Top 10 offseason storylines

The offseason in baseball is a great misnomer. There is no offseason. As soon as the final out of the World Series is made, the work begins.

Here are 10 questions for the on season.


How will the Yankees replace Derek Jeter?

There is no one in the Yankees' system ready to step in and play shortstop.

There are a few shortstops on the free-agent market, including Hanley Ramirez and Stephen Drew, but it doesn't look as if the Yankees are going there. They likely will go even smaller than Drew, perhaps to a Brendan Ryan type, mostly because there is not a lot from which to choose.

The Yankees also will be looking for a third baseman in free agency or via trade. That will mean that Alex Rodriguez will go to camp without a job. He will make the team, but the Yankees aren't keeping anything open for him -- third base, first base or DH -- in spring training until they see what he has left.


How strong is the free-agent market for position players?

It's not great. Victor Martinez is out there. The Tigers really want him back, but he likely is going to want four years for around $60 million, and they'll be more comfortable giving three years.

Hanley Ramirez is a free agent, the Dodgers might let him walk, but wherever he goes, his next stop could be as a third baseman.

Third baseman Pablo Sandoval is probably going to re-sign with the Giants; for all his weight issues, he's a very good player, and very important to the Giants. Nelson Cruz, who led the AL in home runs, is a free agent. It's going to cost a lot more than $8 million to sign him this winter. And free-agent catcher Russell Martin will be in demand from several teams, including the Cubs.


What are the Phillies doing?

The Phillies are rebuilding, it appears. They will try to move players, including first baseman Ryan Howard, but his contract is unmovable. They could trade shortstop Jimmy Rollins, with his approval. And they might have to consider trading ace Cole Hamels, who has never been better than he is right now.

Several big-market teams are looking for starting pitching, and if they can't get Max Scherzer, Jon Lester or James Shields through free agency, they may look to trade for Hamels. It would be a huge loss for the Phillies, but if they are going to move forward, getting three players for one might be their best option.

Those teams that cannot afford Hamels might look to deal for one of the pitchers on the Reds, who need a bat. Johnny Cueto's name will come up a lot this winter, as will Mat Latos' and Mike Leake's.


What will happen with Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton?

He was the best hitter in baseball this year, the winner of the Hank Aaron Award. He is the backbone of the Marlins, and he won't turn 25 until November. He is their present and their future, yet given his age, track record and contract status, big-market teams will again try to pry him away from Miami.

The Marlins have been adamant that they are not trading him, and they probably won't, but they have to at least entertain offers just in case some team, such as the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees, are willing to offer a package that cannot be refused.

More likely, the Marlins are going to have to determine how much it's going to take to sign him long term. That likely will start at $200 million.


What impact will new commissioner Rob Manfred have?

He will officially take over for Bud Selig in January. Manfred is a smart guy with a steel spine, a guy who might not be the backroom dealmaker that Selig was, but he's a tough guy behind the scenes.

Still, he is Selig's replacement -- hand-picked by Bud -- so don't look for sweeping changes in the game. But Manfred will look hard at the pace of game. We anticipate all sorts of ways to speed up the game without messing with the fabric of the game. A clock on pitchers is at least something that will be considered.

Expect minor tweaks with instant replay, and another clarification of the rules regarding catcher collisions. The game is in pretty good shape, but refining some things will be important.


How will new boss Andrew Friedman change the Dodgers?

Friedman has inherited a talented Dodgers team and organization, but it is a team that lacks something, and that something is hard to identify. There appears to be chemistry issues, perhaps due in part to having too many outfielders, but moving Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford won't be easy given the money they each makes.

Will Friedman decide that Joc Pederson is the Dodgers' future center fielder, and decide that the future is now? Will Friedman determine that future shortstop/third baseman Corey Seager is so talented, he cannot be included in any trade package?

Chances are, Hanley Ramirez will not be re-signed by the Dodgers, and if he is, not to play shortstop. Catcher A.J. Ellis is also up for free agency. Some work needs to be done here, but with the right move or two, the Dodgers will be in position to get where they haven't been since 1988: the World Series.


Where will James Shields sign?

"Big Game" James did not help himself with the way he pitched in the postseason: 6.14 ERA in five starts. His velocity was down, he threw too many cutters and, as one scout said, "[Shields] seems to have lost confidence in his fastball."

Only Justin Verlander has thrown more innings and more pitches the past eight years than Shields, and maybe that workload is starting to show. But Shield is still a good pitcher. Is he a four-years-at-$64-million pitcher? Or, as one GM said, "He's still a five-year, $100 million pitcher."

The Red Sox have to add a premium starting pitcher and Shields seems to be a good fit, but if they weren't willing to give Lester a five-year deal, why would they give Shields that much? How the Red Sox get a No. 1 starter, without changing their philosophy on paying pitchers, will be a key story this winter. They might trade Yoenis Cespedes in order to get the ace they need.


Where will Jon Lester sign?

There remains a conspiracy theory that the Red Sox low-balled Lester in their contract offers, traded him to the A's on July 31 for Cespedes, told Lester to go win a World Series for Oakland, then they would bring him back to Boston for a legitimate contract, with a much better offensive team around him. And although that makes some sense, that likely isn't going to happen.

More likely, the Cubs are going to make a run at Lester with roughly $150 million in hand. Cubs team president Theo Epstein has been waiting for several years to make his big splash, and this might be it.

He has talented position players either already in the big leagues or on the verge of promotion, and now he needs to add that cornerstone pitcher. Epstein has a winning history, and a trust factor, with Lester. He'd be the perfect piece to add to the Cubs.


Where will Max Scherzer sign?

In spring training, Scherzer turned down a seven-year, $144 million contract from the Tigers. A Tigers source has acknowledged recently, "I don't think we'll be able to re-sign him," which opens the way for a number of big-market teams to sign a 30-year-old pitcher who is 91-50 lifetime, 70-24 the past four years, and one year removed from winning the American League Cy Young Award.

The Yankees, who have missed the playoffs the past two years, would seem to be the logical choice to sign Scherzer, and it's going to take at least $144 million to do it.

That way, the Yankees could open the season with Scherzer and Masahiro Tanaka at the top of the rotation, then hope that CC Sabathia comes back healthy enough to give them something as a No. 3 starter.


Joe Maddon headed to the Cubs?

It looks like Maddon is headed to the Cubs. While a deal might not be officially done yet, one is expected. Maddon loves the National League game. He left the Rays in part because they couldn't pay him what he wanted. "Money was a factor," he said. "I have to think about my family, and my charities."

The Cubs have money, and they have a plan for potential greatness; they just need someone to lead them. With all the young position players already there, and more on the way, including Addison Russell and Kris Bryant, the future is bright.

If the Cubs were to sign Lester in the offseason, they would have the start of a pretty good pitching staff. Maddon is a progressive manager (but still old-school in many ways), and he would work well with Theo Epstein.

"I'm willing to wait a year," Maddon said, meaning not managing in 2015 if there isn't an opening that interests him. But it looks like Chicago will be his landing spot, and it will be fascinating to watch.