Dan's Dugout: Season of Surprises Starts Now • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Season of Surprises Starts Now

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The minute the World Series ended, a new baseball season began. It’s the Season of Surprises, that time when clubs, players, and executives make moves nobody expects.

Who, for example, thought the World Champion Cubs — gee, it feels funny to write that — would jettison 15-game winner Jason Hammel by not picking up his option?

Another sudden addition to the baseball meat market is Matt Wieters, a switch-hitting Atlanta native whose sorry 2016 season convinced the Baltimore Orioles to reject their club option.

No one expected Bud Black, manager of the San Diego Padres for nine years, to succeed Walt Weiss with the Colorado Rockies.

Off-season strategy for the New York Mets has changed too now that Yoenis Cespedes has packed his

Where will Yoenis Cespedes land? Photo Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

Where will Yoenis Cespedes land?
Image Credit: George Napolitano

bat for greener pastures and closer Jeurys Familia faces a suspension that could cost him half of next season.

General managers meeting now in Scottsdale are laying the groundwork for trades and free agent signings.

The Dodgers kicked off a busy winter by sending veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz, a waiver wire pickup, to the Seattle Mariners for a lefthanded pitcher. And the Tigers, in full rejuvenation mode, shipped centerfielder Cameron Maybin to the Los Angeles Angels.

Lots more is coming.

Free agents must decide by Nov. 14 whether to accept qualifying offers from clubs who tender them. If they do, they’re considered signed for 2017. If they don’t, they can peddle their wares anywhere. Two weeks later, on Dec. 2, is the deadline for teams to offer contracts to unsigned players.

With many teams wanting to get younger and save more dollars at the same time, multiple surprises are likely — not to mention a second wave of free agent players.

Edwin Encarnacion will be a hot slugger on the free agent market Image Credit: Bill Menzel

Edwin Encarnacion will be a hot slugger on the free agent market
Image Credit: Bill Menzel

Cespedes, a notorious streak hitter capable of carrying a club, joins Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista as the top free agent sluggers, with Wilson Ramos and Justin Turner just behind them. But Ramos is recovering from a severe knee injury that kept him from helping the Washington Nationals in the playoffs.

Although many of the trades and signings will be announced during the winter meetings that starts Dec. 4 at National Harbor, Md., there should be plenty of action prior to that. In fact, Atlanta general manager John Coppolella promises he won’t wait if a good opportunity comes along.

The Braves, who played well after landing Matt Kemp in early August, are looking for pitching (Chris Sale or Justin Verlander?) and catching (Brian McCann or Travis d’Arnaud?). Anxious to succeed in their new Sun Trust Park, the Braves are certain to spend more than usual. But they’re not likely to bid for any outfielders — not even World Series performers Dexter Fowler (Cubs) or Coco Crisp (Indians).

In fact, only a handful of clubs are willing or able to open their bank vaults for the big bucks the sluggers

Will Aroldis Chapman come back to New York?

Will Aroldis Chapman come back to New York?

covet. That means the rich will get richer, with several high rollers already bidding for free-agent closers Aroldis Chapman (Cubs), Kenley Jansen (Dodgers), and Mark Melancon (Nationals). If any one of them leaves for new pastures, their old clubs will become instant bidders for one of the other two.

Look for the Cespedes to sign with a West Coast team — the Dodgers, Giants, and Angels can afford him — or perhaps with the Cubs, where he could play right field and push holdover Jason Heyward to center.

One team that dreads the trading season is the Kansas City Royals, winners of consecutive American League pennants before fading back to the pack in an injury-riddled 2016. Pitcher Edinson Volquez and slugger Kendrys Morales have already rejected their mutual options, making both virtually certain to wear new uniforms next season.

The off-season should be kind to haves (Dodgers, Red Sox, Cubs, Nationals) but not to the have-nots (Marlins, Reds, Brewers, Padres). Both New York clubs, competing with each other for tabloid headlines, may be somewhere in the middle, though the Yankees would love to bring Chapman back to the Bronx even more than the Mets want to re-sign Cespedes.

With the presidential election merely a memory after Tuesday, it’s probably good that everybody can concentrate on baseball again.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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