ORLANDO, Fla. – High rollers tossing sevens means cash, cash and more cash at felted casino tables. Sevens were lucky as well at this week's Major League Baseball winter meetings, bringing riches to two high-rolling free agents with another on the horizon.
Right fielder Jayson Werth(notes) kicked off the proceedings by signing a seven-year, $126 million contract with the Washington Nationals. Left fielder Carl Crawford(notes) rocked the American League to its core Wednesday night by agreeing to a seven-year, $142 million deal with the Boston Red Sox. And pitcher Cliff Lee(notes) nudged the New York Yankees from a six to a seven-year offer Thursday.
[Details: More on Crawford's Red Sox deal]
From his Arkansas ranch, Lee spent the rest of the day circling back to the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and perhaps the Philadelphia Phillies, Detroit Tigers and Washington Nationals, as well, to heat up the bidding war before he decides. The Rangers dispatched a front-office contingent to Lee's bucolic spread Thursday morning, the third time they have done so since the World Series, and added a seventh year to their offer. Texas also offered perks that would enable Lee's family to easily commute from Little Rock to Arlington.
"I think everything is personal preference," Rangers GM Jon Daniels said. "Obviously, finances play a big role in it. Some guys are more driven by the marketplace than others. Some guys are more driven by destination. He's got a number of attractive options. We consider ourselves one of them. That will be for him to decide."
[Advice: Teammate’s text to Cliff Lee]
Needless to say, landing a seven-year deal makes a player a winter meetings winner. Period. But other winners surfaced as well. And, of course, losers abounded – teams seemingly frozen in place and free agents all but ignored. And one particular player who came to the meetings just to show off photos of deer he'd killed raised such a stir that we've branded him both a winner and a loser. See why below:
Winter meetings winners
• Cliff Lee: The contracts of Werth and Crawford gifted Lee with what he desired all along, a seventh year added to his upcoming contract. How good will he be in 2017, going on age 39? Certainly not good enough to be paid $20 million. But this is about supply and demand, it's about cartoon baseball dollars, and in 2017 Lee indeed could be making $20 million from somebody.
[Related: Baseball’s most overpaid players]
• Red Sox: Nothing triggers a spending spree like finishing in third place and missing the playoffs. Boston lost right-handed sluggers Victor Martinez(notes) and Adrian Beltre(notes) to free agency, but replaced them with better players in Crawford and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez(notes). Both hit left-handed, which might be problematic in an AL East that features several top left-handed pitchers, but that's a minor quibble. The Red Sox are now mostly a collection of steady, productive and highly professional veterans. They should bond quickly, and win soon.
• Chicago White Sox: By securing slugger Adam Dunn(notes) in addition to re-signing free agents Paul Konerko(notes) and A.J. Pierzynski(notes), the White Sox added more pop than any other team. Dunn is good for 40 home runs a year, and Chicago is ready to challenge the Minnesota Twins and hold off the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central.
• Scott Boras clients: Werth, represented by Boras for the first time, is richer beyond his wildest dreams. Carlos Pena, a first baseman who batted all of .194 in 2010, signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Chicago Cubs to re-establish his value for a multi-year deal after the 2011 season. Beltre did the same a year ago, had a strong season with the Red Sox, and with Crawford off the market, is now the best hitter available. The Angels, who have a need at third base, could be desperate to sign him after letting Crawford slip away. The Rangers could trade Michael Young(notes) and sign Beltre if they miss out on Lee. Closer Rafael Soriano(notes) is another Boras client who might have benefited by waiting out the winter meetings.
• Carl Crawford: Werth's deal meant Crawford could do no worse than seven years, and at a higher annual value. Although the Angels seemed the favorite, their offer was a reported $108 million. Crawford has played many games in Fenway Park. He's probably envisioned himself in a Red Sox uniform, as one of the haves. He opted for the familiarity of the AL East over the West Coast. He knows exactly what he's in for in Boston. In hindsight, this shouldn't have been a surprise. Still, it was a bold move by Boston.
• Dodgers organization: Yes, the McCourt divorce drama became more murky when a judge threw out a marital property agreement, but the Dodgers had moved quickly before the meetings to restock their starting rotation and infield. They were named Topps Organization of the Year at the meetings, an award that dates back to 1966 and goes to the franchise with the greatest number of players that received Topps awards during the season.
• Jim Hendry: The Cubs general manager was healthy and frisky, holding court in the lobby of the Dolphin hotel at 3 a.m. Thursday morning, still chatting away to fellow executives. The last time the meetings were held at this Disney resort, Hendry was rushed to a hospital for an angioplasty, yet still signed pitcher Ted Lilly(notes) to a four-year, $40 million contract from his hospital bed. This year he sewed up Pena, but from an upright position.
• Baltimore Orioles: They obtained power-hitting third baseman Mark Reynolds(notes) from the Arizona Diamondbacks and steady shortstop J.J. Hardy(notes) from the Twins while giving up nobody who figured prominently in their 2010 plans. And to finish up, they re-signed Japanese swingman Koji Uehara(notes) to a one-year contract with a vesting option for 2012, making their calculated risk of not offering him arbitration pay off. The Orioles want Uehara to close and he prefers to start, but they can hash that out in spring training. So even though Konerko and Beltre spurned their advances, the Orioles had a good week. Free agent Adam LaRoche(notes) remains a possibility at first base.
Oh, and the team's public relations execs laudably took the high road in response to outfielder Luke Scott(notes) unloading his far-right political opinions on David Brown of Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew blog, including his belief that President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.
• Luke Scott: He's a winner because he is, in his words, a "fellow American," with the freedom to express his views, regardless of how off-center they might be.
Winter meetings losers
• New York Yankees: They had genuine interest in Crawford, but because Lee had them in a holding pattern, they were unwilling to make an offer and lost him to the rival Red Sox. Furthermore, in their few hours spent in the friendly confines of their Tampa complex, the Yankees were embarrassed by their captain and shortstop Derek Jeter(notes), who used a news conference announcing his three-year contract as a forum to express anger and dismay at the impolite utterances of team executives. Jeter made it clear he'd informed the team he would not test the free-agent market, then anonymous Yankees honchos publicly invited him to do so anyway.
Of course, if the Yankees sign Lee, they immediately move to the winners' column.
• Los Angeles Angels: Prognosticators from reporters to scouts to executives believed Crawford would sign with the Angels. After all, he fits their style of play, he's a pal of Torii Hunter(notes), the Angels were desperate for Crawford's combination of speed and extra-base production. But, no. Now they are exactly where they hate to be: at the mercy of Boras, who can squeeze every last dime for Beltre and Soriano.
Of course, if the Angels somehow land Lee, they too would move up.
• Tampa Bay Rays: The best they could get for top-tier shortstop Jason Bartlett(notes) was two iffy relievers. Their first baseman, Carlos Pena, was signed by the Cubs. Crawford, well, they gave up on him the day they were eliminated from the playoffs. The best-run team in baseball has the worst fans, and the lack of revenue means they'd better continue to be the best-run team in baseball. Either that or they'd better hope MLB adds another wild-card playoff round.
• San Francisco Giants: The heady buzz of a World Series championship seems to have the Giants believing they can bring back that ol' gang of theirs and win again. Maybe they've forgotten how fortunate they were to win it all without much offense. Manager Bruce Bochy thoroughly enjoyed the winter meetings, although GM Brian Sabean kept his typical low profile. Re-signing Aubrey Huff(notes) was fine, but bringing back Pat Burrell(notes) and signing the all-but washed up Miguel Tejada(notes) to replace Juan Uribe(notes) and Edgar Renteria(notes) were questionable moves. The Giants still need a bat, and although Bochy is hopeful Pablo Sandoval(notes) fills the bill by returning to 2009 form, the best he could report was that Kung Fu Panda had lost all of two pounds.
• San Diego Padres: Trading Gonzalez, their only big bat, puts them here. None of the prospects they received from the Red Sox in return are big league ready. The acquisitions of center fielder Cameron Maybin(notes) and Jason Bartlett for spare-part relievers might have been shrewd, but both newcomers are strong defenders with questionable bats. The Padres already have plenty of players with that profile. The absence of Gonzalez's production likely drops San Diego under .500 in 2011.
• Luke Scott: What were you thinking?