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Hot Stove League Off to Eventful Pre-Thanksgiving Start + Farewell to Michael Weiner

Say what you want about free agency in pro sports, it certainly keeps the game in headlines all year round. The confetti from the Red Sox victory parade had barely been swept up when the Detroit Tigers announced a blockbuster trade of first baseman Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for second baseman Ian Kinsler.

Kinsler's trade was not a surprise because the power-hitting speedy second baseman was deemed expendable with homegrown super-prospect Jurickson Profar needing a place in the Rangers' everyday lineup. With Elvis Andrus signed for eight years at shortstop Profar likely will play second for Texas in 2014 though he did put in some time at left field in his rookie season.

Fielder's departure from Detroit after just two years of his nine-year contract shocked most of baseball. Yet one thing the trade of Fielder proves and that of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett by the Red Sox in the summer of 2012: If a player doesn't have a no-trade clause in his contract, no long-term deal provides security.

Fielder's failures to hit in the post-season two years in a row doomed him in Detroit. He evidently let a divorce affect his play this year. No speedster or defensive whiz - Prince Fielder was no prince of a fielder! - his regular seasonal offensive numbers were decent but when the chips were down in the post-season his productivity disappeared.

On the free agent front, the biggest news so far is that the Yankees have signed the Braves' Brian McCann to a whopping contract that could amount to $100 million over 6 years.
I am wary of citing as absolute fact the raw figures casually thrown about in the press, but certainly the signing indicates that the Yankees are prepared once again to thrown their vast economic weight into the free agent marketplace.

It will be very interesting to see how high they are willing to go to keep second baseman Robinson Cano. He has a novice agent in rap singer-entrepreneur Jay-Z and his people.
Right now sides are far apart but we'll see what happens in the last weeks of 2013 and maybe beyond.

The saddest news on the baseball scene was the passing of Major League Baseball Players Association leader Michael Weiner, 51, after a 15-month battle with brain cancer. He earned the praise of everyone in the industry for his staunch representation of the players and his ability to achieve working agreements with ownership and management.

It is no accident that labor peace came to baseball and has been sustained with Weiner at the helm and Rob Manfred as his counterpart on management's side. There is a chance that Manfred will succeed Bud Selig as commissioner when Selig steps down at the end of 2014.
IF Selig really retires this time and the drug charges against Alex Rodriguez are upheld for the most part by baseball's impartial arbitrator.

My most vivid memory of Weiner came at a forum hosted by the NYU Sports Management program during the 2011 season, the year Albert Pujols was heading for free agency.
Former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, who was ousted by the owners in the lead-up to the 1994 strike, was the major speaker with the NY Times' onetime leading baseball labor expert Murray Chass, ESPN's Mike Greenberg, and Weiner on a panel.

Vincent, a former movie executive, suggested that the Cardinals take a page from the film business and offer Pujols a slice of the team. But owners cannot be trusted, Chass commented and Vincent agreed.

The last word of the evening went to Weiner who quipped: "Let it be put on the record that the head of the players union was the only panelist tonight who didn't call the owners crooks."

The eloquent Tony Clark, the former Tigers first baseman who also played for the Yankees and the Mets, has huge shoes to fill as Weiner's replacement. But with baseball awash in television lucre and both sides now understanding that shutting down the industry or threatening to shut down the industry every few years is not wise business policy,
baseball's labor peace might continue indefinitely. Maybe.

Happy Thanksgiving! And back to you next time with appraisals of three new books to warm your hot stove league fires: Jamie Moyer and Larry Pratt's "Just Tell Me I Can't"; Ken Korach's homage to his late Oakland broadcast partner "Holy Toledo: Lessons from Bill King, Renaissance Man of the Mic," and the reissue and expanded edition of Kevin Kerrane's classic book on scouting, "Dollar Sign on the Muscle".  Read More 
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