When San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson recorded the final strikeout of the World Series on Monday night, it didn't just set off a celebration in Texas.
It opened the floodgates for 142 major leaguers to officially be released from the bondage of their previous contracts. They are free agents at last.
Here's a quick primer on 2010-11 free agency:
Q: How is this year's free agency different from the past?
A: In previous years, players had to file for free agency. It was just a formality; basically everyone who was eligible filed. That process has been eliminated, and now all those who are eligible immediately became free agents Monday night, even those who may soon re-sign with their old clubs. Also, the period of exclusive negotiating rights with a player's old club has been shortened from 15 days to five. That means the open bidding process begins Sunday at 12:01 a.m., 10 days earlier than usual. Theoretically, there should be more signings before December's winter meetings than there have been in the past.
Q: What do the changes mean for the Orioles?
A: Probably nothing. President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said in September that he expected all the club's free agents to test the market, so a five-day or 15-day exclusive negotiating period doesn't alter those thoughts. The Orioles can now pursue free agents quicker, and they'll likely touch base with a couple of agents soon after they are allowed to Sunday. But MacPhail isn't a big believer in the bum rush; in the past, he has expressed his interest and then initiated dialogue as he deemed appropriate. Buck Showalter may do some recruiting on his own, but don't expect the Orioles to have their cart full before late December, if not January.
Q: Who are the Orioles' free agents, and will they re-sign any?
A: The seven are: infielders Ty Wigginton, Cesar Izturis and Julio Lugo; pitchers Kevin Millwood, Koji Uehara and Mark Hendrickson; and outfielder Corey Patterson. Wigginton, Uehara and Izturis are the most likely to return.
My guess is Izturis will re-sign, and the other two are 50-50 right now. Wigginton's return depends on the intensity of the market for him while the Orioles seek out other corner-infield options. Uehara's fate is probably tied more to his contractual demands and whether he would take an incentives-based deal. Lugo and Millwood are definitely out, and given the current roster construction, Patterson likely goes elsewhere, too.
Hendrickson, 36, wants to return, and the Orioles might be amenable, depending on what their bullpen looks like in January. They've already declined his $1.2 million option for 2011.
Q: Whom will the Orioles be targeting as free agents?
A: Their biggest need is a power bat in the middle of the lineup, and one that preferably plays corner infield. They'll have money to spend and likely will pursue, at least on some level, third baseman Adrian Beltre and first basemen Victor Martinez, Paul Konerko, Derrek Lee, Adam Dunn, Lance Berkman, Adam LaRoche and Carlos Pena, among others.
They'll also look for a veteran starter and a bullpen arm or two, but don't expect them to make a real run at the three most coveted free agents this winter: Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth.
Q: When and where are the winter meetings this year?
A: Dec. 6-9 at the Swan and Dolphin Resort near Orlando, Fla.
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