How to Enjoy the Off-Season

When the Phillies recorded the final out in the 2008 World Series, Major League Baseball paused, took a deep breath and launched into the off-season, a time of year that delights the baseball aficionado with the free-agent signings, the trades, the clubs making internal changes with everything pointing to the 2009 season that opens in mid-February

. As a prelude to all of the above comes the delightful if mostly false rumors.

Jon Weisman, on his remarkable Dodger Thoughts website, gives a quick lesson on how to survive the hot stove league without getting burned.

A brief synopsis of his rules.

1) Rumors are rumors, not facts.

2) Teams and agents use rumors to generate attention or to misdirect rivals. The media reports these rumors without much concern over how viable they are. 4) Any anonymous rumor is mostly useless.

5) Many deals, if not most, are never rumored, but have been hatching in secret and are only reported if consummated.

7) Hometown papers will often inflate the value of their own players, either on their own initiative or of some other source, and print particularly unrealistic trade packages. Then again, it's just a slow day and they just make them up.

So there is some guidelines. Enjoy the rumors you hear. Talk them over with your friends but don't believe them until they are officially announced.

Here is a schedule of important baseball dates you should keep in mind.

Oct. 30 - Nov. 13: Free-agency filing period, which began with the last out of the World Series and lasts for 15 days.

During the 15 days, teams can negotiate with their own players before they hit the real free-agent market. Most who have signed are intent on checking out their worth. Last year only six of the 200+ free agents signed with their old club.

Nov. 3-6: General Managers Meetings, Dana Point, California. This is now an important meet-and-discuss event that will lead to a number of deals, plus the announcement that some of their regular players are now available by trade.

Nov. 5-18: Awards weeks. From the Gold Glove Team (Nov. 5) through the AL Most Valuable Player (Nov. 18), trophies and plaques awarded to the outstanding performers of 2008.

Nov. 20: Deadline for clubs to file Minor League and Major League reserve lists -- players protected from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.

Dec. 1: Deadline for clubs to offer salary arbitration to their ranked free agents -- who then will have six days to decided whether to accept or decline. Clubs will offer arbitration to players who are intent on leaving, thus giving the clubs draft choice compensations. The danger is a player you don't want changing his mind and returning.

Dec. 5: The executive board of the players union holds its annual meeting, in Orlando, Florida. This is the players chance to make proposals to ownership on changes they are interested in, i.e. rules that state that no postseason game may be shortened by weather, regardless of the delay length.

Dec. 7: Deadline for free agents to accept their 2008 clubs' arbitration offer. Few wait until this day to return to their old club.

Dec. 8-11: Winter Meetings, Las Vegas, Nevada. For gambling general managers, Las Vegas is the perfect spot to make a late, risky trade.
Dec. 8: Announcement of the latest voting results by the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee, on-site at the Winter Meetings.
Dec. 11: Rule 5 Draft. The bargain-basement event can yield some gems if the club's scouting department has been making the right notes during the past season. For the $50,000 fee (half refundable if the club don't keep the player on the season-opening 25-man roster), teams have recently picked such unprotected gems out of the crowd as Johan Santana (by the Marlins from the Astros in 1999), Josh Hamilton (by the Reds from Tampa Bay in 2006) and Shane Victorino (twice, most recently by the Phillies from the Dodgers in 2004).

Early December: Hall of Fame ballot sent out. Voting-eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America receive the mailed ballots for 2009 election.

Dec. 12: Deadline to offer contracts to rostered players. Players not tendered contracts join the free-agent pool.

Jan. 5 (about): Announcement of Hall of Fame election results, traditionally made at the beginning of the new year's first full week.

Jan. 5-15: Filing period for players eligible for salary arbitration. This, of course, means all of them.

Players and management representatives formally exchange salary figures filed for arbitration. It's negotiating time because you don't really want to go to arbitration and tell the player to his face that he isn't worth what he is asking and the reason.

Feb. 1-21: Salary arbitration hearings, Phoenix. If all else fails, this is the final, and often painful, step. However, in 2008 only eight of the 110 filed.

Feb. 14, 17: Big sigh of relief! Tired of the posturing post-season, both sides are ready for Spring Training, with reporting dates for position players, pitchers on World Baseball Classic rosters.

Feb. 22: Mandatory reporting date for non-World Baseball Classic players.

April 6: Dodgers open at San Diego.

April 13: Dodgers host Giants in home opener.

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