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At 12:01am Sunday, exclusive negotiating rights of teams with free agents ended, and open season began. You knew the debate over Cliff Lee would be rough, but there is the question of affording him. Ditto for many other high-profile players. And while no big moves have been made in terms of new teams for free agents, or trades or anything (aside from the resignings we’ve seen so far), there have been intentions made and agents contacted, and if these intentions go through, the landscape of baseball will be altered quite drastically. So with that in mind, here are three of the biggest potential game changers (and team changers) that have shown up so far:
In case you haven’t heard of him, Iwakuma is on the Golden Eagles of Japan’s Pacific League. The Athletics won a bidding war with division rivals Texas and Seattle to earn negotiating rights with Iwakuma, and have 30 days to get a deal done. Iwakuma was 10-9 with a 2.82 ERA this past season, but had 21 wins in 28 starts with as 1.87 ERA in 2008, and pitched for Japan in the World Baseball Classic in 2009.
If the Athletics add the righty, they will bolster an already strong rotation. Then, they could concentrate on getting some bats, a supposed objective of Oakland this offseason. Doing so would make Oakland an instant contender in a division with always terrible Seattle, a weakened Angels squad, and a (possibly) Cliff Lee-less Rangers.
The Red Sox’ outfield, like every other facet of the team, was crippled by injuries in 2010. And despite promise shown by prospects Daniel Nava and Ryan Kalish, the Red Sox want some established starters, or else they might have to use (gulp) Youk in left field in emergencies again. Enter Jayson Werth.
In 2010, Werth had a .296 average, 27 homers, 85 RBIs, a .388 on base percentage, and a .532 slugging percentage. He did play 144 games in right, but 21 in center. That would give the Sox options: keep the Ellsbury in left and Cameron in center option, put Werth in center then ease Ellsbury and Cameron into left, or bench J.D. Drew if he gets hurt again. Basically, the Sox would have four qualified outfields to shift around as necessary.
Rumors have Werth’s asking price at, let’s say, $16 million, give or take. With Papi’s signing, adding Werth could potentially hurt Boston’s chances of signing other huge names, though the Sox are rich beyond rich.
Of course, failing Werth, or Beltre and Varitek (who have also supposedly been targeted by several teams), Carl Crawford could also provide additional offense and speed.
What checkbook, other than Steinbrenner’s or Henry’s, could possibly afford Lee? With Sauron’s eye in Boston perhaps looking more towards offense (they do have a slew of starting pitching, though some are largely ineffective), the Yankees took the opportunity to contact Lee’s agent and let him know an offer would be on its way shortly.
Needless to say, this move would instantly put the Yankees as World Series favorites (again). You would have Cliff Lee paired with C.C. Sabathia again; the last time was during 2002-2008, with Cleveland. Phil Hughes really came into his own, and Burnett and Pettitte should be healthy by next season. And with all the bats New York has, 29 other teams are shuddering at the thought of what may be.
But maybe Boston is purposely remaining out of the limelight on this one to make a sudden acquisition after seeing what other teams are offering. With the troubles experienced by Beckett, Matsuzaka, Wakefield, and Lackey, it would be a good move.