The Hot Stove League kicks into high gear this week with the Winter Meetings in Dallas. MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage starting tonight at 8PM then 5 hours daily through Thursday. We will see new faces and old faces in new roles: six GMs, fully 20% of the complement, are new. Seems like a higher-than-usual number to me.
Most people think of the Winter Meetings as a time of blockbuster trades and high-profile free agent signings. Last year, for instance, we saw the Zack Grienke trade between the Brewers and Royals, and the Nationalsí signing of Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126-million contract. The Brewers benefited with their first divisional crown since 1982, the Royals continue to stockpile young talent that could lead to a higher standing in the AL Central, and the Nationals, even with a disappointing season from Werth, improved to a third-place, almost-.500 finish in the NL East. So big things can happen!
Of course, thatís no indication that big things will happen, but letís keep our fingers crossed. The Miami Marlins took one of the premier closers off the market on Friday, signing Heath Bell to a 3 year, $27 million contract; Bell has been a top closer the past three seasons, but he is 34, overweight, and has an explosive delivery, none of which is a good indicators he will provide good value over the length of his deal; still, if you are a Marlins fan, you are heartened, though my guess is you will be even more heartened if the Marlinsí expressed pursuit of Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes , C.J. Wilson or Mark Buerhle pans out. Frankly, I have my doubts although the Marlins have a lot of tickets to sell at their sparkling new yard. Any one of those signing would be a gesture to their fans that they are serious about winning.
The top-name free agents remaining in the mix may not sign this week; there is a cat-and-mouse game going on between agents and teams, each waiting for the other to blink. When the Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon early in the cycle, it quickly set the market for closers, with Joe Nathan and Bell signing deals in line with the Papelbon contract in terms of years and dollars. Former Philliesí closer Ryan Madson remains, and donít be surprised if he signs with the Boston Red Sox, who need someone of his caliber. That could well happen this week.
But the first basemen, the shortstops, and the lefty pitchers all want to see what the other guy gets before committing. I think Pujols and Jimmy Rollins will remain with their habitual teams, but they would probably like to see what Prince and Jose get before they sign on the dotted line.