The Major League winter meetings are next week in Lake Buena Vista Florida and the Hot Stove League has been heated up as they approach.

Detroit has been a major player so far, signing setup man Joaguin Benoit to a three year 16.5 million dollar contract, big bucks for a setup man. Next, they signed a top free agent in catcher/DH Victor Martinez- a 4 year/50 million dollar deal, more big bucks. Not to be outdone, yesterday the Chicago White Sox signed first baseman Adam Dunn to a  4 year/56 million deal. These are three big and expensive signings before the meetings even begin. And before the Yankees join in the fun.

Next week, the focus will be squarely on who will sign left hander Cliff Lee. Certainly the biggest pitching free agent,  Lee’s deal will have a domino effect on the price paid to other free agents as well as trades made by teams that lose out in the bidding. The Yankees, of course, and the Texas Rangers are the front runners to land this big fish. It is reported that Lee is looking for something around $23 million per year for 5 years. OUCH! Once this signing is out of the way, other free agents will know what the market will bear and signing and trades will come fast and furious.

The Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletes and Detroit Tigers will all be active participants next week as they attempt to continually upgrade their teams at, what seems to be, any price. Third baseman Adrian Beltre, and outfielders Carl Crawford and Jason Werth will all be hotly and expensively pursued.

The Winter Meetings and the signing of free agents is exciting to read about and for teams that sign free agents it brings instant gratification and enthusiasm to their fan base. But, for teams that cannot afford this financial luxury such as the Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Rays, Washington Nationals or even our beloved Toronto Blue Jays, it becomes a case of the haves and have not’s and more frustration for their fans as it becomes harder and harder for their these teams to compete.  This is the Achilles heal of Major League Baseball. Teams in smaller markets cannot compete consistently from year to year and as a consequence their fan bases shrink. This is not a sustainable business model and will have a significant impact on fan interest in years to come. If the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox or Philadelphia Phillies are not in the World Series nobody cares. Case in point: the dismal TV ratings for the World Series this year between the Texas Rangers and San Francesco Giants. Could anyone name three players on either team before the series began?

Baseball needs parity, financial parity, if it wants to regain its title from the NFL as America’s game. The Winter Meetings are heating up the Hot Stove, but maybe in the process it’s destroying what in fact it is trying to build- enthusiasm for this great game.