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Hot Stove Report

Breaking down baseball's offseason ... so far

Posted: Wednesday January 2, 2008 2:11PM; Updated: Wednesday January 2, 2008 8:12PM
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Aaron Rowand
Rowand can smile after signing a five-year, $60 million deal with the Giants.
AP
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The Hot Stove season isn't dead yet. Things can and often do happen in January and February (see A-Rod to the Yankees, 2004)

But when the best available free-agent hitters are either facing a federal trial (Barry Bonds) or a mandatory 25-game suspension (Mike Cameron), and when the best available pitcher (Kyle Lohse) has a losing career record, and when the trade talk we've been hearing all winter (Johan Santana -- remember him?) seems to have dropped to a murmur ... well, you have to admit that the Hot Stove is lukewarm at best.

So as we mark off the weeks until pitchers and catchers unwind in spring training, here's a look at this winter's off-field shenanigans. Think of it as a kind of Hot Stove league Mitchell Report -- looking back, pointing a couple of fingers, and waiting desperately for the games to begin to change the story.

Biggest developments

1) The A-Rod Saga. In retrospect, we all should have seen it coming. Alex Rodriguez may have opted out of his contract with the Yankees, but we should have realized that he would inevitably return to pinstripes. He needs the Yankees to cement his place in history. They need him because he's the best player in the game and a critical part of the team.

2) Kosuke's Central casting. He didn't engender the mania that Daisuke Matsuzaka did last winter, but millions of Japanese baseball fans, and a few on the north side of Chicago, were holding their breath to see where Kosuke Fukudome ended up. The outfielder, formerly of the Chunichi Dragons, finally decided on the Cubs, helping make them the favorites to repeat in the National League Central.

3) Meet the new Boss. The Steinbrenner boys, Hank and Hal, wasted no time in establishing themselves as the new Bosses, re-signing A-Rod, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte and -- get this -- actually managing to increase the Yankees' profile this winter.

Deals worth remembering

1) Aaron Rowand was down a few notches on the list of available outfielders, but he ended up with the third biggest contract of the winter, one of only three players (with A-Rod and fellow center fielder Torii Hunter) to sign at least a five-year deal. The Giants quietly paid Rowand a stunning $60 million through 2012. He's a good player. He's not that good.

2) The Reds need to overpay pitchers to come throw in the glove box known as Great American Ball Park. So they snuck in on former Brewers closer Francisco Cordero -- Cincinnati general manager Wayne Krivsky does a lot of things quietly -- and lured him with a too-long four-year, too-high $46 million deal. He can only help.

3) A lightning-fast $90 million deal struck in a fast-food taco joint placed Hunter with the Angels after the Rangers and White Sox thought they had him in the bag.

Worth keeping an eye on

1) The Santana trade rumors continue. I have to think that this is still going to happen -- decades of cheapness aren't going to change the Twins now that they may have a couple of quarters in their pockets -- and I have to think that the Red Sox are still the front-runners. But so far neither side is budging. And the Yankees still are watching. Closely.

2) Barry Bonds still wants to play in 2008, and a report in the San Francisco Chronicle late last year said that the A's might be interested in signing the home run king, pending court case and all. What, you expected him to simply disappear?

3) There's been a lot of angst and a few thousand tons of newsprint expended on the Mitchell Report. But nothing has yet changed because of it. The question now is, what, if anything, will?

Most lopsided trade

1) The Diamondbacks traded for A's starter Dan Haren, who could give new Arizona teammate Brandon Webb a run for the Cy Young as the two go back-to-back for the next three years. Maybe by the end of the 2010 season, the A's and a couple of the six mostly no-name players they received in this swap will be back to competing.

2) It's hard not to like former Houston closer Brad Lidge's stuff, and the Phillies excelled by getting him for a light-hitting center fielder (Michael Bourn). Philadelphia needed Lidge badly. The trade enables them to make Brett Myers a starter again, strengthening the rotation, while retaining a strong presence in the closer's role. A lame deal for the Astros.

3) The Nationals landed Lastings Milledge in a trade from the Mets. I refuse to believe that this one-time untouchable suddenly got that bad that quickly. I mean, what is he, Andy Marte? And getting Milledge for a backup catcher (Brian Schneider) and mediocre outfielder (Ryan Church)? Ow.

Most even trade

1) The biggest trade of the winter, between Florida and Detroit, seems at first glance like a complete hijacking by the Tigers. Detroit landed one of the best young hitters in the game, Miguel Cabrera, and a durable mid-rotation lefty in Dontrelle Willis in the December deal. Florida ended up with a handful of prospects. But know that the Marlins, who made out fine in their last big supposedly franchise-burning swap (getting Hanley Ramirez and many others for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell), got exactly what they wanted in this trade. Mainly, they got younger and cheaper.

2 (tie.) Miguel Tejada (Baltimore to Houston), Jim Edmonds (St. Louis to San Diego) and Josh Hamilton (Cincinnati to Texas) all swapped teams this winter in trades that hold the possibility for both involved teams to get better -- and a probability that neither team will actually improve all that much.

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