Hot stove heating up

KEN FIDLIN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

The brightest minds in baseball are all headed for the Opryland Hotel next week where they'll pick a few banjos, trade some lies and maybe even a few ballplayers.

There have been indications that this year's annual Winter Meetings have a chance to produce some of the old time December trade action that used to dominate headlines and get the hot stove juices flowing among the masses.

For once, it's unlikely the agents will carry the day because there just aren't many free agents to get the blood racing. Most of the interesting names -- people like Alex Rodriguez, Mike Lowell, Torii Hunter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada have all been snapped up.

Somebody is still going to overpay for Andruw Jones or Jose Guillen or Carlos Silva but that's not where the excitement is going to be found.

Already the Johan Santana sweepstakes have started to heat up and there are plenty of reasons to believe the premier left-handed starter is going to land in the American League East. Just what the Blue Jays wanted to hear.

The Yankees and Red Sox are always the first teams that come to mind when a big name comes up for auction because they have the gold. In this case, they not only have the gold but they have the young talent that the Twins will need in return for a pitcher of Santana's stature.

The scuttlebut burning up the wire yesterday was that Boston was willing to give up centrefielder Coco Crisp, pitcher Jon Lester, minor league shortstop Jed Lowrie, as well as a fourth player to be determined. The Red Sox are also expected to ask the Twins for a window of opportunity to try to negotiate a new contract with Santana, who is eligible for free agency at the end of 2008.

Santana, 29, is going to be asking for groundbreaking money, on the order of $25-million US a year over six years, from whoever is able to land him.

The Yankees also possess some alluring pitching prospects in Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes, as well as young positional players such as Melky Cabrera or perhaps even Robinson Cano, although it's unlikely they would move the latter. They have already declared young pitcher Joba Chamberlain off-limits.

To put this in perspective for Toronto baseball fans, here is an early hot-stove league accounting for the Yankees, Red Sox and Jays.

The Yankees already have $160 million in 2008 salaries committed to their top 10 players. Add in Santana and you've got 11 players earning roughly $185 million. Beyond that, they have additional contractual commitments (how about $5.5 million for Kyle Farnsworth?) and young stars like Chien-Ming Wang, Cabrera and Cano, who are all due healthy raises into the millions.

SOARING PAYROLLS

No way the Yankees can keep their 2008 payroll under $210 million, with Santana in the fold.

The Red Sox's top 10 wage earners come in just under $107 million. Throw in Santana and they're up around $132 million with still 14 players to account for, including hungry producers like Kevin Youkilis and Jonathan Papelbon who are going to have their hands out.

With Santana, the Red Sox are in the $150-million range.

And then there are the Jays who, despite their expanded payrolls of the last two years, aren't going to be even close to those numbers. Right now, the Jays have about $75 million in 2008 money committed to their top 10 players. With careful management, they'll come in with an opening day payroll of about $90 million, a figure that will put them about where they were last year when they had the 16th-ranked payroll among baseball's 30 teams.

Of course, the problem the Jays have that only two other teams -- Tampa Bay and Baltimore -- have is that they are forced to compete day after day all season against the wealth, power and, yes, the smarts of the Red Sox and Yankees.

But that's their lot in life and, barring the institution of a hard salary cap (like that will ever happen), it will always be their lot in life.

So the Jays and a whole raft of other riff-raffs will be in Nashville next week trying to collect a few extra stones to throw at Goliath come April.


Videos

Photos