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Hot-stove season: On your marks …

Along comes a World Series in which neither qualifier reported for spring training with a $100-million payroll, an atypical triumph for the sensible car-driving, 401(k)-tanking, skimp-on-the-bench middle class of Bud Selig’s golden era.

A San Francisco Giants-Texas Rangers championship will be – and should be – hailed as a victory of ingenuity over gluttony (Giants’ salaries ranked ninth in baseball, the Rangers’ 27th, pre-bankruptcy and pre-Cliff Lee(notes)).

The Giants haven’t won a World Series since 1954, so 56 years and 3,000 miles ago. Their Game 1 starter in that series – in which they swept the Cleveland Indians – was Sal Maglie, who’d been born in 1917. The Rangers have never even played for one. In fairness, they were born 44 years after Maglie.

So, happy days for a largely forgotten corner of the game, for franchises occasionally and marginally relevant but mostly trampled at the end, and for panda-hatted, antler-donning populations of the Bay Area and The Metroplex.

After that, well, duck.

For after the fall, the winter seems likely to be dominated by teams eliminated before late October, by the very teams whose rosters were exposed by the likes of the Rangers and Giants.

This World Series is significant for the ascension of a fresh management team (Nolan Ryan, Jon Daniels, Thad Levine in Texas), for a release from the past (Barry Bonds in San Francisco), for the building and maintenance of two sturdy starting rotations, for wonderful personalities (Josh Hamilton(notes), Brian Wilson(notes), C.J. Wilson(notes), Cody Ross(notes)), and for new blood in November. (How do you think they got the antlers and panda hats?)

And it is significant for who was left behind. No New York Yankees. No Boston Red Sox. No Philadelphia Phillies. No Los Angeles teams. No Chicago teams. The major markets and/or lavish spenders are out for just the second time in 15 years (St. Louis-Detroit in ’06, Florida-Cleveland in ’97), meaning the Rangers and Giants haven’t just advanced to the Series, they’ve quite probably kicked over the Steinbrenner hornets’ nest egg.

At the time the Phillies and Yankees were gaping at strike-three sliders to end their seasons, leaving the 106th World Series to the middle class, you can be sure what came next were questions of what’s next. The last time the Yankees went home early, they mourned and then binged on CC Sabathia(notes), Mark Teixeira(notes) and A.J. Burnett(notes). This time, their GM, Brian Cashman, spoke of an offseason of “attacking the weaknesses.” Their weapons of choice, obviously, are the elephant gun and checkbook.

In L.A., Arte Moreno failed to win the AL West for the second time in seven years and Frank McCourt has some serious making up to do with Dodgers fans. In Chicago, the White Sox rarely stand still and the Cubs are, as ever, adorably desperate and lost, but rich. Alongside the Yankees (geographically speaking, of course), the Mets soon will have a new general manager and field manager, meaning a new direction, which is good, seeing as they’ve tried all the other ones.

The Red Sox missed the playoffs for the second time in five years and, in baseball-crazed Boston, are beginning to doubt the veracity of all those now-I-can-die-in-peace pledges. Given the plethora of injuries and their finish behind the Tampa Bay Rays and Yankees, it is fair to say the Red Sox this season died in pieces.

Moreno, the artful Angel, already has promised big improvements, telling the Los Angeles Times three weeks ago, “We know where our weaknesses are, we know where we are thin, we know where we have to go to market. It’s going to cost money, but our fans need to know that we’re committed to winning.”

McCourt, too, is expected to spend big. In fact, he’s already signed Steve Susman for the end of his bullpen, seeing as the famed attorney was so dominant in his closing argument.

As we rest up for the World Series, map a parade and begin to assemble for the early-December winter meetings in Orlando, here are 10 prominent players who could change the course of the offseason:

Cliff Lee

• Cliff Lee, free agent: The lefty, who has proven his mettle in the regular season and the playoffs, has pitched the Phillies and now the Rangers into the World Series. In eight career postseason starts he is 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA, notably with a 67-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Though he’s two years older than Sabathia, Lee, 32, has every reason to seek a Sabathia-type deal: seven years, $161 million. If the Yankees don’t get him, it won’t be for lack of money or effort. Their rotation disappointed them in October, as there was little reliable after Sabathia and Andy Pettitte(notes). At that money, the Yankees might not have many competitors, though the Rangers, Angels, Cubs, White Sox and Phillies could try. As new ownership and good vibrations abound, the Rangers could be the sentimental favorites.

Carl Crawford(notes), free agent: The Rays announced they’d be cutting payroll – from $73 million – which probably means Crawford, along with teammates Rafael Soriano(notes) and Carlos Pena, is a goner. He’ll be missed in St. Petersburg, where in his final hours the folks in the left-field bleachers chanted his name longingly. A multi-talented outfielder, Crawford is solid in every way and spectacular in some. That he bases much of his game on speed is a cause for some concern, given he is 29 and spent so much time on artificial turf. That won’t bother the Angels, Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and Yankees, however, all of whom need to upgrade their outfields.

Zack Greinke(notes), Kansas City Royals: Hired 4½ years ago to build the Royals in the image of the Atlanta Braves, GM Dayton Moore saw Greinke blossom into a top-end starter, but, alas, not a franchise changer. Greinke is under contract through 2012, has partial no-trade protection, and is shaking loose at a time the free-agent pitching market – Lee is the only ace out there – is thin. The timing isn’t great for Moore: Greinke’s ERA in 2010 was 4.17 ERA, nearly double the season before. Yet, there’s no doubting Greinke’s stuff. He’s also smart and durable and seems to be wearying of the go-nowhere Royals. The low-key Greinke, because of the no-trade clause, has some say here. The Yankees and Red Sox are long shots, but not impossible. If Greinke wants to keep his market manageable, the Minnesota Twins, Tigers, Houston Astros, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves make sense.

Prince Fielder

Prince Fielder(notes), Milwaukee Brewers: Owner Mark Attanasio has made a good show out of telling folks he likely can’t afford Fielder, who, at 26 is coming up on 200 career home runs. This could be the offseason the Brewers part with Fielder, too, and begin to rebuild their woeful pitching staff. In terms of straight-up power, free-agent Adam Dunn(notes) could be the only available bat in Fielder’s class. Fielder fell off in a lot of places in 2010, and will continue to frighten some because of his weight, but home runs don’t come cheap in the post-steroid era. He’s due to become a free agent after the 2011 season. Meantime, the Brewers will get plenty of play on Fielder. Depending on how they play their offseasons, the Red Sox, Rays, White Sox, Braves, Cubs, Rockies, Dodgers and Giants could all be involved.

Jayson Werth(notes), free agent: Many teams rank Werth a close second to Crawford among free-agent outfielders. Fortunately for Werth, there’s only one Crawford out there. The Phillies are saying they’d like to keep their right fielder, though Ruben Amaro Jr. did point out to Philly writers, “Jayson had a good year. It wasn’t an extraordinary year. … It wasn’t as productive a year as he’s had in the past.” Werth likely is moving on, and his market will be strong. The Braves, Angels, Yankees, Red Sox, Nationals, Yankees and Dodgers, among others, could use him, particularly if they fall short in the Crawford bidding.

Adrian Beltre(notes), free agent: Get him out of Seattle, into a hitters’ park and onto a contender, and look what Beltre did. At 31, Beltre re-established himself as an offensive threat – .321 batting average, 28 homers, 102 RBIs – and played his usual nifty defense. The Red Sox would love to have him back, but they won’t get him at the same price. Also hunting for a third baseman: Cardinals, Tigers, Angels, Dodgers, Orioles, Giants.

• Rafael Soriano, free agent: There was hardly a better pitcher in 2010 than Soriano, no matter the inning. With Crawford, David Price(notes) and Evan Longoria(notes), Soriano helped push the Rays to the top of the AL East, saving 45 games. The Angels should send a limo for him. The White Sox and Nationals have ninth-inning needs as well.

Adrian Gonzalez

Adrian Gonzalez(notes), San Diego Padres: After all they’d done for 5½ months, it was a shame to see the Padres flame out over the final few weeks. Now, after asking everyone to BELIEVE, the Padres and GM Jed Hoyer must decide how much they believed. Gonzalez is due to be a free agent after the 2011 season, and the Padres’ previous flirtations with trading Gonzalez have brought plenty of interest. The Red Sox will be first in line. Again.

• Adam Dunn, free agent: The Nats would like to re-sign Dunn, but the clock is ticking and the organization seems to be unwilling to go four years. In Dunn, a decent offensive club would be getting 40 homers, more than 100 RBIs and 100 walks. He’s viewed in some circles as a DH, though not in Dunn’s. The Cubs, who need help at first base, are a reasonable guess. There also will be plenty of DH jobs to go around.

Matt Kemp(notes), Dodgers: GM Ned Colletti is going to have to be overwhelmed to move Kemp, who at any given time uses two or three of his five tools. But the Dodgers have so many moving parts – the owner, the rotation, the bullpen, the left side of the infield, the right side of the infield, left field – that Kemp’s will be a popular name though the winter. His value is lower than last year at this time, and Kemp could thrive under new manager Don Mattingly, whom he likes and respects. The Red Sox, White Sox and Braves could come knocking.

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