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Anthony Castrovince

Winter Meetings set stage for Hot Stove swaps

Winter Meetings set stage for Hot Stove swaps

Winter Meetings set stage for Hot Stove swaps
Rangers Ballpark in Arlington has hosted World Series games each of the past two years -- and the Texas faithful will, of course, ask that you not dwell on the end result, if you'd be so kind.

As for the road to next year's Fall Classic, well, that runs about 15 miles due east on the Tom Landry Highway, north on Interstate 35E and straight into the Hilton Anatole hotel, where baseball's brightest minds have begun to gather with the intent of improving their clubs for 2012 and beyond.

For the next four days, this is Hot Stove Central, the site where many a deal will go down -- or, at least, become born.

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And yes, for the next four days, all the game's greatest gossip and rampant rumors will also emanate from inside these walls.

That's the fun of the Winter Meetings, of course, and it juxtaposes itself against the fact that serious business and serious bucks are being discussed. So it is that media members and fans alike will be tracking every nugget of information that leaks in the lobby.

Which of those nuggets will lead to tangible transactions?

It's time to find out.

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Everybody in baseball is waiting for the biggest free-agent dominos to start falling, for, by and large, they will set the pace of the market for those who follow. And just as Jayson Werth's blockbuster contract with the Nationals set the lobby abuzz on the eve of the Winter Meetings in 2010, news of the Marlins' deal with Jose Reyes -- reportedly for six years, $106 million -- got this year's activity started with a bang.

The Marlins have put the full-court press on Reyes all winter, and the news that leaked Sunday showed their aggressive efforts on the free-agent front are legit. Naturally, the ensuing topic of conversation is how well he and Hanley Ramirez, who would have to change positions, will coexist in Miami.

Reyes is be the first top-tier position player locked up this winter. Thus far, the only major market that's started to reveal itself is the closer's market, in which Jonathan Papelbon (four years, $50 million with the Phillies) and Joe Nathan (two years, $14.75 million with the Rangers) have found new homes, and Heath Bell (three years, $27 million with the Marlins) seems on the verge. Ryan Madson heads the list of those still available, with Francisco Cordero, Francisco Rodriguez, Matt Capps and Frank Francisco also on the board. The Red Sox, Reds, Blue Jays, Twins, Padres, Orioles, Dodgers and Mets are among the clubs unsettled in the closer role, so stay tuned.

"There are quite a few good closers out there," Twins GM Terry Ryan said.

Much slower to develop is the starting pitching market. CC Sabathia's situation was quickly settled by the Yankees, and little else has transpired with top-flight arms.

Teams are still waiting to find out if Yu Darvish will be posted by the Nippon Ham Fighters, and an announcement on that front could come any day now. In the meantime, the top options available remain C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt. There has been a lot of interest in Buehrle, primarily because he is considered a shorter-term and cheaper option than Wilson. Given the shaky history of long-term deals for starting pitchers, that obviously ups Buehrle's appeal.

The position player talk is, of course, dominated by Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, whose markets have been slow to develop because of their potential $200 million price tags, and Reyes, who is a game-changer when healthy. As the Reyes deal gets done, expect activity on Jimmy Rollins to heat up.

Beyond those big three, we are still waiting to see if the Red Sox will retain David Ortiz, who is coming off a resurgent season, and where slugging third baseman Aramis Ramirez and right fielder Carlos Beltran will land.

Suddenly Sunday, another big name -- albeit a dented one -- was the talk of the lobby, as reports emerged that Manny Ramirez wants to come out of retirement. He'd still have to serve a long suspension for violating baseball's performance-enhancing drug policy, and it's debatable how much he has left in the tank. If nothing else, he made for some fun Hot Stove fodder on the eve of the Meetings' official kickoff.

Aside from Manny, we've obviously known the free-agent names for quite a while. It's the trade talk that adds a special dynamic to this setting. The face-to-face time between general managers increases the possibility of a swap, and trade discussions have reportedly picked up considerably, given what many perceive to be a top-heavy and rather weak free-agent market.

This is especially true in the starting pitching department, where the Braves might part with Jair Jurrjens, where the A's are said to be dangling their young arms, where the White Sox could offer up John Danks and/or Gavin Floyd, where the Astros could move Wandy Rodriguez, and so on and so forth.

So whether it's trade talk or free-agent fodder, this is going to be a big week for baseball banter.

"It seems like the Winter Meetings are really the area when a lot of dominos start to fall," Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos said. "At the same time, it comes down to value, price and things like that. You weigh it all."

The general managers have been weighing their options and inventories for weeks. Now that their planes are touching down in Dallas, it's time for them to venture down that road that they hope leads to World Series glory.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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