THE RED SOX proved that champions can be made in November and December, having traded for ace Curt Schilling last Nov. 28 and signed free-agent closer Keith Foulke 15 days later. This year's hot stove league could be equally enriching for some team. Here's what to look for.
The courtship of Carlos Beltran
He's only 27 years old, switch-hits with power, is a Gold Glove--caliber centerfielder (left), may be the best base runner in the game, responded to his first postseason with a record-tying eight homers and flosses regularly. Oh, and one more enhancement to his value: The Yankees haven't won the World Series in four years. The Astros will try to retain Beltran, who's likely to hear from the Cubs, Red Sox, Orioles and Dodgers, among others. And did we mention the Yankees?
The breakup of Oakland's Big Three
With the emergence of Rich Harden as a premier starter in 2004 and Tim Hudson eligible for free agency after next season, the A's will entertain trade offers for Hudson, Mark Mulder or Barry Zito (left), who have been in the A's rotation for five years. Oakland would likely prefer to deal Zito, who's been inconsistent of late (and who, like Mulder, has an option year for '06) to free some money to sign Hudson to an extension.
More than one third of the majors' regular shortstops are eligible for free agency: Nomar Garciaparra (Cubs, left), Edgar Renteria ( Cardinals), Cristian Guzman ( Twins), Orlando Cabrera ( Red Sox), Omar Vizquel ( Indians), Jose Valentin ( White Sox), Barry Larkin (Reds), Royce Clayton (Rockies), Craig Counsell (Brewers), Deivi Cruz ( Giants) and Chris Gomez (Blue Jays). Any or all of them could be on the move. Keep in mind that the shortstops for the past four world champs ( Tony Womack, D-Backs; David Eckstein, Angels; Alex Gonzalez, Marlins; and Cabrera) have combined for two career All-Star appearances ( Womack in 1997 and Gonzalez in '99).
Big-name (and big-money) trade talk
Randy Johnson (left), 41,has one year left at $16 million for a D-Backs team that lost 111 games. The Cubs may be tired of Sammy Sosa, who turns 36 on Nov. 12, but does another club want him enough to pay him $39.5 million for two years? Manny Ramirez's availability is an annual postseason rumor because of his $20 million salary. The Yankees would so love to dump the injury-prone, 39-year-old Kevin Brown that they would eat a big chunk of the $15 million owed him. Mike Piazza, 36, and his $15 million salary are available from the Mets. The rumors will fly, but bloated salaries make the likelihood of any of these players being dealt remote.
The Roger Clemens retirement watch