VERO BEACH, FLORIDA – Back when all the MLB teams could be found east of the Mississippi River and north of Virginia, baseball junkies used to get their offseason fixes by sitting around yakking about downtime big league happenings — recent trades, news items, gossip and the like.
In the dead of winter, it could get pretty darn cold in those U.S. environs to which baseball was then limited. So, in many rural areas those conversations took place around an old wood-burning stove in the middle of some sort of a communal fat-chewing room.
Thus, did the classic baseball term “Hot Stove League” come about — from all those conversations that had to suffice in the absence of actual games being played on the field.
If the stove wasn’t cranking up the temperature properly, heated discussions often served the same purpose.
Now, big league baseball spreads from coast to coast and corner to corner of the U.S. — from Beantown in Massachusetts to balmy San Diego and from Miami’s South Beach to the nation’s coffee-consumption capital, chilly Seattle.
Those once-roaring furnace fires are now, of course, a thing of the past.
But the off-season human interaction continues unabated; only it takes place on cable TV, talk radio and the Internet.
But the discussions and disagreements just don’t seem to have the same, well, warmth.
So, in the spirit of those good ol’ days, MAS would like to go retro and turn this column into an old-fashioned hot stove-type debate.
Imagine, if you will, a pot-bellied contraption is crackling in the background and you have just turned down the volume of the “The Lone Ranger” radio show so that MAS can be distinctly heard when opining — and vice versa.
Here, then, are this winter’s hottest topics. Feel free to insert counter points in between make-believe puffs on your imaginary corncob pipe.
■ The billion dollar race between Los Angeles ball clubs — while traditionally free-spending teams like Boston, the New York Yankees and Philadelphia are tightening their belts, the Los Angeles Dodgers and L.A. Angels have uncinched theirs.
The Dodgers are committed to $600 million in future salaries via late-2012 trades (for Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford), in-house contract extensions and the off-season signing of top free-agent hurler Zack Greinke.
If the team hopes to re-sign pitching ace Clayton Kershaw the amount will soar considerably higher next year.
The Angels, meanwhile, have agreed to pay out close to $450 million after inking this winter’s biggest free agent Josh Hamilton, landing Albert Pujols last offseason and signing ace hurler Jered Weaver to an in-season extension in the 2012 campaign. And phenom Mike Trout’s contract will have to eventually be addressed.
Haven’t both learned you can’t buy championship teams — you must build them by various means.
After adding Pujols, the Halos were out of their 2012 divisional race by August. The Dodgers were head-to-head with San Francisco in the National League West when they took on the bloated salaries of the four stars mentioned and promptly went into free fall.
■ Blockbuster trade of the winter — Toronto’s acquisition of the megabucks contracts of All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes and standout hurlers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle from the salary-dumping Miami Marlins in exchange for mostly prospects.
Adding that threesome and free-agent hurler R.A. Dickey to Jose Bautista and Co. makes Toronto the American League East fave on paper — and prime candidate for latest example of titles being won on the field, not on paper.
■ Biggest offseason whine — Texas management carping that Hamilton didn’t give them right of first refusal. The Rangers sound to MAS like a guy who wouldn’t commit to his girlfriend and then bawls after she moves on and finds someone who will.
■ The severity of Alex Rodriguez’s hip injury — It looks like we might have another Bo Jackson scenario brewing.
I’ve read A-Rod’s medical report and it is eerily similar to Jackson’s. Rodriguez isn’t due back until midseason, at the earliest.
Let’s hope A-Rod doesn’t eventually require career-ending hip replacement surgery like Bo.
■ Ball club most likely to plummet next season — between late-2012 injuries (to Rodriguez and Derek Jeter) and offseason defections, the Yankees might be the Boston Red Sox of 2013.
■ A San Francisco dynasty? — With two World Series titles in three years, you say the Giants have one in the making?
Nah, the only dynasty in San Fran is Ming Dynasty, a Chinatown eatery.
The Giants’ strong pitching always makes them a threat but they change position players as often as Taylor Swift trades in boyfriends.
■ Yet another Marlins talent fire sale — Florida traded away five regulars, their best two starting hurlers and closer to cut payroll. Two earlier house cleanings followed World Series wins; this one came after hoodwinking Miami into building them a new stadium.
Many in South Florida feel this could be the death-blow to MLB in this region, already luke-warm in its fervor to begin with.
All this hot air is making things stuffy. Think MAS will head to the beach for a dip.
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