The Rule 5 draft isn’t followed by the Winter Meetings Awards Show. The Commissioner’s Trophy still resides in San Francisco. Pitchers and catchers won’t report for another couple months.
But titles can be won and lost at this time of year. The move that determines the 2011 World Series champion may have been consummated over the past few days in the corridors of the Dolphin Hotel.
Sure, it’s only one week. But there isn’t another one like it on the baseball calendar. And now that the rollerboards have traversed the lobby one last time, here is the FOXSports.com box score of the winter meetings’ winners and losers.
Boston Red Sox: They are the undisputed heavyweight champs. Theo Epstein swung the deal for franchise first baseman Adrian Gonzalez on Sunday — before the meetings even opened. Gonzalez and the Red Sox have yet to agree on a long-term contract extension, but that should happen once he starts rapping doubles off the Green Monster. Then came the showstopper late Wednesday night: Epstein agreed to a seven-year, $142 million contract with stud free agent Carl Crawford. The Red Sox look like the most exciting team in baseball right now — and have a chance to be the best.
Scott Boras: Like the song goes: He’s got the magic in him. There is a reason why Boras’ clientele remains so vast and so wealthy. Jayson Werth didn’t play at all in 2006 because of severe wrist injuries and has exactly two major league seasons of 500 or more plate appearances. He signed for seven years and $126 million. Carlos Pena batted .196 this past season, albeit with good power. Still, that’s 1-9-6. He got $10 million. Boras could stop now and call it a good offseason. But he still has Adrian Beltre and Rafael Soriano in the queue.
Cliff Lee: Of course, he hasn’t signed yet. But it’s hard to imagine the market unfolding for Lee any better than it has. The seven-year contracts for Crawford and Werth expanded the imaginations (and pocketbooks) of teams who were considering whether a 32-year-old starting pitcher deserved the same investment. The Yankees want him badly and are offering seven years. The Rangers have made three trips to visit Lee in Arkansas and are presenting an array of proposals. Now it’s decision time. Financially, he can’t go wrong.
Carl Crawford: The Angels were supposedly the front-runner for Crawford, but their reported offer — six years, $108 million — fell far short of Boston’s. A potentially gut-wrenching decision was made easy. It’s hard to imagine any player making a different call given the $34 million spread. Now Crawford has the potential to excite the New England fan base in a way that few players have.
Derek Jeter and Paul Konerko: Neither negotiation was resolved as quickly as it should have been. Jeter, in particular, was upset by the public nature of his dealings. But in the end, both players ended up where they belonged — Jeter with the Yankees, Konerko with the White Sox.
National League also-rans: The Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks — who finished last in their respective divisions — each made meaningful upgrades this week.
• The Nationals should be commended, not ridiculed, for the Werth signing. This isn’t a salary-cap sport. Principal owner Theodore Lerner, a man of immense wealth, authorized the annual expense of $18 million. I doubt he would have done so if general manager Mike Rizzo had asked for permission to sign a passel of middle relievers. The Nationals needed credibility. Werth gives them that.
• The Pirates, meanwhile, have said they will spend and are starting to do it. The names aren’t big — Kevin Correia, Matt Diaz, Scott Olsen — but Clint Hurdle should have a respectable roster in his first year as the Pittsburgh manager.
• Let’s not act surprised that Kevin Towers is making moves in his first months as the Arizona GM. The signing of broad-shouldered closer J.J. Putz is important for the bullpen, which lacked gravitas in 2010. Fellow right-handed reliever David Hernandez was another good pickup as the key piece in the Mark Reynolds trade.
Chicago White Sox starting pitchers: On the one hand, an offense featuring Konerko and Adam Dunn will offer plenty of run support. On the other, Kenny Williams has little money left to build a bullpen. Mark Buehrle and friends should prepare for a long summer of eight-inning starts.
Minnesota Twins: Will a middle infield of Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Alexi Casilla be better than J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson? I’m not sure. But the scenario makes sense if the lower-cost combo allows GM Bill Smith to re-sign Carl Pavano. We should have that answer within the next week.
Zack Greinke: The Royals are gauging interest in the ace right-hander. The pace has been deliberate so far, but it should hasten once Lee signs. Greinke’s time in the rumor limelight is fast approaching.
Texas Rangers: The defending AL champions were one of the busiest teams this week, pursuing Lee while dangling franchise icon Michael Young on the trade market. Moving Young would be unpopular with their fan base, but Lee is the more pressing concern. If they bring the lefty back to Arlington, all of this will be worthwhile.
Los Angeles Angels: One player changes everything. If they had made the $142 million offer to Crawford, they would be on the other side of this ledger. But they didn’t. So, they remain a team in dire need of star power, coming off a rare non-playoff year. About the only way to sell this as a successful offseason will be to sign Beltre and Soriano while trading for an outfield bat. Boras, who represents both players, is aware that the Angels aren’t negotiating from a position of strength. Good luck, Arte Moreno.
Philadelphia Phillies: They gained Dennys Reyes, a veteran left-handed reliever. But they lost Werth, the everyday right fielder on back-to-back World Series teams. Reyes is a good piece, but that’s not a favorable tradeoff. Until further notice, it’s Ben Francisco and/or Domonic Brown in right field.
New York Yankees: With one stroke of Lee’s pen, all could be well (for a few days, at least) on Planet Pinstripe. But take a closer look at the state of this team. Andy Pettitte remains undecided about whether he will pitch in 2011. So, the Yankees have three certain starters at the moment — and A.J. Burnett is one. And then there is the Jeter Question. No, not whether he will be able to get along with management. It’s this: With their diminished range on the left side, will Jeter and Alex Rodriguez hamper the efforts of a work-in-progress pitching staff?
Tampa Bay Rays: Crawford, Pena and Joaquin Benoit are gone. Others will follow, including Soriano. It’s sad to see an excellent GM and captivating manager say goodbye to one player after another. But they can’t do anything about it.
New York Mets: Even with a new general manager, there isn’t much buzz about this team. Sandy Alderson has been asked to be frugal with the Wilpon checkbook. And so D.J. Carrasco and Ronny Paulino were the Mets’ most significant signings this week. None of this is Alderson’s fault. But it’s shocking whenever a New York team is one of the least-talked-about teams in the winter meeting lobby.