They are in Indian Wells, enjoying the sunshine, playing some golf and talking baseball. The World Series, the postseason is over and now the Winter Hot Stove League, the off-season, is heating up. Major League Baseball’s 32 general managers are out here talking trades and getting ready for the bidding war that is baseball free agency.
Do not expect the Dodgers to go crazy this off season. They made their deals at the July 31 deadline. Ownership that spent $2 billion to buy the team out of bankruptcy from Frank McCourt, added $260 million in long-term contracts at the trading deadline.
The deals were with the hope Los Angeles could push its way into postseason. But in reality, these deals were for cornerstone players for years to come.
And do the Dodgers ever have the foundation of a great lineup – Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez.
Add to that pitcher Josh Beckett and you understand why Chavez Ravine will be rocking this year after turning out the lights prematurely in October.
The Dodgers pennant hopes faltered when pitcher Chad Billingsley was shutdown with shoulder woes, reliever Kenley Jansen had a heart valve issue, and MVP candidate Matt Kemp crashed into a wall, injuring a shoulder.
L.A. may still have payroll space to add a starting pitcher and maybe money will be no object in their pursuit of Angels’ free agent pitcher Zack Greinke.
But the Blue may set their sights on a lower priced arm, and there are a number of them available for trades. The White Sox are shopping Gavin Floyd and Tampa Bay has righthander James Shields on the trade block.
Look for the Dodgers to make a short term bid to bring back Hiroki Kuroda, who had a strong one season stint with the Yankees, or take a look at the Cardinals’ Ryan Dempster.
The Blue’s moves included an upgrade in the dugout and the front office. Mark McGwire comes as the hitting coach after a couple of years on the job with the Cardinals. And General Manager Ned Colletti has added highly-regarded front office exec Gerry Hunsicker of Tampa, Seattle scout Bob Engle and longtime manager Pat Corrales to a star-studded staff.
The Angels are a team in flux, maybe in chaos. The roster has holes everywhere and there seems to be little continuity in the front office. Owner Arte Moreno has become a recluse. He has cleaned house of virtually all longtime execs in the baseball suite in Anaheim.
Jerry Dipoto is starting his second year as general manager, but there seems to have been a power struggle within that has cost manager his voice in player decisions.
Last year at this time, the Angels blew away baseball with their 10-year payday worth $240 million to Albert Pujols of the Cardinals. He staggered early in the season when the Angels dug a hole for themselves in the standings, but came on strong from June on.
Unfortunately, there just were not enough games on the schedule for the Halos to make the playoffs.
Of bigger concern are the red-flag spots all over the roster. Pitching thin, the Halos have two established starters left — Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, both on big contracts.
They did not pick up the option on pitcher Dan Haren, now on the open market, and dealt away Ervin Santana to Kansas City. The bullpen was an Achilles heel for a second year in a row and is not trustworthy.
Torii Hunter has exited without a deal, but left behind is the bloated $32 million they still owe slumping slugger Vernon Wells. The Angels have cleared some $36 million in salary space, but they have Help Wanted signs lots of places. Name it – starting pitching, relieving, catching.
And if that is not enough concern, consider that this weekend, when the bidding starts, Zack Greinke goes on the open market at a likely price of $20 million per season. He liked pitching at the Big A and the Angels like him, but money talks and players walk. What if he leaves?
The Padres have new ownership, but the same old problem — small market, limited payroll and the fact they gave away a huge amount of TV money to outgoing owner John Moores.
The one thing going for San Diego is a blue ribbon farm system. The one thing going against them – they are in the same division with the Dodgers and Giants. The awful thing about them — virtually every one of their young pitchers had surgery last season and won’t be ready for opening day.
There will be no Corey Luebke, Joe Wieland or Tim Stauffer there on opening day. The team went through 13 different starting pitchers, had 11 pitchers on the disabled list and their top five minor league pitching gems all had surgeries last season. Stunningly, the Padres somehow squeezed 32 wins out of pitchers who started the season in Tucson-San Antonio or on the street.
Add to that, they will owe power-hitting, Gold Glove third baseman Chase Headley a huge payday after a 30-homer, 118 RBI season.
The Friars are shortening the fences by 11 feet in Petco Park from dead center to the right field line. Fly balls that used to die in the power alleys will now likely go out. So too will be the shaky psyche of the Padres pitching staff, which had a 3.85 ERA at home, compared to a bloated 4.43 mark on the road.
New ownership has said lots of things, but until they stop trading marquee players in contract years, like Headley, or until they go into free agency with a proven acquisition, San Diego will forever be America’s finest city with one of America’s smallest baseball payrolls.
So they play golf in the morning, talk baseball in the afternoon and try to set up deals over dinners and drinks in Indian Wells from now until Saturday. Look for the Angels to be active, the Dodgers to be selective and the Padres to be frugal.
The off season is an important season for these teams. The Hot Stove League is about to be lit.