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Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Updated: November 26, 8:57 AM ET
Following the paper trail

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

Follow the money.

If your dad never gave you that advice, there's an excellent chance your wife is at the mall, maxing out your credit cards as we speak.

But ignore that terrifying thought for a moment, because "follow the money" is also the No. 1 piece of advice we can dole out to help you follow another action-packed baseball offseason. Here's why:

When this baseball winter began, we counted 168 free agents roaming the earth. And you know how much money those players earned combined in 2010? Nearly $700 million. That's how much.

So no matter what you may hear from your favorite general manager, teams do have bucks to spend this winter. Some just have more than others -- as always. Well, we've had our spreadsheets, our calculators and our hot-stove spies out all week. And now we're ready to project the five teams we expect to be the biggest spenders this winter.

New York Yankees

Yeah, we know. It's shocking to see the Yankees on this list. But here's how they got there:

New York Yankees

No longer on the payroll (for now, anyway): Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Javier Vazquez, Nick Johnson, Marcus Thames, Kerry Wood, Lance Berkman, Austin Kearns and (lest we forget) Chad Moeller, Randy Winn (released) and Chan Ho Park (dumped).

The Yankees paid those players slightly south of $80 million, by our calculations. And let's just say there's a fairly strong likelihood they can figure out a way to spend every one of those freed-up dollars.

Cliff Lee
Cliff Lee: Yankees or Rangers? And for how much?

We can hardly find anybody in baseball who thinks Jeter, Rivera and Pettitte aren't coming back. And just those three alone figure to eat up between $45-50 million.

Then there's Cliff Lee. By the time the Yankees are finished setting up him, his children, his grandchildren, his great-grandchildren and all their household pets for life, that should get the Bombers up to $70 million.

Now add in $8.5 million in scheduled raises for Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher, add $2.25 million in buyouts for Berkman and Johnson, throw in arbitration raises for Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, and, depending on how the free-agent contracts are structured, the Yankees would be down to just a bunch of smaller moves to fill out the roster.

If the Jeter or Lee negotiations take an unexpected turn and blow up, get back to us. And we should always remember, they're the Yankees, so not everyone is convinced they won't have a stealth run at, say, Carl Crawford in them at some point. But if you connect the Follow The Money dots, that's the Yankees' offseason in seven carefully researched paragraphs. And, of course, you're welcome.

Detroit Tigers

They've been a one-team transactions column entry already this month, and here's the simple explanation for how that came about:

Detroit Tigers

No longer on the payroll: Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez, Gerald Laird, Jeremy Bonderman, Bobby Seay and (lest we forget) Dontrelle Willis (designated), Nate Robertson (traded), Adam Everett (released) and Billy Buckner (ditto).

The Tigers doled out about $67 million to that crew last season. So was anyone out there wondering where the money came from to add $66.5 million to the future net worth of Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit, plus another $12.75 million to re-sign free agents Brandon Inge and Jhonny Peralta? Now you know. That's where.

Victor Martinez
Detroit invested $50 million in 31-year-old catcher Victor Martinez, who hit .302 with 20 homers for Boston last season.

Those four will earn nearly $29 million next year. Meanwhile, Justin Verlander has a $6 million raise coming. But there are no other huge raises on the books and no monster arbitration cases. So even after making four significant signings, the Tigers clearly aren't done.

They're not finished with their bullpen. And they're still prowling for a big right-handed, corner-outfield bat. They could be players for Jayson Werth. They could bring back Magglio Ordonez. They could have a surprise in store. But they have the dollars to make almost anything possible.

"My guess is they sign a bat, probably for [a total package of] less than $50 million," said one source who has talked with them. "I could see a [multiyear] deal in the range of $25-30 million. They can definitely still do that. I don't know if they will, but my sense is that they will. [GM] Dave [Dombrowski] clearly went into this with a plan, to be very aggressive. And he's going to follow through on that plan."

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels are kind of a special case, because everyone in baseball is braced for them to have a big, this-just-in-to-SportsCenter kind of winter. But in their case, it's because of where they finished in the standings, not all the dollars they've lopped off the books. Here's their rundown:

Los Angeles Angels

No longer on the payroll: Hideki Matsui, Scot Shields, Brian Fuentes (traded), Joe Saunders (traded) and Brian Stokes (released).

But there's no big savings bonanza coming from that group. They paid Matsui, Shields, Fuentes and Stokes about $19 million. But Saunders was replaced on the payroll by Dan Haren, who makes $12.75 million next year. And believe it or not, the Angels still have to pay Gary Matthews Jr. 11 million of Arte Moreno's precious dollars next year, too.

Ervin Santana, Scott Kazmir, Juan Rivera and Maicer Izturis have $7.5 million in scheduled raises due. And this is a team that has high-profile arbitration deals to get done with Kendry Morales, Jered Weaver, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and whichever catcher they commit to -- Jeff Mathis or Mike Napoli (one of whom figures to get traded).

So unless they lop payroll by trading, say, Rivera, Napoli and one of their high-income-bracket mainstays, the money they'll find to spend will be the $180 million Mark Teixeira wouldn't take two offseasons ago, not dollars missing from the 2010 payroll.

Adrian Beltre
Beltre
Carl Crawford
Crawford

"Every indication is, they're going to spend their butts off," said one AL executive. "They're going to spend where they feel they need to spend."

At this point, other teams would be surprised if the Angels don't sign Carl Crawford. And one baseball man predicted they would also sign Adrian Beltre and trade for a closer. Someone like Heath Bell perhaps?

"They could give Crawford $100 million, Beltre $70 million and still be spending $10 million less than they offered Teixeira," he said. "And that leaves enough left over to bolster their 'pen."

Boston Red Sox

Their Victor Martinez era is over now. And it wouldn't be a shock if Adrian Beltre turns into a one-and-done Red Sox tale himself. So while this team has money disappearing off the payroll, it also has big holes to address. Here's where the Red Sox could find some cash to address them:

Boston Red Sox

No longer on the payroll: Martinez, Beltre, Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek, Bill Hall, Felipe Lopez and (lest we forget) Manny Delcarmen (traded), Jeremy Hermida (released) and Scott Schoeneweis (likewise).

That appears to free up close to $40 million. But hold on. The Red Sox were paying only $1 million of Hall's $8.4 million tab. They owe Beltre a $1 million buyout. And they have five prominent players -- Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Daisuke Matsuzaka -- due $12.75 million in raises.

But they also have John Lackey and Tim Wakefield canceling out some of that with $4.75 million in salary dips. Except that Jonathan Papelbon and Jacoby Ellsbury could gobble up lots of that via arbitration.

Adrian Gonzalez
Gonzalez

So got all that? Glad to hear it. Once those decimal points settle, the best estimate is that the Red Sox have cleared somewhere between $25-30 million. And if they now turn around and trade Papelbon, Dice-K, Ellsbury or others, that number can still go up.

Either way, this is a team that seems poised to spend every free dollar. They still appear to be the favorites to sign Werth. They could conceivably do that and have enough left to bring back Beltre, trade for Adrian Gonzalez or acquire some other prominent corner-infield thumper. And even after all that, they'd have catching and bullpen shopping to do. So it won't stay quiet in Boston for long.

Texas Rangers

Even with the help of some great baseball minds, we had a rough time breaking down this team's finances. You want to try to help us figure out the Rangers' financial picture in the wake of last year's bankruptcy, sale, wheelings, dealings and World Series run? We hope you have a degree from Wharton, because it will make your head pound. But we'll do our best to sort this out.

Texas Rangers No longer on the payroll: Cliff Lee, Vladimir Guerrero, Rich Harden, Frank Francisco, Bengie Molina, Cristian Guzman, Jorge Cantu, Matt Treanor, Jeff Francoeur and Brandon McCarthy.

We can tell you with certainty that group made $45 million in 2010. What we can't tell you with certainty is how much of that tab the Rangers paid, considering they got cash with every acquisition they made. But the best estimate we've come up with was, it was somewhere between $25-27 million.

Nevertheless, this is a team with big bills. Buyouts to Guerrero and Harden chewed up $2 million. Ian Kinsler, Colby Lewis and Scott Feldman are due $5.25 million in raises. And how'd you like to compute the 2011 salaries of an arbitration-eligible group headed by Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson and Nelson Cruz? None of those guys will be working cheap.

So it's not as though this team has freed up dollars from that end of the ledger sheet. But other clubs expect the Rangers' payroll to take a serious high jump from the $55 million they were paying their Opening Day roster.

"They have to spend money," said one of the baseball men quoted earlier. "When you get new ownership, they always spend. Once they lose Cliff Lee to the Yankees, they'll need to spend on pitching. And they have no catcher. So they'll be out there."

Other teams continue to hear that the impact of the Rangers' big new TV package has been overestimated, especially in the short term. But it will supply massive dollars over the long haul. And this is a team at a pivotal juncture in franchise history, with major incentive to build off the momentum of its special October ride on the World Series Express.

So the Rangers will be throwing big bucks at Lee. If (when?) they get outbid on him, other teams expect them either to turn around and chase Crawford or make a run at trading for Zack Greinke. They'd like to bring back Guerrero. And they need a catcher.

"So they'll be active," said one AL executive. "I have no doubt about that."

Other teams looking to spend $$$

Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals, Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates (no kidding).

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.