Warm Up the Stove

The Hot Stove is starting to heat up and here are 10 questions that will be answered soon.

1. Where will Cliff Lee go?

Lee is in the enviable position of being the most sought after free agent this year. He will be able to choose his team and his pay. It’s obvious that one of his suitors will be the Yankees who waited all of one minute to call his agent when the free agent contact period began.

2.     Will Derek Jeter stay with the Yankees?

The face of the franchise and one of the All-Time great Yankees stays with the team and gets what he wants.

3.     Where will Prince Fielder play?

He’s already turned down the Brewers’ 5 year $100 million offer so the club will move him before he’s a free agent after next year.

4.     Are the Gold Glove Awards a farce?

The managers and coaches vote for them and there seems to a pattern that once named always named. Voting should be based on solid proof of a players’ defensive prowess. If baseball insists on letting the managers and coaches vote, the arm them with some statistical proof. It would be easy to get from sources like the Baseball Prospective.

5.     Is it the end of the line for some?

Thanks to the ridiculous pickup by the Red Sox of David Ortiz’ option there still may be room for recently released Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero. However, they should expect a major dent in their wallets to sign with someone.

6.     Adam Dunn, Andy LaRoche and Paul Konerko. Who Do You Want?

All three first basemen are available. In a nutshell, Dunn can still hit a ball out of any ballpark. LaRoche has been a model of productive consistency for the past three years and Konerko had a monster comeback year, his best since 2002 but he will be 35 before opening day. Dunn made $12,000,000 last year so he won’t come cheap. Like Dunn, Laroche is 31 but made a more modest $4.5 million. Also like Dunn, Konerko made $12,000,000 last year and will be seeking one last big contract. I would take the underrated LaRoche and sign him long-term (4 years).

7.     Will the Red Sox really hand the catching job to “Salty”?

Jared Saltalamacchia seems to have overcome the throwing yips that plagued him in the minors last year and the Sox are high on his defensive ability. However, he has yet to prove he can hit major league pitching. And along that vein….

8.     What are the Red Sox thinking?

They re-up Ortiz but are willing let Victor Martinez go?  Does this really make sense?

9.     How much is a closer worth?

We’re about to find out as Rafael Soriano, Brian Fuentes, Jon Rauch, Kevin Gregg and even Trevor Hoffman are looking around.

10. Which new manager will have the most success?

Mike Quade – Chicago Cubs

A players’ favorite but it’s still the Cubs a team with as many question marks this off-season as any.

Ron Roenicke – Milwaukee Brewers

OK, he’s from the same Angels pedigree that Joe Maddon and Bud Black are from but even they couldn’t win with the Brewers sordid pitching staff.

John Farrell – Toronto Blue Jays

Cito Gaston brought back some stability and a winning attitude after the team quit on John Gibbons. Farrell inherits a good relatively young team with great potential who unfortunately has to play in the A.L East.

Eric Wedge – Seattle Mariners

Dan Wakamatsu wasn’t the only one to get booted in Seattle. A major purge in players on a weak hitting team are hitting the streets. Wedge will be at the helm of a “rebuilding” phase and it won’t be pretty.

Pittsburgh Pirates – still vacant

What difference will it make? Front runners are Clint Hurdle and Jeff Banister.

New York Mets – still vacant

Ditto. Front runners are Clint Hurdle and plethora of others?

How Many Remember Sparky?

There’s a whole generation of fans who might have vaguely heard of Sparky Anderson. But Sparky was bigger than life. Like Tony LaRussa, Anderson had only a brief sniff of the majors as a player There were many skeptics when he was first named manager of the Reds in 1970 at age 36. All the Reds did that year was win 102 games before losing to the Orioles a team that would win 108 that year. In 1972 the Reds would return to the Series only to lose to the juggernaut Oakland A’s in what was the first of  their three straight World Championships. But in 1975 and 1976 the Reds returned and beat the Red Sox in what many believe to be the best World Series ever and the Yankees. Only one time in the nine years managing the Reds did they finish lower than second place.

He then moved on in 1979 and resuscitated a lethargic Tigers team. It was a bit more of a challenge because the Tigers did not have a team of Hall of Famers but he still managed to win a division title and the 1984 World Championship going wire to wire in one of the best single seasons ever. The team started 35-5 that year and never looked back.

Sparky was a combination of Casey Stengel with his fractured way of speaking and Earl Weaver. When he was upset with a call no one could match Sparky for his on-field antics.

Good or bad, he also popularized using the bullpen as a strategic part of the game earning the nickname “Captain Hook”.

His former players not only respected but loved him as the accolades that poured forth has shown. To many he was a father figure not because of self-centered will to win but because he knew that any outside distractions could ultimately ruin a player’s career.

For 26 years, 5 pennants and 3 World Series titles, Sparky Anderson held an aura of winning and will be forever loved by two historic franchises. He is the last of the great line of managers known for injecting their personality into the will to win.

As one who saw this, I say, “Thanks, Sparky, the game is better because of you.”

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