Successful teams are built in the off-season

By Dave Fultz

With the raucous yells of the obnoxious fans in Philly finally settling down after the team’s Fall Classic win, baseball enthusiasts’ year-round obsession with the game can continue as the ever-interesting Hot Stove discussions begin.

Some of you may think I’m being sarcastic about my love for the off-season, but I’m really not and that’s because I know that talent wins championships. There can never be enough heart, grit, or anything else about a team that can win them a pennant if they don’t have good enough players to get the job done, and the off-season is when great teams are built.

Of course, great teams should be built through the draft, but the quickest and most dramatic way to alter the makeup of an organization is through free agency and the trade market.

Thursday is the last day of the general managers’ meetings in Dana Point, Calif., and there has been but small news. Any big contracts will have to wait until Nov. 15, when teams are officially allowed to sign free agents, and any trades until Dec. 8, when the GMs get together again for the Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.

Free agency is the quickest and easiest way to alter a team, but also the most costly in terms of both actual dollars and cents. Teams that sign frontline players on the free market not only pay them ridiculously high salaries but are also forced to give compensation draft picks to the team the player left behind in certain situations.

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This makes free agency a less attractive option to smaller market teams, but big market teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Dodgers, Angels and even the Cubs and White Sox haven’t been shy about throwing money around for the last few years.

And with all of the talent hitting the market this off-season, it doesn’t look like the trend will stop anytime soon.

Lefty hurler C.C. Sabathia and slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira lead the pack, but there are plenty of frontline arms and big bats up for grabs this off-season. Pitchers Derek Lowe, Ben Sheets, Brian Fuentes and Francisco Rodriguez are joined by hitters Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, Milton Bradley and Orlando Hudson.

With a plethora of power pitchers and big bats, it’ll be interesting to see who goes where and how the balance of power shifts in each division.

The biggest story of the off-season will likely be where Sabathia ends up. Although the Yankees have shown restraint in recent years, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hank Steinbrenner do whatever it takes – even if it means coughing up around $150 million – to land the southpaw. Sabathia might make more sense for a team like the Dodgers or Angels since he’s from California, but I’ll be shocked if the Yanks’ offer doesn’t blow everyone else’s out of the water in terms of money.

Teixeira’s situation will also be fun to watch because he’s a young, switch-hitting first baseman who plays good defense and has a lot of pop in his bat. Guys like him don’t come around that often and they are the type a GM could build a team around. The usual suspects will surely be among the bidders for his services, but don’t be surprised to see the Orioles get in the mix, as Teixeira is from Maryland.

Perhaps even more interesting than the big names on the free agent market are the huge ones being bandied about in trade rumors. Former NL Cy Young winner Jake Peavy is being shopped by the Padres in an effort to take his salary off the books and rebuild, and Matt Holliday is rumored to be available as the Rockies are also trying to cut payroll.

It seems unlikely Holliday will go anywhere, as the Rockies have a long history of holding onto their homegrown players. But the Peavy rumors have legs and news has broken that San Diego has narrowed his possible destinations to three NL clubs. The Braves seem the most likely trade partner because they have the talent in their farm system to match up with the Padres demands, but the Cubs are also aggressively pursuing the ace.

Whatever happens over this winter will shape the 2009 season in a bigger way than any other two-month period from now until next October. Fasten your seat belts because it’s going to be a heck of a ride.

Dave Fultz is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected].