DALLAS – Winter meetings winners are sometimes too obvious to detail. Albert Pujols is $260 million richer. Jose Reyes is $106 million richer. The two teams that emptied their coffers for those stars, the Los Angeles Angels and Miami Marlins, certainly feel like winners today, although a few years from now their unfettered spending could label them losers.
For me, the champion of the week is a player hardly anybody talked about: Prince Fielder.
His agent, Scott Boras, held court in the hotel lobby spouting his praises but resisted doling out spreadsheets with numbers that established Fielder's eventual Hall of Fame credentials.
OK, so Boras did compare Fielder to Jimmie Foxx.
But all in all, Fielder's free agency is being handled masterfully by Boras, whose frequently employed strategy of waiting until every other impact player at his client's position signs has rarely worked so perfectly. Slugging first baseman Pujols was the competition for slugging first baseman Fielder. But rather than battle, Boras allowed Pujols to set the market, and he set it awfully high at $254 million over 10 years.
That makes Fielder an unequivocal winter meetings winner.
The Angels weren't even thought to be shopping for a first baseman. That means every team that was still is: the Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles, for starters. And don't forget the St. Louis Cardinals, spurned by Pujols and needing a big bat, or the Milwaukee Brewers, Fielder's old team.
"Prince asked me to take an open view and collect all the information here from each club," Boras said.
It's a robust market considering the traditional big spenders – the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies – have no interest because they are set at first base. The Marlins said Thursday they aren't interested despite their rabid pursuit of Pujols and the fact Fielder went to high school in South Florida.
Fielder won't get Pujols money, but with Boras pitting so many teams against each other, an eight-year, $200 million deal isn't out of the question.
More winter meetings winners:
Dan Lozano: The agent for Pujols had his name dragged through the thick slime a week ago in a Deadspin article that accused him of all sorts of dastardly and morally questionable practices. Pujols stood by him, however, and Lozano masterfully worked offers from at least three teams into the second-biggest payday in baseball history.
Lozano also got a nice payday himself: If he gets the usual five percent, his take will be nearly $13 million.
Ozzie Guillen and Mark Buehrle: The former White Sox manager is reunited with the former White Sox left-handed pitcher in Miami. Guillen was nearly moved to tears when he learned the Marlins – who hired him shortly after the season – had agreed to terms with Buehrle on a four-year, $58 million contract.
Like he does with nearly everyone, Guillen has a wonderful kidding relationship with Buehrle's two children.
"Now I get to watch them grow up," Guillen said. "I'm glad he signed with the Marlins. I love him and I love his family."
Bobby Valentine: The new Red Sox manager loves nothing more than folks hanging on his every word, and he basked in the media attention for a half hour on Wednesday. Reporters got what they wanted as well, a quote as juicy as the $56 cowboy rib eye in the hotel's 27th floor restaurant.
Asked, "Can you talk about the rivalry with the Yankees," Valentine replied, "No. I hate the Yankees. I don’t want to waste this valuable time talking about the Yankees. This is too valuable. I told Joe Girardi I used to love them. But now I hate them."
He was grinning ear to ear the entire time, but it was clear he's throwing down the gauntlet: Boston's three-century long inferiority complex when it comes to New York has no place in his clubhouse.
Pujols and C.J. Wilson: Anybody who will be paid $254 million must be a winner, even if he did spurn a city that adored him. Plus, Pujols' four children will get to go to Disneyland any time they want.
Wilson, the free-agent lefty the Angels signed for five years and $75 million, grew up near Anaheim, so Mickey and Minnie aren't so special to him. But he'll be able to pitch behind Jered Weaver and Dan Haren in the Angels' rotation, and is well behind Pujols, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Weaver on the payroll. All in all, a nice comfort zone.
Winter meetings losers
St. Louis Cardinals: It wouldn't have hurt so much if it hadn't looked so good down the stretch. On Wednesday, the Marlins bowed out of the Pujols sweepstakes and it appeared the decks were cleared for a triumphant return to St. Louis.
Pujols would be the rare modern player who plays an entire illustrious career with the same team. He'd continue his philanthropy in Missouri. He'd prove just how much he loved the Midwest, the loyal fans, the World Series glow. He'd reinvent the term safe at home.
Now that he has split, the Cardinals must face the future without their best player of the last 11 years as well as their future Hall of Fame manager of the last 16 years, Tony La Russa. Oh, and they also learned promising young hitter Allen Craig could miss opening day because of surgery on his right knee.
It's entirely possible that several years from now they will look upon missing out on Pujols with tremendous relief. His salary would have hamstrung the organization for the next decade. Now they have payroll flexibility, but they no longer have baseball's best player.
The Cardinals also lost respected executive Jeff Luhnow, who took the GM opening with the Houston Astros.
New York Mets and Yankees: The Mets weren't expected to be active and were; the Yankees are always active and weren't. Suddenly money is a problem with two teams used to spending whatever it takes.
The Mets did shore up their bullpen by signing free agents Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, and trading for Ramon Ramirez. But they overspent for Francisco (two years, $12 million), and dealt solid outfielder Angel Pagan to the Giants for Ramirez and middling outfielder Andres Torres, both of whom are arbitration eligible and won't be cheap.
The Yankees stood pat. Maybe they are saving up to go hard for Japanese import Yu Darvish. Maybe they'll trade a pitching and/or catching prospect for a proven starter. More likely they will make only minor moves because they already have $172 million going to 11 players and must pay arbitration raises to six more. A payroll of $200 million with holes in the starting rotation seems likely for the second year in a row.
[ Related: Marlins strike again, but this time for Mark Buehrle ]
Los Angeles Dodgers: GM Ned Colletti hasn't been idle during his team's offseason of ownership uncertainty. Before the meetings he re-signed outfielder Juan Rivera and signed infielders Mark Ellis and Adam Kennedy, backup catcher Matt Treanor and starter Chris Capuano. And at the meetings he added starter Aaron Harang and super utility player Jerry Hairston Jr., and traded pitcher Dana Eveland to the Orioles for two minor leaguers.
It was the equivalent of a shopping spree at a flea market. Colletti spent about $43 million but never addressed the Dodgers' biggest need: a middle-of-the-order hitter to complement Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Without it, the Dodgers again will struggle to score runs, and a rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Capuano and Harang isn't good enough to win low-scoring games all season.
And on Thursday it was made public that first baseman James Loney was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence after his Maserati hit three cars on the freeway Nov. 14. Loney appeared to be intoxicated. He passed out after stopping his car in the fast lane and, when awakened by other drivers, attempted to flee the scene.
No one was injured, and the joke will be that the cars hit are lucky Loney doesn't have any power. Loney hits 10 to 15 home runs a season, below average for a first baseman, yet he will likely get a raise to more than $6 million through arbitration.
Hanley Ramirez: The Marlins' best player must move from shortstop to third base to make room for Reyes, and according to multiple reports, he isn't happy about it. He might even be traded.
Ramirez is ubertalented but immature, and Guillen already is trying to massage his ego. The manager tweeted, "Please don't worrie (sic) about hanley ramirez he is my man to kick some butt."
Two months of the hot-stove season remain to determine whether that butt-kicking takes place in a Marlins uniform.
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