The Hot Stove

One of the baseball terms British newcomers quickly learn during the off-season is ‘the hot stove’.  This is the collective term used for all of the trade/free agent signing rumours that fill the winter months.  I always thought this was simply a reference to potential deals that might be bubbling along on the ‘stove’.  In fact, Paul Dickson explains in his seminal baseball dictionary (the third edition of which is due to be published next year) that the term was coined for a more literal reason.  Baseball fans would come in from the cold and gather in places such as “saloons, poolrooms, general stores, barbershops, and drugstores where there was a coal- or wood-burning, potbellied stove at the centre of the conservational group”.

That makes for a great image of baseball fans huddled together merrily (and sometimes not so merrily) swapping rumours and sharing opinions. If my original interpretation was followed though, it could be said that the hot stove is gently simmering at the moment. 

By this time last year, several free agent signings had already been finalized (Torii Hunter to the Angels, Scott Linebrink to the White Sox, Francisco Cordero to the Reds, Jorge Posada re-signing with the Yankees).  It’s difficult to say quite how much of this year’s inactivity is down to the current global economic situation, but no doubt it is making teams a bit more cautious when it comes to weighing up the market and assessing what the going rate for certain players might be. 

What we do know is that the lack of deals so far only means that we will get a relative flood over the next month or so.  The annual Winter Meetings take place in Las Vegas between the 8th and 11th of December and the gathering of GMs and agents may well help to kickstart proceedings.

Keeping up with all of the rumours and signings is a lot easier today than it was back when a ‘hot stove’ was a glowing beacon that attracted baseball fans to a meeting place.  I’m sure logging on and whizzing through your feed reader is a far less rewarding experience, but it has its advantages as well, particularly for Brits who are not as likely to be able to find a group of fellow baseball fans to while a few hours away with in any case.  There are hundreds (thousands?) of sites that provide such news.  Here are the ones I tend to visit the most:

  • MLB.com – The obvious starting point.  Their Hot Stove Tracker and blog are excellent features alongside the general articles and official news stories/press releases.
  • The MLB section on ESPN.com – always a good site for news, it is even better now that they have made the blogs available to non-‘Insiders’ (hopefully this is a permanent switch rather than a brief taster).
  • The MLB section on the Fox Sports site – Ken Rosenthal tends to lots of well-informed rumours to pass on.
  • The MLB section on SportsIllustrated.com – generally good for news (they broke the ‘Matt Holliday to the A’s’ story first – more on which in a moment) and Jon Heyman’s articles are always worth reading.
  • MLB Trade Rumours – the main blog site for trade rumours.  Understandably, it does largely regurgitate stories published on the other sites mentioned, which is far from a bad thing if you want a one-stop-shop for all your trade rumour news.
  • Cot’s Baseball Contracts – not a source for trade rumours, but it is a fantastic resource that enables you to quickly compare the rumoured contract offers with what similar players have received over the last couple of years.

If you regularly visit any others that I haven’t mentioned, please pass on a recommendation  via the comments box.

I suppose my daily ritual of checking these sites mirrors the experience of most fans.  I’m always eager to hear the latest rumours and to see who might end up where, but every time I check in on the above sites, there’s a part of me that hopes there is some exciting news relating to the team I support. 

As an A’s fan, the ‘excitement’ is normally more a case of disappointment: seeing yet another of our best players traded away.  It’s happened so often that I’ve come to accept it; a rueful smile before thinking to myself ‘oh well, there goes another one’.   So, when I logged on to MLB.com a couple of weeks ago to see that Matt Holliday was on the verge of signing, I almost fell off my chair.  The A’s had been mentioned in the rumours about possible suitors for Holliday’s services, but I didn’t expect anything to come of it.  For once it was shocking news in a good way and I had no hesitation in whooping with joy and doing an exuberant celebratory dance (to much bemusement).

The news story led to me hunting around to see what the general reaction was from A’s fans and although many appeared to have reacted in the same way as me (maybe without the dancing?), others put doubt in my mind as to whether it was such a great deal after all.  Holliday is clearly just a one-year rental, being a free agent at the end of the ’09 season, so there was a fair bit of questioning as to whether we had given up too much for little return.

Upon reflection, most A’s fans (including this one) are very happy with the deal.  The ongoing rumours that we might be about to sign shortstop Rafael Furcal as a free agent (he had a look around Oakland this past week) sound very promising as well.  One big deal over the winter (with the best player involved joining us rather than leaving) is one more than normal, so I’m not going to be too greedy in expecting another just yet.  But Billy Beane is always looked to exploit inefficiencies in the market and maybe this year it’s the better players who can be had at the best price in terms of the return on the investment?

Don’t expect the A’s to start bidding on CC Sabathia though.

The hot stove will heat up fairly soon and hopefully your team will make a move or two that brings a smile to your face and the promise of a bit of excitement from the 2009 season, even if your team is in rebuilding mode.

3 Responses to The Hot Stove

  1. Joe Cooter November 29, 2008 at 11:59 am #

    Here a thing about why the hot stove league is called the hot stove league. Winters in the United States, especially in the North East and Mid West, can be brutal. Cold temperatures, gusting wind, tons of snow, all combine to make life miserable. That is why people need to find something to do indoors. In the old days, before television or radio, people would gather around and argue about sports and politics. They’d especially gather around and argue about baseball. This is how the hot stove league got its name.

  2. Ron December 2, 2008 at 4:56 pm #

    Being a Royals fan, its usually the best part of the season.

    Hope springs eternal. Right up until opening day.

  3. Matt Smith December 2, 2008 at 7:20 pm #

    Hi Ron. Finishing above Detroit was a positive step this year and you’ve certainly got some talented players (Greinke is a particular favourite of mine). Apart from signing Sabathia, Teixeira and Ramirez, what are you hoping the Royals will do this off-season to take the next step? I think Crisp could prove to be a decent signing, although I’m not convinced by the trade for Mike Jacobs.

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