Wheeling and Dealing Time Starts November 13

The contestants are in neutral corners waiting for the bell to ring and start the off-season battle to upgrade their rosters. All of them are looking for pitching and the ubiquitous "one more big bat" but action can't start -- legally that is -- until Saturday, November 13.

The big bats available range from one than everyone wants -- Alex Rodriguez -- to one that seemingly no one wants -- Barry Bonds. But history tells us that ARod will probably get his $350 million over the next 10 years (and then buy a team of his own if he wants) and Bonds will find a team so desperate for his bat they will put up with the rest of the circus.

As general managers and their staff meet in Orlando, Florida, for their annual winter meeting, preliminary offers will be made, countered and taken home for analysis.

At the meetings, Plans were moving forward for a mid-March, two-game exhibition series between the Dodgers and Padres in Beijing. Baseball officials are still awaiting a commitment from the Red Sox that they are willing to play a season-opening, two-game series against the Athletics in Tokyo.

The Dodgers could be very active the free agent/trade market after finishing a disappointing fourth in the N.L. West. They have added a high-profile manager in Joe Torre and as GM Ned Colletti told writers in Orlando, "We didn't hire Joe Torre to help us finish .500."

Los Angeles has holes in center field and in the starting rotation and their are three of baseball's best center fielders are up for grabs on the open market: Torri Hunter, Andruw Jones and Aaron Rowand.

Juan Pierre's defense and nonexistent arm was was exposed last season, and he managed only 32 extra-base hits and a non-leadoff .331 on-base percentage. He did steal 64 bases, but an upgrade would be welcome. However there are four more years on his $9 million per year contract so getting anything of value for him would necessitate eating some of that salary.

They also hit only 129 home runs, ranking one click out of the National League basement, and Rodriguez would be a perfect fit at third base. He's a lock to win his third AL MVP award this month after batting .314 with 54 homers and 156 RBIs for the Yankees.

But his agent is hard-liner Scott Boras and he asked the Yankees to make a $350 million offer simply to get a meeting before A-Rod opted out of his record $252 million, 10-year contract with New York during the World Series.

That should have sent shock waves through the baseball world and cut down the options considerably. New York, Boston and Los Angeles are about the only markets that could absorb such a jolt and ESPN's Peter Gammons quoted Dodgers and Angels sources saying they were not interested at those prices. The Cubs and Tigers reported they were just as disinterested.

If you were to spend $30 million, it would make much more sense to purchase two or perhaps three quality pitchers, but logic doesn't always drive the market, a truism that Boras has used to the great advantage of his clients over the years.

Florida is having yet another fire sale, with Dontrell Willis, who's value has slipped considerably, and perhaps the real prize of the entire free agent scramble, 24-year-old Miguel Cabrera who is coming off his third straight sparkling season after posting averages of .323, .339 and .320 with .400+ on base percentages and slugging averages in the .560 range.

But the Marlins will ask for everyone on your 40-man roster under the age of 25 in return, and that would include a package of Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and James Loney, for example.

The hope is that Colletti remembers the old "Just Say No" slogan that was so popular some years ago.

World Series MVP Mike Lowell, whom the Red Sox want back, filed for free agency but sources say he will stay in Beantown. Sox reliever Mike Timlin was the latest Boston players to file, joining Eric Hinske, Doug Mirabelli, Bobby Kielty, Matt Clement and ... dramatic pause ... Eric Gagne.

The thin list of pitchers available include Bartolo Colon, Kenny Rogers, Livan Hernandez, Jason Jennings, Josh Fogg and of course, Jeff Weaver who always seems to be on the free agent list. Andy Pettitte said he will re-sign with the Yankees or retire but with Joe Torre moved now inn business in the West, he might reconsider. Francisco Cordero, Todd Jones and Kerry Wood would help many teams in the bullpen.

"We hope that trade discussions start sooner," Giants general manager Brian Sabean told the Associated Press. "I think teams may may act quickly because the free-agent pool isn't as deep and the marquee guys certainly are going to demand a lot of attention."

The 43-year-old Bonds is still under threat of indictment and he comes with so much baggage it might scare away any potential suitors. He reported he hasn't decided whether to play next season and try to pad his record total of 762 homers. But the feeling is he would likely become a designated hitter in the American League.

But the contenders and the pretenders are set, wallet's at the ready -- let the feeding frenzy begin.