The World Series is over. The Red Sox are the world champions for the second time in four seasons, having dismantled the Rockies in four games. Now comes the offseason, which will be extremely busy. Here are some key questions for the winter.
Who's going to pay A-Rod $30 million annually?
Alex Rodriguez is the best player in the game. He will be the unanimous MVP of the American League after his historic season. He is on his way to becoming the all-time home run leader, among other achievements. And now he is a free agent, having opted out of his Yankees contract, which would have paid him $72 million over the next three years. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman reiterated when A-Rod opted out that the Yankees would not negotiate with him. And they won't, especially after agent Scott Boras notified Cashman of the decision via text message. A-Rod and his agent announced it the night the Red Sox won the World Series.
Boras is a smart guy. There's no way he would leave $72 million on the table unless he was certain he could get more on the open market, or if Rodriguez told him he didn't want to play for the Yankees any longer. There are so few teams that have the funds to even come close to paying Rodriguez what Boras is going to be looking for: something between $250 million and $300 million over seven to 10 years. The Mets seem to be a possibility, but they have a third baseman and a shortstop. The Red Sox have every intention of re-signing third baseman Mike Lowell, the World Series MVP who is a free agent to be. He could play shortstop in Boston, but that's a real long shot. The Angels need a bat, they need a third baseman, they need a boost, but a team source said late in the season that there was "no way'' Los Angeles would be willing to play Rodriguez close to $30 million a year.
Where will A-Rod play next year? That story will change about a hundred times, starting today.
Barry, how about taking a pay cut?
Barry Bonds is a free agent. He made $17 million this season and probably won't be willing to take a huge pay cut. But he is carrying a tremendous amount of baggage and it seems he would prefer to play the outfield another year. That doesn't make him an attractive free agent. He can still hit -- 28 homers in 340 at-bats -- but it is difficult to find an American League team that has a spot for him, has the money to pay him and is willing to put up with all that comes with having Barry Bonds on your team. Maybe, as we get deeper into the offseason and closer to spring training, a team will sign him. If not, we may have seen the final at-bat of the remarkable and controversial career of Barry Bonds.
Santana may be too pricy for Twins
The Twins have one of the most difficult decisions any team has had to make in many, many years. Johan Santana is, by most accounts, the best pitcher in the game. He has an incredible work ethic, so there's no reason to think he won't be among the best pitchers in the game for the next five years. He is a free agent after the 2008 season. The Twins are a small-market team, so chances are, they won't be able to afford what Santana likely will be asking for: a minimum of $20 million a year, maybe closer to $25 million.
So they have three options. First, they could keep him, put him atop what could be a terrific young rotation, and try to win the division and go deep into the playoffs with Santana, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Matt Garza and Kevin Slowey. Second, they could start the season with him, and if it appears they're not going to contend, they could trade him before the July 31 deadline. Third, they could try to get maximum value for him by trading him before the start of the season. That way, a team would have Santana for the entire 2008 season, and might be willing to give up more in return. He would, of course, be coveted by many teams, including the Mets and Yankees, but how many teams are prepared to give up three good, young players, and can afford a contract that might be worth around $150 million?
Crackdown on users of performance enhancers
The Mitchell investigation is expected to release its findings sometime before the end of the year. It's possible several marquee players will be exposed as users of performance-enhancing drugs.
It could get really nasty. Then comes the real difficult part: What will Major League Baseball do with the players who are to be named, and those who already have been named? What will be the punishment? If commissioner Bud Selig tries to suspend players, the Players Association will rush to their defense, and it will get ugly.
Hopefully, the Mitchell investigation will help explain how baseball got into this steroid mess, but hopefully, it will also help address ways to rid the game of HGH and all other performance-enhancing drugs. Selig is committed to cleaning up the game completely, but getting the union to agree to blood testing is another issue, and it will be a major challenge.
Things to do in New York
The Yankees have a lot of work to do this winter. New manager Joe Girardi is in place. Now they'll focus on trying to replace Alex Rodriguez, and signing free-agent catcher Jorge Posada and closer Mariano Rivera. Posada had a historically great season for a 36-year-old catcher, making the Yankees' re-signing him a high priority. Losing him to free agency would be a huge blow, especially if he went across town to the Mets. Losing Rivera to free agency would be an even bigger blow, given that he is arguably the best closer of all time and, after Derek Jeter, has been the most important Yankee during their 12 straight years in the playoffs. Even with Torre gone, Cashman remains, and he has every intention of keeping his best players, even if he has to overpay for a 36-year-old catcher and a 38-year-old closer. And he's going to have to convince Andy Pettitte to pitch another season in New York. Girardi was Pettitte's personal catcher in their previous stints in New York. That should help.
Rocket low on fuel
We've learned never to underestimate Roger Clemens, but it's likely that we've seen his last pitch in the major leagues. He wasn't the same Rocket this season, and he finished with leg and elbow injuries. It's not how Clemens wanted it to end, but at age 45, there is a time for everything to come to an end.
This market looks rather bleak
It is not a strong free-agent market. There are the free-agent Yankees, and there are three center fielders available: Andruw Jones, Torii Hunter and Mike Cameron. The Braves have said they will not re-sign Jones, and the Twins have not been aggressive in pursuing Hunter, another sign that he will be going elsewhere (White Sox? Rangers?) as they save all their money for a possible run at Santana. The pitching market is really weak: Curt Schilling, Livan Hernandez and maybe Pettitte head the list. Clearly, the many teams looking for pitching are going to have to acquire it via trades, not free agency.
Four-time World Series-winning manager available
Joe Torre is the best free agent on the market. He can still manage. He certainly won't be interested in rebuilding a young team, but Torre isn't ready to retire, not with the way it ended in New York.
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His new book, "Is This a Great Game, Or What?", has been published by St. Martin's Press and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.