If you are a casual baseball fan you may not know this, but the MLB offseason is typically busy. Within weeks of the season ending, moves begin to immediately take place. Last night, two more trades were agreed upon – the second involving the Detroit Tigers in as many weeks – as teams jockey themselves in preparation for this month’s Winter Meetings, where some of the bigger signings of recent offseasons have taken place.

24 Hours of Madness

Last night saw the continuing barrage of MLB trades that have turned the baseball season into a 12 month gig for some members of the game. Doug Fister, fresh off an ALCS run with the Detroit Tigers, has been moved to the Washington Nationals – last year’s preseason darling – for Steve Lombardozzi, Ian Krol, and Robbie Ray. With the addition of Kinsler at second – who was acquired for Prince Fielder – and now moving Fister to the Nationals utility players and spare parts, the Tigers have set themselves up to not only make another postseason run, but it has also afforded themselves the opportunity to re-sign Max Scherzer and Miguel Cabrera in the next few years.

Also taking place, the Oakland A’s shored up their bullpen yesterday by going after Orioles closer and back-to-back 50+ saves man, Jim Johnson. The A’s then turned around today and traded Seth Smith for Luke Gregerson, who was one of the National League’s premier setup men. Gregerson holds a career 2.88 ERA and will be called on a ton for Oakland in big game situations, much more than he has with the Padres. For these two relievers, Oakland did not give up much outside of a few low-end prospects and players they were most likely about to non-tender. In fact, the cost-conscious Moneyballin’ A’s essentially decided to really only take on additional cash in these moves – roughly $10 million – which has some baseball insiders scratching their heads. Leave it to Billy Beane to confuse people.

Additionally, Brian McCann officially signed his multi-year deal with the Yankees today. Heath Bell was involved in a 3-team deal, sending the one-time shutdown closer to the Tampa Bay Rays to once again revive his career. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, one half of the Red Sox World Series tandem of catchers, has moved on. He has signed a three-year deal with the Miami Marlins because his slot on the roster was given to A.J. Pierzynski, who signed a one year deal of his own with the Sox. The Tigers also signed Joe Nathan today, hopefully cementing the back-end of their bullpen which completely imploded this past ALCS against the Boston Red Sox.

The Hot Stove

Of course, with the offseason comes the always-exciting yet not-always-fulfilling Hot Stove (aka MLB’s rumor mill). Today’s big rumors included Brandon Phillips, Matt Kemp, and Dexter Fowler – three players with the potential to make an instant impact on any team.

Kemp and Fowler are getting attached to the Seattle Mariners, who are looking for outfield help who can provide some pop at the plate. Kemp, coming off of a season full of injuries and who is getting paid a pretty penny, would be a more difficult move unless the Dodgers picked up some of his salary or took back very little in return. Fowler is exciting and has talent, but has yet to put it together for an entire season. Last year he was close, but still did not prove he has what it takes to lead a team. Although both players do not have a no-trade clause, they will more than likely need to be convinced by Seattle that the Mariners are in fact focused on winning and winning now. If not, the Mariners may be trading for the next Richie Sexson.

Brandon Phillips, the outspoken former team leader of the Cincinnati Reds, may find a new home by the time the Winter Meetings conclude. With four years and $80 million left on his contract, it may be a difficult task. However, Phillips is a proven defensive second baseman and still can put the bat on the ball. His batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage have fallen for three straight years, but he clubbed a team-high 103 RBIs this past year and has hit 18 HRs for the past four seasons. There is still plenty of pop left, and given his glove abilities, he has more than enough left in the tank to help a team on the brink of the playoffs.

The Winter Meetings

It was mentioned above several times, but what exactly is it? MLB’s Winter Meetings happen once each year, usually the first or second week of December, and bring together MLB, MiLB, and other assorted baseball representatives and idea men to discuss the state of baseball. One of the more important happenings of the Winter Meetings is the Rule 5 draft, where anyone who is not protected by a team’s 40-man roster can be drafted by another team. Some of the more famous players to have been scooped up during the Rule 5 Draft are Roberto Clemente, Josh Hamilton, Jose Bautista, and Johan Santana. Although the chance of actually scoring a big-time player in this draft is very rare (over time, maybe 40-50 have made an actual impact for a team in their career) there is always a chance you could come across the next Hamilton or Santana.

More importantly, the Winter Meetings are the time of the year where you’ll see plenty of old guys wearing khakis and sports coats, sitting on leather chairs in hotel lobbies or breakout conference rooms, discussing the futures of your favorite players from your favorite teams. This is where the Hot Stove truly gets cooking. Although there is a trade show, job fair, and other assorted gala-like events, the Hot Stove is the main function of this event. Typically, owners do not show up with a checkbook in hand, but agents and general managers will roam the halls hoping for accidental run-ins at the Italian-themed restaurant on the 2nd floor of the hotel. In fact, players will sometimes show up to the event, which screams alarm much like a former Wall Street banker holding a sign on the street corner that reads Looking For Work. Let me put it this way: it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for Jose Canseco to show up.

The thing is, everyone knows why you are there and, conversely, you know why they are there. It’s no secret. And it’s no secret why some of the wildest rumors get tossed around because that’s all it is – two guys discussing plenty of potential trades, or a general manager having a secluded cellphone chat with his owner in the closed section of the lobby bar. Things get overheard and typically 80% of the information you hear is hearsay…but that doesn’t mean it isn’t juicy gossip (it is), and that also doesn’t mean it isn’t true (typically, it isn’t). But, every once in a while a crazy rumor gets started that does actually come to fruition. Miami Marlins, anyone?

There has been plenty to discuss so far in MLB’s infantile offseason and it seems there will be plenty more to come. It’s rare that a favorite to win the ALCS goes on such a rampage so early on in the offseason. If teams like the Tigers and Dodgers and A’s are already making moves – all three of which won their division last year – then this could be quite an entertaining offseason.