Chris Cullum, Columnist

Temperatures are falling and winter is just around the corner, yet one thing is just starting to heat up: the MLB offseason.

Aside from the ill-advised Jonathan Papelbon signing by the Phillies, teams have mainly been going after one-year stopgaps and bench bats to fill out their rosters. However, huge names like Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes are sitting pretty on the free agent market, ready to collect their huge contracts. Let’s take a look at some potential moves teams might make this winter.

Papelbon to the Phillies

OK, this one already happened, but the adverse affect this contract caused needs to be addressed. There’s a reason closers don’t get contracts as sizable as Papelbon’s, and it’s because the position is just so volatile. Former closers Jonathan Broxton, Francisco Rodriguez and Joe Nathan are all free agents this year, and all three of them are probably looking for incentive-laden, one-year contracts to try and rebuild the value that was lost due to injury or ineffectiveness (or both in Broxton’s case). Two seasons ago, they were three of the best ninth inning forces in the game. This puts teams in need of a closer in a tough position; Ryan Madson is the “best” closer available right now, but he’s barely had a season’s worth of experience. Madson’s good, no doubt about it, but as the only “top-tier” closer on the market, do you really want to pay him, close to, Papelbon money? We might be looking back at this winter as the last offseason that closers got absurdly large contracts.

Fielder to the Dodgers or Cubs

Despite the uncertain ownership situation in Los Angeles, the Dodgers represent an attractive option for Fielder. They just re-signed Matt Kemp to a long-term extension, and he happens to be good friends with Fielder. There’s also an opening at first base (James Loney doesn’t count) and in the middle of the order that is seemingly made for him. In a division lacking a dynamic offense, adding Fielder could really give the Dodgers a divisional advantage. As for the Cubs, the hire of former Milwaukee hitting coach Dale Sveum as their manager could give them a leg up in potential Fielder negotiations. Sveum is highly respected among players and, like the Dodgers, the Cubs have a gaping hole in the middle of their lineup and at first base. Both moves make sense for both sides.

C.J. Wilson to the Yankees

The Yankees need starting pitching and Wilson is the biggest name out there. Simple as that. Whether or not he will deserve the contract he’ll get is another story.

Jose Reyes to the Marlins

If you had asked me this a month ago I would have said it was a lock that Reyes would head to the Brewers. The need was there for Milwaukee and they would have some money (not a ton, but some) to spend after the departure of Fielder. The Marlins, however, seem to be very serious contenders to sign the speedy shortstop. They have a new stadium; new name and a new uniform, so grabbing Reyes would be a big step in building a new identity, and hopefully a new, more passionate fan base.

B.J. Upton to the Nationals

Upton isn’t a free agent, but his name has been floating around in trade rumors for so long, especially to Washington, that I’d be shocked if it didn’t happen this winter. The Nationals say they are in search of an impact outfield bat, and if they think Upton is that guy, they’ll go get him. Maybe a change of scenery and a move to the National League could revitalize a career that at one time had such promise.

The Phillies will miss the playoffs next season

OK, I realize that this isn’t a winter prediction and that I’m picking on the Phillies, but it needs to be said: this team, aside from its pitching, just isn’t that good. Ryan Howard will miss time with his Achilles’ tendon injury and Jimmy Rollins might not be back. Can this offense succeed when built around injury-prone Chase Utley and good-but-not-great Shane Victorino? I don’t think so. Since winning the World Series in 2008, Philly has regressed every season: losing in the World Series in 2009, losing in the NLCS in 2010 and losing in the NLDS last season. Chris Carpenter’s shutdown Game 5 performance may have put the nail in the coffin of the Phillies’ championship window.

Comments