Although the offseason is long and dark for baseball fans, the most exciting part of it is now upon us --- the Winter Meetings. The braintrust of each Major League team will congregate in Indianapolis this week, and we’re sure to see some action. At last year’s winter meetings, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Francisco Rodriguez all signed contracts, and Mariners’ closer J.J. Putz was shipped off to the Mets in a massive three-team deal. Although there may not be that much action in this year’s Meetings, which run until Thursday, there are certainly a few players to keep an eye on. Here are four that I think will draw a lot of attention.
4. John Lackey
Lackey has spent his whole career with the Angels, compiling a 102-71 record since his rookie season in 2002. He’s not the most dominant guy on the market (more on that later), but he has a good track record and has been fairly durable, posting 200+ inning seasons from 2003-2007. However, Lackey was hit with injuries in both 2008 and 2009 --- including an elbow injury last year, which is a red flag for general managers. In October, Sports Illustrated reported that Lackey would demand at least the $82.5 million that A.J. Burnett received from the Yankees, but I think he may have to settle for less due to his recent injury history.
3. Jason Bay
Bay made a name for himself in Pittsburgh, winning Rookie of the Year in 2004. After being traded over to Boston in the 2008 season, he came into the national spotlight much more so than he did while playing for the Pirates, and he will certainly be a prized commodity this offseason. His 36 home runs in 2009 were third in the AL, and he finished seventh in the AL MVP voting. Bay is a great player, as he can hit for power (.519 career SLG) and earn his walks (.376 career OBP). The strikeout totals (162 in 2009, fourth in the AL) are high, but I doubt that teams will be scared away by that very much, especially considering Bay’s overall hitting prowess. Bay’s agent expects his client to remain in contact with the Red Sox, and given Bay’s performance (he’s gotta love that Green Monster) and good relationship with the fans, I would say that there's a good chance that he stays in New England.
2. Matt Holliday
I think Holliday will be the most sought-after position player this offseason. Although his .938 OPS over his five-year Colorado tenure has been met with skepticism due to the home run-friendly ballpark factors of Coors Field, I don’t think anybody denies that he is a great hitter. Like Bay, he is right-handed, hits for power, and takes walks. Throughout his career, Holliday has consistently hit for a better average, and is generally regarded as a better fielder than Bay. He will probably command a hefty asking price, very likely over the $100 million mark.
1. Roy Halladay
Halladay is the only player on this list that is not a free agent. Since last summer, the Blue Jays have been trying to trade him, and if a deal is going to get done, there’s a good chance that it will happen during the Meetings. The Red Sox and the Yankees are both in hot pursuit of Halladay, but it will take a lot for the Doc to be traded. The Daily News reported a few weeks ago that the Red Sox would need to part with Clay Buchholz and Class-A phenom Casey Kelley, while the Yankees would probably have to deal from a group including Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and prospects Austin Jackson and Jesus Montero. Both teams have recently shown an unwillingness to part with young talent, so it’ll certainly be interesting to see what will happen here. If the Jays really want to trade Halladay, they might have to lower their asking price.
Although I think these four will get the most attention this week, there are some other players that will draw significant interest. Ben Sheets, who missed all of last year with arm trouble, will surely be looked at by plenty of clubs due to his previous dominance. Rich Harden, who has only thrown at least 150 innings once in his career, will be looked at due to his serious strikeout numbers (10.9 K/9 in 2009) but will probably have to settle for a two-year deal because of his injury history.
Obviously, it’s not likely for us to see all of these players sign somewhere this week. But, the way these things seem to go, once one big contract has been handed out, the economic standard has been set, leading to more signings. Whatever happens, this week will surely have those avid baseball fans on the edge of their seats.