After an exciting and eventful 2011 season, now things get really interesting! Three high-profile teams, the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, and St. Louis are all in flux at the highest levels of management; add to that other clubs like the Baltimore Orioles who are trying to chase down front office talent; and let’s not forget the start of free-agent and roster-churning for all 30 teams.
It’s called “The Hot Stove League”. No one really knows when it became known as such; most likely it harkens back to the days when fans would gather at the general store or in kitchens around “the hot stove” to keep warm during the winter and while away the days of the off-season discussing baseball while awaiting Opening Day.
My memories of The Hot Stove League (let’s just call it “HSL”) in my younger days was that it was a fairly boring time, punctuated by the announcement of the achievement awards (Most Valuable Player, Cy Young, etc.), a flurry of news around the time of the General Managers’ confab and the general Winter Meetings, an occasional trade and some roster moves such as non-tenders, etc. Days would pass with almost no baseball news in the sports section of the newspaper and no mention of the game on the 15-minute TV newscasts on the three or four stations available. Radio was still for music and not for 24/7/365 “sports talk.”
Rosters became much more mutable as the Free Agency Era dawned in the 1970’s. Now for the first time significant player movement was powered by the players themselves. Today it is the cornerstone of the game and makes for real change and the ability of teams to improve themselves (or not) immediately.
Today we have the Internet, too many baseball discussion sites to count, plus the ESPNs, the regional cable sports networks of Fox and Comcast, and of course MLB Network itself, where nightly at 8 PM Eastern Time Hot Stove will discuss the free agent movements, trade possibilities, non-tender candidates, and of course provide on-site coverage of the GM Meetings next week and the Winter Meetings in December. I am also interested in the debut at 7:30 ET of Clubhouse Confidential, which will cater to the sabermetric (AKA “stat-geek”) crowd. Later in November we will have teams making (or not) arbitration offers to their free agents so they can obtain draft picks in compensation. In January other arbitration-eligible players will either be non-tendered, signed, or offered arbitration.
In other words, baseball has truly become a year-round pastime where the four months without action on the field are filled with action in front offices and back rooms. It is true that the wealthiest franchises tend to attract and sign the biggest-name free agents, but it long ago the richest teams managed to have the best players, too. If nothing else, today the process is more transparent, and certainly more in the interest of players.