Although there's still a lot of baseball left to play, it's never too early to look ahead to the offseason.
About two-thirds of the teams in baseball already are looking ahead to 2012, and even teams like the Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies -- practically certain to play October baseball -- are keeping the offseason in the back of their minds.
It's no secret that building from within is the most economical way to build a contender, but if you have a hole and expect to be in the playoff hunt, you can't overlook opening the wallet and bringing in a star player. And this winter's free-agent market should be exciting, with Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes and C.J. Wilson headlining a star-studded class. (CC Sabathia, who can opt out of his current contract, could join them.)
Even top-notch developmental organizations like the Braves and Rangers can't fill every hole with a young star minor leaguer as easily as ordering a pizza. Teams that are properly capitalized and can afford to invest in quality players already are writing their wish lists.
Each year there are surprise free-agent signings -- such as Cliff Lee by the Philadelphia Phillies this past December -- but the final destinations of stars on the market tend to be where the money is available and the need exists.
Previewing the holes of the teams that are likely to be active in the free-agent market this winter allows us to at least intelligently handicap baseball's holiday season.
This season the Yankees have received good production out of every position, and in 2012 Derek Jeter will man the shortstop position, which they could conceivably upgrade in the free-agent market this offseason.
Nick Swisher is just short of being a star but is easily worth the $10.25 million option for the 2012 season. The team's first goal, however, needs to be keeping Sabathia out of the free-agent market, then figuring out whether it can bring Bartolo Colon or Freddy Garcia back without having to commit too aggressively.
The starting pitching market will be thin this winter -- with C.J. Wilson the obvious prize -- and the Yankees are likely to be involved in negotiations with the Rangers starter.