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Second-season skinny

Here's all you need to know about MLB's Hot Stove

Posted: Tuesday November 1, 2005 11:56AM; Updated: Tuesday November 1, 2005 9:20PM
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Manny Ramirez
Manny Ramirez could be striking a pose for another team in 2006.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
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Let the winter games begin -- and with them the negotiating ploys, trade rumors, trade demands, under-the-radar signings (see Jermaine Dye, the World Series MVP) and 40-man roster decisions (anybody in Anaheim remember Josh Paul for Bobby Jenks?) that make the offseason baseball's second season. Given that next week's general managers meeting is the unofficial start of the games, here are the 10 biggest questions of the Hot Stove season.

1. Will Manny Ramirez be traded?

Let's be blunt: the Red Sox people are exhausted with Ramirez's trade-me-don't-trade-me-trade-me machinations, his lack of hustle and attentiveness on the ballfield and his disinterest in helping promote the franchise. They'd love to be rid of him. But there is one problem: they love the four or five at-bats he gives them every night.

So the Red Sox will do with even more energy what they did at the trading deadline: see if they can deal Ramirez while getting something close to equal value in return. That would have to be accomplished with multiple players, perhaps multiple teams and free-agent signings, accommodated by losing the $57 million Ramirez is owed over the next three years -- and even then Boston needs Ramirez's approval. Too hard? Before you say it is impossible, remember, Mike Hampton, Kevin Brown and Alex Rodriguez were traded.

2. Will the White Sox keep Paul Konerko?

That's job number 1 for GM Kenny Williams, and not only because Konerko gave Chicago 81 homers and 217 RBIs over the past two years. Konerko is a respected man in the White Sox clubhouse and an important touchstone for a franchise that needs to seize the opportunity of the world championship to grow its fan base. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf has been among the most loyal owners in baseball when it comes to his employees, from Frank Thomas all the way down to secretaries and stadium workers. It would be a shocking and adverse change of direction if the White Sox allowed Konerko to leave.

3. Will the Dodgers and Orioles stop embarrassing themselves?

These should be two of the crown jewels in major league baseball, but each fired its manager and general manager in a year in which the Dodgers lost 91 games and the Orioles 88,  while continuing to alienate what had been two of the most loyal fan bases in the game. At least give Baltimore credit for hiring Leo Mazzone, the best pitching coach in baseball. But owner Peter Angelos was said to be embarrassed late last season when beautiful Camden Yards routinely became a nice place to cheer for the visiting team (i.e., Yankees, Red Sox). It's an uphill climb for the Orioles.

Dodgers owner Frank McCourt fired manager Jim Tracy, let it be known that the GM, Paul DePodesta, had full authority to hire the next manager, then fired DePodesta. Now McCourt is considering hiring Pat Gillick, the man he decided not to hire 21 months ago when he hired then flavor-of-the-month DePodesta. And McCourt is influenced by former manager Tommy Lasorda, who wants Orel Hershiser, Bobby Valentine or just about any other former Dodger friend in a position of visible authority.

4. How will the Doogie Howser GM trend work?

At the GM meetings, Josh Byrnes, 35, of Arizona, Jon Daniels, 28, of Texas, and Andrew Friedman, 28, Tampa Bay's director of baseball operations, can share a few drinks (after they get carded, of course) and reminisce about the good old days and whether Duran Duran was better than Flock of Seagulls. Maybe one of them will pick up the tab for poor DePo, who was dumped less than two years into a five-year deal and will be a valuable addition to somebody's front office. And maybe Theo Epstein, 31, who refused to work for his hometown Red Sox for $1.5 million, will stop by for old times' sake.

DePodesta's failure, other than an inability to foresee the ownership madness in L.A., was because he lacked political acumen and the outward self-assurance necessary to be a big league GM, not just a solid No. 2. Those traits can grow over time with experience. Very few have such leadership ability out of the box; Epstein appears to be one, but it remains to be seen whether he wants to jump into another baseball job immediately.

5. Who will pony up for the A.J. Burnett lottery ticket?

Is he Jason Schmidt or Carl Pavano? Burnett easily has the best arm of any free agent on the market. He's a No. 1 in training, though you better not assume he'll walk in and fill that spot right away. He finished poorly for a team in contention and was even sent home the last week of the season -- hardly the textbook springboard into free agency. But arms like his at an age like his (29 in January) just don't come on the market very often. Expect an intense bidding war, likely to be near or above four years and $52 million.

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