Welcome to bizarro baseball, where the Miami Marlins have spent $133 million since the offseason began and the other 29 teams have combined to pay free agents $170 million. On Sunday night, the Marlins gave Jose Reyes(notes) $106 million for the next six seasons. Between 2006 and 2009, the Marlins' combined opening day payrolls were $104,160,000.
Over that time, the New York Mets spent more than a half-billion dollars on their teams, all of which included Reyes as their shortstop, and now not only do they suffer the indignity of watching him decamp to a National League East rival, he's going to a team dealing with a federal investigation just like the Mets.
While the idea of budget-conscious Mets and free-spending Marlins takes a minute to process, it's part of baseball's life cycle. Rare is the team that lives at one end of the financial spectrum forever. Whether the Marlins actually keep Reyes for the entirety of his deal or flip him when the attendance boom from the first year of their new stadium levels off like it has everywhere else isn't all that material at the moment.
Because as baseball's winter meetings began Sunday night in Dallas, it was still difficult to comprehend the odd reality that the Marlins had signed …
1. Jose Reyes, and that even though the $100 million-and-higher contract club is a graveyard, this doesn't look like an immediate case for the grim reaper. Before Reyes re-injured his ornery hamstring mid-season, executives believed he could get Carl Crawford(notes) money – more than $140 million.
Concerns over Reyes' durability scythed his price tag to a fairly reasonable number for what the Marlins are getting. Reyes certainly isn't Crawford.
He is younger (28 to Crawford's 29 when he signed). He plays a more important position (shortstop to left field). He gets on base more (.341 career on-base percentage to Crawford's .337 going into free agency). He's got almost the same power (.441 slugging percentage to Crawford's .444 after 2010).
Most important, Reyes at his best – pre-injury Reyes, who was hitting .354/.398/.529 and frontrunner for NL MVP – is leaps and bounds better than Crawford. If a team is going to spend like mad – especially a low- or mid-market team – then it's best to try and shoot the moon.
It's exactly what the Marlins did with Reyes, and it's an excellent signing. Even if Hanley Ramirez(notes) is upset – and he is – he'll come to his senses and move to third base, where his body type belongs anyway. And, depending on Josh Johnson's(notes) arm and their pursuit of C.J. Wilson(notes) or …
2. Mark Buehrle(notes), the Marlins could put up a fight against Atlanta, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, San Francisco and all the other teams in the NL with wild-card aspirations. It's no wonder Buehrle remains a hot commodity on the free-agent market and is the player one executive believes will make his decision in Dallas: even a few marginal wins can make the difference between an October on the couch and a playoff appearance, and St. Louis showed that all any team needs is a chance.
The likelihood of Buehrle not wearing a Chicago White Sox uniform remains an odd thought – and wearing the garish color scheme of the Marlins even more so considering his normal camo getup. Buehrle is just 32, younger than Barry Zito(notes), Bruce Chen(notes) and Erik Bedard(notes), something that gets forgotten because he has thrown more innings than any active left-hander. He won't be great – he never has been – but he could be good for a while.
Perhaps $14 million a year is excessive for a borderline No. 2, more-like-No. 3-caliber starter, though that's the price free agency bears. Anyway, we know America loves nothing more than a soft-tossing left-hander since …
3. Tim Tebow invaded our consciousness. Yes, this is still a baseball column, though it's fair to delve into the news of the day when it can translate. And on Sunday afternoon, when Tebow was defying the laws of physics and aesthetics to help manufacture another win, I threw out a question on Twitter.
Who is the baseball equivalent of Tim Tebow?
I first suggested Dustin Pedroia(notes) because even though he doesn't do things the normal way, he succeeds nevertheless. Thankfully, people on Twitter are much smarter than me and filled in the blanks.
One general manager saw the question and texted me: "Hunter Pence(notes)," he said, a sentiment echoed more often than any because Pence's game is so damn ugly and yet there he is, hitting home runs he shouldn't, making throws he oughtn't, doing what he does in his own inimitable way.
Culling through the list of suggestions was a trip. Among active players: Vladimir Guerrero(notes), Jeff Francoeur(notes), Michael Young(notes), Jason Varitek(notes), Dan Uggla(notes), Carlos Marmol(notes), Johnny Damon(notes), Charlie Morton(notes), Joe Saunders(notes), Brett Gardner(notes), Derek Jeter(notes), Wily Mo Pena(notes) and Josh Collmenter(notes). Among the retired: Greg Maddux, Gabe Kapler(notes), Pete Rose, Jack Morris and by far the best of the day: Joe Borowski.
It spurred another question, of course: Is there anyone in baseball whose comparables in another sport would range from skinny to fat, short to tall, good to bad, black to white and everything in between? I can't imagine who, unless, of course, we're talking about …
4. Yoenis Cespedes and his status as baseball's proto-Chuck Norris. Cespedes, remember, is the Cuban outfielder whose defection birthed the baseball's greatest viral video since the Web started. Cespedes' impending free agency will also spark a bidding war, and his agents hope to clear him through baseball soon in order to see just how high it goes.
Some reports suggest upwards of $50 million, which, despite his massive tools, one scout who knows him well dismissed it as "completely, bat-(expletive) insane." It's not like this is a golden era for Cuban ballplayers or one in which they've distinguished themselves in the big leagues. The two best Cuban-born position players to debut in the last two decades are shortstops Yunel Escobar(notes) and Alexei Ramirez(notes). Much of their value comes from their position.
[Related: Passan's ultimate free-agent tracker]
Cespedes is 26. Multiple scouts who have seen him say he strikes out too much, and while that doesn't nullify his big power and ability to play center field, it does chip away at his mythos. Cespedes could be a star. He's equally likely to flop. And if a team wants to spend $50 million on that, nothing will stop it. Whether Cespedes is the highest-paid international free agent this season depends on where …
5. Yu Darvish decides to post, which a source close to the situation says could happen faster than has been reported. Darvish is currently discussing with his Japanese team, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, the possibility of entering the posting system – the pros and cons vis-à-vis his decision.
What continues to eat at Darvish, the source said, is the inequity of the posting system – how the money the winning team bids in the blind system goes to the Fighters, leaving Darvish to reap whatever is left over. Should the offer not be satisfactory, Darvish will go back to Hokkaido, and he continues to figure out exactly how he'll be treated were he to do so.
The price for Darvish in MLB is getting no lower. Despite the wariness toward Japanese pitchers, teams are treating the 6-foot-5 Darvish like a rare commodity worth chasing even if the cost of posting plus salary surges toward Reyes money. That is perhaps its ceiling. Certainly it won't hit the stratosphere in which …
The Marlins signing of Reyes almost assuredly takes them out of the Pujols contention – if ever it were appropriate to use the phrase LOL, it's at the possibility of the Marlins entering next season with a payroll in excess of $100 million – which leaves the St. Louis Cardinals and … um … hmmm. Good luck, Dan Lozano. He's going to have to earn his agent's commission with Pujols, whereas Scott Boras is watching the suitors pile up as …
7. Prince Fielder(notes) at least entertains the possibility of playing in Seattle, Milwaukee, Texas, Toronto, Chicago and perhaps Washington. Granted, Milwaukee remains in the bidding only because none of those teams have thrown out a $150 million-plus offer yet, which would nullify their chances of re-signing him.
A number of executives believe Fielder's market will well exceed that. Just how soon that happens could depend on Pujols. The executives said this week they see a game of chicken developing between Pujols and Fielder – each waiting for the other to sign so the market can develop accordingly. It's dangerous. They run the risk of both collapsing as other free agents sign and teams check off their to-do lists.
Chances are neither Fielder nor Pujols signs this week. Though both have a better chance of doing so than …
8. Manny Ramirez(notes) does in his long-anticipated comeback. Since the beginning of last season all Manny has done is walked away from the game after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug and receiving a 100-game ban, get arrested in Miami for allegedly hitting his wife across the face and spend his time on absolutely nobody's mind or radar.
Yes, baseball missed Manny's personality. He was evermore entertaining, and he could swing a bat like few others. But by the time the 50-game suspension the union negotiated on his behalf runs out, he'll be 40, and the list of everyday players his age isn't that long.
Any GM who thinks Manny is going to come into spring training and smile his way to the bench every day is naïve, a fool or both. Go ahead. Give him that minor league deal. Pay for the guy who needed PEDs to get into proper shape and still went 1 for 17. Just do so knowing you'll soon thereafter need a sign seen in yards everywhere: BEWARE OF DOG.
Speaking of someone that's been neutered, New York Mets GM …
9. Sandy Alderson delivered the news Sunday night that the team lost $70 million last season. Between the wretched attendance at Citi Field, the bloated payroll and the need to pay a large sum in revenue sharing, it guaranteed a loss. But $70 million? Owning a baseball team? One of Bernie Madoff's victims must own a mighty powerful voodoo doll.
Beyond that, Alderson had to come to terms with the fact that the Mets didn't receive a first-round pick for Reyes signing with the Marlins. They didn't even get a second-round pick. No, the compensation coming back to the Mets is a third-round draft choice, which, in the best-case scenario, is an educated guess that a high school kid is going to pan out and worst-case a total crapshoot.
How the Mets didn't trade Reyes remains an executive bungle on par with almost any last season. If the Mets were being honest with themselves about their finances and knew Reyes as well as they said they did, they would've understood the market following a new collective-bargaining agreement was going to bear more than they could. And just like they snagged Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran(notes), they could've received an even better package for Reyes. But no. They sat on him. They let emotion get in the way. And ultimately …
10. Jose Reyes took his talents to South Beach. If it was between the Mets and the Marlins … well, hell, there's not really a lesser of two evils there, what with the alleged Ponzi profiteer and the lying money hoarder. For such a nice guy, Reyes certainly finds himself aligned with shady people.
Though it's reasonable to understand the Marlins' allure. He's the new smiling face of a franchise on the upswing, one loaded with top-end talent, from Ramirez to Mike Stanton(notes) to Logan Morrison(notes), Johnson to Anibal Sanchez(notes) to Ricky Nolasco(notes). Heath Bell(notes) joined for $27 million earlier in the week, and the Marlins have the meetings this week to find themselves another piece.
It's a noble effort after nearly a decade of dysfunction under owner Jeffrey Loria. In this bizarro baseball world, the Miami Marlins are players. This may take some getting used to.
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