Commentary

Mostly quiet on the player movement front in Nashville

Originally Published: December 6, 2007
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Was it really only a few days ago that we predicted a winter meetings with sizzle? With action? With big names moving and headlines erupting?

Sheez, where do we get these nutty ideas?

Instead, four days later, 30 general managers sprinted for the doors of Opryland wondering one thing: What just happened?

Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis went winging toward Motown. A desperate Andruw Jones took a two-year deal from the Dodgers. The Royals handed Jose Guillen 36 million negotiable American dollars. And, for you name-game lovers, two different pitchers named Jose Capellan changed teams.

And that, rumor lovers, was just about it. So what happened to all those juicy story lines we were looking forward to just a few short days ago? Let's revisit them now.

1. The end to Santana-mania? Nowhere in sight

There was a brief window last weekend where the trade of Johan Santana to the Yankees seemed practically imminent.

Johan Santana

Santana

Starting Pitcher
Minnesota Twins

Profile

2007 Season Stats
GM W L BB K ERA
33 15 13 52 235 3.33
The final package on the table, from what we've heard, was Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera, pitcher Jeff Marquez and one other minor leaguer. But the Twins torpedoed that pitch, just as they later shot down multiple proposals from the Red Sox.

So by week's end, Santana was still America's most famous Twin in limbo. And the Twins were left huddling about where to go next.

The Red Sox have taken a very consistent stance on this: They'd be happy to take Santana on their terms. But they're not trading Clay Buchholz. They're not going to cave and deal both Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester -- for Santana or anybody else. And the only way they're going to get this done is to find an entirely different structure than anything laid on the table so far.

After all, it would be kind of hard to convince them they're not capable of winning the World Series as currently constituted -- considering they just won one a month and a half ago.

So are they going to be able to add Santana without caving? It's still possible they've established enough common ground to rework the back end of the trade, around a whole different cast of young players. But we'd call that no better than 50-50. And suppose they can't. Does that mean Santana will end up as a Yankee? We're not so sure.

The Red Sox keep telling people they expect the Yankees to jump back into talks. Or at least tiptoe back in. But thanks to Hank Steinbrenner, that's not going to be real easy.

THAT'S A WRAP
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The son of the principal owner shoved the Yankees into this derby. Then, by setting that Monday deadline to finish a deal, he wound up shoving the Yankees right out of the derby. And now there's no graceful way back in.

What's the impetus for the Yankees to pull a U-turn here? Many of the Yankees' baseball people actually seem relieved they didn't make this deal, because they never wanted to give up Hughes in the first place. Which means they won't be lobbying to make another charge at Santana.

So what's the scenario under which this deal gets rekindled? Either the Twins would have to come crawling back to the Yankees -- and don't bet your Frankie "Sweet Music" Viola poster on that. Or Hank Steinbrenner would have to announce to the world, "Aw, I was just kidding about that deadline" -- and, simultaneously, convince the baseball operation a second time that dealing Hughes for Santana is a swell idea.

Well, that's a dubious combination. So either the Twins and Red Sox are going to have to get very creative, or the Twins are going to wind up just hanging on to their ace -- for now.

"I know people say they'd get less for him if they kept him and traded him in July, but I don't believe that," said one GM. "To be honest, I think they'd get more."

2. The Cabrera/Willis deal

Once upon a time, after every winter meetings, we used to haul out our annual list of winners and losers. But we'll spare you that list this year -- since there was really only one winner.

Tigers The Tigers.

They're the scariest team around now, after their spectacular deal for Cabrera and Willis left them with a lineup so deep that their No. 8 hitter (Pudge Rodriguez) is a guy who makes $13 million a year.

We can debate some other time whether that trade now transforms them into the best team in baseball -- or only, say, the second best. But what no one can debate is that the gulf between the American League and National League just got a little wider.

"It's incredible, the constant flow of talent one way," one AL executive said. "After a while, you want to say, 'Won't someonego to the National League?'"

Every time one of these teams makes a move, the other teams start contemplating their next move. Detroit makes this deal, so now Cleveland has to do something to keep pace. Boston and New York sign some guys, and now Toronto has to do something. Every time someone raises the bar, someone wants to jump over it. But that's not true in the National League.

--An AL executive

Does the concept of rebuilding even exist in the American League anymore? OK, the Orioles and A's are clearly retooling. But look at the bucks the Royals are spending. Look at the Blue Jays, trying to trade for Tim Lincecum or Erik Bedard. Even the Rays have their eyes on making a wild-card run in the next couple of years.

"Every time one of these teams makes a move, the other teams start contemplating their next move," said the same executive. "Detroit makes this deal, so now Cleveland has to do something to keep pace. Boston and New York sign some guys, and now Toronto has to do something. Every time someone raises the bar, someone wants to jump over it. But that's not true in the National League."

It's sure not true in Florida, where the Marlins again loom as one of baseball's most troubling stories. Contrary to what we speculated earlier in the week, their payroll next year will top $10 million. But it won't even be close to $20 million -- even though there are indications they'll take in somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 million next year, in revenue sharing and central fund payouts, before they sell a ticket.

Of course, that's a good thing -- because they're now so unrecognizable, they might not sell a ticket.

3. Attention Bird Mart shoppers

No team was more open for business at these meetings than the Orioles. They never did ring the Bird Mart cash registers. But they definitely entertained many a shopper.

Miguel Tejada
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesThe Orioles have finished in no better than third place in the AL East in all four of Miguel Tejada's seasons with the team.
There were indications, in fact, that they almost were able to trade The Guy They Can't Wait To Unload, Miguel Tejada, to Houston. The Astros had even, from all accounts, agreed to pay all of the $26 million Tejada had coming over the next two years.

But the Orioles squashed an offer of shortstop Adam Everett, second baseman Chris Burke and a prospect. So the quest to deal Tejada -- to the Astros or Angels or Giants, among others -- goes on.

The Orioles have much less interest in moving Bedard or second baseman Brian Roberts. But the Cubs made a run at Roberts nonetheless. And while there's nothing particularly hot right now, they might still be able to build a deal around pitcher Sean Gallagher and at least one other player down the road.

Bedard, however, is going to be a Rumor Central superstar for the next few weeks, even though we're still skeptical he's going to wind up changing area codes any time soon.

The Orioles told all teams that checked in that it's going to take at least "three premium pieces" for Bedard. Their only problem is that it appears the best names they've heard so far, apparently, have come from the Red Sox and Blue Jays. And there's a better chance the Orioles will re-sign Albert Belle than there is that they'll trade Bedard within their division.

So that leaves the Mets -- who have been shot down a couple of times already, trying to work out some sort of multiteam blockbuster -- or the Dodgers, who seemingly would build a deal around outfielder Matt Kemp, plus just about any of their prospects except the best of the bunch, pitcher Clayton Kershaw.

Can the Orioles find a package in there that works? We'll see. But they've been telling teams that they look at Bedard as the kind of pitcher who turns ordinary teams into playoff teams, so the price isn't ever coming down. And we may not know whether anybody is sincerely interested in meeting that price until the crazed pitching market begins to sort itself out.

Dan Haren

Haren

4. When will the A's closeout sale begin?

The team that positioned itself as the convenient, economic alternative to the Santana-mania and Bird Mart bidding was Oakland. Want Dan Haren? Want Joe Blanton? That can be arranged.

Just not yet. GM Billy Beane is in no rush to trade anybody -- but especially not one of his starting pitchers until, hopefully, Santana moves, a couple of free agents sign, and the bidders begin, in the words of one A's official, "frothing at the mouth."

The Diamondbacks haven't quite frothed. But they've been all over Haren. And that's a deal that could very conceivably happen in the next week or two.

Because Haren is under control for $16.25 million over the next three years, he's exactly what Arizona is looking for in its constant quest to avoid the free-agent pitching insanity. And because the Diamondbacks are loaded with prospects, they're exactly what the budget-minded A's are seeking. So this is way too logical to fall apart. Isn't it?

There's a better chance of me breeding unicorns than there is of that deal happening.

--A's GM Billy Beane on a proposed three-team trade with the Mets and Twins

The Mets and Dodgers, meanwhile, are the teams most often connected with Blanton. But the A's aren't as upbeat about the Mets' prospect package as they are about the possibility of doing business with the Dodgers. L.A. has other options, though -- such as Bedard and Hiroki Kuroda. So there is no Blanton deal on anybody's front burner for the moment.

Ultimately, then, the A's weren't ready to make any deals in this setting. But at least Beane did deliver on one thing -- the best quote of the winter meetings.

After rumors surfaced of a zany three-team trade with the Mets and Twins that would have featured Haren, Santana and Jose Reyes changing teams, Beane quipped: "There's a better chance of me breeding unicorns than there is of that deal happening."

5. Where did all the trades go?

The three most heavily rumored trades that didn't happen at these meetings:

Scott Rolen

Rolen

1. Scott Rolen to the Brewers for Chris Capuano and a top prospect. The Brewers wouldn't give up Capuano. The Cardinals didn't want to trade Rolen within the division. But stay tuned. Tony La Russa essentially filed for divorce from Rolen by torching him in what was supposed to be his normally serene winter meetings media session. So how can the Cardinals possibly keep Rolen now?

2. Alex Rios to the Giants for Tim Lincecum. The Blue Jays still would do this. But the Giants -- who currently have no position player on their roster who hit 20 homers or drove in 85 runs this year -- are still debating what the heck they want to do to restructure their lineup in the Post-Home Run King Era.

3. Jason Bay and Ronny Paulino to the Indians for Franklin Gutierrez, Cliff Lee and Kelly Shoppach. This was overblown from the beginning.

6. The free-agent nonmarket

The three biggest free-agent signings, in one of the deadest winter meetings signfests in the free-agent era:

Jose Guillen

Guillen

1. Jose Guillen to the Royals for three years, $36 million. The Royals were determined to add an outfield bat. Well, they got one. They got a guy who has played for six teams in the past six seasons. They got a guy who has been linked to HGH purchases. They got a guy whose name might come up in the Mitchell report. And it didn't stop them from paying him $36 million and committing to him for three years. Hey, you think it's easy to get players to come to Kansas City?

2. Andruw Jones to the Dodgers for two years, $36.2 million. Scott Boras will try to spin this by saying that Jones got more per year than Torii Hunter (by $100,000). And he did. But remember this: Boras told the Braves he was going to get Jones eight years and $160 million. He was only off by six years and $123.8 million. So is it safe to say it hasn't been Boras' favorite offseason so far?

3. David Riske to the Brewers for three years, $13 million. The price of set-up men continues to boggle the mind. Riske had a terrific year in Kansas City last season. But he's also a guy who has pitched for four teams in the past three seasons. And he has fewer career saves (20) than Yhency Brazoban. And he cost the Brewers more than $4 million a year. What a country.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and now is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com