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Thursday, October 31, 2013
Fire up the hot stove!

By Tim Kurkjian
ESPN.com

The World Series is over and already the offseason has begun, which is how it always works in the never-ending game of baseball. A big winter is ahead. Here are 10 stories to watch.

10. Hall of Fame voting

Five legitimate candidates are on the ballot for the first time this year, led by Greg Maddux, who, by any statistical measure, is one of the top 10 pitchers of all time, more likely the top seven. He will make it on the first ballot. So should Tom Glavine, a 300-game winner, a two-time Cy Young winner (and in the top three in Cy voting four other years) and a five-time 20-game winner. So should Frank Thomas, one of eight players ever with a .300 average and 500 home runs. Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent also will get consideration in their first year.

It will be interesting to see if the biggest names from last year's class, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, get a spike in voting in their second year on the ballot. Last year, they received 36.2 percent and 37.6 percent of the vote, respectively. Did some voters leave them off the first year as a protest for steroid connections? Or, as has been the case with Mark McGwire, is this the way it's going to be?

9. The power vacuum in baseball

Bud Selig
Selig

The 2014 season will be Bud Selig's last as commissioner; finding a replacement will not be easy, and the process likely will begin this winter. If Selig had his way, it would be Rob Manfred, who recently was promoted to chief operating officer of MLB. He knows how the game is run, and he has an excellent relationship with the Major League Baseball Players Association. MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner has terminal cancer; sadly, a replacement for him likely will be needed over the next year. MLB has had labor peace for over 10 years, the game is running about as smoothly now as it has in a long, long time, but the choices for commissioner and MLBPA leader might shape the course of the game for the next 10 years, if not longer, and right now, those choices aren't close to clear.

8. Managerial moves

The Nationals will name Matt Williams as their manager as soon as the World Series ends, leaving the Tigers, Cubs and Mariners to find their next managers. The Tigers job is a great one, a team ready to win immediately. If they stay within, hitting coach Lloyd McClendon apparently is the leading candidate. If they go outside, the list of candidates includes Brad Ausmus and Tim Wallach. Ausmus also is up for the Cubs job, as are Rick Renteria, A.J. Hinch, Eric Wedge and others. Wallach is among several to interview in Seattle. Don Mattingly, despite all the confusion, is expected to manage the Dodgers in 2014.

7. Collisions at the plate

Alex Avila
Will home-plate collisions such as this one between Detroit's Alex Avila and Boston's David Ross during the ALCS soon become a thing of the past?

MLB is going to meet this winter to discuss eliminating collisions at home plate in hopes of making the game safer. The old guard in baseball seems to be coming around on this issue; the "this is the way it has always been done in baseball" line appears to be losing its hold. It's possible that rules will be set in place to protect catchers from being clobbered at the plate. One warning from a noncatcher currently playing in the major leagues: "I don't want to see catchers get hurt, but most of our catchers are really good at giving the runner a place to slide, then at the last second, taking it away by dropping a knee. If you have decided to slide to that spot, that's how you break an ankle. Sometimes, the runner is in more danger of getting hurt than the catcher. I hope MLB takes all of that into account."

6. The A-Rod saga

Alex Rodriguez is appealing his 211-game suspension. The case is in the hands of the arbitrator. Rodriguez has hired an incredible team of high-powered lawyers in hopes of having his suspension reduced, if not eliminated. The latter appears highly unlikely, but you never know once a case goes to an arbitrator. MLB will be furious if A-Rod is allowed to play next year, but no matter what happens, his career and his legacy have been tarnished forever.

5. Instant replay

MLB will make a final determination this winter on what to do with expanded instant replay. Chances are, 2014 will serve as the first season where all plays beyond balls and strikes will be reviewed from a main office in New York. It is still unclear exactly how the replay mechanism is going to work, but if it doesn't work well next year, it will be tweaked until they get it as right as they can. One warning on instant replay: There is a saying in Washington that when you try to make something perfect, you don't even make it better.

4. Next stop for McCann?

Brian McCann
McCann

Brian McCann is set to become a free agent. From every indication, the catcher will not re-sign with Braves. He is not the player he was five years ago, but he can still hit, he can still run a game and his repaired shoulder has a couple of years throwing left in it. He would be a fit for several teams, including the Yankees and Red Sox. Maybe he becomes the replacement for David Ortiz as the DH in a couple of years, and until then, catches 100 games per season.

3. Ellsbury likely on the run

Jacoby Ellsbury is set to become a free agent. He is going to get paid a lot of money by some team because he is 30 years old, he can run and he has Scott Boras as his agent. Ellsbury proved to teams in this postseason that he is not brittle or soft, that he can come back from an injury and still play at a high level. The Red Sox probably will make a bid to keep Ellsbury, but chances are, he will get more money from another team. The Yankees and Mets could use a center fielder. So could several other teams. Shin-Soo Choo, who played for the Reds this season, also is a free agent. Otherwise, it is not a strong free-agent year.

2. The Price of doing business

David Price
It will cost a pretty penny -- in both dollars and prospects -- to pry left-hander David Price away from the Rays.

Chances are, the Rays are going to have to trade David Price, perhaps this winter, not because they want to, but because he is a free agent after the 2014 season, and they won't be able to afford him. All sorts of teams would love to have Price, but it's going to take three young players to get him, and the Rays are really, really good at getting the best young players in trades. The Dodgers still have money to spend, so it's not inconceivable that they could put together a package for Price. Imagine Clayton Kershaw, Price and Zack Greinke at the top of the rotation. But Kershaw likely will sign long-term with the Dodgers this winter, which could prevent them from seriously pursuing Price. That might leave the Rangers, who have young pieces, and lots of money. The Rangers lost in the wild-card game in 2012, and didn't make the playoffs this season. That's not good enough for a fan base that is used to winning.

1. How much dough for Cano?

Robinson Cano
Cano

Robinson Cano is not going to get $300 million. He is not going to get 10 years. He will be lucky to get something close to $200 million. But he is the premier free agent out there. He is a future Hall of Famer with a track record that is wildly impressive for a second baseman. The Yankees have to re-sign him; they have no choice. And, it appears, there isn't a strong second team out there that needs him so much to give him $200 million. The Cubs don't appear to have the money to do that, and the Dodgers don't have the need they once did.