The First Wednesday in November

To say the Hot Stove is in high gear would be an understatement. Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano are manipulating most of the headlines but there are other rumors and news worth mentioning. Barry Zito, Jeff Weaver and Greg Maddux, along with 21 other players (to bring the total to 143), filed for free agency on Tuesday. Daisuke Matsuzaka continued to make headlines and Aaron Heilman was added to the rumor mill.

Here is the latest….

Aaron Heilman…. According to a report by Paul Sullivan in the Chicago Tribune, the Cubs are interested in trading for Aaron Heilman of the Mets. Heilman served up the long-ball to Yadier Molina in the NLCS and after that his stay with the Mets was all but over. The New York press and the Mets fans have not been that kind to him, to say the least, since. Heilman would compete for the 5th spot in the rotation with Wade Miller, who the Cubs are expected to resign soon. Heilman was 4-5 with a 3.62 ERA out of the pen in 2006 for the Mets and is 12-18 with a 4.34 ERA in his career. This is not the first time that Heilman has been rumored to be coming to the Cubs. Last off-season he was mentioned several times and 2 years ago in trade talks concerning Sammy Sosa.

Aramis Ramirez…. Ramirez opting out of his contract came to no surprise but the disclosure of the no-trade clause did. Several reports on XM Radio stated that Paul Kinzer is looking for a 5 to 7 year contract worth around $14 million a year….so $70 – $98 million dollars. Buster Olney thinks the Cubs MUST pay him and said that if they do not the Dodgers must be very aggressive and go after him. The Phillies and the Angels are the other teams that appear to be very interested in him and according to the San Francisco Chronicle….so are the Giants. Paul Sullivan in the Tribune discussed Mike Lowell and Nomar Garciaparra as possible replacements. Nomar would fit very well on the Cubs bench as a utility infielder, but any team that depends on him to play 150 games in a season at this point in his career is setting themselves up for failure. Most feel that Ramirez is the key to the Cubs off-season….but remember today is only the first Wednesday in November. If the Cubs do lose Ramirez expect them to go after Alfonso Soriano and OVERPAY like never before.

Alfonso Soriano…. Soriano is making a lot of noise and made MAJOR headlines on Tuesday morning with the rumor that he is seeking a 7-year, $119 million dollar deal….the Washington Post broke the story. Soriano is seeking a contract similar to Carlos Beltran….their numbers are very comparable but the edge must be given to Soriano. (Beltran’s career stats) (Soriano’s career stats) Soriano could also be an option to replace Scott Podsednik, but the Sox would have to increase their payroll in order for that to happen.

Daisuke Matsuzaka…. Matsuzaka is everywhere, kinda like Joey Harrington a few years back when he was trying to win the Heisman. The very talented right-hander has many scouts drooling over his potential. The Seibu Lions are expected to post him on Wednesday, the first available time they can do so. At that point expect the blind bids to commence and the Cubs are rumored to be very interested….along with 10 other teams according to a report on The bidding post will not count against the luxury tax. Matsuzaka was the MVP in last spring’s WBC and according to several experts….he is the real deal. Bobby Valentine raved about him on ESPN and the Baseball This Morning crew spent a lot of time discussing his possibilities….and said he is the Ichiro of pitching.

The XM crew thinks that Matsuzaka will have an impact on where Jason Schmidt ends up. Buck Martinez said he “is the real deal”, as well. He went on to explain that Matsuzaka is young, polished and loves to pitch as much as possible. He has thrown a lot of innings in Japan and seems to get stronger as he gets older….he is only 26. They went on to discuss his possible destinations and they all feel he will end up in Seattle. They dispelled the report in the Seattle Times, which states that the Mariners will not make a “major play” for Matsuzaka. They feel that the Mariners are just posturing and with all of the money that the Nintendo people have that they will be major players in the bidding war….remember the Mariners surprised everyone when they bid $13 million for the rights to Ichiro. Several reports are stating it will take at least $20 million for the rights just to negotiate with him, some are suggesting as much as $30-$40 million and then a contract in the 5-year range….the total deal could be between $70-$80 million dollars.

Scouting Report on Matsuzaka

Gary Sheffield…. The Yankees seem to be determined to trade Sheffield and the Cubs are one of the teams most interested. According to the Washington Post, the Orioles have had conversations with the Yankees about the disgruntled outfielder…. Can anyone say GARY THE GROUCH? The Orioles, like the Cubs, have a lot of work to do and it seems if there is an outfielder that can catch and hit the ball they are interested. Buster Olney thinks the Yankees should keep him because he feels that no one will give up the pitching it would take to land Sheffield….especially for just 1-year. The Yankees have until Sunday to pick up his option….but according to the Star-Ledger, the Cubs have denied any interest in Sheffield.

Juan Pierre…. A report on brought up the possibility of Pierre landing in St. Louis if Jim Edmonds’ option is not picked up and if he is released.

The Japan All-Star Series 2006…. Jacque Jones and company are in Japan and is about to start the games….the first is at 4:30am E.T. (3:30am Chicago Time) on Thursday, November 2nd.

Dave Dombrowski…. While Dombrowski’s name continues to surface as a possibility to take John McDonough’s place in the Cubs front office, the American League Champions are looking to add many of the names that the Cubs are looking at as well according to a report in the Detroit News.

Hot Stove Talk….

Many of the “experts” feel that the second tier free agents is where the real value is this off-season. They feel that teams will grossly over pay for the bigger names, like they do every off-season. Every year at this time it is more of the same….remember A.J. Burnett last season or even B.J. Ryan? Those ridiculous contracts are always replaced the next off-season with more of the absurd. The second tier is where the clubs will fill their bench spots and bullpen, while the Cubs had a very good bullpen last season….their bench was obviously less than desirable. Charley Steiner had a great quote, “(this off-season) Is going to be more like shopping at Target and K-Mart than at Neiman-Marcus.”

The main talk concerning the Cubs continues to be pitching. The XM crew thinks that Juan Pierre will return and Rob Dibble likes the idea of Gary Sheffield, Juan Pierre and Jacque Jones being in the same outfield. Barry Zito is the best free agent pitcher among a weak class and Jason Schmidt’s injury history is a concern for a lot of teams. Some think the Cubs have a chance to be next year’s Tigers but they have to change their mindset first in order for that to happen. Buck Martinez thinks that the comparison between Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker to Jim Leyland and Alan Trammell is very interesting and very close to accurate. Free agent pitching always comes with a gamble and this year is no different but if the Cubs cannot stay healthy, it will not matter who they sign.

Well, that’s the news and rumors and I’m sticking to them!!!

Quote of the Day

"People who write about Spring Training not being necessary have never tried to throw a baseball." – Sandy Koufax