Now that the first domino has tumbled, the rest of the baseball offseason can get on with its merry self. Dan Haren, Maybach performance at a Jetta price for the next three years, is now an Arizona Diamondback and, as a result, everyone from Hank Steinbrenner to Johan Santana to Hiroki Kuroda to Scott Boras to Erik Bedard might get to spend their Christmas doing the limbo instead of in it.
Oakland officially tacked up the rebuilding sign Friday night when it shipped the 27-year-old Haren and a prospect to the Diamondbacks for a half-dozen minor leaguers, including Carlos Gonzalez, a can't-miss 22-year-old, and Brett Anderson, a doughy-yet-polished 19-year-old left-hander. It was a nice haul for Athletics general manager Billy Beane, who now will unload another young starter, Joe Blanton, and perhaps his closer, Huston Street, to a market that froths at mediocre pitching and pulls six-for-two deals to nab an All-Star.
Hey, at least we know that's what it takes. Perhaps, then, this whole Santana charade can commence. Minnesota general manager Bill Smith must move Santana now, not out of necessity as much as value. The longer Santana wears a Twins uniform, the less he's worth.
And since Arizona won the Haren sweepstakes, it should be enough to pull Steinbrenner away from his Ghost Whisperer marathon and back into the Santana derby, out of which he publicly dropped the Yankees on the first night of the winter meetings.
New York needs Santana since its erstwhile No. 1 left-hander, Andy Pettitte, will likely spend the first two weeks of the season in detention and the rest of his career in human growth hormone purgatory. New York can pay Santana the $140 million over seven years he reportedly wants. New York has the prospects to get Santana, with Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera and Austin Jackson or Ian Horne likely enough to get it done. And, most of all, New York can't afford for Boston to land Santana, not with Josh Beckett already in the defending champions' rotation.
Sometime soon, too, Baltimore will move Bedard, who has two years of arbitration remaining before free agency. Seattle could get him with two out of the Adam Jones-Brandon Morrow-Jeff Clement troika, though the Mariners are loathe to include more than one for anyone other than Santana. Cincinnati could land Bedard tomorrow if it included outfield prospect Jay Bruce, though the Reds aren't that dumb. The New York Mets want him, though they're bringing dirty catfish to a sashimi party. And the Los Angeles Dodgers have the goods to get it done, though they're focusing elsewhere.
Japanese right-hander Hiroki Kuroda – already shrouded in mystery with his proposed tour of potential cities, cancellation of that tour, reports of signing with the Dodgers, denial of those reports, rescheduling of the tour and current plans to cancel it again – is down to the Dodgers, Mariners and Kansas City Royals, with Arizona likely crossed off his list after the Haren deal. The 32-year-old entered the market this offseason entertaining $9 million-a-year offers. He laughed at those, allowed his value to proof like rising dough and should get $36 million over three years over the next few days.
Which, hopefully, will kick-start the rest of the free-agent pitching market. It's a voyeur's dream, with everyone eager to see who will place the first call to Boras and hear that Kyle Lohse is a franchise-altering force.
Yes, Kyle Lohse.
There's Carlos Silva, too, and Livan Hernandez, and a host of others who keep hearing the ka-ching of the cash registers that awaits them. What, really, is more American than free agency? Mediocre product, exquisite hype campaign, overpriced sale.
Once they start going, the Jason Jenningses and Jeff Weavers and Jon Liebers of the world will sign, and, what do you know, spring training will be right around the corner. It starts two months from today, which means it's not too early to look at the game itself instead of the offseason maneuvering.
Look, for example, at the pitching in the National League West. Arizona now complements Brandon Webb, the NL's best pitcher, with Haren, who could take that mantle. San Diego counters with Jake Peavy and Chris Young, San Francisco with Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Noah Lowry and, oh, yeah, its $126 million investment, Barry Zito. Can't forget the Dodgers, with a rotation of Brad Penny, Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley. Ditto for Colorado, which won the NL behind Jeff Francis, Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales this year.
Now that's exciting. And it's like that everywhere. Red Sox vs. Yankees, Part 2,403,629. Detroit and its lineup vs. Cleveland and its aces, C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona. Los Angeles trying to hold off Seattle. The Mets' rebound – or implosion? Even the NL Central, with the Cubs' lineup and Milwaukee's brilliant retooling and Cincinnati's rise, should at least intrigue.
So thank you, Josh Byrnes, Arizona general manager, for saying yes to Beane's offer. The season that seemed so far away earlier today now feels a lot closer.