Possibilities abound as Hot Stove warms up
Former GMs Duquette, Minaya share views on top available talent
NEW YORK -- The embers have been ignited on the Hot Stove season, and there's plenty of room on the front burner. Philadelphia struck last week by reaching an agreement with Jonathan Papelbon as the first high-profile deal of the winter, a transaction that may have a ripple effect on other moves.
Teams are weighing their offseason priorities and measuring them against their checkbooks. Some executives are gearing up for an expensive run at players like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, while others are looking for ways to upgrade their teams without breaking the bank.
With that in mind, MLB.com enlisted the help of two former general managers -- Jim Duquette and Omar Minaya, shoppers from Hot Stove seasons past -- to help flesh out the moves on the near horizon.
Pujols, the most accomplished free agent on the open market, may find himself the focus of a feeding frenzy. The nine-time All-Star went into free agency with the highest career batting average (.328), highest slugging percentage (.617) and second-highest on-base percentage (.420) among active players.
Jim Duquette: "Everyone who has a need at first base and $200 million stashed away will be interested. There are only a couple places you can really look at. Florida. Chicago Cubs. St. Louis. Maybe one of the West Coast teams. It's hard for me to imagine him anywhere but St. Louis. I think St. Louis would be the perfect fit and the team that's willing to extend itself a little to get him."
Omar Minaya: "I think there's no doubt he's the premier free agent out there and the best right-handed hitter in the league. If he keeps it up, he could be the best right-handed hitter of all time. My guess is the Cardinals, but who knows how many teams will be interested in him?"
Fielder has missed a grand total of 13 games over the last six seasons, which emphasizes his chief skills: Durability and consistency. Fielder has had an on-base percentage of .390 or better four times in the past five years and has delivered at least 30 home runs in five straight seasons.
Duquette: "He's not going to be in Milwaukee. It's unfortunate, but the price tag they threw out there is $180 million-$200 million. If it's anywhere near that, there's only one or two teams that can do it. The interesting thing is Boston and New York don't have the first-base position open. Does that mean they wouldn't go down the road? No, but it's not likely. I look at Texas, the Dodgers or the Angels. Those teams could all be in it, but I'd make a prediction that the Cubs will be a sleeper to get him."
Minaya: "I think the main difference between Fielder and Pujols is that Fielder's younger. He's an impact player and he's been very durable, so I'm not concerned about his health going forward. He's not just a good hitter but a slugger, too, and you've got to like his track record."
Reyes is coming off the first batting title in Mets franchise history, and the dynamic shortstop will be one of the chief prizes this winter. Reyes hasn't played in more than 135 games since 2008, so any team that signs him will have to be comfortable that he can stay healthy going forward. The Marlins have made an offer reportedly worth $90 million over six years.
Duquette: "Ordinarily, he might get what Carl Crawford asked for, but because of his hamstrings, it makes you at least pause and think about it. If you could say he's going to be mostly healthy, you could say that Carl Crawford's contract -- $142 million -- makes sense. The likelihood is he's going to get five or six years, which makes it a little more affordable for more teams. Florida really seems to make sense, because a big part of Jose signing is his comfort level. He and Hanley Ramirez have a prior relationship, and there are a lot of things to think he might be a fit there."
Minaya: "It's going to be interesting. Any time there's a premium skill position player who can be a plus player on offense and defense, you're going to have a lot of teams inquiring on him. The Mets will still try to sign him, but once you get to the open market, who knows who will get him?"
Rollins, like Reyes, can bring a team an upgrade in one of the most difficult positions to find one. The former Most Valuable Player hasn't hit higher than his career average (.272) since 2008, but he brings a diverse skill set on offense and can still handle shortstop defensively.
Duquette: "Right now, I think he's asking for five years, and I don't think the market's there. He just turned 33 and he fits for St. Louis, San Francisco, maybe Milwaukee. It's going to be a team that's willing to extend itself. He's a winner. He brings a lot to the equation."
Minaya: "He's a gamer and a winner. He's similar to Reyes, but Reyes is younger and a better player. One thing I can tell you: This guy is a winner and makes people around him better."
Ortiz bounced back in a big way in 2011 and earned the American League's Silver Slugger Award at designated hitter, and now he may be looking for a new place to ply his trade. Ortiz, who has been with Boston since 2003, can bring his power and patient approach to a new offense.
Duquette: "It's hard to imagine him outside of Boston, and that may ultimately be where he'd be a good fit. He's still a presence in the lineup, still a threat. When you look at him as a DH, it's a great spot for him in Boston, but the big question is whether he wants to go back there. I think that they'll have to sell him on that. There or Toronto, because of the relationship he had with [Blue Jays manager] John Farrell. He'd be a good fit in a lot of places, but those two teams seem to be the front-runners."
Minaya: "If you're looking for a designated hitter with some slugging, this is your guy. He's a run producer and he still has some productive years left. I wouldn't be that surprised if he left Boston."
Ramirez, a two-time All-Star, has hit the open market for the first time since 2006. Ramirez wound up re-signing with the Cubs that year but may be looking for a new destination this time. Ramirez batted .306 and won the National League's Silver Slugger Award at third base.
Duquette: "Ramirez is tougher because I think he's going to get a multiyear deal somewhere. The Angels might have interest in him. He could be another option in Florida if they don't get Reyes and move Ramirez to third. He gives you 30 home runs and 90 RBIs."
Minaya: "This is the best third baseman on the open market. He's consistent, he plays a corner position, he hits for power and he handles his position defensively."
Cuddyer was one of the few offensive cogs that kept Minnesota afloat last season, which may have been his last campaign playing for the team that drafted and developed him. Cuddyer, a versatile player with 141 career home runs, saw time in the outfield, first base and second base last year.
Duquette: "There's been just a ton of interest in him because of his versatility and his leadership ability. The recruitment process with Philly seems to be so far down the road, and he and Jim Thome were close friends during their Minnesota days. He's a really good fit there. They're a left-handed-dominant type of offense. I wouldn't be surprised if Philly made the push to get him."
Sizemore, once one of the league's burgeoning young superstars, will find himself fighting for a new home this winter. Sizemore, just 29 years old, has been limited by injuries for much of the past three seasons and hasn't hit more than 20 home runs since setting a career high (33) in 2008.
Duquette: "Grady Sizemore is one of those undervalued guys because he has performed at an All-Star level when he's been healthy. He just hasn't been able to stay healthy. He's at the top of the list of guys who could be Comeback Player of the Year. There are a lot of teams that would have interest in finding the upside -- Atlanta. Cleveland again. I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up in Boston."
Minaya: "Teams will be intrigued by seeing him on the market. My guess is it will be a big-market club that can offer him a deal with a lot of incentives. He'll probably sign a contract with a team where it won't really matter if he doesn't work out. He's young enough to rebound."
Darvish, a star from Japan's Pacific League, may well represent the most interesting arm on the open market. Darvish, who turned 25 in August, is a two-time Pacific League Most Valuable Player and will likely be the most sought-after Japanese pitcher since Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006 -- if he is posted by his team like Matsuzaka was.
Duquette: "We saw him in the World Baseball Classic, and we get good reports that he's pitched well over there. He's experienced and he's learned to pitch to contact with four pitches. ... Some of the Japanese pitchers have a spotty track record after the first year or two because they don't pitch every fifth day over there, it's a different ball and there are different ballparks."
Minaya: "He's a very good pitcher from the Japanese league, and I think there will be interest in him if he decides to be posted. He's in the same area as Daisuke Matsuzaka. There will be interest in him, but I don't know if he'll approach the same level as Daisuke in 2006."
Wilson, a southpaw, has won at least 15 games and crossed the 200-inning threshold in each of the past two seasons for the Rangers. He's also pitched to a 1-5 record with a 4.82 ERA in 10 postseason appearances, a mark that may give a few teams pause.
Duquette: "I think you're looking at Wilson and Darvish as 1 and 1A, but I'd tend to lean toward C.J. first and Darvish second. You know what you can expect from C.J., but you're not sure with Darvish. Wilson's stuff is at a good level and he doesn't have all those innings on his arm because he closed all those years. His intensity and baseball IQ are off the charts. ... He fits in almost any place. You'd feel equally comfortable having him pitch in a big market, a medium market or a small one."
Minaya: "I don't think he hurt himself in the playoffs, but he didn't help himself. I think people see him as a solid 2 or 3, and he's the best starter available in terms of record and performance."
Buehrle, who was drafted and developed by the White Sox, is getting his first taste of free agency. The left-hander has made at least 30 starts and surpassed 200 innings in 11 straight seasons, and several teams may look at the 32-year-old as a stabilizing influence for their rotation.
Duquette: "Buehrle, originally, wasn't getting a lot of attention. But he gets a lot of interest because he throws all of his pitches for strikes. There hasn't been a huge dropoff in stuff. He pitches to contact and he controls the hitter's bat speed, all qualities you would see in a pitcher who can be successful into his 40s. At least so far, he's said he doesn't want to pitch that long."
Minaya: "Mark Buehrle knows how to pitch. He's won a lot of games. The question with a guy like Mark Buehrle isn't whether there will be interest. The question is how many years he'll get. I'd say that it will likely be a two-year contract with an option for a third season. To me, he's a perfect fit to replace C.J. in Texas if Wilson goes, and he's an even better fit in the National League."
Jackson has been traded six times since the start of 2006, but he is finally in control of his own destiny. The right-hander turned 28 in September, and his tantalizing mixture of top-end stuff and durability may entice some team to take a shot at finally giving him a permanent home.
Duquette: "Edwin's an interesting guy because he's so inconsistent. Usually the market doesn't pay you that well for inconsistency, but when you look a little closer at the numbers, he's pitched very well when he's been with a team with a good manager and a good pitching coach. If you've got a guy with his stuff that pitches at a 3.50 ERA, I could see a lot of teams with interest. I wouldn't be surprised if he signed with the Nationals. They tried to trade for him years ago."
Minaya: "He could be a sleeper. He could be a good buy. The question here is how much a team will have to pay to get him. He's still at a prime age, and the key thing for him is going to be consistency, but that's something we've been saying about him for his entire career."
Kuroda has pitched well in his four seasons with the Dodgers, and the 36-year-old will get to choose where he winds up for next season. Kuroda has gone 41-46 with a 3.45 ERA in four seasons with Los Angeles, but his advanced age may keep teams from offering him a lucrative contract.
Duquette: "Kuroda pitched at such a high level, and he kind of gets forgotten. He invoked his no-trade clause at the end of the season, so he may want to stay there. The two fits I see for him are the Dodgers and the Red Sox. Maybe the Yankees. But he'll pitch at a high level."
Minaya: "He's an older guy. There will definitely be interest in him out there, but I'd think that he'd have to sign a shorter contract. I see that as one or two years for him."
Oswalt has struggled with back ailments in recent seasons, but he's been effective whenever he's been healthy enough to pitch. The right-hander is 159-93 with a 3.21 ERA for his career, and he'll likely be hotly pursued as a result of his track record in the National League.
Duquette: "There's a lot of interest in Roy, and understandably so. You do have to be cautious of his back, but the two places that are intriguing are Texas and the Braves. The Rangers always had interest in him when he was with Houston, and the Braves, even though they have good pitching, he's from Mississippi. He could also be a good fit in Washington as the experienced guy for Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann to learn from. His stuff's still really good."
Minaya: "You'd have to be concerned about the injuries, obviously, but he's been such a bulldog whenever he's gotten to the mound. The Rangers are always looking for pitching, and when he's healthy, he's a No. 1 [starter]. The Rangers would be a great fit."
Madson seemed close to re-signing with the Phillies but remains on the open market after Philadelphia signed Papelbon. Madson has just 52 career saves, but he's provided five straight seasons of above-average relief work.
Duquette: "If you had asked me this earlier in the week, I would've said the Phillies for sure. Now, the landscape has changed. Where does he fit now? Some of these other teams need closers. Texas, perhaps. That's the one team that intrigued me. Possibly the Angels."
Bell has saved at least 40 games in three straight seasons, which may make him attractive to some teams hoping to lock down the ninth inning. The 34-year-old right-hander has been an All-Star in three straight seasons, and he's never walked more than 30 batters in a full campaign.
Duquette: "Heath Bell is kind of served up on a platter because of his willingness and his desire to stay in San Diego. I still expect him to stay there, but having said that, I wouldn't be surprised if he was in play for Texas, too. The Rangers tried to trade for him. I think they could be aggressive and sign Bell, and then they could move [closer] Neftali Feliz to the rotation."
Minaya: "There will definitely be a market for him this winter. Statistically and performance-wise, he's been about as good as any closer available over the last few years."
The Cubs have a new regime in charge of personnel decisions, and now they'll need a new manager. Chicago elected to relieve manager Mike Quade of his duties, leaving the club with the task of finding a field boss that can help it win its first World Series since the 1908 season.
Duquette: "I think the most intriguing thing is Boston and Chicago. They put together their list of managerial candidates together, and then Theo Epstein takes that list with him to Chicago. Now they're in competition. What happens if one team comes close to deciding who they want and the other team wants the same guy? Are they in competition with each other for the same guy? It's something to watch. Pete Mackanin and Mike Maddux seem to be the front-runners in Chicago."
The Red Sox are coming off successive third-place finishes, and they'll have several new faces in key roles next season. Ben Cherington has taken over the general manager's position, and one of his first responsibilities is to find someone to replace Francona.
Duquette: "Dale Sveum and Mackanin are front-runners in Boston."
Minaya: "I could see Sveum landing here just because of his history with the club. When a guy is interviewing for a job and he has prior experience with the team, these things help."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.