2010 in the books … clubs eye 2011

The cold bubbly has been sprayed and the Hot Stove season
is upon us. The Rangers and Giants played out a dramatic World Series to
punctuate another remarkable season, and now teams will set about preparing for
2011. And they’ll have several avenues to do so, chief among them trades, free
agency and promotion from within their own organizations.

And if the new sudden shift in priorities seems unlike
seasons, past, that’s because there are new rules at play. First and foremost,
teams will only have five days to sign their own free agents before they become
available to the league at large. The league used to allow 15 days of grace
period, but now the offseason is built to better facilitate the courting
process.

Practically speaking, that means that some of the most
hotly pursued free agents — southpaw Cliff Lee and outfielders Carl Crawford
and Jayson Werth, for instance — will have just five days to exclusively
negotiate with their teams before they hit the open market. That, in turn,
could mean that the market will set itself and that players will sign earlier
than usual.

Lee’s free agent status has only been enhanced by his
continued success in the postseason, and both Crawford and Werth should be
greeted by a market full of enthusiastic suitors. Other premier free agents
include third baseman Adrian Beltre, catcher Victor Martinez, starting pitchers
Carl Pavano and Andy Pettitte and a whole host of eligible first basemen.

Sluggers Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn should be among the
top first-base targets, but veterans Lance Berkman, Derrek Lee, Aubrey Huff and
Lyle Overbay could also draw attention in a flooded market. Manny Ramirez,
Johnny Damon and Magglio Ordonez are among the potential free agent
outfielders, and Vladimir Guerrero could also be out on the market.

Guerrero has a $9 million mutual option, and both he and
the Rangers will have to approve it to keep him from free agency.

The Yankees have three prominent players — shortstop
Derek Jeter, closer Mariano Rivera and southpaw Andy Pettitte — who are
eligible for free agency but expected to re-sign in New York. Former Yankee
Carl Pavano, who has strung together two straight strong seasons, and ex-Dodger
Hiroki Kuroda should both be hotly pursued in the pitching department.

Outside of Rivera, Rafael Soriano, Kerry Wood, Jon Rauch
and Koji Uehara could line up as the most attractive relief arms available. The
trade market should also be robust this winter, giving teams more a month to
circle each other and determine their list of priorities before convening for
the Winter Meetings in Orlando from December 6 through December 9.

Check back often as MLB.com will provide up-to-the minute coverage of all player movement leading up to Opening Day 2011.

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