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Baseball's Hot Stove starting to heat up

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Chris Ruddick Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - When the clock struck midnight on Tuesday morning, Major League Baseball teams officially were able to start talking financial numbers with free agents from other teams.

With that, the craziness that is the MLB Hot Stove officially began.

And this offseason figures to be particularly nuts. Not only is the best position player (Alex Rodriguez) in the game a free agent, but the best pitcher (Johan Santana) supposedly can be had in a trade as well. Not to mention some of the young stars (Miguel Cabrera, Jason Bay) that are reportedly being dangled.

The general managers meetings last week in Orlando got the ball rolling, but this week the Hot Stove should be in high gear. There are already rumors that the two Los Angeles teams are the front-runners to land Cabrera.

Cabrera is the one player that could screw up Operation Pay-Rod this offseason. Why would a team like the Angels give Alexander The Great a monster deal that could exceed $30 million a year when they could trade for Cabrera, one of the best young bats in the game and who will make a third of what Rodriguez is asking for?

Miguel Cabrera
Miguel Cabrera is on the trading block.
Call me crazy, but teams that are "interested" in A-Rod seem to be falling by the wayside. Could he come back to the Yankees with his tail between his legs? I still believe that could happen. However, he is going to have to give them a tremendous discount in the first three years to make up for the money they lost to Texas.

One chip is already off the board, as the Yankees locked up catcher Jorge Posada with a four-year, $52.4 million deal, making him the highest paid backstop in baseball.

After what has transpired in Yankees Land the last couple of weeks they had to re-sign Posada, and luckily for him he happened to have a career year in the final year of his deal. Did they overpay? Yeah probably, but the Mets were going to make Posada a huge offer as well and the Yankees had to get a deal done before that could happen.

So with that said, let's take a look at some of the top players at each position and where they might wind up:

INFIELDERS:

Alex Rodriguez: Let the bidding begin. The Yanks say they are out. Like I have said all along, I will believe it when I see it. If they do keep up their hardline stance, then I expect him to land somewhere out on the West Coast. But if you believe the latest reports out of New York, the Yankees are right back in the thick of things. Will he get the $350 million his agent is seeking? I don't know, but Scott Boras always seems to find a way to show his guys the money.

Mike Lowell: Most people believe when push comes to shove he will be staying in Boston. He has the same agents as Posada and is supposedly looking for a similar deal. If I was him I would take any deal I could get before that Mitchell Report is released. I am not accusing, of course.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Mike Lamb, Kaz Matsui, David Eckstein, Luis Castillo, Tony Clark.

OUTFIELDERS

Torii Hunter: One of the most sought-after players this offseason, Hunter has a tremendous glove in center field and is extremely durable. He will probably get a deal similar to the one Gary Matthews Jr. got last season with Anaheim. Washington, surprisingly, seems to be going after him hard.

Aaron Rowand: Another guy who just happened to have a career year at the right time. Reports are that he is looking for a tremendous amount of money. He is a tad overrated, but is a good player to have. I'd be worried about him, though. He hit 25 home runs in 2005 and 2006 combined, then belted a career- high 27 last season. Hmmm.

Andruw Jones: If Aaron Rowand is the example of what you are supposed to do in a contract year, than Andruw Jones is the complete opposite. Jones had by far the worst season of his career, hitting a paltry .222. He still plays a tremendous center field and is only 30 years old. I am sure a lot of teams would love to have him roaming their outfield for the next 5-7 years. If I am him, though, I take a one-year deal and hit the market again next season.

Kosuke Fukudome: Should be the biggest name coming over from Japan this offseason. A former Central League MVP, Fukudome has been compared to Ichiro Suzuki but is 30 years old. Also, since he is a free agent, teams won't have to put up a posting fee just to negotiate with him like they had to for Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Barry Bonds: Most people feel that his outfield days are behind him, so his options are kind of limited to the American League. Other than A-Rod, though, Bonds might be the best pure power hitter on the market. Plus he is 65 hits away from 3,000 and 69 runs scored away from Rickey Henderson's all-time mark. So he is going to be motivated. But of course, you have to put up with all the other stuff that comes along with Bonds. Not to mention a grand jury indictment is always right around the corner.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Jose Guillen, Brad Wilkerson, Milton Bradley.

STARTING PITCHERS

Andy Pettitte: I am not even sure why I am mentioning him here. Pettitte has said it is either the Yankees or retirement for him and I believe him. But then again, I have been duped by players making similar statements in the past and money does some strange things to people. So if Pettitte does decide to pitch elsewhere, he is easily the best arm on the market. I have a feeling, though, that he is going to retire and join his good buddy Roger Clemens in the Houston Astros organization in some sort of public relations position.

Carlos Silva: How bad is the starting pitching crop this season when Carlos Silva is at the top of a lot of teams' wish lists? He is an end of the rotation guy at best, but is going to land a $10 million a year deal from someone. Everyone is looking for pitching, so somebody is going to pay him. Ughh.

Kyle Lohse: See Carlos Silva

Livan Hernandez: A classic innings-eater who just seems to win year in and year out. If he lands anywhere other than Shea Stadium I would be shocked, though. He is the half brother of Orlando Hernandez and Omar Minaya seems to love him.

Jason Jennings: Struggled through an injury-plagued 2007 campaign, but if he is healthy could be the best bargain of this less than stellar group. Supposedly the Colorado Rockies want him back, but if his medical reports come back clean there are going to be a ton of teams knocking on his door.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Tom Glavine, Kenny Rogers, Hiroki Kuroda, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon.

RELIEVERS

Mariano Rivera: Well, the Yankees have offered him a three-year deal worth $45 million. That would make him the highest-paid closer ever by nearly $4 million a season. So I am guessing Rivera takes it. Actually, I am surprised he hasn't yet. There is no way he could want more than that. He has been underpaid his entire career and deserves this payday. That third year, though, is going to be a tough $15-million pill to swallow.

Francisco Cordero: Outside of Rivera, Cordero is probably the best of this bunch. He struggled in the second half, but teams will probably not be scared off by that given the premium placed on relievers these days. He is going to get a big four-year deal from someone.

Eric Gagne: Well is Eric Gagne the guy that saved 16 games for the Rangers last season, or is he the guy that almost single-handedly submarined the Red Sox season? My guess is he is a little of both. He will probably be a good closer on a bad team, which is a nice way of saying he can't pitch in pressure situations. The rumor is Texas wants him back. He will be fine there.

Kerry Wood: Here is an intriguing name. Everyone knows his story, so no need to rehash all that. Obviously Wood's days as a starter are over, but he pitched pretty well out of the bullpen down the stretch for the Cubs. He still has the stuff. About two arm injuries ago some people clamored for him to be a closer. I'd take a chance on him.

Octavio Dotel: Another guy that can't seem to stay healthy. He showed signs of being a capable closer last season, but again his biggest problem is staying on the field. Everyone needs arms, so Dotel is going to get some interest. However, given the fact that he has thrown just 55 innings over the last three seasons, teams are not likely to offer him anything more than one guaranteed year.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Scott Linebrink, Bob Wickman, Armando Benitez, LaTroy Hawkins, Ron Mahay.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.
Chris Ruddick


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