I never knew why it was called the Hot Stove, and I suppose in the age of Google and Wikipedia, I could easily find the answer to that question. Ultimately, it does not matter so I will simply continue on in blissful ignorance. Sports has become a 24 hour a day, 365 investment. Baseball is no different. As soon as the season ends, whether your team won or lost the World Series, the question is the same, what about next season? It does not take long before everyone wonders where free agents are going, how much money they are going to get, and who is the favorite next year. The Yankees are already facing questions like, are they going to resign Johnny Damon? What about Matsui? Is Pettite going or coming back? What about Holliday, Bay, and Halladay? I mean this team just won the World Series. I am going to be honest. I do not have any inside information. No one at any of the NL East teams is feeding me information.
Here is what I do know and it has been said by much smarter and more eloquent people than I. You cannot win in the offseason. So let’s take a stab at some of the more popular off season rumors and take the opposite position and see where that gets us.
Popular Theory #1
The Phillies are only looking to add a third baseman and complimentary pieces. Otherwise, they are still the team to beat.
I have to be honest, despite the nausea that ensued from watching the World Series as a Mets fan, I was envious of the way the Phillies were constructed. However, that same World Series exposed a lot of problems that the other NL East teams were not in a position to capitalize on last year. Cole Hamels is a question mark. Can Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ be counted on to perform as well as they did last season? Jayson Werth a 40 HR guy? Did Brad Lidge turn into a pumpkin? The least of the Phillies problems is 3rd base. With the Phillies lineup, they need someone slightly better at the hot corner than, say, Roger Dorn. The Phillies though could use a Randy Wolf type starter or try and catch lightening in a bottle with Eric Bedard. Rafael Soriano is available and if he can stay healthy, he would be a great setup man, push Madson to the 7th inning and also serve as insurance should Brad Lidge regress further into pumpkin pie. (Hope you appreciate the seasonal reference.) I understand that the Phillies will not overspend for John Lackey, but pitching wins. You cannot outslug everyone, especially in the playoffs. The Phillies need to find find a wily veteran to play third base, like the Marlins did with Jorge Cantu, and hope for the best. The rest of whatever money is available should be poured into the starting rotation and the bullpen.
Free Agents to Target: Joe Crede, Marco Scutaro, Rafael Soriano, Ben Sheets, Randy Wolf, Billy Wagner, Melvin Mora, Adam Kennedy, Jason Marquis.
The Braves should look to unload salary by trying to dump Derek Lowe or Javier Vazquez.
I am going to say it, the Braves could be on the short list for the Wild Card next year. Chipper Jones, Yunel Escobar, Adam LaRoche and Brian McCann create a pretty competitive lineup. Lowe, Hudson, Vazquez and Hanson are not a bad front 4. With the Mets and Phillies looking vulnerable, why would the Braves start bailing? While I dont think the Braves should make a run at Holliday or Bay to try and “go for it”, I do think they should look to invest their money. I am thinking Mike Cameron. I think they try to bring in Randy Wolf, or make a trade for Edwin Jackson. Speaking of trades, make an offer for Dan Uggla, I bet it would take less than you would think. The Braves can compete and though Lowe and Vazquez are huge contracts, can you really consider trading them? The Braves knew what they were getting into when they signed Lowe. Might as well make the best of it.
Free Agents to Target: Mike Cameron, Scott Podsednik, Marlon Byrd, Bobby Howry, Octavio Dotel.
The Mets need to sign Matt Holliday and/or Jason Bay and/or John Lackey.
As a Mets fan, it would be great if the team could be run like fantasy baseball team. It cannot. While a left fielder would be great, and the Mets could sorely use the power, this team needs to be more artfully constructed then just plugging in Holliday. Now, the Mets could have a Yankee moment and burn money by signing Lackey and Holliday/Bay and turn the baseball world on its head, but that wont happen. This team needs a more focused approach. The Mets have won before with the likes of Darryl Hamilton, Benny Agbayani and Todd Pratt. The Mets need quality top to bottom. They need a solid rotation. The bench was exposed last season. The Mets should not have players on their team that might appear on a 1998 baseball card. Signing one big free agent will not solve this problem. There is better ways to invest money than in Holliday.
Free Agents to Target: Austin Kearns, Rich Harden, Adam Kennedy, Jarrod Washburn, Fernando Rodney, Jason Kendall, Jon Garland, Miguel Olivo.
The Nationals should….
Eek. I dont know where to begin. The Nationals need to establish a winning culture. Right now, they are about inspiring as East Germany before the wall fell down. (Again, another culturally relevant point, Google it if you dont know why.) However, there is hope. Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman. Stephen Strasburg. A mildly intriguing starting rotation. The fact is, Washington, right now can neither afford nor attract top talent. So it needs to continue to build like it did when it signed Adam Dunn. In this market, given the fact that bigger teams are reluctant to give up draft picks and pay out top dollar, teams like the Nationals can sign players like Adam Dunn and thereby become competitive.
Free Agents to Target: Orlando Hudson, Justin Duchscherer, Hank Blalock, Ben Sheets, Brett Myers, Carl Pavano, Paul Byrd, Jose Contreras.
Marlins? Marlins? Bueller?
As with the Nationals, the Marlins are a total mystery as to what direction they will take. They are rumored to be looking to move pieces. I just dont know. I dont even know what to say. It wouldnt surprise me if the Marlins found a way to finish below the Nationals next year or if they won the World Series. What I do know is that they have cheerleaders. Yes, you read it correctly. Rivaled only by the Kansas City Chiefs Cheerleaders for “Fewest Fans to Entertain”, the Marlins have decided cheerleaders are a good way to get people to the ballpark. They have been around for a few years and it always surprises me when I see them. Is this the UFL? What happened to this baseball game? How much are they getting paid? How much could a ticket possibly cost to sit directly behind them? Anyway, the Marlins will probably have one signing that makes you go, oh yea, remember when he was good for that one season? The Marlins should give out an award to that guy. Call it, the Ken Bottenfield Award and it should be written into the contract.
Free Agents to Target: Mike Hampton, Vicente Padilla, LaTroy Hawkins, Shawon Dunston, Russell Branyan, Bruce Chen, Eddie Guardado, Rocco Baldelli. (Although to type this list makes me feel like I am wasting my time).
Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see who the teams in the NL East decide to sign and/or trade for, but there are always some surprises.