The Milwaukee Brewers have been mentioned as a logical fit to replace the struggling Casey McGehee. Angels GM Jerry Dipoto, however, recently told ESPN Insider's Jim Bowden on SiriusXM Radio that his team has no interest in Ramirez.

- Doug Mittler

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Keith Law

Ramirez a risk

"Pitchers can attack him with velocity, especially away where he can't try to start his bat early and pull it, but he hasn't yet experienced the big loss of bat speed you'd expect given his age and body type. That will come in the next few years, of course, as Ramirez (like all of us) faces that penalty for a crime he hasn't committed, one that already has turned him from an indifferent defender at third into an outright bad one. Moved to first base, he could turn in a few productive years as a second-tier power hitter who makes enough contact to get on base at a reasonable clip. He's also one of the most likely players in this market to go all Adam Dunn on his new employers."


GM candidates in Houston

7:53AM ET
Houston Astros
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When the long-awaited sale of the Houston Astros was completed, incoming owner Jim Crane vowed to meet with all his executives and "make some very, very quick adjustments."

Crane didn't let the Thanksgiving weekend run its course before making a move, announcing Sunday night that general manager Ed Wade and team president Tal Smith have been fired. Assistant general manager Dave Gottfried will serve as interim GM, but will not be considered for the permanent job.

Over the weekend, ESPN Insider's Jim Bowden wrote that the Rays' Andrew Friedman and Gerry Hunsicker, and the Rangers' Thad Levine would be considered as possible GM targets if Crane decided to make a change at the top.

Friedman is a Houston native, but so far has expressed no real desire to leave Tampa Bay. Hunsicker, currently a senior VP in Tampa, served as the Astros' GM in 1995-2004, leading the Astros to four NL Central titles.

Jon Heyman of SI.com tweeted Sunday night that outgoing owner Drayton McLane took care of Smith financially upon turning over the team to Crane.

The changes in the front office immediately calls into question the future of manager Brad Mills, who lost 106 games this season. Mills is under contract through next season with a club option for 2013, so the Astros will be eating some salary if a change is made. If Mills does manage to keep his job, he will have a short margin for error.

- Doug Mittler

Methodical pace with Pujols

7:13AM ET
Albert Pujols | Cardinals
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The St. Louis Cardinals have hardly been practicing the full-court press when it comes to the pursuit of Albert Pujols. In fact, ESPN Insider's Jim Bowden wrote over the weekend that there is no reason for the club to alter its offer from last spring since no other club has trumped it.

The club reportedly offered Pujols a nine-year deal worth about $200 million.

Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and general manager John Mozeliak met with Pujols' longtime agent, Dan Lozano, at the general managers' meetings earlier this month, reported Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch, but things have been quiet since. Strauss says the Cardinals would apparently wait before modifying the club's 10-month-old offer that was rejected before spring training.

The process could accelerate as soon as team begin to put out feelers on Prince Fielder, the other top free agent first baseman on the market.

So far, the only team other than the Cardinals to publicly step forward in the pursuit of Pujols is the Miami Marlins, and the seriousness of their interest as been called into question.

With the threshold rumored to be in the nine-year and $200 million range, just a handful of teams are expected to be in the bidding. In last week's Miami Herald, Dan Le Batard wrote that a nine-year offer to Pujols is "insanity," since "like a lot of teams, the Marlins believe Pujols to be older than the 31 he claims to be."

- Doug Mittler

Right field in Boston

6:57AM ET
Boston Red Sox
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Michael Cuddyer was a hot commodity in Philadelphia earlier this month, but the Phillies' interest may have subsided once they struck a deal with Colorado for Ty Wigginton. Cuddyer, however, still appears to be a target of the Colorado Rockies and perhaps the Boston Red Sox. Nick Cafardo writes this weekend that the Sox could prefer Cuddyer to Carlos Beltran for a number of reasons, and that the club may have a taste for Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier.

Ethier and second baseman Dustin Pedroia are close friends and the former MVP has long been a proponent of the Red Sox going after his buddy. The Dodgers may choose to trade Ethier after inking Matt Kemp to a $160 million deal.

One executive told me Sunday morning, however, that a healthy Ryan Kalish is a much better idea than Ethier. "He's a better fielder and his bat is headed in the right direction. Ethier is a nice player but for that kind of money and a trade cost, too, it's not a value, in my mind."

Ethier made $9.25 million last season and will be a free agent this time next winter. He could earn as much as $15 million via arbitration this offseason.

post #3586 of 77346
Why is this stickied and NFL thread is not?
post #3587 of 77346
Why is this stickied and NFL thread is not?
post #3588 of 77346
Thread Starter 
laugh.gif don't start @!+% in here and get this unstickied, go ask in the NFL thread or PM SKA.
post #3589 of 77346
Thread Starter 
laugh.gif don't start @!+% in here and get this unstickied, go ask in the NFL thread or PM SKA.
post #3590 of 77346
Not trying to get this unstuck... Just figured NFL talk thread is on par with this one and should be stuck too!

*@@@ baseball though still. laugh.gif
post #3591 of 77346
Not trying to get this unstuck... Just figured NFL talk thread is on par with this one and should be stuck too!

*@@@ baseball though still. laugh.gif
post #3592 of 77346
You want to sticky a thread that 8 Marley's post in regularly?  That sounds wise to you?  smiley: laugh

MLB and NBA are the only ones that should stay at the top of page 1 imo.  NFL has enough talk between the main thread, the WIR threads each week, and individual game threads.  NBA and MLB can be mostly put into season threads, plus team threads thru the season. 
MIAMI DOLPHINS
LA LAKERS
CHICAGO CUBS
MIAMI HURRICANES
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MIAMI DOLPHINS
LA LAKERS
CHICAGO CUBS
MIAMI HURRICANES
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post #3593 of 77346
You want to sticky a thread that 8 Marley's post in regularly?  That sounds wise to you?  smiley: laugh

MLB and NBA are the only ones that should stay at the top of page 1 imo.  NFL has enough talk between the main thread, the WIR threads each week, and individual game threads.  NBA and MLB can be mostly put into season threads, plus team threads thru the season. 
MIAMI DOLPHINS
LA LAKERS
CHICAGO CUBS
MIAMI HURRICANES
Reply
MIAMI DOLPHINS
LA LAKERS
CHICAGO CUBS
MIAMI HURRICANES
Reply
post #3594 of 77346
Valentine in BOS smiley: pimp
post #3595 of 77346
Valentine in BOS smiley: pimp
post #3596 of 77346
Greg Maddox hired by Rangers as an advisor to Jon Daniels and will serve as an extra instructor during ST and tour the minor throughout the year to check up on pitching prospects and lend a helping hand... pimp.gif Love it.
post #3597 of 77346
Greg Maddox hired by Rangers as an advisor to Jon Daniels and will serve as an extra instructor during ST and tour the minor throughout the year to check up on pitching prospects and lend a helping hand... pimp.gif Love it.
post #3598 of 77346
not sure about bobby v in boston...but im not sure how much a choice we really have. lamont definitely isn't the guy.
Boston Bruins | New England Patriots | Boston Red Sox | Georgetown Hoyas | Michigan Wolverines |
Arsenal FC | Huevos Rancheros Hockey | USMNT
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Boston Bruins | New England Patriots | Boston Red Sox | Georgetown Hoyas | Michigan Wolverines |
Arsenal FC | Huevos Rancheros Hockey | USMNT
Reply
post #3599 of 77346
not sure about bobby v in boston...but im not sure how much a choice we really have. lamont definitely isn't the guy.
Boston Bruins | New England Patriots | Boston Red Sox | Georgetown Hoyas | Michigan Wolverines |
Arsenal FC | Huevos Rancheros Hockey | USMNT
Reply
Boston Bruins | New England Patriots | Boston Red Sox | Georgetown Hoyas | Michigan Wolverines |
Arsenal FC | Huevos Rancheros Hockey | USMNT
Reply
post #3600 of 77346
Thread Starter 
I read somewhere that your new GM didn't wanna start off on a bad foot with the bosses by going against the hire that they wanted.
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