The Hot Stove League is a euphuism for the wheeling and dealings that occur in between Major League Baseball seasons.
The name is supposed to conjure images of fans huddled around the stove keeping warm while they whittle away winter talking about what their respective baseball teams are doing in the offseason.
“Hot Stove League” was once just a phrase used by a small group of baseball writers and insiders. However, the term’s popularity has increase in recent years thanks to the marketing department at ESPN (Hot Stove League sounds much more exciting than “off season”).
Of course, the only teams actually playing in this factious league (besides ESPN) are general managers and baseball owners—the groups making and approving the offseason roster moves.
In the NL East, one team—more than others—is under intense pressure to do well in this year’s Hot Stove League. That team is New York Mets.
The Mets, like their Big Apple counterparts, are entering a new stadium—state-of-the-art Citi Field. If that wasn’t enough pressure, the Mets have to once again bounce back from a monumental collapse at the end of a season.
And speaking of monumental failures, Mets’ owner Fred Wilbon is reeling from some bad investments. Wilbon was one of Bernard Madoff’s victims—the financier accused of swindling $50 billion from his clients.
So needless to say, the 2009 HSL is very important to the Mets.
At the start of the offseason, the bullpen was the Mets’ chief concern. In 2008, besides blowing 29 of 72 save chances, the Mets’ bullpen lost seven games in which they took a lead into the ninth inning.
Mets’ General Manager Omar Minaya made sure he addressed his team’s weakness by getting two top-notch relievers. Minaya signed record setting reliever Francisco Rodriguez ($37 million over three years) and traded for former Seattle Mariners’ closer J.J. Putz.
The Mets already have a steady rotation consisting of Johan Santana, John Maine and Mile Pelfrey. To fill out the starting spots, the Mets may use free agent acquisition Tim Redding and rookie left-hander Jon Niese.
One pitcher they won’t be using will be Pedro Martinez. The organization has already parted ways with Martinez, who is now being linked to the Pirates, Marlins and Indians.
As for the Mets lineup, they have a solid leadoff man in shortstop Jose Reyes. Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Carlos Delgado (the team recently picked up his $12 million option) comprised the heart of the order and a formidable one at that.
Minaya would love to add another big bat, like Manny Ramierez, but he will probably have to settle for a low end free agent (the team seems satisfied with keeping their payroll around $145 million).
An injury free Fernando Tatis in left field and/or a career year by right fielder Ryan Church, would definitely be enough for the Mets to avoid another late season swoon, at least offensively.
Who knows, maybe with a strong August and September, the Mets can actually hold off the Phillies.
Entering the 2009 Hot Stove League, the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies had 10 players facing arbitration, all of whom were contributors to their World Series run.
Reliever Scott Eyre, 36, signed a one-year contract extension worth $2 million, that’s not including performance bonuses.
Nine year Philly veteran Pat Burrell was not offered arbitration by the team. His days as a Philly were over when the club signed former Seattle Mariner outfielder Raul Ibanez to a three year deal.
Like Burrell, the Phillies didn’t offer veteran left-hander Jamie Moyer arbitration but they did resign him to a two-year contract.
That’s three down, seven to go…
In January, the Phillies avoided arbitration when they signed World Series MVP Cole Hamels to a three-year contract worth $20.5 million.
A few days later, Phillies avoided another arbitration when they reached an agreement with right-hander Ryan Madson on a three-year deal worth $12 million.
The Phills are now half way through their possible arbitration cases…
Next up was center fielder Shane Victorino. He agreed to a one year 3.125 million deal with the club. On the same day, starting pitcher Joe Blanton inked a one-year contract worth $5.475 million.
Only three arbitration eligible players left…
In mid-January, the Phillies made a deal with outfielder Jayson Werth. The former first round draft pick will make $10 million over the two years, getting paid $3 million in 2009 and $7 million in 2010.
That leaves the Phillies with just two arbitration cases, Chad Durbin and Ryan Howard.
Howard, the slugging 1st baseman, is asking for $18 million (third-highest figure ever submitted) but the Phillies are only offering $14 million.
Meanwhile, right handed pitcher Durbin wants $1.95 million but the club would rather stay in the $1.35 million range.
Whatever happens in or out of arbitration, chances are high the Phillies will be back in playoffs.
Any team with a rotation of Hamels, Brett Myers, Blanton and Moyer is going to be competitive. And any team with a lineup that includes Howard, Werth, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins is going to score a lot of runs.
Reaching into the bargain bin, the Phillies added Chan Ho Park to strengthen an already strong bullpen—it was the best in the majors last year. They also signed minor league pitcher Gary Majewski, the Phillies think he could be a very productive reliever.
With the Mets and the Phillies you have two very similar teams that had very dissimilar finishes to their 2008 seasons. The Mets collapsed and the Phillies rose to the occasion to win the World Series.
Now, during the Hot Stove League, the Mets need to improve their team, while the Phillies need to navigate through the perils of arbitration.
However, if the HSL is teaching us anything about the Mets and the Phillies, it’s their bullpens will ultimately decide who wins the 2009 NL East crown.