Hot Stove League: Pitchers Flying Off Shelves

This past week, John Smoltz officially signed with the Red Sox and the Braves inked Derek Lowe to a four-year, $60 million deal, something Atlanta’s rival New York Mets could not match. Imagine that. But what runs deeper here is that the second and even third tier of pitchers continue to be signed and many position players remain team-less.

Less than a month before pitchers and catchers report, here are some of the big names still available: Manny freaking Ramirez, Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu, Ken Griffey, Orlando Hudson, Frank Thomas, and to a lesser extent, Kevin Millar (20 homers last season) and Orlando Cabrera. To put this in perspective, the Astros signed pitcher Russ Ortiz to a minor league deal a few days ago, the Dodgers signed reliever Guillermo Mota, the Angels inked Darren Oliver for one year, and the White Sox brought back a Bartolo Colon who is on the downside of his career. Clearly, it’s a pitchers’ market this off-season, and it’s almost mind-boggling that Ramirez has gone almost three full months without being signed.

Part of the problem here is that the big spenders (ahem, New York teams) have blown their collective load on the likes of CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Mark Teixeira, Francisco Rodriguez, etc., leaving a team like the Dodgers the likely scenario for Man-Ram in 2009, which at the end of the day is probably best for both sides anyway. But some of those other guys are going to have trouble finding work, or they are going to take a recession-friendly deal from a team they wouldn’t have signed with otherwise. It’s already happened with Pat Burrell in Tampa and Jason Giambi with Oakland.

In other more recent news, the Red Sox avoided arbitration with Kevin Youkilis on Thursday, agreeing to terms on a four-year deal. And the Dodgers finally released beleaguered outfielder Andruw Jones, who the Braves are considering bringing back for the league minimum salary. The Braves are also mulling over whether to bring back injury-plagued LHP Tom Glavine for one more season.

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Top 20 Remaining MLB Free Agents

John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus takes a look at the top 20 remaining MLB free agents.

Bobby Abreu· Manny Ramirez – Dodgers
· Orlando Cabrera – Athletics
· Derek Lowe – Braves/Mets/Cubs
· Adam Dunn – Nationals
· Bobby Abreu – Reds
· Ben Sheets – Rangers
· Orlando Hudson – Nationals
· Andy Pettitte – Astros (at less than $10MM)
· Jason Varitek – Red Sox (at less than $10MM)
· Ty Wigginton – Astros
· Ivan Rodriguez – Not much of a market, may have to take a minor-league deal with an invite to Spring Training if he’s not signed soon. Could he end up involuntarily retired, a la Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Mike Piazza?
· Kevin Millar – Orioles
· Mark Grudzielanek – Padres
· Braden Looper – Brewers
· Garret Anderson, Eric Hinske, Ray Durham, Jim Edmonds, Paul Byrd, Odalis Perez – All of them (with the exception of Byrd, who may retire) are drawing little to no interest and may be without a club on Opening Day.
I’m shocked both Ramirez and Abreu are still on the market, although it’s more understandable why Manny is still available – his demands (or is it Scott Boras’s demands?) are way too high.

Abreu isn’t the youngest outfielder available, but you’re telling me that no team wants to jump at the chance to acquire his bat? And if Ben Sheets could ever stay healthy he’s a 20-game winner, so it’s a little surprising his name is still out there, too.

Hot Stove League: It’s getting hot in here!

I know that I’ve been clamoring for some action in the MLB Hot Stove League for weeks, even months. But please, I can’t keep up with the floodgates these last few days. Well, here are the highlights (i.e., the bigger names), and you can bet much more will happen in the coming weeks as we get closer to spring training:

First off, two long-time players for a single team will have new addresses in 2009: Trevor Hoffman and John Smoltz. Hoffman, who has been with the Padres since 1993 when he came over as part of a trade with the Marlins for Gary Sheffield, has not only been a great closer for San Diego for 16 seasons—he has become the all-time MLB leader in saves with 554. But when San Diego no longer put the welcome mat out, Hoffman sought to sign elsewhere, and settled on a one year, $6 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers that can also pay him $1.5 million in performance bonuses.

As for Smoltz, he came to the Braves in 1987 from Detroit in the Doyle Alexander trade, and has been with Atlanta, his only major league team, for 21 years. But the Braves, who are trying to inject more youth into their roster, did not offer Smoltz the money he was looking for and so he signed with the Boston Red Sox. Granted, Smoltz still is injured and probably won’t be available to the Sox until a few months into the season, but you’d rather have him in September and beyond anyway.

The Sox also finalized their deal with free agent RHP Brad Penny on Friday, so both he and Smoltz will join a rotation that includes Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Whoa. I gotta be honest, I think I like their rotation better than the CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett-led Yankees’. Not to sit tight after losing out on the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes to the Yankees, Boston also signed utility outfielder Rocco Baldelli, formerly of the Rays, who grew up in New England.

The Cubs signed outfielder Milton Bradley to a 3-year, $30 million deal, a year after he had one of his most productive seasons with the Texas Rangers (22 homers, .321 batting average). The Rays, who nearly won a title with all that youth in 2008, signed veteran OF Pat Burrell away from Philly, the team that beat them for said title.

Also, Jason Giambi has returned to his roots, signing a one-year. $5.25 million deal with Oakland, the team he began his career with before taking his big bat (and his tubes of stuff, allegedly) for big bucks.

Oh, and as if the Mets and Braves didn’t have enough to battle about on the field (I bet New York is thrilled not to have to face Smoltz anymore), the two teams are reportedly fighting hard over the services of one Derek Lowe. Then, whoever loses out on Lowe can turn their attention to the likes of Ben Sheets, Freddy Garcia or Andy Pettitte.

I know the economy still sucks, but at least we have some signings and movement.

Hot Stove League: Manny Still Team-less

Among all the moves, be they trades or free agent signings, the biggest non-signing of the MLB Hot Stove off-season has been that Manny Ramirez remains without a team. Actually he hasn’t even had an offer besides the Dodgers’ two-year, $45 million offer back in November. But last night, the Dodgers and beleaguered outfielder Andruw Jones (*) parted ways, freeing up some more money on their payroll to offer Ramirez. Manny fits well on that team and with Joe Torre’s easy demeanor. And he can loaf a bit more in between raking the ball all over Dodger Stadium. We’ll see, but with the Yanks signing Mark Teixeira, and the Angels focusing on their bullpen by signing Brian Fuentes, there are less attractive options for Manny other than remaining in La La Land.

In addition to the Teixeira Fuentes signings, Randy Johnson was inked by the Giants. This works out well for the Big Unit, who wanted to play in California and can easily reach 300 victories since he currently has 295. If only Barry Zito started pitching like Oakland Barry Zito, this staff would be looking damn good right now.

So one of the problems with the stalled Jake Peavy to Chicago trade talks was that the Padres wanted infielder Mark DeRosa and Cubs’ GM Jim Hendry balked at that. Well, Hendry had no problem shipping DeRosa to Cleveland for three minor leaguers, did he? I think there is more to that Peavy story than what we’re being told. I don’t know what, but somebody doesn’t like somebody somewhere, and my guess is there is an agent in that conversation.

So Derek Lowe doesn’t want to pitch for the Mets at three years, $36 million? Are you kidding me? How is that guy worth more than $12 million per season at 35 years old? Dude apparently wants a four or five year, $90 million deal. Good luck with that, Derek. Meanwhile the Mets are turning their attention back to in-house free agents Oliver Perez and Pedro Martinez, as well as less expensive options like Jon Garland or Randy Wolf.

* Omar Minaya, if you are reading this, DO NOT invite Jones to spring training. I know the Dodgers are paying his way in 2009, but the guy can’t hit his way out of a paper bag (the stats don’t lie…..158 batting average with 76 strikeouts in just 209 at-bats). Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Hot Stove League: Someone Light the Pilot

Seriously, will someone please sign a big free agent already? The MLB Winter Meetings begin on Monday in Vegas, and hopefully the baseball big shots will spend more time signing free agents and making trades than they do gambling.

Well, a few things have happened of note this week. The Red Sox signed AL MVP Dustin Pedroia to a new, six-year deal worth $40.5 million. And this for a guy who was making less than $500K per year. But dude has earned every penny…..Javier Vazquez was traded from the White Sox to the Braves for four young (mostly minor league) players, and Ozzie Guillen is probably smiling if he’s reading this….the Padres sent Khalil Greene to St. Louis…..and the Giants signed infielder Edgar Renteria to a two-year, $18.5 million deal and are also talking about making CC Sabathia an offer and even trading for Florida third baseman Jorge Cantu. Yeah, the Giants are not messing around. And Derek Lowe has been offered two deals, one by the Phillies and another by a mystery team

Okay, so I guess some things are happening, but not the big ones we all were waiting for, at least not yet. The Yankees are set to meet with CC Sabathia this weekend to discuss their ridiculously large offer made recently. Here are a few other rumors and possible deals that could happen next week….

The Mets are finally prepared to offer deals to Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez and Brian Fuentes, but it remains to be seen if both offers will happen simultaneously. Speaking of Fuentes, he, along with the likes of Sabathia and Cubs closer Kerry Wood have all been offered salary arbitration, which means anyone signing them will have to give the team that loses them two draft picks in 2009. Fuentes is also being rumored to re-signing with Colorado. And the Mets are rumored to be talking to the White Sox about sending prize prospect Fernando Martinez to Chicago for Bobby Jenks and Jermaine Dye. I just don’t see that really happening, do you?

Pat Burrell may sign with the Angels if the Angels cannot retain Mark Teixeira. And if Teixeira goes to the Red Sox, which is more than a rumor, the Sox may deal Mike Lowell to make room for Teixeira, who would be the first baseman with Kevin Youkilis moving to third.

Jermaine Dye’s name is being mentioned in trade talks (besides the Mets), and the teams being mentioned are Cincinnati, St. Louis, Atlanta and Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, the White Sox are also listening to offers for Jim Thome and Paul Konerko. Yikes….did someone give Sox GM Kenny Williams some dynamite?

Randy Johnson is hoping to sign a one-year deal with either Oakland or San Francisco…..the Cubs are thinking about signing Adam Dunn. Those two items didn’t just put you to sleep, did they?

Oh, and here’s a sure sign of the economy slowing. Dunn, Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu are among the names not offered salary arbitration this past week. That means the D-Backs, Phillies, and Yankees, respectively, would rather piss away two draft picks than have to re-sign the player. Say it with me again, Yikes.

Hopefully we’ll have lots to report next week!

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