Winter meetings start off on glacier-like pace
INDIANAPOLIS – Still thriving economically (mostly) in the face of the real world, only now at a time when owners clearly don’t trust news of industry-wide revenues anymore, baseball got to its annual turnover, this year in a wood-trimmed hotel lobby in central Indiana.
An icy wind pushed past sliding glass doors, into a marble-floored room where the line for Starbucks coffee was slightly longer than that for free agent right-hander John Lackey(notes), and where Ivan Rodriguez(notes), at 39, on Monday night secured a two-year, $6 million contract from the Washington Nationals.
At the same time, players and their agents made their arbitration decisions and, turns out, they weren’t much different than most years.
Relievers Rafael Soriano(notes) (Atlanta Braves) and Rafael Betancourt(notes) (Colorado Rockies) accepted arbitration, as did Minnesota Twins starter Carl Pavano(notes). The rest, among them Braves reliever Mike Gonzalez(notes), Boston Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay(notes), Seattle Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre(notes), and Detroit Tigers relievers Brandon Lyon(notes) and Fernando Rodney(notes), declined, making them free to go and rewarding their clubs with future draft picks.
The Braves, who’d already signed Billy Wagner(notes) and Takashi Saito(notes) for the back end of their bullpen, are expected to at least consider trading Soriano (who saved 27 games), even if manager Bobby Cox wasn’t letting on.
“We would be happy to have him back,” Cox said. “He’s quality – he’s a closer for me. He can definitely close. But he’d make the world’s greatest set-up guy, too.”
Beyond that, there were the usual hazy rumors, most of them delivered at the sharp end of a tweet, fired from the tips of hasty fingers. Yes, the few premier free agents – Matt Holliday(notes), Jason Bay, Lackey – are getting premier treatment, while the rest jockey for another million or two over an extra year.
Among other news, the Yankees were not unseated as the best team in the game, most of the top free agents remained free, the Angels rolled in and laid out an aggressive plan that included homing in on Lackey, Bay, Hideki Matsui(notes) and Roy Halladay(notes) (but not Chone Figgins(notes) or Holliday), Scott Boras Corp. maintained a suspiciously low profile (outside of a short break to put Whitey Herzog in his place), the Mariners revealed a strategy to overtake the Angels that appears to consist of rebuilding the Angels (Figgins, Lackey, Darren Oliver(notes)) in the Northwest and the Mets apparently will sign every catcher available (Chris Coste(notes) and Henry Blanco(notes) locked up, Bengie Molina(notes) and Rod Barajas(notes) in view).
In some ways, a market light on difference-makers seemed to wait on the greater decisions of the day – the Tigers’ apparent intentions to trim payroll, the Dodgers’ marital dissolution paralysis, the Yankees’ belt tightening (and wringing the champagne from their organizational plan), the Rangers’ choice of new owners, the Cubs’ desire to disentangle themselves from Milton Bradley(notes) (and the Rays’ and Rangers’ refusal to make it easy on them), etc.
Meantime, Boras met Monday with “a number of teams” regarding his client Holliday, a day after doing the same with Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt.
“We’re still getting through it,” Boras said early Tuesday morning.
As they do, the Tigers are pushing right-hander Edwin Jackson(notes) and center fielder Curtis Granderson(notes), possibilities that seem less complicated than the Blue Jays’ now-six-month-long attempts to find their notion of equal value for Halladay.
Perhaps coming to terms with the end of the Holliday era in St. Louis, the Cardinals spent $9 million (including incentives) to put Brad Penny(notes) in a rotation with Chris Carpenter(notes) and Adam Wainwright(notes), and could now turn their attention to infielder Mark DeRosa(notes). At about the same time, the Yankees learned Andy Pettitte(notes) would not only like to pitch another season, but do it for them, which was good, since their rotation runs out of steam after CC Sabathia(notes) and A.J. Burnett(notes). They’ll have conversations about Halladay and Lackey and Jackson, for sure, but first had to sort out Pettitte, then Matsui and Johnny Damon(notes).
As usual, good players are getting good play. Randy Wolf(notes), determined by the Dodgers to be not worth the risk of salary arbitration, was said to be considering multi-year deals from several clubs, including the Brewers. Everybody – Orioles, Diamondbacks, Mets, pick your club, were in on pitching as well, – while the Giants sought the bat or two that would turn the NL West.
That was just Day 1, and it was just warming up. Unless you happened to be standing near the sliding glass doors.