The baseball season ended Wednesday night, but it is far from over. Now comes the offseason, which is a misnomer. There is no offseason anymore. There are free-agent signings, trades, the winter meetings, etc.
Here are 10 story lines to watch between now and spring training:
Now that the Brewers have hired Ken Macha, only one managerial opening remains. And we can't even merit a guess with the Mariners, who surprised several major league executives with the hiring of Jack Zduriencik as their general manager. He has a great track record in player development, but he has never really worked on the major league level, which includes negotiating big free-agent contracts, or making a major trade. With the trouble the M's are in now, they'll need to make major moves.
Catcher Jason Varitek is eligible for free agency. He's not even close to being the hitter he once was, but he still runs a pitching staff as well as any catcher in the game and is as well-respected as anyone in the Boston clubhouse.
The Red Sox surely will make an offer to Varitek, but it might be for only one year.
Third baseman Mike Lowell will attempt to come back after hip surgery in October, but there's some doubt whether he'll be the really good player he was two years ago. Also, DH David Ortiz needs to rehabilitate his wrist this offseason so he can return to prominence as a power hitter, but that may be a lot to ask. But the Red Sox, one way or another, will contend next season because they have lots of money, lots of young pitching, lots of resources and a much healthier Josh Beckett.
There is a chance that we've seen the last of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. If so, they will all go into the Hall of Fame together in their first year of eligibility. But, knowing them, all three will pitch in 2009.
Smoltz, the world's most competitive person, will not let his career end with an injury; he is determined to come back. Glavine likely won't want his career to close with an injury, either. And Maddux is still an above-average major league pitcher. So is Randy Johnson, who needs four more wins for 300, which is really important to him. He'll want to come back. It's not as clear with shortstop Omar Vizquel and second baseman Jeff Kent. They have a chance to make the Hall of Fame.
They will be very aggressive in trying to upgrade their club for 2009, the first year of their new stadium. GM Brian Cashman, who was re-signed for three more years, will not trade his best young kids, so that means Hank Steinbrenner is likely to heavily pursue free agents.
The Yankees need pitching, and the best free-agent pitcher is CC Sabathia. Or maybe they'll try to get two pitchers for the price of one Sabathia and sign free agents Derek Lowe and A.J. Burnett. The Yankees have many other roster decisions to make, including whether to keep several free agents-to-be, such as Mike Mussina (we say yes) and Jason Giambi (we say no).
Two teams make the most sense -- the Mets and the Tigers -- because of the need for a closer, but it doesn't appear that the Mets are willing to give K-Rod the money and years that he'll be looking for. Rodriguez has been amazingly durable in his career, but his numbers in 2008 -- other than the record save total -- weren't overly impressive. It's a risk to give a four- or five-year deal to a reliever. It didn't work out well for the Mets and Billy Wagner.
The Yankees likely will need an everyday first baseman, and the Orioles definitely need one. Teixeira is from Baltimore, but chances are he won't take a hometown discount. The Angels might be the front-runners since he did so well for them after the trade from the Braves in the summer.
Teixeira is terrific, offensively and defensively. He could be a huge addition to any team, but not many teams are looking for a really expensive first baseman.
He is a marvelous player, a great guy and the face of the franchise, and the Rockies can contend in the weak NL West next year if he's there. Those are compelling reasons to keep him, but they might have to trade him after the 2009 season, when he becomes a free agent, because they probably won't have enough money to afford him.
The Giants, Diamondbacks and Dodgers (if they can't sign Manny Ramirez) would love to have Holliday, but the Rockies surely will be hesitant to trade him within the division. The Mets need an everyday left fielder. Almost any team with money would love to have Holliday.
It could be the Yankees, who need pitching, but Sabathia has hinted that he would love to pitch in his home state of California, meaning the Dodgers and Angels should be in the hunt. He loves to hit, so it's possible an NL team would have a slight edge.
The Brewers say they want to re-sign him, but Sabathia is going to be looking for Johan Santana money, or close to it, and that's too rich for Milwaukee and for most teams. But because he has been such a good pitcher the past two seasons and was so tremendous and durable down the stretch, some team will give him something around $120 million for five or six years.
By all accounts, yes. The Padres are really bad right now; they need to do a four-for-one trade and attempt to move forward. Plus, getting rid of Peavy's huge contract will be important in the team's progress. Peavy has great stuff and loves to compete, but he is such a maximum-effort guy that he rarely throws more than seven innings (no complete games in his Cy Young season in 2007) and often reaches 100 pitches in the fifth inning.
Peavy has a no-trade clause. He can choose where he wants to go. The Cardinals are an option, but they haven't shown significant interest. The Braves are an option, but they don't appear willing to trade their best young players. The Astros are an option, but there's a question about how much young talent they have available in trade. One way or another, Peavy will go.
The Dodgers "have a big problem,'' said one general manager. "They have to sign Manny because of what he did for the team and the city. But I don't think they can afford him.''
The Dodgers don't have significant funds, but Ramirez got them into the playoffs, revitalized the town and the team and then had one of the best postseasons of all time. He stopped trying in Boston in order to get himself to a new team and get out from under the two option years at $20 million a year. Now, it seems he might get more than $20 million from some team. It could be the Dodgers, but they don't appear to be in a position to give Ramirez more than two years.
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.