Major League executives have been very busy the last few weeks, and more than a few teams have radically reshaped their structure as a result, for better or for worse. A few stories have played out as they were predicted too, but a few other big pictures took some very surprising turns. Lets cut the setup short and get straight into it here with the Top 5 December stories so far.

1. CLIFF LEE TO PHILADELPHIA: This deal speaks for itself in terms of shock, surprise and impact. Cliff Lee was all but sold off to either Texas and to the Yankees, as one week he was rumored to be weighing offers from both clubs of around $23 million per year over seven years. However, Lee threw a change at the  entire market and returned to Philadelphia, who he pushed into the 2009 World Series,  for “only” $14 million per year. This move gives Philly the most dominant pitching staff in the game with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, and potentially the most dominant rotation since the Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz/Neagle Atlanta rotation of the mid 90′s. However, the domino effect of Lee’s signing on made arguably just as big of an impact as his actual rejoining of the Phillies….

 

Lee's return to Philly set the fates of three teams in motion at once, the of which being his own perhaps.

 

2. CLIFF LEE NOT GOING TO THE BRONX: The Yanks were shallow in pitching all year, and crippled them in the end. So they made it no secret that landing Lee was by far their top priority headed into the winter, and usually when the Yanks take aim, it’s just a matter of time before  they hit their target and drapes him in pinstripes. However, Lee’s denial of the lure and riches of Yankee membership shattered the plans, and maybe immediate future, of the “Evil Empire”. When the Red Sox landed both Carl Crawford AND Adrian Gonzalez, it became even more imperative that they land Lee. However, now the Yanks are clearly at least a notch or two behind the Sox, and since they bet the house on landing Cliff, they have next to nothing left available to counter the Sox new guns. For once, the Yanks crapped out in the free agent rat race.

3. JUSTICE LEAGUE OF MASSACHUSETTS: Lets be clear, within the last two weeks, the Boston Red Sox became the best team in baseball. They aggressive eliminated every weakness (hitting, depth and speed) with two blockbuster moves. By signing and trading for, respectively, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, they not only solved their weakness by landing two of the premier players on the market, but they also boosted one of their strengths: defense. Both are Gold Glove winners in addition to terrors at the plate. Their presence gives the Sox the most versatile lineup in either league. Add in the presence of Bobby Jenks as an 8th inning bridge (and potential closer in the wings) to Jonathan Papelbon, and you’ve got a club that is a solid bet to add another World Series trophy to their resume.

 

The additions of Crawford's speed and Gonzalez's power make Boston the leaders out the gate in 2011.

 

4. GREINKE TO BEER TOWN: The Royals moved their franchise cornerstone to the Brewers in a not some surprising move, but to a surprising location. Zack Grienke had stated a desire to get out of Kansas City for a while now, as he didn’t want to sit through the rest of their rebuilding process, and the 2009 AL Cy Young winner got his wish and was shipped out-of-town. However, his desired destination was a surprise, as he lands in Milwaukee, a club who has struggled with consistency in recent years and is on the verge of having to move one of their best players already in Prince Fielder. However, Grienke’s presence alone could fix some woes in Milwaukee, as he will switch to the lighter hitting NL and be paired with another All-Star caliber arm in Yovani Gallardo. The Royals received a package of prospects in return for their ace, including promising shortstop Alcides Escobar. Now that KC has finally moved their biggest value, they have to hope they got enough in return to ensure that their impending youth movement got the rest of what it needs to pay off.

 

The Royals traded their prize possession in Greinke and now have to hope it fueled the drive for the push they need.

 

5. STEADY SOUTHSIDE: The White Sox’s aggressiveness in both adding to their core and retaining their key pieces, and were wildly successful in both areas. Adding Adam Dunn to the heart of the lineup grabbed the biggest headlines, but retaining both Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski were huge moves too for this club and keeps their depth in intact. These moves may finally be what it takes for them to overtake the Twins in the AL Central, especially if they can get a full strength Jake Peavy at some point next summer. Between the retooled Tigers and the always tough Twins, the top of the AL Central may be the completed harder than any other division in the game.

Other moves of note: Dodgers retooling, Washington’s fortune to Jason Werth, Yanks retain icons, Rockies big outs, Padres rebuild and retool.

BEST AVAILABLE

1. Adrian Beltre-3B: Athletics, Rangers

2. Rafael Soriano-RHP: Angels, Nationals, Rays, Orioles, Yankees

3. Carl Pavano-RHP: Twins, Nationals, Pirates, Rangers

4. Vladimir Guerrero-DH/OF: Rangers

5. Manny Ramirez-DH/OF: Mars maybe???, Jupiter?, China

 

HOT NAMES CURRENTLY

- Adrian Beltre-3B: Maybe it’s just me (but I’m sure it isn’t), but doesn’t it seem like Adrian Beltre is shooting himself in the foot right now? It doesn’t seem like he had any plan in place except returning to Boston, and playing open market offers against them. Jokes on him for that. He should have just taken the Angels offer, rumored to be around 5 years and $70 million, & joined a solid club, now he’ll probably land in a much tougher spot with less money. Oakland is seeming like the only spot that’s really able to pay him now that he hasn’t rejected totally. Nobody else with 3B need has the money, but Texas could make a play is Michael Young is willing to move to DH and they don’t prefer to bring Vladimir Guerrero back.

 

Beltre's refusal to join the Angels may have played him into too hot of a corner.

 

- Brandon Webb-RHP: As he continues his relocation from Arizona after missing most of the last two years with multiple shoulder surgeries, the 2006 NL Cy Young winner has found his health again, but is still high risk due to his numerous setbacks. However currently the Rangers and Cubs are believed to be in pursuit of him for what will probably be a low base salary/high incentive deal. There’s another NL Central team in the bidding, which could be Pittsburgh who is in need of a few arms to round out their rotation. The Cardinals could be a dark horse, but they have $10 million dollars tied up in their #5 pitcher Kyle Lohse already.

- Adam LaRoche & Derrek Lee-1B: Both are mentioned in every remaining first base opening, which seems to be a cause and effect market at this point. Baltimore, Washington, Arizona, San Diego and Atlanta have openings, and either of the two could land in these spots. Lee will cost more per year, so he may be limited to Baltimore or Washington as realistic landing spots. The D’Backs won’t bring LaRoche back most likely, due to their desire to reduce strikeouts, so San Diego, who needs some more power in the post-Adrian Gonzalez days, could be a possibility.

- Andy Pettitte-LHP: This one’s pretty clear-cut: he’s either going back to the Yankees or going home for good. Since they missed out on Lee, the Yanks may make a big one year play to bring back Pettitte just for some security for their thin rotation, but it’s all on if he even wants to suit up. It seems that retirement is most likely here, as he has stated this desire several times over the last few years and reportedly isn’t even doing conditioning yet.

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