The biggest news so far this offseason may be the prompt dismissal of the longest-tenured national broadcast team in professional baseball, Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. There have long been objections to Morgan's stubborn subjectivity and frequent bouts of megalomania masquerading as nostalgia, but ESPN finally pulled the plug following a second failed attempt at enlivening the broadcast with some fresh blood. In 2009, they temporarily turned to Steve Phillips, with hilarious results. One might even surmise that the weekly public emasculations drove Phillips into the arms of Bristol interns. This year the network forced Orel "Bulldog" Hershiser upon the Un-Dynamic Duo. Living up to his nickname, I'd say Hershiser held his ground, defending himself calmly and articulately against Morgan's tendency to contradict everything he had to say with condescension and even vitriol. I wouldn't be surprised if Bulldog is back in the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball booth in 2011, alongside some new partners. Although I've been watching Sunday Night broadcasts on mute for most of the last half-decade, I will admit feeling a slight pang when reading the announcement. Miller and Morgan were beloved figures in my childhood, before I realized that Morgan's color commentary had about as much variety as a Speak 'N' Spell. And, although I find his pandering unfortunate (but probably necessary), I still find Miller to be a fine radio-style play-by-play man with a soothing voice. They won't be missed, but they will be remembered.
Jhonny Come Lhately
The free agent sweepstakes got started this week with a relatively underwhelming deal for Jhonny Peralta (2 Years/$11.25 Million with a $7 Million option for '13). Peralta did a satisfactory job for Detroit after being acquired at the deadline. His defense at shortstop is certainly suspect. With Peralta and Carlos Guillen in the middle infield, the Tigers might want to consider employed a "rover" to stand behind the second base bag. But Peralta can hit a little. By wrapping him up, alongside the rangy Brandon Inge, the Tigers have at least bought themselves some payroll certainty so they can concentrate on replacing Magglio Ordonez and Johnny Damon, and perhaps give Miguel Cabrera a little lineup protection. Detroit is finally out from under the strangulating contracts they gave to Ordonez, Dontrelle Willis, and Nate Robertson. All told, their commitments could drop as much as 50% from '10 to '11, so Dombrowski may again be a player this winter. With Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello fronting a potentially dominant rotation, the Tigers may not be that far from contending in their mediocre division.
SPH S.S.S. Update
Those who followed my 2010 Shoulder Surgery Survey may be interested to know that no fewer than five of the eight participants will be free agents this winter. It would've been six had it not been for the Dodgers eagerness to wrap up Ted Lilly before he got a chance to test the market (3 yrs./$33 Million). Brandon Webb, Erik Bedard, and Jeff Francis will all likely be pushed into single-season, incentive-laden deals, since none of them were able to prove themselves healthy before the end of the year. Freddy Garcia, on the other hand, threw over 150 innings before being shut down with a minor back injury in September. He was far from dominant, but could be very tempting for teams interested in a cheap innings-eater to slot in to the back of their youthful rotation. Detroit could be a logical fit, in fact, as could Cleveland, Baltimore, St. Louis, or Washington.
The most interesting player from amongst the survey participants is definitely Jeremy Bonderman. Bonderman ended the year poorly, but showed flashes of his former potential and did not make any return trips to the D.L. He's still in his twenties and was once among the most promising young players in the A.L. New scenery could be good for him, as will another year of remove from his injury. Perhaps he's ready for the Dave Duncan treatment in 2011?
It'll be several months before Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, Victor Martinez, Adam Dunn, and Adrian Beltre have all signed and we can start identifying potential steals from amongst this free agent class, but I'd direct your attention to a couple underrated players hitting the market.
Miguel Olivo's production fell off the table in the second half, to the extent that it almost looks like he might've been playing through an injury. But Olivo really should've been the NL starter at the All-Star Game, after hitting .325 with 11 HR and a 925 OPS in his first three months with Colorado. His inability to maintain that pace isn't too surprising, but Olivo has definitely proved himself an outstanding game-caller and thrower, who is also a better than average hitter for his position. Catchers of his caliber are truly rare, yet he's been consistently overlooked (which happens when you play for Florida and Kansas City). I expect he could be a good fit for the Reds, Mets, Mariners, or Rangers.
The Peralta signing is explained in part by the fact that the middle infield class is very weak this year. As such, this may finally be the winter that Orlando Hudson gets the multiyear deal he so richly deserves. O-Dog was clearly beloved by his Minnesota teammates. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he agrees to return. He was the eighth most valuable second-baseman in 2010, worth more than $12 Million according to FanGraphs for the second year in the row. Despite the consistency of his production (with one minor hiccup during an injury-plagued 2008), Hudson has had to accept a succession of one-year deals for much less than he's worth. The Cubs, Astros, Mets, Padres, Cardinals, Nationals, and Twins all need to fill gaping holes at second base and the only other free agents who play there are utilitymen like Felipe Lopez, David Eckstein, Bill Hall, and Cristian Guzman. Hudson might finally have the bargaining leverage he needs.