We are only three weeks removed from the end of the season and already we have seen several interesting and sometimes crazy things going on. The hot stove is already burning brightly, so let's take a look at some of the wild and interesting things that have already occurred this offseason.
The St. Louis Cardinals are the World Series champions
Dale Sveum is the new manager of the Cubs
I was a bit surprised by this hire in that Sveum has very little big league managerial experience, having been an interim manager for Milwaukee for only a couple of weeks at the end of the 2008 season.
Sveum had been a coach for the Brewers for the past six seasons and prior to that, with the Boston Red Sox in 2004-2005.
As a player, Sveum was quite a journeyman. He played for seven different organizations, appearing in 862 games. Sveum had a career batting average of .236, with 69 home runs and 340 RBI.
Tony LaRussa addresses the crowd following the World Series win
Tony La Russa managed for 33 years in the Major Leagues. La Russa managed the Chicago White Sox from 1979-1986, the Oakland A's from 1986-1995 and the St. Louis Cardinals from 1996-2011.
La Russa won three World Series titles in his managerial career, one in Oakland and two for the Cardinals. He was named Manager of the Year four times in his career.
La Russa spent parts of six seasons as a player in the majors. He was a middle infielder and got into 132 games in his career. He batted .199 and had a rather undistinguished playing career.
At age 67, La Russa has decided to retire from baseball. He is going out on top as a World Series champion.
Mike Matheny has no managerial experience
The St. Louis Cardinals have hired Mike Matheny as their manager, replacing Tony La Russa. Matheny was a special advisor in the Cardinals organization. This move is somewhat surprising given the fact that Matheny has never been a manager at any level and also has very minimal coaching experience.
Matheny also won four Gold Gloves as a catcher, three in St. Louis and one with the Giants. He was forced into retirement in 2006 due to problems with concussions.
I will be very interested to see how Matheny does as the Cardinals' next manager. He does have one advantage in that pitching coach Dave Duncan, a long-time confidant of La Russa, has decided to return to the Cardinals in 2012.
Frank McCourt is the embattled owner of the Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers franchise resembles a soap opera more than a baseball organization. Frank McCourt purchased the Dodgers in 2004.
There was the very public and ugly divorce case between owner Frank McCourt and his wife Jamie. The case cost millions and the McCourts funneled money away from the Dodgers to fund their own private concerns.
The divorce case has finally been settled with Jamie McCourt receiving roughly $130 million and giving up her ownership claim to the Dodgers.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig is trying to force McCourt to sell the team, as the Dodgers have been forced into bankruptcy.
Major League Baseball also rescinded the lucrative TV contract McCourt had with FOX Television. McCourt claimed the money would be used to make the Dodgers solvent, but Selig worried that the funds would be siphoned off for the personal use of McCourt.
The Dodgers are now officially up for sale. This wild fiasco, complete with personal drama, allegations of infidelity, legal proceedings and questions of missing money, will hopefully come to an end soon.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig
At the most recent baseball ownership meetings, it was decided that there would be two additional wild-card teams, one more in each league. This new approach will go into effect in 2012 or 2013.
Each league will now have five playoff teams. There will be three division winners and two wild-card teams. The plan is for a one-game playoff between the two wild-card entrants, with the winner moving on to face one of the division champions.
This is a move that's all about money. The idea is to keep more teams alive in the playoff race for a longer time, which will spur attendance in more cities. Then, the one-game playoff is sure to be a big draw.
This plan will make it harder for a wild-card team to advance to the World Series, as they will need to use a top pitcher to win the first wild-card game.
At first look, I don't care for this approach because I think it cheapens the wild-card spot. However, those would argue that it lowered the incentive to win your division if you knew you were in the wild-card race. I am open to seeing how this works out.
The Astros will move to the AL in 2013
The Houston Astros will move to the American League, following the 2012 season. The plan is to have an equal number of teams in both the NL and AL.
Jim Crane is buying the Houston Astros with an original sales price of $680 million. He will be getting a $70 million discount, based on his agreement to allow the team to be moved to the American League. The purchase from previous owner Drayton McLane will, therefore, be $610 million.
The move to the AL by the Astros means that each league will now have 15 teams. There will also be at least one interleague series going on at all times.
This move makes sense because the unbalanced format was less than ideal. Houston will move to the AL West and will have a natural rivalry with the Texas Rangers.
Now, Major League Baseball should make one more change. Eliminate the designated hitter and make the rules the same for both leagues. Having the DH eliminates much of the strategy of the game and a lot of the tough managerial decisions, for example, when to pinch-hit for a pitcher who is throwing well, but tied or losing.
Matt Kemp signs a huge contract extension
After only three weeks following the end of the 2011 postseason, the big money has already been flowing. Teams looking for bargains will need to be patient and hope the market slows down and some of the unsigned players become nervous.
The first big-name free-agent player to sign was closer Jonathan Papelbon. He agreed to a four-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies.
Papelbon broke into the big leagues with the Red Sox in 2005 and became their closer in 2006. As the Boston closer, Papelbon has recorded 219 saves. His career ERA is 2.33 and his WHIP is 1.018.
Matt Kemp then completed a huge contract extension with the LA Dodgers. He signed an eight-year, $160 million deal to remain in Los Angeles.
Kemp had his career-best season in 2011, batting .324 and leading the National League with 39 home runs and 126 RBI. His OPS was a phenomenal .986 and he also stole 40 bases for the Dodgers.
The deal that left me scratching my head, however, was the one for Clint Barmes. He agreed to a $10.5 million deal spanning two years with the Pirates. That large a contract for an average middle infielder seems to be excessive.
Barmes will be 33 when the 2012 season starts and although Pittsburgh badly needed an upgrade at shortstop, this is a hefty price to pay for a player who has not hit above .250 in the past three seasons. His career OBP is also only .302. Barmes had 12 home runs and 39 RBI in 2011.
He is a good defensive player, however, and the Pirates wanted to get stronger up the middle. Good idea, but $10.5 million for two years for a guy that's not even a .250 hitter is just too much to pay.
Theo Epstein hopes to bring a World Series title to the Cubs
Theo Epstein, who was the GM of the Boston Red Sox, has moved on to the North Side of Chicago and is now the Cubs president of baseball operations.
Epstein constructed the teams that brought two World Series titles to Boston and Cub fans are hoping he can do the same for the Cubs. His first move was dismissing Mike Quade as manager and then hiring former Brewers coach Dale Sveum as the new manager.
Epstein is not the kind of guy that will stand still, so expect him to try and make a big splash in the free-agent market. The Cubs also need to rebuild their farm system and begin to get several more productive players into the major leagues.
The Cubs finished last season in fifth place in the NL Central with a 71-91 record. Epstein has a huge rebuilding task in front of him, as there's just not enough young talent on this roster.
Albert Pujols blasts a home run in the World Series
The top four mega-star free agents are still available and are expected to break the bank. Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes, Prince Fielder and Carlos Beltran are all looking for huge long-term contracts and are likely to get them.
It could take some of these players into February or maybe even March before they're signed. All eyes will be on them, as they continue their negotiations with their prospective teams.
Here's my best guess on where each of them will end up:
Albert Pujols: St. Louis Cardinals
Prince Fielder: Chicago Cubs
Carlos Beltran: Boston Red Sox
Wilson Ramos is lucky to be alive
Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos was in his home in Venezuela when four armed gunmen kidnapped him. Although the kidnappers never delivered a ransom demand, it is widely assumed that money was their primary motivation.
This story has a happy ending as Ramos was rescued by authorities as a gun battle ensued between the police and the kidnappers. The perpetrators were ultimately arrested along with two other accomplices. Ramos described a scene where gunfire was all around him and he just tried to hide under a bed to avoid being hit.
Kidnapping for ransom has become a major problem in Venezuela, as the wealthy have become targets. This targeted violence has made many Latin players think twice about returning home in the offseason.
The case of Seattle Mariners outfielder Greg Halman sadly does not have a happy ending. Halman was in his native country of the Netherlands when an apparent family argument erupted.
Halman was stabbed, allegedly by his own brother, who is now under arrest. The Dutch authorities are currently investigating the case.
In only three weeks since the World Series ended, we have already witnessed two extremely violent acts against major league ballplayers.
Buster Posey hopes for a healthy return in 2012
It will be exciting and interesting to see how the "hot stove league" runs its course. There will be several more trades and free-agent acquisitions between now and the start of spring training.
As a San Francisco Giants fan, I am looking forward to seeing Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez back in the lineup producing as they can. We'll see if the Giants can have better health in 2012 and also whether they can complete contract extensions for Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum.
Only about three more months before pitchers and catchers report!