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Outfielder choices, A-Rod's hip the hot topics at winter meetings

NASHVILLE -- Five thoughts recapping the first day of the annual winter meetings, which this year are taking place at the labyrinthine Opryland hotel:

1. Comparable centerfield choices

The Giants re-signed centerfielder Angel Pagan for four years and $40 million, pending a physical, clicking another cycle of the outfield carousel this offseason. What's fascinating to note about the outfielders who have changed teams this offseason is the similarity of their career production and the discrepancy of their costs.

There have been five outfielders on the move so far this Hot Stove who are all 30 years old or younger with a career OPS between .746 and .758 and a Wins Above Replacement (as computed by Baseball-Reference.com) between 12.8 and 16.5. What clubs had to do to get them -- sign Pagan, B.J. Upton and Melky Cabrera as free agents; trade for Denard Span and Chris Young -- varied tremendously.

Obviously each player's service time, age, raw talent, defensive play, contract status, 2012 production, team preference and other mitigating factors (such as Cabrera's recent suspension) were all contributing variables, but it was clear there was a player of similar ilk available for teams with varying budgets and interest in those outfielders for varying numbers of years: Young (one with a club option for a second); Cabrera (two); Span (two with a club option for a third); Pagan (four) and Upton (five).

2. A-Rod in absentia

Nothing is ever ordinary with Alex Rodriguez. The latest development for the Yankees third baseman was Monday's news that he needs hip surgery to repair a labrum, bone impingement and a cyst. It'll require four-to-six weeks of "pre-hab" -- strengthening exercises in advance of the surgery scheduled for January -- and then four-to-six months of rehab and recovery, meaning he'll likely miss one-to-three months of the season. It's a "more complicated" and "more extensive" procedure than Rodriguez's previous hip surgery, said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

Part of the odd circumstances surrounding the surgery were Monday's revelations that Rodriguez first told the club about a possible problem as he was being pinch-hit for in the ninth inning of ALDS Game 3; initially he thought the problem was with his surgically repaired right hip but in truth it was an issue in his asymptomatic left hip; and that the Yankees press release included a note that both doctors consulted about his injury "believe that there is a very strong possibility that Rodriguez's hip condition may have had a negative effect on his performance during the latter stages of the season and the playoffs."

The Yankees now face a precarious personnel decision on how to staff the left side of the infield. Shortstop Derek Jeter is expected back for Opening Day, but he's recovering from surgery to repair a broken leg. A-Rod has an even bigger injury concern.

Cashman said he was "not going to overreact" to the injury but noted "it's a serious circumstance." Even when he's back, Rodriguez may need to serve as designated hitter as often as he plays third base. That limits the Yankees' offseason search somewhat, as they will have less DH flexibility.

They could bring back free agent, Eric Chavez, for a third year. Jayson Nix leads the in-house candidate pool, given Cashman's assertion that neither Jeter nor Eduardo Nuñez would play third. But just about any more substantial free agent -- Mark Reynolds, Kevin Youkilis or Jeff Keppinger -- would want a multiple-year deal, which doesn't jive with New York's budget plans.

Desperate to get under the $189 million salary threshold in 2014 to avoid paying the luxury or competitive balance tax that year, the Yankees are willing to spend more aggressively in 2013, so long as a lot of the money is cleared off the books by the following year.

And, of course, when Rodriguez does come back, he'll be nearing his 38th birthday with a contract that runs through 2017 with at least $117 million remaining. Rodriguez had his previous hip operation prior to 2009, and he rebounded in great form, slugging 30 homers to go along with a .933 OPS. But now he's older and this is a bigger surgery. Plus, he's coming off the worst full season of his career -- in addition to his October benching, his .783 regular season OPS was his first sub-.800 mark since he was 19 years old and played 48 games in 1995.

New York still needs a right fielder, probably needs a catcher and could always use some pitching depth. It didn't need to also think about a third baseman, but that's now a major worry, too.

3. Starter stalemate

The Padres signed Jason Marquis to a one-year, $3 million contract, but otherwise the starting pitching market remained stagnant. This year's version of the Reiter 50 -- SI.com's list of the top available free agents -- listed 16 starting pitchers, including five in the top 15. Of those 16 pitchers, the only five to sign were incumbents returning to their 2012 teams: Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte (Yankees), Jeremy Guthrie (Royals), Hisashi Iwakuma (Mariners) and Bartolo Colon (Athletics). Only Kuroda had a top-15 ranking and not one starter has changed teams.

The prevailing opinion is that the rest of the free agents are waiting for consensus top free agent starter Zack Greinke to sign first before Kyle Lohse, Edwin Jackson, Anibal Sanchez, et al., ink their own deals. That's not an uncommon strategy in any year but may be especially wise this year, given the Dodgers' need for a starter and the Mets' deliberation over whether to deal Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. If the Dodgers (and their seemingly limitless bank reserves) fail to land Greinke, they likely would increase their bid for their second choice; also, if Dickey is dealt, he'd be the second-best starting pitcher available, which would change the market considerably.

4. Ranger reliever reclamation

Texas was affected by a flurry of moves today. While the biggest news was the Red Sox signing former Rangers catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli -- as covered earlier on SI.com's Hit and Run blog -- Texas also re-signed catcher Geovany Soto and then, most interestingly, signed former Royals closer Joakim Soria to a two-year deal reportedly worth $8 million, pending his physical tomorrow, according to FoxSports.com and CBSSports.com.

Much like current closer Joe Nathan, the Rangers signed a once dominant All-Star closer coming off Tommy John surgery. Nathan missed all of 2010 because of his operation and was shaky with the Twins in 2011 but rediscovered his groove this past year, with 37 saves and a 2.80 ERA. Soria only had his procedure in April after a shaky 2011 in which he had 28 saves (his fewest since 2007) and a 4.03 that was more than double his 1.78 mark in 2010.

Given the ever-increasing reliability with which pitchers return to form following Tommy John surgery, the Rangers are finding late-inning options for their bullpen at cost-effective prices for the slightly elevated risk. Soria continues that trend and, thanks to his contract being for two years, he can be eased into the mix in 2013 and still prove his worth if he improves as expected for 2014.

5. Royal decree

Monday was the first of three days featuring afternoon media sessions with each club's manager. One of the more interesting sessions was with Royals skipper Ned Yost, who acknowledged that his staff would preach a "change in philosophy" to vamp up an offense that ranked 12th in the AL in runs and 13th in homers.

Specifically, Yost said he'd encourage his players to swing harder and for the fences more often -- in other words, de-emphasizing hitting the ball the other way and letting his players rip away, even at the cost of more strikeouts. The Royals' struck out the fewest times in the league last year.

It's true that Kansas City's hitters weren't very productive when pulling the ball last year. When the Royals' left-handed hitters pulled the ball, they were 13th in the AL in OPS when pulling the ball, according to Baseball-Reference.com hit trajectory data; their righties ranked 12th.

The Royals changed hitting coaches, dismissing Kevin Seitzer and then promoting Jack Maloof and naming Andre David his assistant. It remains to be seen whether a change in the coaching staff and in their instruction will make a difference, but there does appear to be some logic in the idea, given how few homers and how few strikeouts the Royals had last year, despite several players -- Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and prospect Wil Myers, most notably -- who ought to be capable of hefty homer totals.

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