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Thursday, November 1, 2012
Top 10 storylines of the offseason

By David Schoenfield

Josh Hamilton
Free agent Josh Hamilton's destination will be a hot topic this winter.
It's time for a list. Of course it is. It's the offseason! My top 10 storylines of the offseason:

1. Where does Josh Hamilton end up?

Will there be 30 teams interested in him or three? How much money and for how many years? Is he an MVP candidate, an All-Star or merely a very good player? Is he a center fielder or a corner outfielder? How much of a concern are injuries and his addiction history? What was up with all the strikeouts in 2012? Is he the hitter who hit .308 with 27 home runs and a 1.016 OPS in the first half, or the one who hit .259 with an .833 OPS in the second half? What's up with the Red Bull and chewing tobacco? Did he wear out his welcome in Texas?

There's no doubt who the most intriguing free agent is this offseason. At his best, Hamilton is still one of the premier players in the game. But he'll turn 32 next May, and there are a lot of questions. Logic says to play it safe and offer him a four-year deal, but it only takes one owner looking for an impact to bid that up to six or seven years. I have no idea where he'll land -- Buster Olney has pushed the Brewers has a surprise bidder -- and I suspect this one will take a while to play out.

2. Do the Angels re-sign Zack Greinke?

To recap: The consensus World Series favorite had the best player in baseball and it wasn't Albert Pujols, Jered Weaver went 20-5, they traded for Greinke, Torii Hunter had his best season since joining the Angels, they picked up a dominant closer on the cheap, Mark Trumbo hit 32 home runs and improved his OBP ... and they still missed the playoffs?

The No. 1 priority for the Angels will be re-signing Greinke. They've already traded Ervin Santana and, combined with the departure of Bobby Abreu, that's $20 million off the 2012 payroll. Some of that will go to pay increases for the likes of Weaver and Pujols, but most of that will be funneled towards a big offer to Greinke. But that's not the only rotation question. The Angels hold a $15.5 million option on Dan Haren, who battled back problems in 2012, and they don't seem too interested in picking that up (the deadline is Friday, so don't be surprised if Haren is traded Thursday night). C.J. Wilson had surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow, and while he's expected to be OK, you never know. That puts a lot of pressure on bringing Greinke back.

As for Greinke, he'll have many bidders, and you have to believe AL West rival Texas will make a strong pitch, using Hamilton's money to lure Greinke to the Rangers. How does a rotation of Greinke, Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando sound?

3. Will the Yankees re-tool?

How quickly we forget the Yankees won 95 games and had the second-best run differential in the majors during the regular season. It's easy to panic -- as Joe Girardi did -- over a team-wide slump that occurred at the wrong time of the season, but the foundation for a division winner remains. Assuming they bring back free agents Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, you still have what should be an elite rotation with CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, the possible return of Michael Pineda, plus the possibility they go after Greinke or another free agent pitcher (Kyle Lohse, Anibal Sanchez, Ryan Dempster).

There's not a lot they can do with the offense. The rumors will float out there, but trading Alex Rodriguez seems like an impossible task. They should be willing to move Curtis Granderson to a corner outfield position and slide Brett Gardner to center or sign a better defensive center fielder like B.J. Upton (like Dave Cameron suggested) or Michael Bourn. But while the Yankees would like to get younger and faster, it doesn't make sense to tear apart the best team in the American League just yet.

4. Will Justin Upton be traded?

First Upton was going to be traded during the season. Then he wasn't. Then he was going to be traded in the offseason. Then the Diamondbacks said they wouldn't trade him. Bottom line: Nobody knows what they'll do. Even after trading Chris Young, the Diamondbacks still have outfield depth with Upton, Jason Kubel, Gerardo Parra and prospects Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock. The Diamondbacks traded for Cliff Pennington and have Chris Johnson at third base, but could still look to upgrade the left side of the infield. While they have plenty of young arms in the rotation -- Wade Miley, Tyler Skaggs, Trevor Bauer, Patrick Corbin -- plus Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Daniel Hudson (out until at least the All-Star break following Tommy John surgery), you can never have too much pitching.

So where could Upton end up? At this point, you almost think Arizona has to trade him; I'm not sure it does club or player any good with a "we don't really want you" cloud hanging out there. Certainly, the Rangers are apossibility, especially if they lose Hamilton. The Rangers have two top shortstops in Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar, baseball's No. 1 prospect. They have third base prospect Mike Olt. Something could line up there.

5. What will the Giants do?

Marco Scutaro, Angel Pagan, Melky Cabrera and Jeremy Affeldt are free agents and Hunter Pence would be an expensive arbitration case in his final year before free agency. After winning the 2010 World Series, the Giants re-signed Aubrey Huff and Cody Ross. Those deals didn't work out, but you have to think they'll attempt to bring back Scutaro, Pagan, Affeldt and probably Pence. The Giants will save $14 million in buying out Huff and dropping Freddy Sanchez, although most of that gets eaten up by $13.5 million in increases to Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Pablo Sandoval and Ryan Vogelsong (not to mention some arbitration-eligible players). There might not be money for all four of those guys, however.

6. Will the Mets trade David Wright or R.A. Dickey?

The Mets picked up the options on Wright and Dickey, but will they keep both players? ESPN Insider Jim Bowden writes that contract talks between Wright's agents and the Mets have been slow and grinding, leaving open the possibility that he could be traded. Jim mentions five possible trades here. Certainly the Diamondbacks -- with all their young pitching -- would be a strong possibility. Arizona could flip Upton for pitching and then trade from that depth to acquire Wright.

The Mets might able to get even more in return for Dickey, whose trade value will never be higher. At $5 million, he's a bargain for any team, even for just one year. Dickey is 38, but as a knuckleballer he could just be entering his prime.

7. Will the Dodgers spend more money?

According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Dodgers already have about $190 million committed to 17 players, including Brandon League, who signed a three-year, $22.5 million contract earlier in the week. So is there room to spend more? Apparently so. The only question: Where? With Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford, outfield is spoken for. Adrian Gonzalez mans first base and Hanley Ramirez is at third base or shortstop. Mark Ellis is still around, and you'd like to believe they'll give youngster Dee Gordon another shot at shortstop.

So, barring a trade for Wright (there isn't much left in the farm system to do that), that leaves the rotation. Starters under contract: Clayton Kershaw, Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly. There was concern Billinglsey might need elbow surgery and miss the season, but he threw 35 to 40 pitches on Tuesday, hit 94 mph, and his agent Dave Stewart said, "It looks like he's going to be ready for the 2013 season." That could be a solid rotation, but I can still see the Dodgers making a hard pitch for Greinke or Lohse.

8. Can the Nationals get better?

The Nationals will have to make decisions on free agents Adam LaRoche and Edwin Jackson, but they have options. They could move left fielder Mike Morse to first base and sign an outfielder, although LaRoche's left-handed bat would be a big loss. If Jackson seeks a multi-year deal, the Nationals would have money to go after somebody better, like Lohse or Sanchez. After the collapse in Game 5 against the Cardinals, they could also look to upgrade their bullpen via trade or free agency. They could dangle 2011 No. 1 pick Anthony Rendon, who is blocked at third base by Ryan Zimmerman. The Nationals have a young team, but their window might be now, while they still have payroll flexibility while guys like Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa are still making chump change.

9. Will instant replay be expanded?

In August, MLB installed cameras at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium to test different replay systems -- a camera-based system like in tennis and a radar-based system. At the time, MLB vice president Joe Torre said expanded replay is a possibility for 2013. After more blown calls in the 2012 playoffs, let's hope it finally happens.

10. Who will be the surprise big spender?

Here's my dark horse: The Mariners have only one player signed past 2013: Felix Hernandez. The only other two players making big money in 2013 are Franklin Gutierrez and Chone Figgins. This is a team with a lot of payroll flexibility if it's willing to spend -- and able to attract players to Seattle, of course. Moving in the fences might help to bring in a hitter the team desperately needs. Competing in a division with the Rangers and Angels and now the A's, the Mariners might have to take some chances on the free agent market to build a competitive team.