GM Meetings: Stage One of the Hot Stove League

The GM Meetings begin Tuesday morning in Key Biscayne, Fla., and 30 general managers and dozens of personnel executives gather to turn up the heat on trade talks and free agent signings. <br><br> This is where the fun starts.

Often times, this is where the groundwork is laid out for most deals that occur in the next eight weeks and was the birthplace of the Alex Rodriguez for Manny Ramirez talks last November.

These meetings are the first stage of the Hot Stove League 2004. Rev ‘em up full throttle and let the dealin' begin.

Heading into mid-week the Oakland A's were denying the rumors that they would look to deal one of their big three, but it's clear that the A's need two bats to freshen up that lineup and not even Billy Beane can do that with the payroll restrictions put upon the club.

Tim Hudson makes the most sense since his contract is up after next season but Barry Zito might be the one to go. The Yankees, Blue Jays, Dodgers and Braves would be out in front in that race, should it begin.

Keeping an eye on what the Angels do with Jose Guillen might blind their efforts to land the Big Unit. The Angels are the only team that has all the ingredients to add Randy Johnson and could use top first base prospect Casey Kotchman as the base of a trade package.

Look for Anaheim to be the frontrunners, especially if Richie Sexson bolts town, opening a spot for a player like Kotchman to step in and play right away.

The Yankees, again, do not have the young players available to land Johnson, and Sexson's possible departure would only hurt their chances. Sexson is the key for most teams' chances because without him the Diamondbacks will likely head completely in the other direction and began the search for youth, rather than proven veterans.

The most interesting free agent this winter might be Red Sox right-hander Pedro Martinez. Already offered a two-year deal by the Red Sox for a little more than $12 million a season, Martinez is weighing his options, and waiting for the Yankees and Angels to make their bids.

The Red Sox clearly want him back and probably went further than most teams would have in order to keep him. A former National League GM spoke of Martinez's free agency by saying "I wouldn't pay him more than $8 million a year for two years, and I'm not sure anyone outside of Boston and New York will either."

The one exception is probably the Anaheim Angels, who could steal Martinez by guaranteeing three or four seasons.

Look for Detroit to be major players for Pedro's teammate Derek Lowe as well as Cardinals right-hander Matt Morris.

Remember when the Yankees were the heavy favorites to land Carlos Beltran, followed by the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros, and the Chicago Cubs were a dark horse?

Say hello to the early leader in the clubhouse, former dark horse, the lovable Cubbies.

Speaking of the Wrigley Field residents, Sammy Sosa continues to be a target of both trade talks and a war of words by his teammates. The latest to wear his feelings on his tongue is right-hander Kerry Wood who recently expressed his despair for Sosa's late-season antics.

Don't expect Sosa to land in L.A. for Shawn Green or in a Mets uniform for Cliff Floyd. Is Sosa bound for a small market?

The new Washington, D.C. team has a few things on their agenda and starting over seems to be on top of that list.

Expect general manager Jim Bowden to explore trades for Brad Wilkerson and Jose Vidro (who just signed an extension during the season). Nick Johnson and right-hander Tony Armas could also be available.

Some of the biggest contracts in baseball will be available this winter, including first basemen Todd Helton and Jason Giambi, and pitchers Randy Johnson and Kevin Brown.

Giambi and Helton will be the toughest to move while the Yankees might be willing to pay the majority of Brown's contract in order to free themselves from the aging veteran.

Seattle is expected to call every top free agent and gauge their interest before throwing out large contract offers to Adrian Beltre, Troy Glaus, Richie Sexson and Carlos Beltran.

Another player that will be mentioned in trade talks is Reds outfielder Ken Griffey, Jr. While his value is further down the scale than any player in baseball, Cincinnati might be more willing to make Griffey affordable for an American League team.

In the form of cash or the return of the equivalent in bad contracts, Griffey could land in Baltimore, New York, Texas or Anaheim.

The list of suitors for Rockies right-hander Shawn Chacon will grow as the winter moves on. As soon as Armando Benitez (Cubs, Giants, Marlins, A's) and Troy Percival (Giants, Cubs, Orioles, Mets) sign, Chacon becomes an option for a team looking for cheap help in the pen (Indians?).

In the "bold prediction" department, look for the Minnesota Twins to make a move that nobody saw coming… assuming they can move outfielder Jacque Jones (Cubs, Padres, Giants) and 2B Luis Rivas (Giants?).

The Braves could make a similar move as they contemplate the future of John Smoltz. Smoltz's return to the rotation would push the Braves into the market for one of the closers on the trade market but John Schuerholz would likely stay away from Percival and Benitez.

The Florida Marlins will be the surprise team of the winter. Just a prediction.

The Detroit Tigers might be more active this off season than last, with pitching the main focus this time around.

One American League executive believes that the Texas Rangers might strike out on the free agent market. Not many starting pitchers have had a good time pitching at the Arlington Yard.

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