Hot Stove: Market opened for business

Hot Stove: Market opened for business

The Christmas shopping season is under way, and not just at the malls.

Now that the deadline has passed allowing free agents to negotiate with all 30 teams, free agents can start receiving contract offers from prospective teams. It's one step, but an important one as free agents will now be able to get a better gauge on which teams are seriously interested in their services.

The bidding can officially begin on the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, Carlos Silva, Francisco Cordero and Mariano Rivera, to name a few.

Teams were busy evaluating the lay of the land post-deadline on Tuesday morning and preparing offers, and with precious few contractual agreements on the final day before the deadline -- with the notable exceptions of catcher Jorge Posada (reportedly agreed to terms with the Yankees) and closer Todd Jones (re-signed with the Tigers) -- the free-agent market was essentially unchanged.

Which means it's time to go shopping, as soon as teams can figure out what they want and how much they can spend:

Angels: According to the New York Daily News, the Angels and A's are the most likely potential destinations for Barry Bonds. Free agent Bartolo Colon could have interest to the Nationals, according to The Washington Times, and the Padres, according to the North County Times.

Astros: The Astros are zeroing in on free agent second basemen Luis Castillo and Kaz Matsui, though it is unclear which target they prefer. The Astros made offers to multiple free agents Monday, though general manager Ed Wade would not identify which free agents the Astros have offered contracts.

"We have multiple offers on the table to multiple free agents, some at the same position," Wade told Tuesday. "In some instances we've impressed on [the free agents] that we are more inclined to move on whoever responds to our offer first."

Castillo, a three-time All-Star and triple Gold Glove Award winner, is coming off right knee surgery and if healthy, with shortstop Adam Everett, would give the Astros one of the better defensive middle infields in baseball.

Castillo would also be an option to hit second behind new leadoff man Michael Bourn and ahead of No. 3 hitter Hunter Pence. Castillo was paid more ($5.75 million) than Matsui ($1.5 million) in 2007, and both are 32-year-old switch hitters.

Wade continues to explore potential trades. The Astros are looking for pitching in addition to second base help.

"We had conversations again today with other clubs about trade possibilities," Wade said. "We'll just have to wait and see how things go."

The Astros have made an offer to free agent reliever Scott Linebrink and have also been in contact with the representatives for free agents Jon Lieber, Tom Glavine, Troy Percival, Jeremy Affeldt, Randy Wolf and Francisco Cordero.

Wolf is the latest target to surface on Houston's radar.

"I had talked to [agent] Arn Tellem about him. He's a guy I'm very familiar with from our days in Philadelphia," Wade said of Wolf. "I know he's had some health issues, but if he's healthy, he's a guy we'd like to talk to."

Athletics: The Boston Globe reported the A's have expressed interest in trading for center fielder Coco Crisp. Mark Kotsay has been hampered by back injuries in recent years, and is owed $8 million for next season, the final year of his deal. Oakland also lacks a true leadoff man.

Braves: Tom Glavine's future could become clearer Wednesday afternoon when agent Gregg Clifton meets with Braves general manager Frank Wren. During this meeting, the two parties are expected to take advantage of their first opportunity to discuss financial specifics.

"We're looking forward to sitting down with Frank [on Wednesday] to see how the Braves view Tom in their plans for 2008," Clifton said late Tuesday afternoon.

The meeting will occur at Clifton's Phoenix-area office. Wren and Braves manager Bobby Cox are in the area this week assessing some of the organization's young talent in the Arizona Fall League.

Having the opportunity to be reunited with Cox, veteran ace John Smoltz and third baseman Chipper Jones certainly increases Glavine's desire to return to the Braves. So too does the fact he'd have the opportunity to spend more time with his family in their suburban Atlanta residence.

But, Clifton says, Glavine is keeping an "open mind" as he enters the free agent market for the third time in the past six years. He added that there are three other organizations who have expressed a definite interest in acquiring the services of the 41-year-old southpaw, who has notched 242 of his 303 career wins with the Braves.

"He wants to see what the Braves are willing to offer," Clifton said. "One thing that sets Tom apart is his ability to keep an even keel. I don't think he's ever gotten too high or too low as an athlete. I think the same applies in this process, and he's not assuming anything is going to happen."

Glavine declined a $13 million option to return to the Mets, who would like the left-hander to return in 2008. Houston is also interested in Glavine.

Cubs: The Cubs dealt outfielder Craig Monroe to the Twins for a player to be named. Monroe, acquired in late August, didn't provide the impact the Cubs were looking for from the right-hand side. He is a career .273 batter against lefties. The team also activated right-handers Mark Prior and Angel Guzman from the 60-day disabled list.

Giants: The Giants will draw from their perceived surplus of pitching to attempt to make trades, with a third baseman being their primary target. Other teams have asked for Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, but the Giants are unlikely to part with either right-hander unless they receive a top-flight player in return, such as Miguel Cabrera. San Francisco is more willing to part with the likes of Noah Lowry or Jonathan Sanchez, and there's a host of Minor League prospects the Giants can use to sweeten a deal.

Marlins: The Marlins didn't realistically expect to be able to sign Posada, but now that he's off the market, it should have something of a ripple effect down to the Marlins. Several other teams looking for a catcher -- most notably the Mets and the Blue Jays -- will now train their sights on Paul Lo Duca, Yorvit Torrealba and Michael Barrett. To sign one of them, the Marlins may need to open their wallet a bit wider.

Reports out of the Palm Beach Post also have the Marlins interested in starting pitcher Mike Maroth and third baseman Aaron Boone, who could fill a need if they're indeed able to trade away Cabrera.

Mets: With Posada no longer available and the vacancy behind the plate at Shea Stadium quite conspicuous, the Mets move forward. Lo Duca moves up, but so do other catchers, though not their own Ramon Castro. The Mets want Castro to re-sign, but he will not be their regular catcher.

Lo Duca and fellow free agent Torrealba are atop the Mets' list. The club seemingly prefers to sign a catcher rather than trade away chips that could be used to import a starting pitcher. The free-agent market provides few quality starters. The ones who have piqued the Mets' interest are Silva, and, to a lesser degree, Livan Hernandez of the D-backs. Trading the few chips the Mets have could import something better.

The trade-for-a-catcher options include Ronny Paulino of the Pirates, Miguel Olivo of the Marlins, Ramon Hernandez of the Orioles -- the Mets hardly pursued him following the 2005 season when he was a free agent, opting to deal for Lo Duca -- and Gerald Laird of the Rangers. General manager Omar Minaya is more inclined to pursue a defensively-skilled catcher than one who could produce as Lo Duca did in 2006.

Mariners: The pursuit of at least one and probably two starting pitchers has started in earnest for the Mariners, who likely will make free agent Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda one of their primary targets. The right-handed Kuroda, 32, had a 103-89 record during his 11-year career in Japan. He could be a No. 4 or No. 5 hurler in Seattle's rotation.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, meanwhile, reported that the team might make a pitch for Colon. But the 34-year-old has a recent history of arm problems and committing more than a year might be too much for the Mariners, who have plenty of cash to spend on free agents this offseason.

Orioles: Miguel Tejada is certainly available for trade, and he may not be the only one. Several news outlets reported on Tuesday that the Mets might inquire about a trade for Hernandez, though only if their plans to find a catcher through free agency fall through. Erik Bedard could also be available, according to The New York Times, though the Orioles would certainly require a hefty package in return.

Phillies: Aaron Rowand has reportedly been approached by the Nationals, White Sox, Padres, Rangers and Cardinals. While he hasn't ruled out returning to the Phillies, he'll likely have to be willing to accept a hometown discount to do it.

"We'd like to bring [Rowand] back, and he'd like to come back, but a lot will depend on whether his expectations meet what our willingness is to bring him back in terms of length of contract and actual dollars," assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said, adding that the team is still focusing on pitching.

If Rowand leaves, the team will go with a starting outfield of Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth, and likely add an outfielder from a group that includes Geoff Jenkins, Shawn Green, Trot Nixon, Cliff Floyd and Brad Wilkerson.

As for pitching, some names to monitor include Kris Benson, Silva, Kuroda, Matt Clement and Livan.

The Phillies have spoken with Craig Landis and Scott Boras, the agents for Rowand and Kyle Lohse, respectively, and were told each player planned on testing free agency.

"Based on the discussions we had [during the exclusive negotiating period], we knew they were going to see how the marketplace unfolds for them," Amaro said. "We'd like to bring [Rowand] back, and he'd like to come back, but a lot will depend on whether his expectations meet what our willingness is to bring him back in terms of length of contract and actual dollars."

Amaro reiterated that the Phillies priority remains pitching, even after the trade for Brad Lidge. The team already has roughly $69 million committed to Burrell, Adam Eaton, Tom Gordon, Wes Helms, Jamie Moyer, Brett Myers, Jimmy Rollins, J.C. Romero and Chase Utley -- and still owes $6 million to Jim Thome.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Mark Prior is an interesting name to watch, should the Cubs non-tender him in December, thus making him a free agent.

Red Sox: The midnight deadline came and went on Monday night and World Series MVP MIke Lowell still hadn't re-signed with the Red Sox. That means the All-Star third baseman is now free to negotiate with all 30 Major League teams. According to The Boston Globe, the sides met until about an hour before the deadline on Monday night. And even though a deal hasn't been completed, both sides remain hopeful that something can get done. In the meantime, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman confirmed to Newsday that Lowell is a "player we're going to certainly talk to."

Royals: Reliever David Riske is one of six 2007 Royals who hit the free-agent market after the midnight deadline passed. Kansas City would like him back to solidify the back of the bullpen as a setup man for closer Joakim Soria. Riske declined a $2.9 million option and is looking for a multi-year deal.

Tigers: Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said again on Monday that he plans to be aggressive in addressing their need for starting pitching. While the Tigers still would rather re-sign free agent Kenny Rogers than look for someone else, there appears to be a limit for how long they'll wait on Rogers to decide where he wants to go. The flip side to that, of course, is finding another way to fill the spot.

If there was any question left that top prospect Cameron Maybin will begin next season in the Minor Leagues, the Jacque Jones trade ensures that he'll get more seasoning. Maybin's Arizona Fall League experience was limited to a handful of games before a shoulder injury sidelined him, and the Tigers finally sent him home at the end of last week.

On the setup front, the Tigers have been in touch with the agent for Octavio Dotel, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Twins: The deadline for teams' exclusive negotiating rights with their free agents passed on Monday night, making Hunter and Silva eligible to begin talks with all 30 teams. The Twins did not extend any new offers to Hunter before the deadline.

The Twins and Cubs finalized a trade that sent Monroe to Minnesota for a player to be named. Monroe, 30, would give the Twins another outfielder to split time in left field with Jason Kubel and another DH option.

Yankees: Hours away from being able to negotiate with other clubs, Posada accepted the Yankees' improved offer, agreeing to a four-year, $52.4 million pact, according to multiple reports. The signing has not been announced by the team, pending Posada passes a physical.

The Yankees have improved their offer to Rivera, presenting him with $45 million for three years, according to The New York Times. Rivera told the Associated Press in the Dominican Republic on Monday that The Yankees are his first choice, but also dropped a reference to Joe Torre and the Dodgers.

The Yankees are considering making pushes for Florida's Cabrera or Minnesota's Johan Santana, depending on market conditions, according to executive vice president Hank Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner told the AP that the Marlins are asking "a lot" for Cabrera, but said that there is "still plenty of time on that." The Yankees also plan to inquire about Santana's availability.

The New York Daily News reports the Yankees are also believed to be close to re-signing free agent catcher Jose Molina, who batted .318 in 29 games with New York this year and has expressed a desire to return.

The New York Post reports that the Yankees have shown some interest in free agent Chris Gomez as a utility player. Gomez, 36, played with the Orioles and Indians this year, hitting .297 with one home run and 21 RBIs in 222 at-bats.

Jim Molony is a reporter for reporters contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.