Not every team has announced its report dates for pitchers and catchers - the symbolic beginning of spring - but we're basically talking Presidents' Weekend. That marks the spiritual conclusion of the Hot Stove League - if not the actual ending, as a few free agents' cases tend to drag into camp.
That means we have a little less than seven weeks to occupy ourselves before we get live players in uniforms.
How ever shall we do that? Here's what we have, going from most interesting to least:
1. Prince Fielder. First of all, it's hardly time to sound the alarms on Fielder's free agency. Consider that Scott Boras, Fielder's agent, annually regards Christmas and New Year's Day as mere holidays, rather than transaction deadlines.
Last January, Boras found shiny new contracts for Adrian Beltre (four years and $66 million, with a $16 million vesting option for 2015), from Texas) and Rafael Soriano (three years and $35 million from the Yankees).
In January 2010, Boras client Matt Holliday re-signed with St. Louis for seven years and $120 million.
In January 2009, Boras client Derek Lowe and the Braves agreed on a four-year, $60-million pact.
You get the idea.
Another Boras historical trend is that, at any time, he can boast of especially strong ties with a handful of teams. The Nationals are one of those teams at the moment, having taken on Jayson Werth last year as a free agent and drafted Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.
Will Washington therefore take on Fielder, as well? I'm skeptical. My understanding is that the Lerner family, which owns the Nationals, is leery of committing another nine-figure deal, given how awful the immense Werth contract (seven years, $126 million) went in its first year. Even though Fielder seems like a far better investment than Werth.
The Cubs, as we've discussed, were Fielder's first choice, but right now, they seem out of the Fielder game, thinking more big-picture (see Matt Garza below).
Which leaves...gosh, I'm not sure. Toronto? Seattle? Baltimore? The intrigue, and Fielder's impact, makes this so compelling.
2. Ryan Braun. Yes, busy winter for the middle of the Brewers' lineup.
We might not find out the final verdict on Braun's failed drug test until after spring training begins. Lips are tight on this one.
Regardless, the resolution is going to be fascinating on this one. Because either...
a) Braun will beat the charges, breaking precedent and becoming the first player to successfully overturn a failed drug test. Or...
b) More likely, he'll lose his appeal and have to serve a 50-game suspension to start the season. He'll have to speak publicly at some point, and it would be fascinating to see how he deals with it. Given how hard he's fought it, a full retreat and confession - "Yes, I used illegal PEDs, I was trying to give the team a playoff boost" - doesn't seem likely. What would be his spin, then?
Braun will be seen in public this month: On January 21, he's scheduled to attend the BBWAA New York chapter's annual dinner at the Hilton New York in midtown Manhattan, with cocktails at 6 p.m. and the dinner at 7 p.m. Tickets are $225 apiece for non-members, and you can purchase them by contacting Phil Pepe at 201-871-5924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Braun will be there to accept his NL MVP trophy. Also scheduled to attend: Mariano Rivera (Toast of the Town Award), Jose Reyes (Good Guy Award), Justin Verlander (AL MVP and Cy Young), Clayton Kershaw (NL Cy Young), David Freese (Postseason MVP), Gene Monahan (Long and Meritorious Service), David Robertson (Community Service), Kirk Gibson (NL Manager), Gary Carter's daughter Kimmy (You Gotta Have Heart), Jeremy Hellickson (AL Rookie), Craig Kimbrel (NL Rookie) and members of the 1962 Mets (Willie, Mickey & the Duke).
3. The Hall of Fame. Announcement next Monday. The easy guess is that the very deserving Barry Larkin gets inducted, and no one else. But we've been surprised plenty of times before.
Shoot, the Hall of Fame is so healthy for the yakosphere (trademark Neil Best) because we can have fierce discussions about simply what percentage of support each player received. Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines can especially bring it, on this front, and I'm curious, on a personal level, to see how first-timer Bernie Williams does.
4. Matt Garza. You'll always hear, particularly in the offseason, "Well, if San Diego received such a huge package from Cincinnati for Mat Latos, then imagine what the Cubs will get for Matt Garza," and so on.
It makes sense, in a bubble. Yet it doesn't always work out that way. Different teams evaluate different pitchers differently (thos sentence sponsored by "Diff'rent Strokes"). Myriad factors come into play.
The Cubs, as mentioned earlier, sure look like a team preparing for the long term under new leaders Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. You'd have to bet on Garza being dealt by spring training, with teams such as the Yankees, Boston, Detroit and Miami in the mix.
Yet it's not like the Cubs need to trade Garza, financially. They could risk bringing him into the season and hope that he's the top trade chip available in July.
No trade is done yet because, obviously, the interested clubs regard the Cubs' ask as too high. Unless there are factors about which we don't know - if, for example, the Cubs didn't want to bring Garza into spring training, to avoid distractions - I don't see why the Cubs would significantly lower that price over the next month.
5. Yu Darvish. The only question is how large a contract to which he and the Rangers will agree by the January 18 deadline. Word on the street was that Darvish was looking for something like five years and $75 million.
So let's winnow that down to...what? Five years and $60 million? That would still be far more than Daisuke Matsuzaka made with Boston ($52 million over six years) and considerably less than the Angels paid C.J. Wilson (five years and $77 million), not counting - of course - the roughly $51.7 million posting fee, which doesn't count against the luxury tax.
6. Yoenis Cespedes and Jorge Soler. The two Cuban prospects, with Cespedes (26) more major-league ready than Soler (19). The Yankees, more mindful of dollars and sense than in the past - or at least, that's their current mantra - are far more likely to sign Soler than Cespedes.
Given Washington's need for a centerfielder and aforementioned hesitance over a Fielder deal, the Nationals make some sense for Cespedes.
7. Ryan Madson and Roy Oswalt. This duo and Fielder comprise our three remaining Type A free agents. Madson seems to be running out of options; maybe the Angels will come through.
Oswalt figured to be a one-year contract guy all along, which really opens up his options. However, his first choice, St. Louis, isn't really an option.
--All right, that's all for now, but stop by later for a contest.