The Nationals, as everyone ought to know by now, have money to spend this winter.
General manager Mike Rizzo went on the radio the other day to announce his interest in Cliff Lee, and a baseball official familiar with the Nats plans said later, "They'll be in on Lee, [Carl] Crawford, [Jayson] Werth, all the guys."
|The Nats are interested in Jayson Werth but will he join them? (US Presswire)|
A week into baseball's free-agent shopping season, no deals have been done, but plenty of predictions have been made. And one thing that's most interesting about all those predictions is the obvious trend with the biggest-name players.
Where's Lee going? Most people now expect it will be the Yankees.
And Crawford? Everyone says the Angels.
Werth? The early betting has been on the Red Sox.
Three big free agents. Three big-market teams.
Maybe that shouldn't surprise us, since free agency is mostly about money and the biggest teams have the biggest money. But when Bud Selig keeps talking about what has been done with revenue sharing, and when you see the teams that began 2010 with the ninth (Giants) and 27th highest (Rangers) payrolls meeting in the World Series, you do wonder whether maybe the landscape is changing.
The early read is that, at least with free agency, it isn't changing.
Then again, maybe it doesn't matter. While success in the 2008-09 free-agent market (CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett) led the Yankees to the 2009 title, the teams that signed last winter's big free agents all turned out to be busts.
You know what else those teams had in common?
Not one of them made the playoffs.
Even so, one of the biggest things we're going to be watching this winter is whether any of the big names go anywhere other than to the biggest teams.
Five other storylines to watch:
1. Free agents or free trade? The more teams look at the free-agent market, the more they realize it doesn't include nearly enough talent to satisfy all the teams with needs, or to accommodate all the teams with money to spend. The question some are beginning to ask is whether that means we'll see more trades than in recent years. "Teams might be forced to deal from their strength to another team's strength," one veteran club official said. "Teams with a lot of pitching are going to need to talk to teams with a lot of hitting." Already this week, there was one small pitching-for-hitting trade between the A's and Royals. But it's also worth remembering that the Giants just won the World Series in large part because general manager Brian Sabean so stubbornly refused to trade his pitching for hitting.
2. Will teams pay big for small arms? If you ask four baseball people who's the next best free-agent starting pitcher after Cliff Lee, you might get four different answers -- and none of them enthusiastic. So there figures to be a bigger market than there should be for guys like Jorge De La Rosa and Carl Pavano. Will a big market lead to big multi-year deals, ones that teams may soon regret? We'll see.
3. Does Adam Dunn get to first base? Dunn has said plenty of times that he doesn't want to be a designated hitter. Scouts and executives have said plenty of times that Dunn should be a designated hitter, which means he could likely make more money if he's willing to be a designated hitter. So would Dunn go to an American League team that would want him to DH, but would pay him more to do it? When I asked an AL executive that question a couple months back, his guess was that Dunn will consider AL teams at least long enough to try to use them as leverage, but that he would eventually stick in the more comfortable (and DH-less) National League.
4. Will Arte play the game? It's clear that the Angels want Crawford, and at least one person who talked to Crawford believes the Angels are at the top of his list, too. It sounds like a great match, and the only thing you wonder is whether Angels owner Arte Moreno will be up for a bidding war, if that's what it comes down to. Moreno likes his negotiations to go quick, and he seemed frustrated with the way the Angels lost out on Mark Teixeira a couple of years back. The Angels should be a big player this winter, and many people in the game believe they'll get Crawford, and maybe Adrian Beltre and a top reliever (Rafael Soriano?) as well. But if it comes down to drawn-out negotiating, will Arte get frustrated again?
5. If not Lee, then what's Plan B? The new Rangers owners told anyone who would listen that they're ready to spend money. They obviously want to spend a good chunk of it on Lee. Given how little Texas has committed for next year (only about $32 million, according to COTS baseball contracts), they could easily spend on Lee and another big free agent. But what if they don't get Lee? What if the Yankees offer so much that he can't turn it down (one competing executive said Friday that the best Texas can do "is drive the price up for the Yankees")? You can bet that the Rangers will still want to make a splash, but how do they do it? Victor Martinez would be one possibility, but would that be big enough? Lee or no Lee, Texas will be a team to watch.