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Posted November 22, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

Keeping an eye on the Stove

It's hard to believe the "lull" in the Major League Baseball season is nearing an end, but that's exactly what's happening. After those tough few weeks following the World Series champions' parade, we have a month-long period when teams formulate their strategies for the free agency season and the baseball's Hot Stove hasn't been lit yet.
Fortunately, the burners have been switched on and, in addition to a few sparks in the form of Dan Uggla, John Buck and Joaquin Benoit, organizations are beginning to fan the flames. Here are some nuggets about what's going on in baseball as we usher in the winter season...

Votto Takes NL MVP

This season's awards has had its share of surprises, in my mind, but this one wasn't one of them. Votto took home MVP honors, receiving 31 of 32 first-place votes, comfortably beating second-place finisher Albert Pujols, 443-279. Pujols was awarded the only other top vote, while Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez, San Diego's Adrian Gonzalez and Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki rounded out the top five.

It was a banner year for the Reds' slugger. After appearing in his first All-Star game in July, Votto finished the season second in the NL in batting average at .324 and third in both home runs (37) and RBIs (113). He also led the NL in slugging percentage (.600), was tops in the major leagues with a .424 on-base percentage and had 16 stolen bases, too.

Reports are that Cincinnati will sit down with Votto and offer a long-term deal, but it's unclear whether Votto truly wants to remain with the organization. I would, if I were him, however. The Reds look to be contenders in the NL Central for a handful of seasons, with Jay Bruce and a pitching staff that includes potential superstar Aroldis Chapman making Cincinnati an appetizing franchise.

Offseason forecast for the Nationals

It's still early in the free-agency season, but that doesn't mean teams aren't hustling around for offers, and Washington is no exception. There are reports that the Nationals are interested in acquiring shortstop Jason Bartlett, who has spent the last three years in Tampa Bay. In 2010, Bartlett's offensive numbers were less than stellar, mustering just four home runs, 47 RBIs and a .254 batting average, down in all three categories from his All-Star campaign of 2009.

That's not to say Bartlett couldn't provide value for the Nats. Although his numbers were down at the plate, Bartlett managed to significantly improve his defensive play. In 1,104 innings, Bartlett committed only 11 errors, down from 20 in 2009, and increased his fielding percentage by 15 points. To get him, however, the Rays reportedly are seeking some help in the bullpen, particularly some young arms to complement their youthful starting rotation. An interesting candidate from Washington might be Drew Storen. At just 22, the right-hander went 4-4 in relief for the Nationals, accumulating a 3.58 ERA in 55 innings.

Meanwhile, for the Nationals' pitching hopes, Bill Ladson of MLB.com suggests the team is close to offering right-hander Javier Vazquez a contract in the coming weeks. It's an interesting move, if it works out, with Washington's pitching situation currently in mild purgatory. Phenom Stephen Strasburg will likely miss all of next season, leaving Jordan Zimmerman as the team's top arm. Livan Hernandez put together a solid 2010 season (10-12, 3.66), but at 35, they can't rely on that ERA staying down too long.

Vazquez, on the other hand, would thrive in the nation's capital, I think. It's true his days as a New York Yankee (both times) are more than forgettable, but I like to think that's simply because of the pressures of the Big Apple and a constant barrage of AL East bats. Maybe being back in the NL East, where he finished fourth in the Cy Young race in 2009 as a member of the Braves, will help him return to form. Vazquez has been known as an innings-eater, which might be what the Nationals need with such a shaky back-end to their rotation and inexperienced bullpen.
Also, be on the lookout for these names: Willie Bloomquist, Aaron Miles and Miguel Cairo.

Meet the Mets, Meet the Mets, come right in and Beat the Mets

Sometimes I wonder if the boys in Queens are really even trying to put together a respectable ballclub. You'd think the shame of having to watch the Yankees either win a World Series or be in one virtually every year would be enough motivation, but I guess not.

I'm talking about the New York Mets' most recent poor decision, this being to hire Terry Collins as their new manager. Collins has had two previous stints, leading the Houston Astros from 1994-96 and the Anaheim Angels from 1997-99.

Maybe Collins is a nice guy, the nicest guy we've ever known. I don't know him personally, so maybe I'm missing out. But one thing I know is, he hasn't exactly proven himself to be a great manager, particularly in the second half of the season, precisely the problem the Mets have had in recent history.

I took a look at Collins' stats as a manager over his three years with the Angels. In 1997, Anaheim finished second in the AL West and had a 40-36 mark in the second half of the season, stained with a not-so-promising 10-15 record in September. The next year, things declined. The Angels went 36-40 after the All-Star break, including a dismal 9-15 September. And in Collins' final season? Anaheim went a lousy 29-47 in the second half of the season.

Umm, hello? Isn't this the Mets team that is still plagued by a seven-game September collapse in 2007? Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe it'll all work out. Maybe Collins will walk into the clubhouse on his first day, stand up and say, 'Hey guys, you know what? I know what it's like to collapse late in the season. It's awful.' Then the players will think, 'Man, this guy really gets us. Let's win a World Series.'"

Crazier things have happened, I suppose.

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