Hot stove set to serve second course

Hot stove set to serve second course

Thanksgiving weekend is but a caloric memory, but odds are there are plenty of leftovers in the fridge, not to mention the ones in the ever-evolving world of baseball.

Season's greetings are less than a month away, and we've got a feast of questions and uncertainties on the plate of 30 Major League teams as we near the yearly Winter Meetings bonanza set for Dec. 7 in Indianapolis.

For the Yankees or Red Sox, Mets or other surprise suitors, will it be Happy Holliday or Halladay -- or both?

Will John Lackey get the multiyear millions he desires as the top free-agent starter or find the market lacking?

How many Giant dollars will Tim Lincecum stand to earn in arbitration after two consecutive National League Cy Young Awards?

And what will every other team do?

Yes, after a few relaxing days away from the Hot Stove, it's time to hit that reset button and get ready for the bedlam that's about to ensue to shape the 2010 season.

The first burning issue concerns Halladay, the Blue Jays right-hander who's been a prime trade candidate since the middle of last season and now appears to be headed to the Red Sox or Yankees, depending on which daily articles, blog posts or tweets you believe.

What we do know is this: Halladay, 32, remains one of the best starters in the game, with a career record of 148-76 and a 3.43 ERA over 12 seasons in Toronto, and he has one year remaining on a three-year, $40 million deal.

If he is traded to the Red Sox or Yankees, it will be intriguing to see the package of Major League-ready talent and high-level prospects new Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos will demand in his quest to return Toronto to the top of the American League East.

It also will be riveting to see if the Red Sox, Yankees, Angels, Phillies, Dodgers or whomever else crashes the Halladay party manages to sign Halladay to a contract extension or simply takes one shot to win it all before letting him test the free-agent waters for the first time in his career.

And if Halladay happens to be traded to the Angels, imagine how much different life would be for Lackey, who has spent his entire career under the halo and led the team to a Game 7 triumph in the 2002 World Series as a 23-year-old rookie. A market without Halladay could send the Yankees and Red Sox scrambling in Lackey's direction, which could inflate his already-high value and send ripples throughout the rest of the market.

Meanwhile, the two biggest bats who have filed for free agency, outfielders Jason Bay and Matt Holliday, await their suitors, and it isn't surprising to see a lot of the big-market clubs included in the rumors surrounding them.

There's little doubt that the Red Sox would like to bring back Bay, which GM Theo Epstein reiterated after Bay officially filed.

"All along, we've maintained he was going to go and see what's out there," Epstein said. "We'll see. He's a priority."

And while the Cardinals would love to retain Holliday -- principal owner Bill DeWitt Jr. told WXOS radio in St. Louis as much when he said the club is prepared to make a strong offer to the slugger -- the Red Sox would surely jump into the mix if they can't sign Bay, and both New York teams reportedly have Holliday on their radars.

Then again, it would be unwise to assume where Holliday might end up. He recently told Rob Dibble of SIRIUS XM Radio that he'll pretty much play anywhere.

"I've been around, and I've lived in some big cities, so I would say that I'm open to any sort of coast or city," Holliday said. "Obviously I've never lived in some of the big cities on the East Coast, but at the same time, I've spent some time there."

The rest of the clubs will spend time poring over the remaining 160-plus free agents, who include starters Ben Sheets, Erik Bedard, 22-year-old Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman, Rich Harden, Randy Johnson, Jarrod Washburn and Randy Wolf, impact hitters Vladimir Guerrero, Johnny Damon, Carlos Delgado, and bullpen arms Mike Gonzalez, Kevin Gregg, Fernando Rodney, Rafael Soriano, Jose Valverde, Billy Wagner and Octavio Dotel.

Beyond the signings, all eyes will be on "The Freak."

Lincecum might still look like a kid, but he's been in San Francisco long enough to endear himself to Giants fans -- and to qualify for salary arbitration as a "Super-Two" player, one who has Major League service time that ranks among the top 17 percent of players with less than three years' experience.

Lincecum, whose agent, Rick Thurman, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the right-hander will "pursue a one-year deal," could jump from $650,000 a year to well over $10 million. That's one thing Giants GM Brian Sabean and the rest of the league will be paying a lot of attention to in the coming weeks.

A host of engrossing pre-free-agency cases are also in first-time arbitration play, with young stars such as Justin Verlander of the Tigers and Felix Hernandez of the Mariners, Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, the Dodgers' stellar quartet of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney and Russell Martin, the Phillies' Shane Victorino, Angels rotation mates Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders, Marlins starter Josh Johnson and White Sox closer Bobby Jenks all eligible for the first time.

And let's not forget the other arbitration cases, which are procedural moves for clubs losing graded free agents. Offering a player arbitration allows teams to secure compensation in the form of ever-increasing-in-value picks in the First-Year Player Draft if the player signs elsewhere. Teams can offer free agents arbitration by 11:59 p.m. ET on Tuesday, and players may accept -- although almost all won't -- by 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 7, the first day of the Winter Meetings.

Ah yes, the Winter Meetings. That bonanza of baseball activity, the yearly gathering of executives, managers, media, job-seekers and product vendors that will descend on the heartland of America and the home of the world's most famous auto race to get the wheels of winter progress rolling. Expect high-profile free-agent signings, trades, and, more than anything, a lot of rumors that may or may not eventually pan out as the winter progresses.

Also on tap in Indy will be the announcement of the latest voting results by the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee and the Dec. 10 Rule 5 Draft, which is held on the final day of the Winter Meetings. For the bargain-basement price of $50,000, (half of which is refundable if the drafted player is not on the season-opening 25-man roster), astute GMs might just score a player in the mold of Johan Santana, Hamilton or Victorino, all of whom were Rule 5 selections.

And the Hot Stove season doesn't end there.

On Dec. 12, players not tendered contracts join the free-agent party, and serious bargains can be had here. The Boston Red Sox picked up David Ortiz in the winter following the 2002 season after he had been non-tendered by the Twins.

Just after the New Year, on Jan. 6, we'll find out the next class of Hall of Fame players, which could include fresh ballot names Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Fred McGriff and Edgar Martinez plus patient veteran standbys such as Andre Dawson and Bert Blyleven.

It's a lot to digest, to be sure, but haven't we done a great job of that over the past four days?

Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.