MLB Winter Meetings: 10 Things We Learned This Week in Dallas
Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim won the MLB Winter Meetings this week, proving it's not how you start, but how you finish. After Jose Reyes signed with the Miami Marlins to kick off the week and made Miami the center of attention on Monday and Tuesday, new Angels GM Jerry Dipoto used Pujols and C.J. Wilson to steal that spotlight.
It was a wild week, filled with more action than the average winter meetings—and far, far more drama than usual. Many key players changed teams, and a lot came to light about the intentions, ambitions and patterns of each MLB team. Here are the 10 most important things we learned.
MLB General Managers Like Big Rear Ends
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At least, it's clear that front offices prefer to put the large majority of most big-money contracts' girth into the back end. The Miami Marlins will pay Jose Reyes $106 million over the next six seasons, broken down by $10 million in each of the first two seasons, $16 million in year three and $22 million in each of the last three seasons.
That's the most egregious example, but hardly the only one. The C.J. Wilson contract is also backloaded. The reasons that organizations are so eager to structure these deals as such, elude me. It's hard to imagine that Reyes will be worth $20 million or more per year as he progresses through his early 30s. Players probably push for deals that are at least balanced, and back-loading certain deals no doubt makes them more fiscally feasible, but on the whole, this is a dumb way to build a mega-deal.
The Miami Marlins Weren't Kidding
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Skepticism abounded in the weeks leading up to these meetings, over whether or not the Miami Marlins would get serious in their bidding for free agents. It seemed as though their offers to free agents were unrealistically low, and unlikely to lead to an actual signing.
That blew up last weekend. Heath Bell led the way, and when Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle also jumped on board, the Marlins ended up having spent $191 million for 13 total player seasons in fewer than six days.
That's not all. The Marlins also reportedly made the top monetary offers to both Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, though they were unable to land those behemoths. They still got serious, and it's clear they intend to win sooner, rather than later, in their new ballpark.
The Chicago White Sox Are Officially Rebuilding
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The Chicago White Sox made clear their plans going forward this week. Mark Buehrle gave them a chance to match the Marlins' offer before leaving town, but GM Kenny Williams declined. Meanwhile, the Sox also dealt closer Sergio Santos to the Toronto Blue Jays for pitching prospect Nestor Molina.
It all adds up to a logical conclusion: The White Sox are waving the white flag in 2012. After a disastrous "all-in" effort in 2011, the team recognizes its lack of farm talent; its poor position to win in the near future in the AL Central; and the need to begin rebuilding immediately. They took a positive step this week. It will be fascinating to see where they go from here.
Bullpens Still Confuse Everyone
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This week, Frank Francisco signed an identical contract ($12 million over two years) to the one Chris Capuano got two days earlier. Huston Street cost only a player to be named later, but Sergio Santos cost a very good pitching prospect.
Ramon Ramirez apparently equaled the difference between Andres Torres and Angel Pagan, though they are two of the most starkly similar players in baseball. Francisco Rodriguez accepted arbitration with the Milwaukee Brewers.
All of that is evidence in support of this conclusion: MLB teams still haven't really figured out how to build a bullpen, much less how important it is to do so and when. The Padres, who lost 90 games last season, apparently needed a closer, but so did the Toronto Blue Jays—a far superior team.
It's hard to say who won and who lost these deals, and whether these signings are team- or player-friendly, because it's hard to see what any of the teams involved were getting at by making those moves.
The Pittsburgh Pirates Are Going for It
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The Pirates got a good bit of derision over the pre-meetings signings of Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes and, indeed, those players do nothing to help an offense that struggled to get on base in 2011.
Still, the Pirates made a bit of a statement this week. By signing Nate McLouth on a cheap one-year deal to return to Pittsburgh, and signing Erik Bedard to bolster their starting rotation, Pittsburgh showed that they hope to build on the ephemeral success they found in the first four months of last season.
They're not rich enough to make any really aggressive signings, but they seem to be doing their best. Tip your hat to GM Neal Huntington, who is getting creative about deepening this roster.
The Mets Are Doing...Something
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What the New York Mets are up to is unclear, but they're definitely moving.
Jose Reyes charged the organization with seeming uninterested in retaining him after he signed with Miami, but they had plenty of interest elsewhere. They traded incumbent center fielder Angel Pagan for better defensive center fielder Andres Torres and relief pitcher Ramon Ramirez, and signed relievers Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch for over $15 million combined.
They also made nearly everyone on their roster available in trade, or so it seems. What it all seems to indicate is some sort of middle-road rebuilding plan, but with Sandy Alderson at the helm, it could be something much more cunning. Stay tuned.
Those Pinstripes Don't Mean What They Used to
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A month and a half into the offseason, the Yankees still have made only one impact move, and that was retaining CC Sabathia.
It's clear that New York's days of unlimited resources and driving the free-agent market are over. If they had the money at hand that they usually do, they would have waded in and made off with C.J. Wilson or Mark Buehrle. They must feel their dollars are better spent elsewhere, but given the state of their starting rotation, that can only mean that their dollars are a finite resource for the first time in two decades.
The Yankees could always make a major move in the coming weeks, but for now, they remain quiet. It's interesting to watch baseball's robber barons sit on the sidelines as big money gets spent.
Yes, the Angels Had Money to Spend
Heading into the winter meetings, this was the prevailing report on the likelihood of the Angels getting involved in a free-agent frenzy, according to Mike DiGiovanna, LA Times, Dec. 4, 2011:
Jerry Dipoto won't enter his first winter meetings as Angels general manager with an Arte Moreno-signed blank check, so don't expect him to fill his entire offseason wish list—reliable starting pitcher, short reliever, big bat—this week.
That looked to be true as late as Wednesday afternoon, but by Thursday morning, it was shot to Hell. On top of C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols, Dipoto also signed LaTroy Hawkins in the bullpen. The Angels would probably like to move a high-salary player before opening day, but their checklist is complete as of right now. It was a good surprise for Angels fans.
Prince Fielder Is Going to Be a Very Rich Man
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Albert Pujols got $250 million over 10 years to sign with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. That's crazy money. It might have made great sense for him to sign for $200 million over eight years, but this is insanity.
Prince Fielder has never been happier about other people's bad decisions. Scott Boras did a heel-click when he read about this deal. If Pujols, at age 31, can command a 10-year deal and that kind of dough, Fielder just went from shooting for $150 million to aiming realistically at $200 million. Concerns about fatness be damned, Scott Boras is going to leverage the Pujols contract into a huge payday for his top client.
Baseball Is Doing Really Well Right Now
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Despite the crummy new collective bargaining agreement to which both sides acceded last month, baseball is as vibrant right now as it has been in a long time.
The World Series cast the game in a positive light. It was well-played and went seven thrilling games. Meanwhile, the NFL locked itself out. Then the NBA locked itself out. Now the quality of play on the field in the NFL is lower than it has been in 20 years.
Commissioner David Stern just pulled a stunt unprecedented in the last 35 years in pro sports, nixing a legitimate trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers. The BCS has spit out another unsatisfactory solution, reminding us all that the college football season is a perpetually unsatisfactory exercise.
Baseball has the spotlight. At one point Thursday morning, ALL of the top 10 trending topics in the United States on Twitter were baseball-related. It's a good time to be a fan.