ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Hot Stove season begins in earnest this week as the 30 general managers gather for their annual meetings at a hotel near Disney World from Tuesday through Thursday. In addition, the GMs will meet for the third time this year with the owners, who overlap with sessions on Wednesday and Thursday. "It will be great to have the general managers back with us again," Commissioner Bud Selig said when reached by phone at his office in Milwaukee on Friday. "I always enjoy listening to their suggestions and expertise." The GMs will have a full day of their own meetings on Tuesday, gather with Selig on Wednesday and sit in on Thursday morning's joint owners meeting. In the meantime, they will chat about trades and ponder free-agent signings as a prelude to the Winter Meetings in Orlando from Dec. 6-9.
The GMs first met with the owners this past January at Paradise Valley, Ariz. Selig enjoyed the exchange so much that he invited them back for the August meetings in Minneapolis. This time, the annual GM meetings and the final quarterly owners meeting of the year were combined. The meetings this year will be limited to the 30 GMs only, with assistants precluded. "What was really interesting was the sharing of ideas from GMs whose clubs represented different areas of the country," Selig said. "That I found fascinating. I've always told the owners that the more communication you have and the more they hear each other, the better chance we have to solve problems without any trauma. That's worked very well for me over the last 18 years." Two topics Selig has been pondering for a while won't be formally addressed at this week's meetings, the Commissioner said: possible expansion of the postseason to include two more Wild Card teams and any alteration to the use of instant replay. Those are matters for his 14-man special committee studying changes in Major League Baseball, he said. That group won't meet this week, and hasn't met in person since this past January. There have been conference calls among various members of the group since then. "We're setting up a meeting [of the special committee] and want to get everyone back together sometime in December," Selig said. "We'll save those issues for that group." The GMs, of course, can discuss any topic they want at their own meetings and offer recommendations to the Commissioner. Yankees GM Brian Cashman said in the past that he's generally in favor of expanding the use of instant replay. As of now, replay is used only to determine boundary calls on home runs -- in-out, fair-foul. "I'm big on technology," Cashman said. "I'm open to any way we can help the umpires. We want what the umpires want -- to get the calls right. If the Commissioner's office and the umps' union decides we already have the best format, then this is the best format. If there's a better way, we'll discuss it and pursue it, and we'll leave it in their hands." Joe Torre, who just retired as manager of the Dodgers and is still a member of the special committee, recently said the jury is out on expanding the use of replay. "The public acknowledgment that there's going to be more replay, I'm not sure that's true," Torre said. "There have been some straw polls that all the managers want it, but I'm doubtful that's the case. I know I'm not a fan of a lot of replay, no." One manager who wants it is Rays manager Joe Maddon. "We have the technology so we ought to use it," Maddon said. "Take a look at the video and get it right. What's wrong with that?" Regarding expansion of the playoffs, Selig said earlier this month near the end of the World Series that it's possible the format could change in time for next postseason. The issue, though, must be collectively bargained with the Players Association and likely will be discussed during next year's negotiations for a new Basic Agreement. The current agreement expires on Dec. 11, 2011, which means 2012 might be the earliest a new format could be adopted. "I've said we're going to look at it very seriously and we are going to look at," Selig said. "There are a lot of considerations, there's no question about it. The pragmatism is what's most difficult. The question is how do you do it and what form does it take? A lot of people have different opinions." As far as player movement is concerned, free agency is already in full throttle with Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez and even Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera among the players out there for the taking. The non-waiver trade period resumed the day after the regular season ended and will continue through next July 31. Because of a change in the rules, clubs must tender contracts to all their players by Dec. 2, a week earlier than usual. The non-tenders join the pool of free agents. Heading into the meetings, the Yankees are on a path to try to re-sign Jeter and Rivera. Plus, they've already made overtures to the left-handed Lee, whom Cashman visited recently at his home in Arkansas. "Our name's on the board North, South, East and West," Cashman said late last week. The Mets are still in the process of hiring a manager. After they restructured their front office under new general manager Sandy Alderson, they've been in the interview process. Terry Collins and Bob Melvin are the leading candidates, and the second round of interviews could take place here at the meetings. Clint Hurdle was in that mix, but the Pirates have hired the former Rockies manager to replace John Russell. The formal announcement is to come on Monday. Theo Epstein, the Red Sox general manager, said he's intent right now to try to re-sign a pair of his own free agents: Beltre and Martinez. "Our first choice for third baseman for 2011 and beyond would be to bring back Adrian Beltre," Epstein said during a conference call on Friday. As far as having Martinez again behind the plate, he added: "We absolutely want this guy back. He knows that, and he's known that for a while." With contract talks between the Marlins and Dan Uggla having broken down, there should be some buzz around the hotel corridors about trading the second baseman and that could happen here this week. Florida already sent center fielder Cameron Maybin to the Padres on Saturday for relievers Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica. The rumor mill has also swirled about the possibility of a new home for Royals right-handed starter Zack Greinke, the 2009 Cy Young Award winner in the American League. New D-backs GM Kevin Towers has vowed to rebuild his club's bullpen and is viewing all possibilities for a closer -- from Rafael Soriano to Trevor Hoffman -- on the free-agent market. The Dodgers appear on the verge of re-signing free-agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda and the defending World Series-winning Giants could be in the market for more offensive components. Aubrey Huff, Edgar Renteria, Juan Uribe and Pat Burrell are all free agents. The Giants do have their five starters and closer Brian Wilson all in place, and that will continue to be the core of the team, said GM Brian Sabean. "Philosophically, we'd like to be more athletic and dynamic as a lineup, but maybe that won't present itself," he said. "Maybe we'll have to scratch and claw to get to four runs. When you pitch as well as we do, you don't rely on one hitter or a couple of big hitters. Everyone just has to do their job or figure out how to contribute on a day-to-day basis." Certainly, the brunt of the Hot Stove season and a busy week is about to get under way.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.