Winter meetings winners and losers
Red Sox reload, emerge victorious; Angels whiff on their prime target, Carl Crawford
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- They checked in Sunday, muttering, "Can you believe that Jayson Werth contract?"
They checked out Thursday, muttering, "Can you believe the Red Sox got Carl Crawford?"
And in between, baseball's 30 general managers teamed up to give us four days of winter meetings madness that will go down in the annals of historic spending if not unforgettable team-building.
Werth and Crawford became the second pair of free-agent position players in history to sign deals of seven years (or more) and $100 million-plus in the same offseason. (The only others: Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez a decade ago.)
So although we remind you that there are two months left in this offseason for all of this to change, here's a look at the winners and losers of the latest edition of baseball's winter meetings:
1. Boston Red Sox
They didn't just have a great week by this offseason's standards. They had one of the great winter meetings weeks ever. The two best offensive players available this winter were Adrian Gonzalez and Crawford. The Red Sox found a way to add both of them -- and they pushed the Yankees' buttons so adeptly, they just about forced their pals from the Bronx to go far beyond what they ever intended in their quest to sign Cliff Lee.
Crawford's gapper-centric offensive repertoire and Gonzalez's inside-out stroke are both perfect fits for Fenway. They give the Red Sox five hitters who have had at least one season of at least 62 extra-base hits (or better) within the past three years. And both these men are premier defensive players, which never hurts.
Then again, they'd better be that good, because if this team can now finish off an extension for Gonzalez, it ain't going to be cheap. In fact, it'll cost more than a quarter-billion dollars for these two guys -- and it almost certainly would make the Red Sox just the second team in history to give out two nine-figure contracts of seven or more years in the same offseason. (The other: the 2009 Yankees, with CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira.)
So clearly, these were two acquisitions that again raise issues about baseball's never-ending money disparities. But if you had any questions who the centerpieces of the Red Sox's next generation were going to be, uh, questions answered.2. Left-hander Cliff Lee
Lee hasn't signed at these winter meetings. But other than that, he couldn't have had a better week if he'd won a Cy Young, hit the Powerball and won the National Bass Fishing Championship.
We'll never know how many dollars Werth and Crawford added to Lee's net worth. But by the time these meetings were over, the Rangers were flying another delegation to his house, the Yankees were dangling seven-year offers at him and he was poised to sign one of the largest, if not the largest, pitching contract of all time -- at age 32. So in retrospect, you think he has any regrets that he had to change teams three times in 12 months to do it? Yeah, thought so.3. Kansas City Royals
OK, we admit this is a premature "winners" award, because the Royals haven't actually traded Zack Greinke yet. But this week's developments put them in a better position to pull off this monster deal than they've been in at any time this winter.
On their way out of Disney World on Thursday, officials of two different teams delivered the same message: When they arrived at these meetings, they thought there was no way the Royals would trade their ace this winter. By the time they spun out the revolving door, they'd changed their minds -- and predicted it was now even "likely."
The price never changed all week. It's still going to take what one NL exec described as "five premium pieces" to make this deal happen. But the Royals were smartly treading water this week, waiting for Lee to sign. And once that happened, they knew, Greinke would represent the only difference-making starter out there for teams such as the Rangers, Nationals, Blue Jays, Marlins and others to explore.
Meanwhile, teams that spoke with the Royals believe that they're now more motivated to trade him because they recognize this is the time to strike -- when there's no real competition on the market -- and the reality has finally hit them that Greinke clearly wants out. "What can they tell him to keep him motivated -- that 'We'll be good in 2014?'" one AL exec said. "That's not going to fly. So now's the time, and I think they know it."4. Chicago White Sox
Their only official transaction this week was re-signing Paul Konerko. But even GM Kenny Williams admitted that the White Sox were close to waving goodbye to the face of their franchise, their No. 1 clubhouse presence and a guy who easily could have won an MVP award last season. So keeping Konerko was an important step -- and getting him signed for "only" $37.5 million over three years, less money per year than they just gave Adam Dunn, was huge.
Add Konerko's return to the White Sox's other moves this winter -- adding left-handed thump in Dunn and re-signing catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who also almost bolted -- and the White Sox remain positioned for another run in the AL Central. Williams also admits that they're now out of money, but he's listening on players like Carlos Quentin and Gavin Floyd. So you can never rule out a trademark Kenny Williams blockbuster between now and Pitchers and Catchers.5. San Diego Padres
You won't find this team on many other winners lists. But given the limited options the Padres had as Gonzalez's free agency neared, they did the best they could in what was, realistically, a one-team derby.
Boston was the place Gonzalez wanted to play, the one team that could deal for him with reasonable faith it could sign him. And the Padres still got three excellent prospects for him. They also made what other teams viewed as a worthwhile, low-cost trade for Jason Bartlett, who helps keep them competitive in 2011 at the least or becomes a big trading chip if they fall out of the race.
1. Los Angeles Angels
When was the last time a team had its offseason game plan reel so dramatically out of control as fast as this team's? The Angels spent the week pretty much fixating on Crawford, telling other clubs he was their No. 1 target by far, and acting incredibly confident his signing was all but inevitable. And then they took such a this-is-the-way-the-Angels-negotiate approach to signing him, they couldn't close the deal.
In the end, sources say, the Angels raised their offer enough that there was very little difference between their bid and the Red Sox's bid. But by then, Crawford was clearly drawn to everything that Boston had to offer -- and the Angels had suddenly become what one exec called "a team in trouble." Now, their only hope to salvage their offseason might be owner Arte Moreno's worst nightmare: overpaying two Scott Boras clients (Rafael Soriano and Adrian Beltre). And neither of them would bring them what Crawford could have.
"He was the perfect guy for them," one AL executive said. "He fit their lineup. He'd have been a big defensive upgrade in left. His speed fit in with how they like to play offensively. And now there's no one else out there who can give them that -- and no outfielders coming on the market over the next couple of winters who are like him. So they really misplayed their hand on this one."2. Tampa Bay Rays
If you didn't feel their window slamming when David Price lost Game 5 of the ALDS at The Trop, you could sure feel it this week when Crawford officially hit the exit ramp. The Rays knew this was coming, of course. But that didn't make losing their most beloved player any easier. And neither will the prospect of having to face him 18 times a year for each of the next seven seasons.
We almost feel guilty putting the Rays on this "losers" list because they've done just about everything right for three years, won two titles in the AL East and still were almost powerless to prevent The System from ripping apart one of baseball's most exciting teams. That would be a difficult lot in life in any division, but it's even more painful in the AL East, where building an 85-to-90-win team just earns you an October tee time.
Asked about the challenge of trying to survive in this AL East jungle, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said Thursday: "It's always been nearly impossible, and it's probably getting closer to impossible. But it's doable."
So how do they do it? There's lots of buzz about potentially nucleus-rebuilding deals involving B.J. Upton and/or Matt Garza. And although the Rays have publicly downplayed the chances of moving either of them, other clubs believe they're seriously thinking about it.3. New York Yankees
Whooh. Tough week. The Yankees got bashed by an angry Derek Jeter. They got outmaneuvered by a Red Sox team that got much better and more dangerous. They saw Crawford head for Boston before they had a chance to make a serious run at him. They heard no encouraging news about the return of Andy Pettitte. And by the end of the week, they felt so pressured to sign Lee, they found themselves doing something they'd sworn they would never do -- throw a seven-year offer at him.
Maybe, in the long run, this week will turn out to be just another blip on the Yankees' $200 million radar screen. Nevertheless, this isn't how they would have choreographed just about anything that unfolded.4. Philadelphia Phillies
In truth, the Phillies have known for months that Werth wouldn't be back. But now that it's official, it's hard to come up with any scenario that says they'll be a better team without a player whose .899 OPS the past two years was topped by only two players in the NL East -- Dunn (.910) and Hanley Ramirez (.905).
In fact, they don't even have a real attractive option on their radar screen. They never made a serious run at two free agents on their right-handed-hitter shopping list -- Jeff Francoeur and Matt Diaz, both of whom signed elsewhere. They showed only mild interest in another non-tendered free agent, Scott Hairston. And although they have explored trading for their old amigo, Aaron Rowand, if the Giants eat three-fourths of his salary, one source laid the current odds of that deal going down at only 2 in 10.
So while GM Ruben Amaro Jr. spun this mess by saying there was no urgency to address this vacancy this week, this month or even before Opening Day, the gap between the Phillies and the rest of the NL East continued to shrink this week.5. Washington Nationals
Somebody has to win the Most Outrageous Contract of the Winter Meetings competition. So it's time to deliver this year's prestigious nontrophy to those Washington Nationals, for handing Werth two more years and at least $40 million more than most clubs figured he'd get.
On one hand, we understand what the Nationals were trying to accomplish here. When your franchise hasn't played a postseason game in 30 years and all the people around you have been numbed by all the losing, you need to do something dramatic and eye-popping to get their attention and change that culture. So there was nothing wrong, in theory, with signing Werth, a very good player who was an underrated part of that Phillies quasi-NL East dynasty.
But seven years -- for a guy who will turn 32 in May and has had only two 500-at-bat seasons in his career? Whew. No free agent in the past two decades had signed a contract this long at this age (or older) who wasn't at least a multitime All-Star. So no wonder so many baseball conversations about this deal this week began with the same three words: "Oh my God."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.