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Chris Ruddick,
MLB Editor


Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - As the clock struck midnight on Thursday, Major League Baseball's Hot Stove was officially up and running.

It's a bit of a top heavy free agent class with Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes, Prince Fielder and Jimmy Rollins leading the list of available players. However, after that the pickings are kind of slim from an offensive standpoint.

The starting pitching market is also pretty light considering lefty C.J. Wilson is probably the best of a group that includes fellow lefties Mark Buehrle, Paul Maholm, Erik Bedard and Bruce Chen as well as right-handers Roy Oswalt, Aaron Harang, Hiroki Kuroda and Freddy Garcia.

A lot of people think Wilson may have cost himself some money with a poor postseason. Keep in mind, though, both the Yankees and the Red Sox will be looking for a starting pitcher.

Albert Pujols
Albert Pujols will likely be seeking an Alex Rodriguez-type deal.
Actually if a closer is what you are seeking this offseason you may be in luck. That figures to be the deepest of all the positions available with Johnathan Papelbon, Heath Bell, Ryan Madson, Francisco Rodriguez and Francisco Cordero all available.

So with that said here is a little primer to get you ready for what should be a very active next couple of months:

SOME STORYLINES TO WATCH THIS OFFSEASON

WHERE WILL ALBERT PUJOLS LAND?

The most intriguing storyline this winter will play out in St. Louis where Albert Pujols is ready to test the free agent market for the first time in his career. Still considered by many the best player in the game, Pujols will likely be seeking an Alex Rodriguez-type deal. Good luck with that. I'm thinking he gets an eight-year deal in the low $20 million range. It's still a long shot that he leaves the Cards, but you never know. Perhaps Theo Epstein makes a big splash in his first year with the Cubs and offers a deal he just can't turn down. Speaking of the Cubs ...

WHAT WILL THE CHICAGO CUBS DO?

Epstein may have been the Golden Child in Boston, but he has his work cut out for him in Chicago. He has a few unmovable contracts in Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano, not to mention the bare cupboard that is the Cubs' minor league system. He does have a superstar in the making in Starlin Castro and a lot of money to spend. Pujols probably isn't a realistic option, but Prince Fielder may very well be. Either way Team Epstein will be very active this winter. First order of business, though, will be getting a manager. Don't be shocked if it's Terry Francona. My guess? How about Dodgers' bench coach Trey Hillman.

WHICH TEAM WILL TAKE A CHANCE ON JOSE REYES?

If Pujols is the best player on the market then Jose Reyes is certainly the most interesting. When healthy Reyes could be the most exciting player in the game as last year's first half would indicate. But, he can't stay healthy, as he proved in the second half of the season. He is tempting, though, because that first half was so electric. One of these years he is going to play 160 games and he is going to win an MVP Award. It's what you get out of him the other five years in the deal that is the question. Still, his list of suitors will be long. Think Washington and maybe even Philadelphia should Jimmy Rollins leave.

THE REBUILD OF THE BOSTON RED SOX

Has any team had as bad a month of October as the Boston Red Sox. As if the whole September collapse wasn't enough, stories came out that some of the Red Sox pitchers were drinking during games on their off-days, Francona and Epstein split, then it was learned that John Lackey would miss the upcoming season due to elbow surgery. New GM Ben Cherington now has to find a manager, and then decide if he wants to keep the face of the franchise in David Ortiz around. And oh yea, Johnathan Papelbon is also a free agent. A lot of the Red Sox's flaws came to pass in the final month. It will be up to Cherington to right the ship.

WHICH TEAM WILL 'SETTLE' FOR FIELDER

Of course if any normal GM had their druthers they would prefer Pujols over Fielder -- for next season anyway. But how about at the end of what is expected to be at least seven-year deals for both? You could make the argument that you may get a better bang for your buck bringing in the 27-year-old Fielder, who is four years younger than Pujols. Texas could be a player for Fielder. He could become a DH option at some point and his presence alone gives them a fallback option should Hamilton bolt after next season.

FIVE PLAYERS WHO COULD BE TRADED THIS OFFSEASON

WANDY RODRIGUEZ

This should come as no surprise, as Houston almost dealt him last August to the Colorado Rockies. I'd expect basically the same deal to go through at some point in the coming months. Why does it make sense for the Rockies? Well it's hard to get a starting pitcher to go to play at Coors Field. Rodriguez may make a lot of money, but when he's on, he's as impressive a left-hander as there is in the National League. If it's not the Rockies, some team will be calling the Astros. Keep an eye on the Red Sox.

JAMES SHIELDS

The Tampa Bay Rays seem steadfast against moving James Shields, but that doesn't mean they won't. See Matt Garza. Shields is due to make $7 million this season and his money goes up each year until 2014 when he will earn $12 million a season. That's still a reasonable number for any club, but this is a Rays team that ranked 29th in payroll last season and are always looking for ways to cut. Shields would net a ton in return given the starting pitchers available this offseason. It may not be as crazy as you may think. I'd suggest the Yankees and Red Sox look elsewhere though.

DAVID WRIGHT

Yea I know, the Mets are probably going to lose Jose Reyes so there's no way they would deal David Wright. Especially after they move the fences in, right? Wrong. The Mets put him on waivers last summer to see if there was any interest, which of course there will be plenty. He would look awfully nice at Citizens Bank Park, but there is no way on the planet Sandy Alderson would move him within the division. Could Boston be a fit?

KEVIN YOUKILIS

When Adrian Gonzalez was acquired it was just assumed that Kevin Youkilis would make a seamless transition to third base. But nobody really took into account the toll it would take on his body. Youkilis broke down badly down the stretch. It's apparent he can't be an everyday third baseman. Now the Red Sox could make him the everyday DH and let Ortiz walk, but there is some scuttlebutt in Boston that Big Papi is coming back.

ICHIRO SUZUKI

Now this one is a little out of left field, but hear me out. The Mariners are clearly in a rebuild mode. Chances are when the fruits of the current regime's labor begin to take effect Suzuki will be long gone. Why not deal him now for some young pieces and further the youth movement that is clearly taking place out in the Pacific Northwest?

TEAM THAT WILL BE MORE ACTIVE THAN YOU MIGHT THINK: FLORIDA MARLINS

The Marlins will be moving into a new ballpark this season and will want to make a huge splash, especially with new manager Ozzie Guillen at the helm. They likely won't be in the mix for Reyes since Hanley Ramirez is entrenched there at shortstop, but they will be looking to make moves. Ramirez, though, did tell Guillen that he would be willing to move off of SS should something happen. Some people have the Marlins in the Pujols/Fielder mix, which makes absolutely no sense with Gaby Sanchez there on the brink of stardom. The NL East could be the best division in baseball next season and the Marlins will need to do something to keep up.

PLAYER ON THE BLOCK YOU WOULD NOT EXPECT: JOEY VOTTO

Cincinnati general manager Walt Jocketty has come out and said that Votto is not on the market. Don't believe him. He will listen. Votto is slated to earn $9.5 million this coming season and $17.5 million in 2013. Depending on how much Pujols and Fielder get this offseason, Votto could be due an awful lot of money come 2014. Think about it is it easier to move him now with the money he has coming or next offseason at his number? Unless, of course, you think the small-market Reds are going to extend him long-term. Trust me Jocketty will be listening.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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