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Hot Stove Notes

It’s been an active and exciting Winter Meetings this year, as has been the Hot Stove, in general. Here’s my take on some of what’s going on around the big leagues …

Good players are the new run prevention.
Remember when run prevention was roster-assembly-philosophy du jour? The Rays improved significantly in 2008 in part by overhauling their defense, then the Mariners did the same thing in ’09. Then, the Red Sox tried it in 2010, and though they weren’t a bad team by any means, they fell short of the playoffs. Well, Boston has all but eschewed that approach this time around. GM Theo Epstein has been quite busy, first trading for stud first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and then inking standout outfielder Carl Crawford. Moneyball has taught us that there are sound, cost-efficient strategies to improving a team on the cheap, but nothing beats stockpiling All-Stars, apparently.

The Yankees must sign Cliff Lee.
The Bombers are now compelled to ink Lee, the prized pitcher on the free-agent market, because they are a (perpetually) win-now team. They have so many long-term contracts committed to veterans that it would make no sense for them to be outbid now. This is the only downside to the monster the Yanks have created; they must overspend and commit to veterans to live up to the impossibly high standard they’ve set for themselves. Plus, with the Red Sox hitting home runs on Gonzalez and Crawford, the Yankees have to keep pace or risk falling behind.


The Nationals are still clueless.
As I mentioned in my column Wednesday, Jayson Werth is a really good player. It’s just that, the Nationals are nowhere near contention, and the deal they gave to Werth — seven years and $126MM — makes little sense for them. If anything, it smacks of a downtrodden club misguidedly reaching for a “credibility” signing. Unfortunately, those types of deals typically have the opposite effect. Werth will merely be a good player on a bad team. Remember, the No. 1 overall picks in the past two Drafts, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, are property of the Nationals, but neither will contribute significantly in 2011. Strasburg will be sidelined for much of the year after Tommy John surgery, and Harper will need a couple years to be ready for the big leagues. Meanwhile, there’s little to like on the Major League roster after Ryan Zimmerman, Jordan Zimmermann and a couple complementary pieces.

The curious case of Adam Dunn.
I’m of the mind that Adam Dunn is a really good player, but he’s been the poster child for the philosophical rift between the old and new schools for awhile now. His proponents point to his great power and on-base skills while his detractors loathe his defense, strikeouts and “base-clogging.” Still, it’s rather fitting that he joined up with the White Sox and their bold GM, Ken Williams. The South Siders have been building odd-ball teams for years now — long before the Giants rode that formula all the way to World Series glory — and Dunn fits into that mix of misfits perfectly. With Paul Konerko re-signed, you can bet that there’s not many guys on the White Sox who’ll be going in the early rounds of your fantasy draft next year, but the South Siders should once again be competitive in the AL Central, especially with their surprisingly solid starting rotation, which, not surprisingly, is comprised of a band of afterthought-types.

O’s did well in acquiring 3B, SS.
Look, I’m not trying to sell you third baseman Mark Reynolds and shortstop J.J. Hardy as, say, David Wright and Jose Reyes. But Reynolds and Hardy represent vast improvements over Miguel Tejada and Cesar Izturis, respectively, and Baltimore surrendered little in aggregate value (David Hernandez, Kam Mickolio, Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey) in the two swaps that brought them aboard. The O’s are still a long way from contending, but they have some young talent and a good manager to coach it up in Buck Showalter. Reynolds and Hardy are two above-average, reasonably compensated talents who could pay off in spades if Showalter is able to get the best out of them.

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