ADDED 5:20PM Jan 04, 2011 by Fanshots
Eggnog has returned to the back shelf in grocery stores, a sure sign that the holidays are history. Which means spring training is just around the corner. Forty days from Tuesday, to be precise, til pitchers and catchers report. Three storylines to occupy your baseball talk til then:
The formality of filing starts Wednesday but the real buzz won't begin Jan. 18 when players and clubs exchange salary figures. The list of players facing potentially sticky cases, with last year's salary in parentheses, includes: Brewers slugger Prince Fielder ($10.5 million), Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon ($9.35 million), Blue Jays home-run champ Jose Bautista ($2.4 million), Angels starter Jered Weaver ($4.26 million), Rays center fielder B.J. Upton ($3 million), Padres outfielder Ryan Ludwick ($5.45 million) and Cubs closer Carlos Marmol ($2.12 million).
Prediction: A.L. MVP Josh Hamilton, who made $3.25 million last season, will end up with the biggest raise in arbitration. His increase could approach the $9.1 million raise Ryan Howard received when he won his case for $10 million in 2008.
With one more season before he could hit the free-agent market, the Rangers will try to sign Hamilton to an extension. Those talks should be interesting because of Hamilton's durability questions. Since his rookie season in 2007, he has missed an average of 45 games a season while suffering injuries to, among other body parts, both knees, both hamstrings, his back and right wrist.
Talks for the most important contract extension in Cardinals' history are underway, with the club in the unenviable position of trying to keep the game's best player without making him the highest-paid player.
The club would like nothing more than to announce a deal during its widely attended fan fest Jan. 15-17 but a Pujols' spokesman recently declined to answer if that was a goal. His non-reply was intended as an example of how far away from the media both sides plan to keep the negotiations. "You're not going to get a play by play," Cardinals GM John Mozeliak added. "If at some point, we feel there needs to be a public statement and we both agree on it, then we'll do it."
Prediction: If the No. 1 player re-ups with the Cardinals, it will not be as the No. 1-paid player. By the estimation of one long-time agent, Pujols left as much as $100 million on the table when he agreed to his $116 million, eight-year deal in 2004 (He is due to make $16 million this season, not enough to crack baseball's top 10 salaries). Even after you consider the typical agent exaggeration, that's many, many millions. The agent's point: Cardinals fans should not expect Pujols to be so giving with his next contract.
Opportunities for everyday jobs have dwindled but the list of players looking for work remains lengthy. Among the notable position players looking for teams are Vlad Guerrero, Jim Thome, Edgar Renteria, Adam LaRoche, Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez.
Adam LaRoche could fetch from the Nationals the three-year he's seeking but the others here are far more likely to settle for less than they were talking about a month ago.
Guerrero wanted a two-year deal but neither the Rangers nor Angels appear willing. Thome still fits with the Twins but is looking for more than what they've been talking. Understandably so. Thome hit 25 homers for a $1.5 million base salary and enters 2011 just 11 homers short of 600. Renteria, the World Series MVP, is down to considering backup jobs after expressing disappointment that the Giants declined his $10.5 million option. Damon would like to stay near his Orlando home and play for the Rays but they still have a bullpen to build. Ramirez's agent, Scott Boras, deemed the slugger fit for a big season after undergoing surgery for a hernia-type injury that was blamed for his power-lacking 2010. No teams have bitten, yet.
Prediction: An off-season of surprises --- see Jayson Werth, Cliff Lee and Zack Greinke--- will continue with Guerrero returning to the Angels, Renteria heading back to the Giants and Ramirez and Damon reunited, in Tampa Bay.