This is often a slow week in the baseball world, but we'll see if this Hot Stove League maintains its brisk pace. And whether it does or not, we'll keep things busy here:
--We'll have giveaway contests this afternoon, tomorrow afternoon and Wednesday afternoon.
--Barring a hurricane of news, I'll complete my Hall of Fame ballot, mail it in and share my choices here.
This morning, as we get back into the groove, let's gauge where things stand:
1) Prior to the offseason, the players and owners agreed to a series of changes that were designed to speed up the free-agency process from the past few years, during which time many players found themselves unemployed as camps opened.
It sure looks as though the changes worked. That's not to say there won't be a few strays still looking for homes come mid-February, but we're working through the list of free agents far quicker than in recent years. January, it seems, will be a quieter baseball month than to what we've become accustomed.
2) Where do the Yankees stand? Waiting on Andy Pettitte, pretty much. Common sense says that, if he commits to return, he'll do so before the new year. He already has taken this further into the winter than he ever has before, and he has to start preparing physically and mentally for the long season ahead. I think he'll indeed come back.
If he retires, though, then the Yankees will have a real problem on their hands. They can't expect to contend for the AL East title with a starting rotation of CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and whatever else they scrape up off the current free-agent market. The trade market looks pretty barren, even more so now that Florida committed long term to Ricky Nolasco.
The lack of closer jobs out there figured to help the Yankees re-sign Kerry Wood, but the right-hander wound up going to the Cubs for an incredible bargain. Eh, just as well. What are the odds Wood would've stayed healthy for a two-year deal?
Pedro Feliciano, on the other hand, should help, especially since Joe Girardi won't run him ragged like Jerry Manuel did with the Mets. The Yankees set the market for LOOGYs - good job by Feliciano's agents, Melvin Roman and David Schwartz - but they can afford to overpay Feliciano if he stays healthy and effective.
3) Where do the Mets stand? They were kind enough to pretty much sit last week out. To reiterate: No objections here that they're spending as much money on front-office talent this winter as they are on playing talent.
4) As for everyone else, love the Zack Greinke trade for Milwaukee. The Brewers are going for it, as they should try to do given their small-market situation and the fact that Prince Fielder will be a free agent after next year. Between Greinke and Shaun Marcum, their rotation has been upgraded considerably. Milwaukee looks like a bona fide NL Central contender now.
For Kansas City? Eh. I don't know the prospects a great deal, but I always question when a non-contender targets specific needs (as the Royals did with shortstop Alcides Escobar and centerfielder Lorenzo Cain) as opposed to trying to just shooting for the best talent, regardless of position. But the Royals put themselves in a tough spot by giving Greinke no-trade protection and then making him miserable enough (with a lousy club) for him to want out.
5) Hate the three-year contracts given to the likes of Jesse Crain (by the White Sox) and Matt Guerrier (by the Dodgers). I don't understand why clubs do this. Why not just say no? These long deals for middle relievers s rarely work out.
The irony is that this trend kicked off again this offseason with Detroit's three-year commitment to Joaquin Benoit, and Benoit exemplified Tampa Bay's creativity in 2010. The Rays paid Benoit $1.25 million to excel in 2010, and now they'll get a draft pick in return as Detroit prays that he maintains such dominance - at a far higher price - for the next three years. And Tampa Bay will try to recreate that magic with another reclamation project.
I don't mind the Bobby Jenks deal with Boston as much because Jenks has a track record of being a very good closer, and a deeper look at Jenks' 2010 displays that he suffered from bad luck. And it's a two-year deal.
7) Getting back to the Rays, their Jason Bartlett trade with San Diego looks like a good risk. Tampa Bay picked up some young relievers with upside, and it can try to replace Bartlett with Reid Brignac.
The Padres remade their middle infield with Bartlett and Orlando Hudson, on reasonable deals. Not too shabby.
8) As for what's ahead, you'd have to think that the Angels and Adrian Beltre find common ground. The Angels badly need Beltre, and if Beltre has any other suitors besides Oakland, in whom he has expressed little interest, they're hidden well.
It makes sense that the Twins and Carl Pavano will re-up, although Washington still is a logical candidate, too.
Rafael Soriano? He picked the wrong year to put up a brilliant season as a closer. The only big-market team that entered the winter with a void at closer was the Yankees, and they're covered there now, having brought back Mariano Rivera. His free agency might take the longest to resolve.
--OK, so stop by later for the contest and any more information that comes our way.