Hot Stove expected to come to a fast boil

Hot Stove expected to come to a fast boil

A word of warning: Don't dare blink this offseason or you might miss what could be a fast-moving and exciting Hot Stove season.

Now that the World Series and riveting postseason drama have passed, it's the time of year when teams start looking toward the 2011 season.

There are a few notable changes in order this winter that promise to make the Hot Stove period livelier than before.

For starters, Major League free agents will be able to negotiate with all clubs five days after the conclusion of the World Series.

The adjusted rule, negotiated by labor officials representing MLB and the union, gives players 10 more days of open negotiations in 2010 and '11 than they've had in previous years.

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Play Free Agent Frenzy

This means it's open business earlier for free agents, including top targets like Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre, who could potentially find new teams before the holiday season gets into full swing.

Labor negotiators for both sides also made a number of adjustments to other dates, such as deadlines for offering arbitration to free agents and tendering of contracts to players who are tied to each club.

The new date for offering contracts is Dec. 2, prior to the start of the Winter Meetings. In the past it was about a week later, just after the annual meetings concluded.

This could potentially lead to more activity at the Winter Meetings.

Trades, free agency, the Winter Meetings and much more -- buckle up, it could be a wild Hot Stove season.

Today through Thursday: Players with 2011 options must have those options resolved by midnight ET on Thursday.

Today through Saturday: Teams' exclusive window for negotiating with their own free agents began Monday night with the last out of the World Series and will last for five days.

What does this mean? Simply put, teams won't have as much time to make decisions on their own free agents. During this period, only the free agent's original team may sign him to a new contract.

In other words, if the Rangers want to lasso Lee and if the Red Sox want to retain Beltre, they're going to have to act fast to get it done by midnight ET on Saturday to avoid having to compete for their services against other clubs.

Nov. 16-17: General Managers Meetings, Orlando, Fla.

Baseball's general managers will certainly see plenty of Orlando starting with their annual meetings, followed by the Winter Meetings there three weeks later.

This is typically the time when the groundwork for deals often begin. GMs can finally put down their cell phones and get some rare face-to-face time with their peers.

There will be plenty of familiar faces on hand, including two -- Kevin Towers with the Diamondbacks and Sandy Alderson with the Mets -- who are with new teams. Both were previously GMs of other teams -- Towers with the Padres and Alderson with the A's -- and they worked together in San Diego.

Nov. 17-18: Owners Meetings, Orlando

Owners will gather to talk about a number of topics, particularly issues pertaining to revenue and the collective bargaining agreement that expires after the 2011 season. Another topic that could be discussed is the concept of expanding baseball's postseason.

Commissioner Bud Selig said this week that MLB will take a "pragmatic" look at the feasibility of expanding the postseason field by two teams. Players Association executive director Michael Weiner said recently that the players are generally receptive to considering revisions in the postseason format.

Nov. 9-23: It's hardware time, beginning with the announcements of the winners of the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards on Nov. 9-10 and the Silver Slugger Awards on Nov. 10, which will be shown in a special hour-long telecast on MLB Network. The parade of Baseball Writers' Association of America awards, commemorating the best and brightest of 2010, will commence in the days that follow.

Awards of note: The AL and NL Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Awards (Nov. 15), NL Cy Young Award (Nov. 16), AL and NL Manager of the Year Awards (Nov. 17) and the AL Cy Young Award (Nov. 18).

The awards season will culminate with the NL Most Valuable Player Award on Nov. 22 and the AL Most Valuable Player Award on Nov. 23.

Other important dates:

Nov. 23: Last day for teams to offer salary arbitration to free agents in order to preserve their rights to draft-pick compensation.

Nov. 30: Last day for free agents to accept salary-arbitration offers from their previous teams.

Dec. 2: Deadline for teams to offer arbitration to eligible players who are under club control.

This is also the deadline for teams to file Minor League and Major League reserve lists to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft, which will be held during the Winter Meetings.

Dec. 6-9: Winter Meetings, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

What are the Winter Meetings? Think the General Managers Meetings, only with agents and media around for four days, where anything and everything might take place.

The Winter Meetings, to be held at the Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort, is typically the time for teams to talk to other teams and advance (or end) prior conversations about potential deals.

A year ago in the cold of Indianapolis, the Tigers, D-backs and Yankees warmed the Hot Stove with a mega-deal that involved seven players, including Curtis Granderson, who went from Detroit to New York, and Austin Jackson, who went from New York to Detroit and turned out to be among the better rookies this season.

There figures to be plenty of agents, front-office executives, media members, managers, vendors and job-seekers roaming the resort as well.

Also on tap will be the announcement of the latest voting results by the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee, and the Rule 5 Draft.

For a relative bargain at $50,000, astute GMs might just score a player in the mold of Johan Santana, Josh Hamilton or Shane Victorino, all of whom were Rule 5 selections. If their picks don't work out, they can return players to their original teams and get half their money back, or they might still be able to keep them if the original team declines the offer.

Jan. 5-15: Salary arbitration filing period.

Jan. 18: Salary arbitration figures exchanged.

Feb. 1-21: Salary arbitration hearings.

Feb 2-7: Caribbean World Series, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

Feb. 13: Voluntary Spring Training reporting date for pitchers, catchers and injured players.

The mandatory reporting date for pitchers and catchers is Feb. 18. The mandatory reporting date for all players is March 1.

Corey Brock is a reporter for Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.