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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

November 17, 2010 at 11:33 AM

Hot Stove is heating up quicker than usual

UPDATE 2:30 p.m.: It’s now official: Rajai Davis from Oakland to Toronto for minor-league relievers Trystan Magnuson and Daniel Farquhar

UPDATE 1:30 p.m.:<strong> Ken Rosenthal of FOX reports that the Blue Jays are on the verge of acquiring outfielder Rajai Davis from Oakland.

I had to double-check the calendar today — it really is just Nov. 17? The deals are flying so fast and furious this week that I thought maybe I had pulled a Rip Van Winkle and slept right through to the winter meetings.

Today, word is coming out that the Tigers have signed free-agent reliever Joaquin Benoit, who had a superb season in 2010 with Tampa Bay, to a three-year, $16.5 million contract.

Yesterday, we saw the Marlins make a significant trade — sending All-Star second baseman Dan Uggla to the Braves for All-Star infielder Omar Infante and reliever Mike Dunn — as well as signing free-agent catcher John Buck, formerly with the Blue Jays, for $18 million over three years.

Over the weekend, the Marlins had made two other deals, sending outfielder Cameron Maybin to the Padres (for relievers Ryan Webb and Edwin Mujica) and pitcher Andrew Miller to the Red Sox (for reliever Dustin Richardson). Maybin and Miller are both former No. 1 draft picks acquired by the Marlins from Detroit in the Miguel Cabrera trade.

Last week, the A’s and Royals pulled off a fairly major trade, with outfielder David DeJesus going to the A’s for right-hander Vin Mazzaro and minor league lefty Justin Marks.

That’s beyond teams re-signing their own free agents, such as Jake Westbrook (Cardinals) and Hiroki Kuroda (Dodgers).

Major deals or signings in November aren’t unheard of, but they’re not that common, either. Maybe I have selective amnesia, but I can’t remember seeing so much action this early. And I don’t think it will slow down, either. The offseason calendar has been altered in a way to accelerate dealing, culminating with the winter meetings, which begin Dec. 6 in Orlando.

For one thing, teams had just five days, rather than 15, following the World Series to negotiate exclusively with their own free agents. That put the free agents on the open market 10 days earlier than in past seasons.

A more significant change, I believe, was moving up the deadline for teams to tender contracts to Dec. 2. In past years, that date always occurred after the winter meetings, which put teams in a tough spot. Every year, there’s a new pool of free agents who flood the market when they are not tendered a contract (“non-tendered” in MLB parlance). Jose Lopez, for instance, is a candidate to become a free agent if the M’s don’t tender him, which is a high probability.The uncertainty hindered teams from signing players at the winter meetings, because they wanted to see who else might become available. But now, GMs will go to Orlando with full knowledge of all the free agents, including non-tenders. It should, theoretically, lead to more deal-making.

The next date to note is Nov. 23, the last day for teams to offer salary arbitration to their own free agents. By doing so, teams assure they will get draft-pick compensation for their ranked free agents if they sign with another team. But they also risk having the player accept arbitration, which burdens them with their salary for the upcoming season and could bust their budget.

Players have until Nov. 30 to accept or decline the salary arbitration offers. Once all that is settled, it helps define the market and makes even more desirable those players to whom salary arbitration was not offered.

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