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01/03/11 10:22 AM EST
With 2010 in books, baseball looks ahead
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
With one countdown complete, it's time for some others. These each have a ball at the end, too, only with spinning red seams and a unique ability to capture your attention for months, not just seconds like that one in Times Square. Countdown: 41 days until Spring Training begins with those four magic words -- pitchers and catchers report. Countdown: 87 days until Opening Day, a Thursday for the first time since 1976. Countdown: 289 days until the World Series is scheduled to begin ... but maybe that's getting a little ahead of ourselves. After a 2010 calendar year filled with pitching riches and historic achievements, 2011 is already starting to burn fuel, preparing to blast off for another magical ride into the baseball universe. What we know already: From that treasured day when the boys of summer leave the winter behind with the first players reporting on Feb. 13 until someone, somewhere takes home the pennant-ringed trophy in October, we're in for something special. In those 41 days before we get there, baseball's seams keep spinning, after a bit of a holiday respite. There remains offseason work to be done. A brief rundown of what's happening before baseball's first countdown ends and the players get their uniforms dirty again: Results of the National Baseball Hall of Fame election for the Class of 2011 will be announced on Wednesday, with Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar the headliners. Each was only a handful of votes shy of the 75 percent threshold for election by the Baseball Writers' Association of America a year ago. Blyleven is in his 14th year of consideration and Alomar his second, and every player who received at least 70 percent of the vote eventually gained entrance to the Hall of Fame. Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell leads the newcomers to the ballot, which also includes holdovers such as Jack Morris, Barry Larkin and Lee Smith. Last year, outfielder Andre Dawson joined manager Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey in the hallowed hall. The Class of 2010 already includes longtime Blue Jays, Orioles, Mariners and Phillies executive Pat Gillick, elected by the Expansion Era Committee. This year's hopefuls will find out their fate by 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday. As the weeks tick off toward Spring Training, the free-agent market will continue to simmer following December's boiling point of $100 million contracts. No nine-digit deals are expected from here on out, but the Rangers are said to be deep in negotiations on a lucrative contract for Adrian Beltre, and the Angels previously made a reported five-year, $70 million offer. The A's, meanwhile, reportedly backed off their bid. The market's finally starting to jell for closer Rafael Soriano, and starter Carl Pavano has the Nationals and a return to the Twins among his options. A few top DH candidates remain as well, with Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome still available. The Rangers, Rays, Orioles and Blue Jays are among the teams looking. And those are just a handful of about 100 free agents still looking for jobs with that countdown to the report date clicking away. They're not free agents, but some of the top players with more than three but fewer than six years of experience are headed for a big payday before they get back on the field. Players eligible for salary arbitration can file from Wednesday until Jan. 15, with players and clubs exchanging salary figures on Jan. 18. Hearings are slated for Feb. 1-21, but recent years have brought very few, as players and clubs often avoid the sit-down by striking a deal somewhere in the middle. The Giants' Tim Lincecum (two years, $23 million) and the Tigers' Justin Verlander (five years, $80 million) came out the biggest winners last year as they and their teams agreed to avoid the potentially contentious arbitration process by signing long-term pacts. This year's class has plenty of intrigue as well. Jose Bautista, the Blue Jays' sudden slugger, led the Majors with 54 homers in 2010. He figures to get a substantial bump from the $2.4 million he made last year. Prince Fielder avoided arbitration two winters ago by signing a two-year, $18 million deal, and his long-term future with the Brewers hangs in the balance as much as his 2011 salary. Josh Hamilton, the Rangers' outfielder who is coming off an MVP year and a World Series appearance, has two more arbitration-eligible years remaining, and Texas has had internal discussions about wrapping him up in a long-term deal to avoid all that. The Rangers also have upstart starter C.J. Wilson eligible for arbitration, the Rays have starter Matt Garza and outfielder B.J. Upton to deal with, the Cubs have negotiations pending with Carlos Marmol and the Red Sox have business to attend to with Jonathan Papelbon -- which should prove interesting now that Bobby Jenks changed his Sox. Excitement for 2011 will start building from city to city as fan festivals take place, bringing the warmth of the boys of summer to a frozen winter setting in many areas. And then there'll be one team basking in the orange glow of 2010, once more. Or many times over, actually. Starting Tuesday, the Giants will embark on a World Series trophy tour, taking that hardware they brought home to San Francisco for the first time since moving there in 1958 and trotting it around from town to town and city to city for the next month. From Eureka and Santa Rosa to Sacramento and Lake Tahoe to Fresno and Monterey, the trophy will tour the entire radius of the Giants' NorCal fan base. But what makes this trip special is that it includes a Jan. 20-23 voyage to New York City, where the Giants played when they last won the World Series in 1954, and from whence Willie Mays and the rest of the Giants traveled to the West Coast in '58. Just another example of how baseball transcends the decades while getting you to count the days. Again, that's 41 until pitchers and catchers, 87 until Opening Day. Let the countdowns begin.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.