Where does the Hot Stove League stand?
Enough of the Lukewarm Stove League, the quiet November in which the biggest names were Victor Martinez and Dan Uggla, with a few John Bucks and Joaquin Benoits in between.
Thanksgiving is over.
The 35 free agents who were offered salary arbitration must accept or reject by midnight Tuesday.
The Hot Stove League finally is ready to burn.
Though the winter meetings in Orlando are still a week away, the bidding on free agents is about to intensify, with trade discussions gaining momentum on parallel tracks.
Get ready to hear more on these subjects in the week ahead:
Barring a surprise, it's the Rangers vs. the Yankees for the free-agent left-hander, with most in the industry viewing the Yankees as the favorites.
The Red Sox, with big money committed to three other 30-and-over pitchers — Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka — aren't considered serious contenders for Lee.
But the Sox figure to be at least on the periphery of the negotiations, lurking as a threat to the Yankees — or, at the very least, driving up Lee's price.
His contract negotiations are a subject of intense fascination in New York. The sentiments of the rest of the country are reflected in the words of a rival GM:
“Get off my Internet.”
Jeter and the Yankees will reach an agreement, and everyone knows it. The only question is how much each side will give.
Suggested compromise: Three years, $57 million with a vesting option for a fourth year.
Yes, the Yankees would be bidding against themselves. It has happened before.
THE TENDER DATE
Thursday's the last day for clubs to offer contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. The free-agent pool will swell with “non-tenders,” but few will be difference-makers.
The Pirates acted early, announcing they wouldn't offer deals to pitcher Zach Duke and infielders Andy LaRoche and Delwyn Young, then trading Duke to the Diamondbacks, who inherited the decision on his contract.
White Sox closer Bobby Jenks, Dodgers second baseman Ryan Theriot and Mariners infielder Jose Lopez are among the other non-tender candidates.
The Angels, who like to strike quickly, probably are disappointed they couldn't lock up Crawford by Thanksgiving, the way they did with Torii Hunter three years ago.
But for once, though, the speedy Crawford should be in no hurry.
The Red Sox are interested. The big loser in the Lee sweepstakes — the Yankees or Rangers — could be, too.
Thus, it’s in Crawford's interest to wait for Lee, setting up — potentially — a bidding competition between the Red Sox, Yankees and Angels, or the Angels, Rangers and Red Sox.
At the very least, it's Angels vs. Red Sox, plus heaven knows which other clubs.
The Red Sox are considered the favorites to sign Werth, but what if they turn to Crawford? What if the Angels sign Adrian Beltre and closer Rafael Soriano? What if the Phillies ultimately prove to be Werth's best option?
Stranger things have happened.
Werth's agent, Scott Boras, rarely returns a client to the same club. He could persuade one of his favorite owners, the Tigers' Mike Ilitch, to enter the Werth bidding. One rival GM mentioned the Mariners as a possible fit, but the M's aren't inclined to make a big splash, one source said.
The Phillies, then, actually are in decent position. If nothing else, they can wait Boras out.
Club officials are intrigued by a possible Ben Francisco/Dominic Brown platoon, seemingly preferring Francisco to right-handed hitting free-agent options such as Jeff Francouer, Austin Kearns and Jermaine Dye.
Most of those players still will be available in January — and Werth might be, too, at a more attractive price.
Not likely, but not out of the question, either.
Boras, his agent, says he's never had more interest in a player. The only reported offer — five years, $64 million from the A’s — has neither been confirmed nor denied.
If the offer indeed exists, Boras is unlikely to accept it — the terms are the same he negotiated for Beltre in a free-agent contract with the Mariners in Dec. 2004.
Beltre's still only 31. His OPS-plus last season — that is, his OPS adjusted to his league and ballpark — was higher than that of Matt Holliday's the year before.
Boras landed a seven-year, $120 million free-agent contract for Holliday. Beltre, king of the platform seasons, isn't as good a hitter, but is a far superior defender.
The question, though, remains: Which team would go to Torii Hunter's five-year, $90 million level for Beltre?
Red Sox GM Theo Epstein never has awarded that large a free-agent contract, and he might prefer to sign Adrian Gonzalez or Albert Pujols to an even bigger deal next offseason.
The Angels? The Giants? Some mystery club?
Let the fun begin.
All he must do is utter the magic words, privately to interested clubs if not publicly:
“Yes, I am ready to be a DH.”
Dunn already might be sending that message; if so, his opportunities would greatly increase.
The White Sox, Rangers, Blue Jays, Orioles, Mariners and A's are among the AL teams that would benefit from adding Dunn.
His NL market appears more limited. The chances of Dunn re-signing with the Nationals appear slim. The Cubs might prefer a one-year option. The Giants, after re-signing Aubrey Huff, have other priorities.
ADRIAN GONZALEZ/JUSTIN UPTON/ZACK GREINKE
The three biggest trade chips on the market.
All could move, but probably not before the winter meetings. And in Greinke's case, certainly not until after Lee signs.
Gonzalez would fit with the Red Sox, Cubs, White Sox and Rangers, among other clubs. The question is whether any of those clubs will offer enough talent to persuade the Padres to essentially give up on 2011. Not likely.
Upton, a hot name at the general managers meetings, also would command a steep price, considering he's only 23 and signed at affordable salaries through 2015.
The Diamondbacks, one source says, “plan to see how things heat up in Orlando.” But the Blue Jays' interest already has cooled due to the asking price, and other teams likely will pursue other players first.
Greinke should be in the greatest demand; right-hander Carl Pavano and lefty Jorge De La Rosa, after Lee, are the best remaining free-agent starting pitchers. The Twins need to re-sign Pavano, and a team such as the Nationals could overwhelm De La Rosa.
The Rangers, due to the strength of their farm system, would be in excellent position to trade for Greinke if they lost Lee. But teams such as the Reds, Blue Jays and Orioles also could get in the mix.
For star talent, teams jump.
Sometimes teams that no one expects.