Winners and losers from Las Vegas
New York's two teams, the Mets and Yankees, scored big in Las Vegas
Mark Teixeira is likely to see his price tag rise and may get $200 million
The Padres' inability to trade Jake Peavy made them and their ace big losers
LAS VEGAS -- Rather than the beautiful five-star Bellagio hotel, perhaps the just-concluded baseball Winter Meetings should have been held a few blocks south on Las Vegas Boulevard at the not-nearly-as-luxurious Big Apple-themed New York, New York.
Because unless you live in Bronx, Queens or any of the other three boroughs, you might well consider this year's gathering to have been a glamorous and glitzy waste of time.
"It's amazing to me how many people can spend time, money and resources and get nothing done,'' said Barry Axelrod, the agent for Padres star Jake Peavy, who remains a Padre in limbo after their latest trade talks went nowhere. "Baseball moved lock, stock and barrel into that town, and nothing happened.''
Well, not quite nothing. The Yankees got started revamping their starting rotation by beating the Brewers to the year's biggest free-agent pitching prize, CC Sabathia, and the Mets went a long way toward remaking their incendiary bullpen by acquiring not one, but two closers, Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz.
But as for the majority of the other 28 teams, well, they mostly crapped out. Here are this year's winners and losers ...
1. New York Yankees
General manager Brian Cashman flew to the Bay Area to secure Sabathia, the pitcher the Yankees had to have, in a $161-million signing that appears to be a prelude to a Yankee-dominated offseason. On Friday, the day after the meetings ended, they further upgraded their rotation by agreeing to a five-year contract with A.J. Burnett, and they remain in serious negotiations with Derek Lowe and have Ben Sheets and old Yankee Andy Pettitte in their sights. They are also considering big-time first baseman Mark Teixeira or slugging savant Manny Ramirez, meaning they could wind up signing as many as four of the five big players on this year's market (Sabathia, Teixeira, Ramirez, Burnett and Lowe are the big five). Plus, they still might fill their centerfield hole with Mike Cameron.
There was a lot of muttering in the half-empty casino about the Yankees supposedly bidding against themselves for Sabathia, to go up $21 million from $140 million. But in reality, they were bidding against Sabathia's desire to play on the West Coast, play in the National League, avoid spring in Florida and New York at almost all costs. To the contrary, they actually played it well, setting the market early at $140 million and scaring away all California comers. Bully for them, with "bully'' being the key word there.
2. CC Sabathia
Sure, he didn't get to go home to play in California, he has to go back to spring training in Florida (a place he is said to have hated as a Cleveland Indian training in Winter Haven), he won't be doing his beloved batting as often and he'll have to face generally better hitting. But he's the only $161-million winner in Vegas.
3. New York Mets
They came here needing to acquire a closer, and they got two. Unlike Sabathia, Rodriguez craved the big city and wanted the biggest stage he could find. He's got the name and game to make it there, and the switch of leagues can only help. And Putz (pronounced "puts"), one of the game's best closers in 2007, could become one of the game's most dominating set-up men. The Mets were thrilled not to surrender any of their "core'' players or prospects, but the trade did not come without cost or risk. Aaron Heilman has value (maybe not to the Mets, but to others), hard-throwing pitching prospect Maikel Cleto has potential and Putz has a small but still worrisome elbow question.
4. Mark Teixeira
No, he hasn't signed anywhere yet, but his price just went up. The re-entry of the Yankees into the bidding can do nothing but cause the Red Sox to press to sign its one and only marquee free-agent target. Boston has a very nice team (it is favored here in Vegas to win the 2009 World Series) but it craves to provide David Ortiz with a middle-of-the-order mate. With Teixeira's old Angels team plus his two hometown teams, the Orioles and Nationals, in the bidding (Teixeira hails from Severna Park, Md., between those two cities), the price will surely top Sabathia's and could even hit Teixeira's $200-million target figure. Recession, what recession?
5. A.J. Burnett
His well-timed hot streak (8-2, 2.86 in the second half) is going to pay off big-time. As his agent, Darek Braunecker, said all along, Burnett has a five-year option if he wants it. The Yankees are out there, at $80 million for five. He can go there, or the Miami resident can choose to play closer to home in Atlanta. The Braves are believed to have offered four years for $60 million plus a vesting option, and could come up from there.
6. Seattle Mariners
New Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik was said to have been very reasonable in his dealings, as he surrendered the original idea of insisting on young Mets left-hander Jon Niese. However, Zduriencik, who earned his first GM job this offseason by out-scouting all of baseball, came up with some gems here, including Cleto and speedy centerfielder Ezequiel Carrera, in the deal for Putz. They aren't saying it aloud, but Seattle primarily sees Heilman as a starter. Their outfield defense improved with additions of Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez, and so did their depth. Nice work.
7. Cleveland Indians
Joe Smith comes from the Mets to bolster their questionable bullpen, and once the deal is done, the 98-mph-throwing Kerry Wood will help even more. The expected price of close to $20 million over two years isn't too bad for someone with his stuff.
8. Los Angeles Dodgers
They came to Vegas with multiple needs and only half an infield but leave with solid third baseman Casey Blake, who did well for them last summer, for $17 million over three years, and good-hitting backup Mark Loretta, an L.A. product who went home for $1.4 million. Plus, with Rafael Furcal rejecting Oakland's four-year offer, they still have an outside chance to keep their multitalented shortstop (though they want to give him two years, not his preferred four). Oakland is back in the game, and Kansas City probably will be the high bidder, but the Dodgers remain in contention.
Plus, on the off chance the Yankees actually stun everyone and lure Teixeira away from the favored Red Sox, New York will presumably pass on signing Manny, meaning the Dodgers won't have to try to outbid the Yankees, whose cash supply appears almost endless.
1. San Diego Padres
After failing to send Peavy to the Braves, their efforts to trade him to the Cubs ended here with Chicago GM Jim Hendry walking away and other Cubs executives complaining about San Diego's negotiating style and a perception of leaks. The Cubs were less than thrilled that it was revealed everywhere which of their players were expected to be in the deal (third-base prospect Josh Vitters, young right-hander Kevin Hart and many others were mentioned often). "These guys have feelings and families,'' one Cubs executive griped. And the penny-squeezing Padres still have Peavy, who has $63 million to go over four years. Peavy now apparently wants out. But does he want it bad enough to expand his list of five preferred teams? Not necessarily. "There won't be any more lists,'' Axelrod told SI.com. "We're done with that.''
2. Jake Peavy
Poor guy. I am almost starting to feel sorry for him. Looks like he's going to spend the winter waiting and wondering where he's going to go. One saving grace: His full no-trade clause gives him the right to veto any deal, assuming the Padres can actually make one.
3. Milwaukee Brewers
They made a valiant effort to keep Sabathia but saw themselves outbid by $61 million by the Yankees. Now it looks like they'll consider finding new homes for some of CC's friends, starting with centerfielder Cameron, who could be headed to the Yankees for young centerfielder Melky Cabrera. Aggressive owner Mark Attanasio did his best to keep Sabathia by offering nine figures (an unheard-of figure for a small-market team) but isn't about to start sprinkling that cash all over town for a bunch of free agents who won't add up to CC. They are said to be focusing on a few starters and looking at dependable reliever Brian Fuentes. At least they still have a superb corps of kids. So all is not lost.
4. Relief pitchers
When K-Rod took almost exactly half what he sought (he got $37 million guaranteed when he wanted $75 million), the bottom dropped out of the closing market. Of course, the disastrous economy is the main culprit. And, in a way it's admirable what Rodriguez did, as he wanted to go to a big market to show off his great skills and accomplished that in a closing market almost bereft of big-market choices. But his reasonable rate was seen as a "panic'' play by other free-agent relievers who watched their market capped. Wood should wind up with close to $20 million, and Fuentes should still land a three-year deal for about $30 million, but he's going to have to work to get it.
5. Outfield market
It looks ugly so far. Pat Burrell reportedly couldn't get the Phillies to bite on a three-year request and he's looking at a steep pay cut from the $14 million he made in 2008. Beyond Raul Ibanez, who's reportedly headed to the Phillies and is seen as a "late bloomer,'' other stars also will likely have to reduce their expectations. Even the best player in the group, Bobby Abreu, may have to settle for less, and Abreu is a star who's one of three players to have 100 RBIs each of the past six seasons (Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols are the others) and one of three alltime to have 200 career home runs, 300 steals and a .400 on-base percentage (Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson are the others).
Simply put, there's just a glut of great-hitting, average (or worse)-fielding outfielders, including Adam Dunn and oft-injured Milton Bradley, who, while primarily a designated hitter in 2008, can defend better than the others but brings other risks, such as the attitude controversies that have plagued him in the past.