The Holidays are upon us… must be Hot Stove!

Isn’t it crazy that the Hot Stove season can be just as exciting as the real deal?

Due to the ongoing CBA negotiations and other technical stuff which isn’t expected to be resolved till the Thanksgiving time-frame, the real heat of the Hot Stove could be closer to December.

Teams that could definitely make a splash:

The Los Angeles Angels. Several members of the Halo’s front office were let go following the rather inept offseason of 2010-2011.  The ‘Napoli’ fiasco (turning Texas down and then trading him to Toronto knowing Texas would obtain him from the Jays) and taking a pass on Adrian Beltre (who lives 30 minutes from the Stadium) who both went on to solidify their only division rival (well, with money, anyway) and have great postseason stats will do that.  Even with the division facing expansion (The Houston Astros joining the AL West) the Rangers are their biggest foe (in town rival Dodgers should be fairly quiet facing their sale to new ownership) and the Angels need to make up ground to keep pace.

The Miami Marlins: New stadium, new branding and a good deal of dollars to invest.  The Fish are looking to become ‘Latin America’s Team’ and have already taken a few steps to push that.  Signing Ozzie, Latin baseball’s poster boy went a long way as did the geographical name change but look for a few changes in the playing personnel too, especially with a number of Latin free agents available and the owner’s decision to increase payroll.

The Washington Nationals: They’ve rebuilt and now it’s time to contend.  The Nat’s have shown some signs of brilliance and an ability to contend in the NL East (the Braves and Phils aren’t going anywhere) with the talent assembled.  Like Miami, they have money to spend and a hungry fan base.  Plus being friends with Scott Boras helps.

The Chicago Cubs: Theo has arrived and brought a number of his former Red Sox employees with him to build a new Dynasty in baseball’s only other historic Cathedral.  He may not have as much payroll as he did in Boston but he has enough to make a splash and be taken seriously in the market.  No, the Cubs won’t be serious playoff contenders next year, but building for two and three years down the road starts right now.

Darkhorse Candidates:

The Los Angeles Dodgers: No, I don’t see them being serious contenders for Prince Fielder (though they should have been under better circumstances) or the top five to ten in the market, but with a pending sale both Frank McCourt and MLB may believe a few prize pieces to complement the established core could go a long way to frost the cake.

The New York Mets:  Again, I don’t see a lot of big name consideration but the brain trust finally came to the overdue decision to bring in the fences at CitiField and by cutting loose Jose Reyes and possibly David Wright they’ll have money to spend on some flashy re-treads who could show some power.  The owner’s financial situation may be too shaky for a Pujols or Fielder to settle on.  Plus they need to contend with the Yankees on the back page.

Now, I’m not expecting the Sox to be big players in the market, they have a set team and may be playing ‘gun-shy’ because of their recent past signings (Crawford, Lackey, multiple members of the bullpen), but they will dabble and pick some fruit from the lower B & C tier.  After all, anyone in their right mind knows Carl Crawford will rebound and so for that matter could John Lackey.  If I had a bum arm, a wife with cancer who decided to divorce me and was in a generally p!ss poor mood for the entire season… yeah, I’d be a rather poor teammate, drinking and fast food pickin’ in the clubhouse who had one of the worst starting pitching seasons in Sox history (and we had Matt Young in early 90’s too.. Yeesh!).  Just remember, now he has something to prove (or at least should) and will be easier to off load if he turns it around.

Anywhoo!  Here is a list of the Scarlett Hose free agent players:  Erik Bedard, J.D. Drew, Conor Jackson, Trever Miller, David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon, Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield.  Obviously, of these eight, Big Papi and Pap’ are the one’s to watch while Wake and ‘Tek are the sentimental faves.

David Ortiz: A Type-A free agent who has ranked in most experts Top 10 or close to it.  Yes, he had a great year, almost a ‘comeback’ year but in the end it was a ‘contract’ year.  Papi has the cache to demand his price for a what will probably be his last big payday but the market for a professional DH has dwindled greatly.  Sure, the power is there and he can still be a middle of the order threat in the right line-up (taking home his 5th Silver Slugger), but the stars still need to align both contract wise and probably (with most veteran players) championship caliber talent wise as well.  No, he won’t be as beloved elsewhere.  He’s a big personality and a great media darling but he’s a part of Red Sox lore and you can’t just transplant that, even if he did shoot himself in the face with the ‘Yankees are great’ comments in the Francona/Theo fallout, plus the fact Youk may require more DH time to avoid these late season breakdowns, especially with Will Middlebrooks seasoning in Pawtucket. I don’t forsee much NL interest due to his limited mobility at first.

Teams who might show interest:

1. Boston: Obvious.

2. Los Angeles Angels:  A big-ticket draw who can re-shape that line-up in a hurry and appeal to LA’s latin fan base.  They are contenders in the West and would sign him to keep Texas from thinking about it.

3. Toronto Blue Jays: A power hitter who does well at the Rogers Center but they Jays could climb as high as 3rd in the AL East.

4. The Texas Rangers:  A world champion and veteran presence who could change the face of an already great line-up.  If they can’t sign Prince Fielder, he may be a power hitting 2nd chance prize.

5. New York Yankees: He’s a part of Boston’s folk-lore, so he’s worth a look just as the Sox looked at both Jeter and Mo Rivera last off-season.  They’re the ‘Bombers so they can afford him and will obviously be in contention, but they don’t need him and don’t really have the roster space.  With A-Rod declining in the field, he’ll need more DH time to avoid injury as will a grooming Montero, aging Posada (should they re-sign him) and possibly Jeter as well.

I see him staying put, but if the Angels or Rangers offer 3 years and silly money…

Jonathan Papelbon: Type-A free agent who had a good rebound year but more importantly progressed as a leader with maturity.  Pap’ has said for years he’s been drooling to hit the market and I don’t see him jumping without due diligence.  There are several other closers on the market, however, Papelbon is obviously the best pick, ranking in the mid to late teens on most experts FA lists.

1. Boston: Obvious

2. Philadelphia: The closer’s role has been somewhat by committee the last few seasons and after the downfall against the Cards in the NLDS, they may be the serious contenders for a proven closer.

3. Los Angeles Angels: He’d go great with the Rally-Monkey.

4. Los Angeles Dodgers: Would be another jewel to package with the young core to entice a new owner.

5.1 Washington Nationals: If they’re making an honest push, they’ll make contact but K-Rod or maybe even a Joe Nathan could be a cheaper alternative if Prince or Reyes are on the radar.

5.2 Chicago Cubs: The Cubs can offer a ‘reasonable’ contract, and Theo’s experience will definately dictate that as the former Sox GM praised Pap’s progress as a mature leader who found the next level in his game.

If he doesn’t go to Philly, the Sox may be the next best landing spot for a big payday and shot at another title.  If he can accept a leadership in rebuilding role, Theo’s Cubs could be a very distinct Darkhorse candidate.

Tim Wakefield: Sure, he’s closing in on tying both Clemens and Young for all time Sox wins and is old enough to say he played in Scarlett Hose with the Rocket, but he fits in where ever he is asked and he’s still the Time Lord who can flash some brilliance in the flutterball.  His silence in the ‘Pitcher-gate’ fall out may go against him as a veteran leader in a clubhouse looking for change.

Jason Varitek: He rebounded a bit with a lighter work load in his role as mentor/back-up to ‘Salty for the majority of the season.  With Lavarnway still needing some seasoning in Pawtucket for both his defensive and offensive prowess (probably a mid-season call up with some back-up catcher/DH duty), I can see ‘Tek coming back for one more year as back-up before transitioning to his life as a coach and manager in the major leagues.  Like Wakefield, he may suffer from the silence regarding ‘Pitcher-gate’ and the fall-out may go against him.

Now, a few of the other groceries available in the winter market…

Albert Pujols, 1B: The best player of his generation seeking a contract to match.

1. St. Louis Cardinals: He’s a an established legend in a rabid baseball town and two-time WS Champion with the ‘Cards.  However, LaRussa was his mentor and King Albert may not be giving a hometown discount.

2. Miami Marlins: The Marlins should be hip deep in the biggest Latin player this side of Ozzie Guillen, who just happens to be the new manager for the Fish.  While increasing payroll, it still might be too steep to relocate the King.

3. Toronto Blue Jays:  The Jays are looking to compete in the AL East and obviously Pujols would be the trigger to get them on the right track.  He’d put a$$es in the seats but probably limit them beyond that.

4. Los Angeles Angels: Since the Dodgers can’t do it, it’s up to the Halos to try to bring one of baseball’s biggest marquee names to LA.  Arte Morneo would love to put this Latin juggernaut in the line-up, but may need to pick up more pitching and line-up depth for the money.

5. New York Mets: Nothing serious, but it would trump the Yankees Hot Stove season on the back pages.

This will probably drag out but will make a great Christmas present to either Miami or front-runner St. Louis.

Prince Fielder, 1B: He’s only 27 and been one of the best hitters in either league for the past six years.  Probably not A-Rod money (Rodriguez was younger in his initial free agency), but easily Mark Texiera dollars.

1. Washington Nationals:  He’s the cornerstone to build on and become the new ‘it’ team in the NL East.  They have the money to spend and have taken years to rebuild to this point.  Baltimore is an afterthought in this mid-Atlantic market and the Nats can finally put the Montreal stigma in the rear-view mirror.

2. Texas Rangers: The Rangers, for all their power and prowess, went to the WS without a bona-fide 1st baseman.  Adding Prince shores up the corner position, adds incredible power to an already potent line-up and ensures Texas a ticket to the dance for years to come.

3. Chicago Cubs: Theo will call in for King Albert but could give serious consideration for the Prince instead.  Fielder is younger and will most likely be cheaper, but could easily carry the hopes and dreams of Cubs fans while kicking Brewers fans in the gut.  Plus, one would think the smaller confines of Wrigley may increase those already gaudy numbers.  It may be the first big step in Theo’s plan for the future.

4. St. Louis Cardinals: Pujols is obviously the priority but should talks stall, turn ugly or just not meet on paper, another star of the NL Central certainly couldn’t hurt.

5. Darkhorse: It’s hard to imagine an off-season like this, with a player like Prince Fielder, where both the Dodgers and Mets are basically tied up in a corner and forced to watch.  This could give teams like Miami, Seattle or Toronto a chance to get into a better negotiating position.

Too close to call for me.  The Cubs offer history and a massive media market to a shy kid who could be the darling of a hungry fan base while Texas may be the best chance at a quick fix WS title.  I’d avoid St. Louis and the endless comparisons to Albert and settle for Washington, whose money is still green, if I had to.

Jose Reyes, SS:  He may have wanted Carl Crawford money but the poor dear is fragile and may have to settle for four or five years just under a hundred million.

1. Miami Marlins: Jose is friends with Hanley Ramirez (who already supposedly stated he’d move to third or another bag for his buddy) and could flourish under Ozzie Guillen.  If Pujols is off the radar, signing Reyes and maybe an Aramis Ramirez could go a long way remaking and re-branding ‘Latin America’s Team’.

2. Washington Nationals: Again, they have the money and he could fit nicely with what the Nats hope to do this offseason.

3. San Fransisco Giants: Jimmy Rollins may be a better investment for the G-Men but I look for them to make a fairly serious inquiry on a still moderately young big name.

4. New York Mets: It’s a longshot at best but he’s been there, has a fan base and is still marketable as a Met.

5. Darkhorse: The Red Sox may only be a bit off the radar if they feel Jose Iglesias is going off track, especially since Scutaro isn’t a long-term fix. St. Louis is in the market as well and don’t count out interest from the Yanks (Jeter and A-Rod are aging…).

I can easily see him amending his asking price / years to be part of something special in Miami.  Anywhere else, he’s cashing in.

C.J. Wilson, SP: He’s had a couple of above average regular seasons now, but fell apart in the playoffs.  However mediocrity is always rewarded (John Lackey & A.J. Burnett) when starting pitching is thin.

1. Texas Rangers: Texas is certainly a good place to be these days, so I’d be surprised if he wanted to leave.  But if the Rangers are going for Prince Fielder then it may tie things up.

2. Los Angeles Angels:  Hometown OC kid who the Halos can afford to add to an already impressive front half of the rotation (and lure away from rival Texas).

3. New York Yankees: He’s a big-ticket AL pitcher. Nuff’ said.

4. Boston Red Sox: I think the Sox will take a fairly serious look at a young guy who can win 15 games.  I think the Bombers will take it more seriously as Cherington may want to avoid a big-ticket pitcher for a rehab/low-cost alternative for the #4 and #5 starter.

5. Darkhorse: Obviously each of the bigger market teams will have a look with Chicago (both), St. Louis, Washington and maybe even Seattle on the bubble but he has WS experience now and again the market is thin.

The Angels should be able to pry him free, especially if he’s perceived by Texas as a choke artist in the playoffs.

Carlos Beltran, OF: 2011 was supposed to be the contract year but once he got to San Fransisco the remainder of the year stalled out on him.  There’s still a market for his bat, even if his outfield mobility is waning.  The Red Sox and Yankees are expected to make calls on him as are several other clubs.  I’d imagine he’ll land in the AL for a platoon OF/DH role but probably won’t be worth the years/money expected.  Grady Sizemore may be a better alternative for someone wanting to take a chance.

Roy Oswalt, SP: He’s older and obviously a bit more hittable, but he’s still Roy Oswalt.  He’s not necessarily out of Philadelphia, but he’s going to be cheaper if he’s in.  Most teams will call in on this one, especially from the NL, but The White Sox, Red Sox and Yankees love older innings eaters who cost money.  The Rangers will probably give some serious consideration for mid-range money for the guy who carried the Astros for years.

Jimmy Rollins, SS: He’s not the same player he was four or five years ago but his skills, passion and leadership could easily make him a valuable alternative to Jose Reyes.  He’s looking for four years, but an incentive laden three years plus an option for a contender may work.  Both the Cardinals and Giants could go deep for his services, but San Fransisco might win out as the Cards wait on Pujols.  Washington and Seattle (and don’t count out the Mets) could call on him for some veteran stability as well.

Grady Sizemore, OF:  He’s not going to rate very high on anyone’s FA list due to his injury plagued past, but he’s only 29 and will be a year removed from micofracture surgery.  For a big market team in need of a platoon OF/DH type, he could definitely be worth a try.  Boston should be on the phone with serious consideration (after all, they used to have J.D. Drew) as could a team like the Rays.  If he gets the right situation and is held to under a hundred games, it could supply enough rest to build towards his old self.   He could fall somewhere between Carlos Beltran and a Josh Willingham.

Aramis Ramirez, 3B: He opted out of Chicago which may have saved Theo the buyout fee.  One of the better hitting 3rd basemen in the NL, there aren’t a lot of options on the market this off-season.  Definitely not Adrian Beltre but may translate as a 3B/1B/DH for an AL club.  Look for the Miami Marlins to give a serious look as a Pujols fall back plan to team with Reyes and Hanley.

David Ortiz, DH/1B: see above.

Ryan Madson, RP:  Like Oswalt, he’s not necessarily out of Philly, but with the steps he’s taken in the past few seasons he’s definitely sought after.  The Phillies and Red Sox (depending on what they plan to do with Bard) could be at the top of the list (especially if both end up scrambling for Papelbon) but so could any big market team in need of late-inning help.

Edwin Jackson, SP:  Yes, he’s a WS Champion but he’s been traded more than a few times and you really have to wonder why for such a young and seemingly capable guy.  He’ll command a salary in the market (perhaps too pricey for a #4 or #5 type guy the Yankees or Red Sox need) but that could leave anyone to step-up.

Jonathan Papelbon, RP: see above

Carlos Pena, 1B:  His average was down but over all Pena still performed for the Cubs.  Most figure he’ll land in Milwaukie to replace Prince Fielder but I could see the Rays (he has a history), Rangers (if they don’t land Fielder) and Pirates (could be cheap but established) calling as well.

Heath Bell, RP: His K’s were down but he’s still a possible alternative to Papelbon or maybe a Madson.  Probably staying in San Diego, he could still command more than a few inquiries.

Francisco Rodriguez, RP: K-Rod will probably get a lot of attention as a Papelbon alternative even though he’s still a 9th inning rollercoaster.  A few teams will probably call for his set-up qualities as well as closing prowess, the Reds and Red Sox among them but look for Ozzie’s Marlins to make a big push.

Josh Willingham, OF: Even though he played in the caverns of Oakland’s O.co Stadium, Willingham still posted respectable numbers.  Moving to a smaller home field will probably work wonders for him.  The Mets, Red Sox, Braves and Rays could come calling.  Boston could be a viable option as they need a right-handed RF in Fenway to platoon.

Johnny Damon, DH/OF: Damon has transitioned well from everyday outfielder to spot starter/DH and mentor for teams with younger emerging talent just as he did in Detroit and most recently Tampa.  Plus he can still hit.  Arizona would appear to need someone to fill those shoes and maybe even the Cubs (Theo won a title with Johnny) but I see him staying in the AL, possibly for Toronto, Seattle or the Angels if not returning to Tampa.

Now obviously there are roughly 200 free agents on this year’s market.  I’m not covering them all, just touching on some of the more notable players crossing everyone’s wish lists.  There are a lot of B and C type players, veterans, rehabs and retreads who will be circulating as well.  In my next post, I’ll touch upon a few more who I feel the Red Sox in particular should explore.

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