By Jon Heyman
November 30, 2009

Everyone knows who the top players are on the free-agent and trade markets this winter: John Lackey, Matt Holiday, Jason Bay, Roy Halladay and perhaps Adrian Gonzalez. But who are the players behind the players? With a week to go before the start of the winter meetings in Indianapolis, here are the players who are expected to be the real movers and shakers this winter ...

1. Theo Epstein, Red Sox GM. His competitive juices have to be boiling over after the rival Yankees won for the first title in his tenure. Expect Boston to be connected to every major player out there, from Halladay to Lackey to Gonzalez to Holliday to Aroldis Chapman. The chances to keep Bay appear to be diminishing, as outside suitors line up following his rejection of Boston's $60 million, four-year bid. But Red Sox people still seem determined to land a big-time offensive player. You know Epstein loves Hanley Ramirez, the former Red Sox farmhand traded during his hiatus, but there's still no evidence Florida will consider trading him.

2. Omar Minaya, Mets GM. There's pressure aplenty after the Mets' disastrous inaugural season in Citi Field. Injuries were the main culprit, but the reality is that he needs to have a big winter or he won't get another one in this job. What's odd is that he was roundly applauded at the winter meetings last year when he landed Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz in short order. Needs to fill holes in left field, first base, catcher, the rotation and bullpen this time. Also trying to be rid of Luis Castillo's contract, presumably so they can sign Orlando Hudson or Chone Figgins.

3. Tom Ricketts and Jim Hendry, Cubs owner and GM. Some folks came away from the owners meeting with the distinct impression new owner Ricketts wants to do something big. But as one owner pointed out, new owners don't often rock the boat with big-money signings. Whatever they do, Hendry will keep endeavoring to undo the big deal of last winter, the one where they paid $30 million for talented but troubled outfielder Milton Bradley. He "has to go," one Cubs official said. So far, the Rangers are believed to be offering to pay no more than a few million of the $21 million remaining. The Rays, Giants, Padres and Royals are other possibilities.

4. Alex Anthopoulos, Blue Jays GM. The 32-year-old newcomer is off to a good start by saying he's willing to consider trades inside the division. No way can Toronto cut off the Yankees and Red Sox and hope to get close to equal value for Halladay. So it never made sense to eliminate them.

5. Scott Boras, agent. Holliday is the big name in this year's stable, and while no one expects him to get close to Mark Teixeira's $180 million deal of a year ago, he should easily top $100 million based on past deals. One owner said he isn't sure yet where that would be coming from, but there are plenty of possibilities, starting with the Mets, Braves, Cardinals, Red Sox and perhaps the Yankees, Giants ("I'm not counting them out, despite what they say," one competing GM said) and Mariners. Boras will get plenty of play on ageless Johnny Damon, versatile reliever Mike Gonzalez, third baseman Adrian Beltre and lefty pitcher Jarrod Washburn, but will have to work harder on Garret Anderson, Felipe Lopez, Hank Blalock, Ivan Rodriguez, Rick Ankiel (Pittsburgh?), Joe Crede (Baltimore?), Scott Schoeneweis, Bruce Chen, Eric Gagne, Julian ("closing time") Tavarez and Xavier Nady.

6. Jack Zduriencik, Mariners GM. After doing such a superb job his first year on the job (the trade of Putz, the one to acquire David Aardsma and the signing of Russell Branyan were all unmitigated successes, as was the hiring of manager Don Wakamatsu), they may entrust him to do much more. The Mariners will try to lock up Felix Hernandez but also hope to import one of a number of other big stars, as well (Lackey, Bay or Holliday are candidates).

7. Steve Hilliard, agent. Some say he'll do well to get A.J. Burnett's contact ($82.5 million, five years) for client Lackey. But the truth is, Lackey is a more dependable pitcher who's been the No. 1 guy for a perennial playoff team. He is tougher and better than Burnett.

8. Bill DeWitt and John Mozeliak, Cardinals owner and GM. No National League team has anywhere near a roster of free agents like this (Holliday, Mark DeRosa, Joel Pineiro, Ankiel, Troy Glaus, Khalil Greene). They have said they will try to retain Holliday and DeRosa, but it appears they will let the others leave, ensuring a major puzzle. They must keep in mind that Albert Pujols is a free agent two years from now (they couldn't possibly forget that).

9. Arte Moreno and Tony Reagins, Angels owner and GM. Moreno took the unusual step of announcing he's interested in Bay but not Holliday, raising the question of whether he's still annoyed by how the Teixeira negotiations went a year ago (he abruptly pulled out of them after suggesting he didn't believe Boras for saying their $160 million bid was at or near the bottom of the bids). This is one of baseball's best-run franchises. But they have some big decisions at hand. Reagins said he's "hopeful" to keep Figgins. They would like to retain Lackey, as well, though that may be a long shot. Vladimir Guerrero doesn't appear like a priority for now.

10. Joe Urbon, agent. Bay's rep called his client the "most complete" player on the market, tweaking Boras while drawing needed attention to his client, who generally thrived in Boston after doing the same in Pittsburgh. Defensive metrics may slightly hurt Bay, but even Red Sox people question the validity of those numbers in Fenway's cozy left field.

11. Mark Attanasio and Doug Melvin, Brewers owner and GM. Milwaukee couldn't replace CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets on the cheap last winter and will try to rebuild a starting staff into one that befits their fine everyday nucleus. They are looking at Lackey, Randy Wolf, Rich Harden, Washburn, Doug Davis, Todd Wellemeyer and Mark Mulder. The small-market team that stunned folks by drawing more than three million fans will also try to lock up slugger Prince Fielder.

12. Ruben Amaro, Phillies GM. The Phillies remained aggressive from last winter (Raul Ibanez) to the summer (Cliff Lee), and while they want to keep their payroll in the $140 million range, lots of interesting possibilities abound. They are looking for a third baseman to replace Pedro Feliz, and while the favorites look to be DeRosa, Placido Polanco, Beltre and Miguel Tejada, they've also considered the pricier Figgins. One person familiar with their dealings said they also had a brief talk with the Red Sox about Mike Lowell, but that possibility doesn't seem as likely as one of the free agents.

13. Greg Landry, agent. The rep for Halladay carries the potential to be in the middle of trade negotiations involving Halladay as the pitcher could wield his no-trade clause to 1) go where he wants, or 2) extract a long extension. The latest word, via the Toronto Sun, was that an official with the Blue Jays said Halladay wants to go to the Yankees. Sources suggest that Halladay was actually willing to go to at least the Yankees plus the Red Sox, Phillies and Cardinals when he was on the trading block last summer, and Halladay and Landry don't seem so unreasonable as to limit the Jays' chances for a fair deal by providing a list of one. Halladay is, however, believed to prefer teams close to the East Coast, teams that train in Florida (he lives just outside Tampa in winters) and of course winning teams.

14. Fern Cuza, Brian David, Pat Rooney, John Courtright, Mark Pieper, etc., SFX Baseball agents. The group has a nice list: Tejada, Guerrero, Pedro Martinez, Erik Bedard, Adam LaRoche, Bengie Molina, Jim Thome, Kiko Calero and Khalil Greene. Cuza in particular has two former MVPs for sale, Tejada and Guerrero, plus former CY Young winner Pedro. One competing agent suggests he may be able to get a three-year deal for Tejada, who is thought be drawing interest from the Cardinals, Astros, Giants, Phillies and Rangers. But the great Guerrero is going to be a harder sell. Guerrero can still hit, as seen in the AL playoffs, but some GMs question whether he's begun to break down (though as one person close to Guerrero pointed out, they said the same thing six years ago, when the Angels wisely signed him for $75 million over five years plus an option year). Guerrero also plans to spend the winter getting himself in top shape, Cuza said. Cuza's $136 million deal for Alfonso Soriano also hangs in the air. It may prevent the Cubs from dealing Soriano, and it also provides a target for Holiday and Bay to shoot for. LaRoche had a big second half, Calero a very nice year in Florida and Bedard is hugely talented (when healthy).

15. Brian Cashman, Yankees GM. No matter how quiet the Yankees say they will be, they always carry the potential to do something major. They had a boffo year financially in their first year in new Yankee Stadium, and new boss Hal Steinbrenner certainly is feeling strong after big moves for Sabathia and Teixeira paid off in the first World Series title in nine years. Look for them to be players for Halladay or Lackey and to try to bring back Andy Pettitte, Damon and probably Hideki Matsui, too. And don't rule them out completely on the big outfielders (Holliday or Bay).

16. Arn Tellem, Adam Katz, Paul Kinzer, etc., agents. The combined Wasserman group has a pretty nice stable this time, with Wolf, Pineiro, Vicente Padilla and Matsui among the free agents remaining after Omar Vizquel signed very early with friend Ozzie Guillen's White Sox. Matsui is an interesting one, a World Series MVP caught in a tight DH market.

17. Michael Hill and Larry Beinfest, Marlins executives. Hill made clear on the 790-AM in Miami that star pitcher Josh Johnson will be back next year even though discussions for a long-term deal fell through, and that shouldn't surprise anyone. There's no evidence yet they'd entertain a trade for Hanley Ramirez, either (one executive with an interested team said they've been told flat out the Marlins are keeping Ramirez, too). But the resourceful, dollar-conscious Marlins still have some players who could be dealt, starting with Dan Uggla, Jorge Cantu, Ricky Nolasco and Matt Lindstrom.

18. Kenny Williams, White Sox GM. The White Sox weren't expected to do much, but they've already traded Chris Getz and Josh Fields for Mark Teahen, and signed Andruw Jones and Vizquel, two big-time former stars. Williams surprised folks by forging a deal with Boras for Jones, whom he has coveted for years (they tried many years ago to pry him away from the Braves). Boras, who's had a sticky relationship with Williams, also tried to sell him on signing Crede rather than trading two young players for the talented unproven Teahen. But apparently détente has its limitations.

19. Jed Hoyer, Padres GM. The new GM has a tough call whether he wants to potentially alienate the fan base by trading superstar first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. He is a major bargain, as he's under contract for two more years at $10.25 million and a proven slugger in pitcher friendly Petco Park. The Red Sox would be a major player, but the Mets have decided they'll patch together first base since top prospect Ike Davis should be ready by 2011.

20. Levinson Bros. The Brooklyn-based group has Figgins Polanco and Fernando Rodney, who had a nice year with the Tigers. Figgins should top the $30 million, three-year deal Rafael Furcal got with the Dodgers last winter.

• The Tigers apparently asked for young Mariners pitchers Brandon Morrow and Shawn Kelley in trade talks involving Edwin Jackson. Seattle said no. The Tigers like Jackson but have money issues. They also may have some concern about Jackson tailing off in the second half (his ERA went from 2.52 in the first half to 5.07 in the second) but apparently still seem to value him highly.

• The Tigers aren't anxious to trade Curtis Granderson, but at least one Tigers decision-maker was concerned about an alleged range issue last year. With $25.75 million and three years to go on his contract, Granderson's contract is far from onerous. Yet, he would represent a chance to save some money. The Tigers showed surprising interest in Mike Cameron last summer, and Cameron is now a free agent, so perhaps they could sign him if they do trade Granderson.

• As for speculation that Detroit might shop Miguel Cabrera, one executive with a big-market team said, "At that price, who'd want him?" Cabrera, who makes about $21 million a year, obviously had an excellent offensive season and showed he can play a decent first base, as well, but he certainly didn't help his marketability by taking a powder the final weekend.

• The Jays are interested in star prospect Casey Kelly from the Red Sox and big-time hitting prospect Jesus Montero from the Yankees in any Halladay deal. Obviously, they'd need to get pitching any such deal, as well, and the prime targets should be Clay Buchholz from Boston and Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes from the Yankees.

• At least 12 teams are showing interest in Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman. Since he listened to Kendry Morales in switching agents and going to the Hendricks brothers, it will be interesting to see whether the Angels could have any sort of edge in the competition for Chapman based on Chapman's respect for Morales.

Jermaine Dye could emerge as a fine right-handed hitting alternative to Milton Bradley and Vladdy Guerrero for the Rangers.

• The leading contenders to buy the Rangers appear to be groups headed by former superagent Dennis Gilbert and Pittsburgh sports attorney Chuck Greenberg. Current owner Tom Hicks reportedly has his own group, but knowing that MLB had to cover Hicks' expenses some months this year, one baseball source said it's unlikely Hicks will be involved in the new group.

• Nothing's been announced regarding Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd, but it appears he's staying. O'Dowd, whose contract recently expired, was named Executive of the Year by his peers.

• Commissioner Bud Selig surely means it when he says he intends to retire after 2012, but he's tried these far-in-advance retirement announcements before (as he did again this week in the Chicago Tribune), and they never seem to stick -- he has always bowed to the wishes of the owners that he stay. Why don't we just wait until 2012 and see how he feels at that time?

• My initial thoughts about the Hall of Fame ballot are to include Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Jack Morris, Dave Parker, Don Mattingly and Andre Dawson on my ballot, and know, too, that five or six others are very close "no's." I'll take a closer look on Wednesday.

• I know Mark McGwire hopes to make it to Cooperstown one day. But I am going to wait to hear what he has to say before changing my consistent "no" vote to a "yes" for him. The former hermit is supposed to talk sometime in December.

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