Mannyfest doesn't materialize

Originally Published: December 8, 2005
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

DALLAS -- It's the second week of December. Do you know where your Manny Ramirez is?

Manny Ramirez
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesIn five seasons with the Red Sox, Manny has averaged 40 HRs and 122 RBI.
The correct answer, of course, is: right where those Boston Red Sox left him a week ago. Right there on the left field portion of their flow chart.

And that tells you something about the kind of winter meetings it was. Manny never got traded. Barry Zito never got traded. Bobby Abreu never got traded. And if anything, it looks far less likely that they'll ever be traded now than it did when their teams checked into the sprawling Wyndham Anatole.

So the winter meetings accomplished that, at least. They laid a ton of groundwork for what will -- and won't -- be arriving over the rest of the winter, in a transactions column near you.

But who triumphed and who didn't? Here's a look at the winners and losers of another monumental baseball blabfest.

Winners

1. Blue Jays
Additions: A.J. Burnett, Lyle Overbay, B.J. Ryan (before the meetings)
A round of applause, ladies and gentlemen, for Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi. He was the only GM in baseball to make it into the press conference room three days in a row. "That's a pretty good streak. I'm like the Cal Ripken of the winter meetings," he joked after appearance No. 3.

But all the people firing epithets at Ricciardi and his team for showering $102 million on the captains of the All-Initials pitching staff (A.J. and B.J.) are missing something:

Ricciardi charged into the offseason knowing exactly what he wanted to do, targeted a specific group of players to help him do it and worked relentlessly (though expensively) to make things happen. That's an underrated quality in a profession where so many of his peers have trouble making anything happen.

"The thing I liked," one NL executive said, "is the fact that they had a game plan and they filled their holes with the pieces they wanted. You can say they only did it because they had money to burn. But the bottom line is, they accomplished what they set out to do. And now they're a factor in that division. They're a piece or two away from coming into town and being a threat to beat you every night. But they're a factor those other two teams [i.e., Boston and New York] have to worry about -- definitely."

And this team isn't done. The Blue Jays have two more bats on the grocery list, with Brad Wilkerson, Kevin Mench, Nomar Garciaparra, Mike Piazza and Milton Bradley all sitting there on their buffet line. So if Roy Halladay and Burnett can just pitch 400 innings next year, watch out.

2. Mets
Additions: Paul Lo Duca, Julio Franco, Jose Valentin and Carlos Delgado and Billy Wagner (before the meetings)
Granted, Mets GM Omar Minaya sometimes gives the impression he's trying to put together a 55-man roster. ("Maybe," quipped one of his NL competitors, "he thinks he's getting ready for NFL training camp.")

And granted, that new TV network of his has helped drive his passionate pursuit for quality future programming.

And granted, there is plenty he hasn't gotten done and may never get done (Ramirez, Zito, Javier Vazquez, dumping Kaz Matsui, etc.).

But Minaya is another guy who makes things happen. Big things. Franchise-changing kinds of things. And since four of his five biggest acquisitions were players he also subtracted from his main NL East competition (Braves, Phillies, Marlins), he is clearly assembling a team that's putting significant distance -- on paper, at least -- between itself and the rest of the field.

"Omar could be a little more patient maybe, but he's done one hell of a job," one front-office man said. "If their pitchers pitch, that's the team to beat in that league."

3. Sub-.500 starting pitchers
Additions: 55 million bucks to Burnett's bank account
In case you were wondering, 72 active pitchers (with as many career starts as Burnett) have a higher lifetime winning percentage than Burnett (49.5 percent, 49-50 record) has. And we know exactly what all 72 of them are thinking, too:

"What the heck am I worth if that guy is worth $55 million?"

Well, excellent question. You might be amazed to learn that the current available free agents who fit that description include Brett Tomko, Aaron Sele and Shawn Estes. Not to mention Kevin Millwood, Matt Morris and Jarrod Washburn. All of them are now expecting to hit the same Powerball.

"What scares me isn't those contracts," an official of one big-market team said of the deals signed by Burnett, Paul Byrd and Esteban Loaiza in the last week. "It's the next set of contracts -- the Washburn contract, the Morris contract, the Kenny Rogers contract [two years, $16 million from Detroit]. Those are the ones that will tell us what the real damages are."

Burnett's contract drags starting pitchers everywhere up to a different floor on the salary skyscraper, just as Ryan ($47 million, after 42 career saves) has been the best thing that ever happened to free-agent closers not named Jose Mesa.

"Both those contracts broke the million-dollar rule," one assistant GM grumbled. "If you're at more millions than wins or more millions than saves, you've violated the million-dollar rule."

Other Winners

White Sox (World Series Champ Division): Most of their work was done before they ever arrived at the winter meetings. But adding Jim Thome, hanging onto Paul Konerko and dumping Ozzie Guillen's least favorite left-hander (Damaso Marte) for the useful and versatile Rob Mackowiak puts them in position to wreak havoc on the AL Central again next year.

Padres (Hometown Discount Division): Two weeks ago, almost nobody would have given them a shot to keep both Brian Giles and Trevor Hoffman. But they pulled it off, despite paying them millions below what the Dodgers and Indians were offering Giles and Hoffman, respectively, to leave. Maybe that's a tribute to the negotiating powers of GM Kevin Towers. Maybe it's a tribute to the sheer irresistibility of the La Jolla waterfront. But the Padres were facing a potential disaster if they lost those two guys. And now they're back in business.

Marlins (Fire Sale Division): If you're judging winners and losers by their ability to win next year (or even their ability to draw more than 750 fans a night), the Marlins are this winter's biggest losers. But if you just judge them from the context of the hand their baseball people were dealt when their stadium plan detonated for the final time, they did an amazing job. They've added 15 young players for the household names they sold off -- and every one of them figures to play in the big leagues. "If you're going to hold a fire sale," one scouting director said, "at least they got the right names." Of course, all but two of them are pitchers. So who knows how they'll field a whole team every night. "We're going to have Dontrelle [Willis] play left field on the nights he doesn't pitch," quipped one Marlins executive. "And when [Joe] Girardi isn't managing, he can catch."

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Anna Benson (Centerfold Division): Poor Anna was stressing when her husband, Kris, was rumored to be traded from New York to scenic Kansas City. So nobody is happier that report turned out to be premature than the lovely and talented Mrs. Benson. The bad news is, Kris is still on the block. So no one is promising she won't someday be the Centerfold To Be Named Later.

Losers

1. Manny Ramirez
Just when Manny, Mrs. Manny and all the residents of Planet Manny thought they had the Red Sox convinced they had to trade this man, a funny thing happened to the master plan:

The Sox found out, just about once and for all, they couldn't trade him. The Angels decided they weren't really that interested. The Mets shoved him onto their very last back burner. The Diamondbacks had no interest in blowing up their roster for him. The Rangers needed pitching. The Dodgers had way too many other issues. And the rest of the sport was busy making other plans.

At one point last week, the Red Sox delegation thought it was on the verge of putting something together for Ramirez. They found out quickly how wrong they were.

"We were close in our minds," said Red Sox special de facto GM committee poobah Bill Lajoie. "But not in actuality."

So Manny's only hope for a new zip code might lie in a swap to Baltimore for his almost-as-disgruntled Dominican countryman, Miguel Tejada. But the Orioles still aren't sure they want to, a) trade Tejada; or, b) trade him for Ramirez.

And if that option disappears, what's more likely is that the Red Sox are going to conclude there just isn't a deal worth making for a man who has averaged 130 RBI a year over the last eight seasons.

There comes a point when it's time to make a statement that no one man should be allowed to control an entire team, just for his own convenience. And the Red Sox just might be approaching that very point.

2. Astros
They informed Roger Clemens he would not get to pass go or collect $20 million for the right to grace their franchise, and there are many sensible explanations for the stance the Astros took on the most charismatic human ever to wear their uniform. We acknowledge that.

They will play baseball again. They'll run a pitcher out there every night on the schedule. They may even get to the playoffs again.

But if Roger Clemens never throws another pitch for this team, they have lost something they can't get back. Something Roy Oswalt doesn't bring to their lunch table. Something Brad Lidge doesn't bring. Something even Andy Pettitte doesn't bring.

There's nothing that can ever equate to the sight of baseball's Greatest Living Pitcher heading for the mound in his own home town, as those flash bulbs pop and ear drums rattle. And whatever the cost is to maintain that magic, the cost of losing it is bigger and scarier and far more irreplaceable.

Drayton McLane
Elsa/Getty ImagesMcLane made the call and slammed the door on Clemens until May, if not beyond.
Privately, the Astros seem confident that Clemens will decide in May he wants to be an Astro again, because they think it isn't pitching he's tired of. It's pitching from March to Halloween. And they don't think any other team would offer him all the perks and benefits they can.

But we wouldn't be so sure of that. Remember, Astros owner Drayton McLane hasn't indicated any interest in spending the money he's saving on the Rocket to make his offense more formidable or his team more interesting.

So if the Astros team Clemens eyeballs in May doesn't seem compelling or competitive enough to be worth returning to, then he just might find that other team in Texas to be a worthy destination, and a fun new adventure, and an opportunity to expand his iconic presence to the other side of Texas.

So even if we understand why the Astros did what they did, we hope they fully understand that they've lost, potentially, exactly what they've lost.

3. Cardinals
In so many ways, the St. Louis Cardinals are one of the best and most stable franchises in any sport. But these days, they're also one of the most puzzling.

They drew 3.5 million people this year. They won 100-plus games for the second year in a row. They have a new ballpark rising in the shadows of Busch Stadium and new revenue streams flying at them from all directions. So why are they suddenly spending money as if they're the Twins?

They could have had Burnett signed at these meetings if they'd been willing to offer him just a little bit more than $38 million over four years. They had a potential deal for Vazquez fall apart over money issues.

They let Mark Grudzielanek, a player they wanted to sign -- and who wanted to return -- take a hike because ownership wouldn't let the baseball people pay him more than $2 million a year. And they've now lost 16 players since the final game of the 2003 World Series, many because of pressure to keep the payroll down.

"That's a team whose window to win may be closing," one GM said. "They'll still be good. But they're getting thinner, and they're getting older, and they're getting more vulnerable."

And what happened at these winter meetings -- when a starting pitcher they clearly wanted to sign didn't bite on the "You Should Take A Little Less Because We're The Cardinals" sales pitch -- could be an indication of just how much more vulnerable they really are.

Other Losers

Yankees (Big Apple Division): Brian Cashman's biggest acquisition at these meetings was a cranberry muffin. No truth to the rumor he balked at adding a croissant when the cash-register attendant asked for Chien-Ming Wang in return. Nevertheless, the Yankees have big holes in center field and their bullpen, and their rotation is as shaky as it's been in years. But the big news, if you've read the New York papers over the last two weeks, is that you might have thought the Mets were the only team in town. We actually admire their restraint in many ways. But what's going on here? It feels like the Mets are the Yankees, and the Yankees are the Mets. And that's a feeling that doesn't compute.

Devil Rays (Rookie Mistake Division): The Rays thought they had a deal they just needed to say yes to -- Julio Lugo for Atlanta third-base prospect Andy Marte, in either a two-team or three-team incarnation (with Boston). Instead, they asked for a little too much beyond that and took a little too much time to say yes. And by the time the new baseball decision maker, Andrew Friedman, was ready to deal, the Braves and Red Sox had moved on to their own deal. Tampa Bay still has a far more efficient and energetic approach than it has had in its history. And it has plenty of time to salvage this offseason. But this was not a good first step.

Rangers (Host City Division): There might have been more grumbling about new Texas general manager Jon Daniels from his fellow GMs than about any other GM on the premises. Because he was looking to make a big deal in his debut, Daniels overpriced his most attractive commodity, Kevin Mench. And then, when he dealt his other big chip, Alfonso Soriano, he got a package back that, surprisingly, included no big-league ready starting pitchers. There was immediate talk that Texas would deal away Brad Wilkerson, obtained in that deal, for pitching. But the price tag on him might scare more clubs away. "Unless they can flip those guys for pitching, that deal makes no sense," one assistant GM said. "And I wouldn't trade Soriano in the first place. Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge [the second player Texas received in the deal] could play for a lonnngggg time and never put up the numbers Soriano does. He's an underrated guy for me."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com