Something happened while you slept last night. Well, two things happened, if you want to include that whole changing of the clocks. But to those of us who care more about baseball than efforts to save electricity or harvest corn in Nebraska under a morning light, baseball's free agency period began at midnight.
When Saturday became Sunday teams no longer had the exclusive rights to negotiate with their free agents. For the Red Sox, of course, that means they are now just one of 30 teams who can talk contract with the likes of Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez, Jason Varitek and Bill Hall, their four remaining free agents.
We have analyzed Boston's needs as well as its potential targets on the market. But so much of the Hot Stove season involves analyzing the needs of other teams, particularly those who will be in direct competition with the Sox.
So while Beltre and others enter a new phase in their offseason journeys, we take a look at some of those teams that will most directly impact the Red Sox from now until February.
1. New York Yankees – For once these teams may not be heavily involved in the same players, due to different needs. But failing to keep an eye on the Yankees first and foremost would be a mistake.
In past years both were in on several of the same big-name pieces. Just last year the Yanks were rumored to be in on John Lackey before Boston's five-year offer won out. Mark Teixeira was seemingly stolen from Boston by a sneaky offer by New York during the 2008-09 offseason. And who can forget the whole Alex Rodriguez drama after the 2003 season?
This time it's a bit different. The Yankees, after locking up Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, will offer a key to the city, plus many millions of dollars, to left-hander Cliff Lee. New York has a glaring need for starting pitching as long as A.J. Burnett struggles, Pettitte flirts with retirement and Phil Hughes continues to need time to develop. Lee is a perfect fit in the Bronx, whereas the Red Sox' starting rotation is contractually set from top to bottom.
Additionally, it's not a given that the Yanks do much on the Carl Crawford/Jayson Werth front. With All-Star Nick Swisher in right field, Curtis Granderson in center and Brett Gardner in left, the outfield is relatively good, inexpensive and young. Crawford or Werth would certainly represent an upgrade, but the Yankees want to keep their payroll about the same as it was in 2010 (just a shade over $200 million) and after Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte and potentially Lee sign, there might not be room for a big bat.
While both rivals will be doing their due diligence to upgrade the bullpens, the competition for the sexy names may be minimal. But one eye will always be on the Yankees. It has to be.
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – Talk about a carbon copy of the Red Sox. The Angels have five starting pitchers under contract, a need to repair their bullpen and a hole at third base that could be ably filled by Beltre.
Expect Boston to stay in the Beltre talks until they cannot go any higher in terms of dollars or years. The team that might be willing to take it to another level is Anaheim, which has the geographical advantage in that Beltre's family still makes its home in the Los Angeles area.
Additionally, the wooing to Anaheim of free agent outfielder Carl Crawford began months ago. If the Sox really want the speedy left fielder they may be going toe-to-toe with the Angels again.
There have also been whispers of Boston having interest in Angels catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli if the Sox are unable to retain Martinez.
3. Detroit Tigers – Another possible landing spot for Martinez, Detroit has gobs of money to spend. Cash tied to Magglio Ordonez, Johnny Damon, Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson has come off the books, totaling some $60 million.
Like the Sox, the Tigers also could use some help in the outfield. There's no doubt general manager Dave Dombrowski would love to include Crawford or Werth in a collection that includes Austin Jackson, Ryan Raburn, Brennan Boesch and Casper Wells.
4. Tampa Bay Rays – Many of the principles discussed with the Yankees apply here. The Rays are the defending division champs and much of what they do will dictate the spending sprees of others in the AL East.
Provided Crawford and Carlos Pena are not retained by Tampa Bay, as is expected, the Rays next move will be to hold on to other pieces in a bid to remain competitive with the big boys in the division. One measure will be to re-sign closer Rafael Soriano, whose presence at the back of the Rays' bullpen transformed the club in 2010.
Soriano, who was a setup man for years before landing the gig in Tampa, may not be looking to sign in a place like Boston, where Jonathan Papelbon holds down the fort for at least one more year. But if the money is right, who knows. The Yanks may have interest as well, especially if Kerry Wood goes elsewhere.
5. Chicago Cubs – Yes, there is another league to be worried about, and the Cubs are its biggest spenders. In addition, with the departure of Derrek Lee, Chicago may be Boston's chief competition for the services of Adrian Gonzalez, who has already been linked to the Windy City.
One factor in the Red Sox' favor if and when a battle for Gonzalez begins (if it hasn't already) lies in the fact that the Cubbies have over $79 million tied up in Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome and Carlos Silva. That makes for some painful check-signing sessions. Plus, they have many more needs than Boston does at the present time, so they may go for cheaper, short-term fixes elsewhere until some of that cash comes off the books.