During the winter meetings, it’s fashionable for executives, agents and sportswriters to grumble about the slow pace of business.
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That shouldn’t be the case this year.
All things considered, the early rounds of this week’s proceedings at the Gaylord Opryland have been quite eventful. Significant free agents Angel Pagan, Mike Napoli and Dan Haren agreed to new contracts. Josh Hamilton arrived in town and met with the Seattle Mariners, among other clubs.
Here’s the FOXSports.com Winter Meetings Halftime Report — complete with what to expect between now and when the session adjourns Thursday morning.
THE HAREN EFFECT
For overall market impact, the most notable move of the meetings may have been Haren’s surprise signing with the Washington Nationals, as first reported by FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal.
With Haren in the fold on a one-year, $13 million contract, the Nationals’ rotation appears set, barring trades: Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Haren, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler. That means Washington is no longer a strong possibility for Zack Greinke, the top free agent pitcher.
Greinke probably lost leverage when Haren signed with the Nationals, because the team’s cash-flush ownership was seen as a credible threat to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a bidding war. Now the Dodgers are perceived as having the most financial might of the interested teams, ahead of the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels.
By Tuesday evening, a major-league source indicated the Dodgers had become the "clear front-runner" to land Greinke. It appears Greinke will sign for at least five years. The greatest remaining threat to the Dodgers would appear to be a late push by the Angels or the Rangers.
Haren’s decision to sign with the Nationals defined Greinke’s marketplace further, raising the possibility that he could sign a new contract sooner than expected.
PRESSURE ON THE PHILLIES
As of this moment, the Phillies’ starting outfield is Darin Ruf, John Mayberry Jr. and Domonic Brown. Not quite World Series caliber.
After losing out on free agents B.J. Upton and Pagan, Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is facing a more limited number of options to bolster his outfield. Michael Bourn, a fourth-round pick of the Phillies in 2003, is the top true center fielder left on the free agent market, but it’s unclear if Amaro is ready to meet the asking price of agent Scott Boras.
Until the Phillies add an outfielder or two, speculation will persist about Hamilton as a fit in center or left. The Phillies can expect added revenues from a new local television rights agreement in the coming years, so Hamilton is more attainable than one might think given the existing commitments to Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and the pricey rotation.
Colorado Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler is one trade candidate, but the Rockies don’t appear to be a good financial fit for the top Philadelphia starters; Colorado native Roy Halladay is said to be too expensive for the Rockies budget.
DOES HAMILTON SUIT SEATTLE?
The sincerity of the Mariners’ interest in Hamilton was made evident by the fact that the parties met in Nashville this week. Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik wants a middle-of-the-order bat, and Napoli rebuffed his entreaties by signing with Boston.
Hamilton obviously would help what has been one of the worst lineups in baseball for several years. But some within the Seattle organization believe that adding Hamilton alone would be risky, apart from the usual questions about his injuries and past drug abuse.
Here’s why: Hamilton has a tendency to swing at pitches outside the strike zone, early in the count. The quality of pitches a No. 3 hitter sees is usually linked to the hitter behind him. (See Miguel Cabrera’s MVP award, with an assist from Prince Fielder.) The Mariners’ most frequent cleanup men this season were Jesus Montero, John Jaso and Justin Smoak. If that remained the case with Hamilton in the lineup, how many good pitches would he see?
Before investing $100 million or more in a player, the Mariners probably need to commit to spending even more (via trade or free agency) on a hitter who could offer lineup protection. One course would be to sign Hamilton to bat third and trading for Mike Morse — a former Mariner — to hit behind him. The Mariners are known to have interest in Morse, who could play left field or first base.
WILL THE YANKEES RESPOND?
We know the answer from the Bronx is coming. It’s a question of when.
All the ingredients are there for the Yankees to make a big splash: They failed to win the World Series for a third straight year. Alex Rodriguez could miss half the season or more. The rival Boston Red Sox have been busy with the additions of Napoli, Johnny Gomes and David Ross.
The Yankees brought back veteran pitchers Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera on one-year contracts. But they can’t be done, even amid their pledge to keep their payroll below $189 million starting in 2014. Hamilton remains a fit, and they can probably afford him in future years if they let Curtis Granderson depart as a free agent. They’ve also touched base on lower-priced outfielders like Cody Ross and Scott Hairston, and they need to procure a short-and-maybe-long-term replacement for A-Rod at third base.