For top players, GMs 'wild week' ahead at Winter Meetings
Jayson Werth, Adrian Gonzalez, Adam Dunn among big player moves already
Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford will be the top players to watch during the meetings
Washington made a splash by getting Werth and may be far from done
LAKE BUENA, VISTA, Fla. -- Baseball's Winter Meetings got off to a rousing start even before they officially began on Monday. Jayson Werth signed the most under-the-radar -- and, some might claim, over-the-top -- $126 million contract in baseball annals. New Mets GM Sandy Alderson said as much, when he cracked about Washington's deficit and also suggested the Werth deal made some of the Mets' old deals look "pretty good.'' And not long after Werth's stunning deal, which GM Mike Rizzo aptly called "monumental'' in Washington history, the Red Sox and superstar first baseman Adrian Gonzalez found enough common ground for Boston to sign off on their four-prospect trade with the Padres.
Some might take exception as to whether Werth was worth it (MLB bigwigs were said to be apoplectic over the deal), but few could disagree with the Red Sox-Padres swap, which solved Boston's need for a big bat and got San Diego started on a rebuilding process with blue-chip prospects Casey Kelly (an athletic right-handed pitcher), left-handed-hitting power first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and speedy outfielder Reymond Fuentes, Carlos Beltran's cousin whose tools much more closely resemble Jacoby Ellsbury's. One GM wondered if San Diego might have added "at least one major leaguer'' but it wasn't a bad haul considering Gonzalez had only one year left on his contract and an arm in a sling following offseason shoulder surgery.
The Red Sox and Gonzalez do not have an official agreement on a new deal, but people in the know said they have worked out the parameters and the new contract was expected to be for about $160 million over seven years, on top of his $6.2 million 2011 salary, bringing the grand total to close to $170 million, which is exactly what Boston bid for Mark Teixeira two winters ago before being outbid by the Yankees by $10 million. Gonzalez, who consistently put up monster numbers in the game's worst hitters stadium (PETCO Park) and with very little lineup protection, saved the day for Boston, which also had sought Werth, and understood it was running well behind in the bidding for its own third baseman, Adrian Beltre, who's talking to the A's, Angels, Orioles and another team or two.
Sunday was a nice warmup, and it'll be tough to top. But the elements are there. "It's going to be a wild week,'' one assistant GM said. There is a lot of money in the game, a few exceptional free agents and a long list of other available hopefuls, only one bona fide superstar starting pitcher and some teams with obvious needs. Here are some of the biggest players here at Disney, which may become an even happier place for several of these fellows.
1. Cliff Lee. The top difference-maker on this year's market is a proven winner who appeals to the Yankees because he dominates October and he dominates them. The Rangers are the stalking horse. The American League champions are promoting camaraderie and proximity to baseball's greatest clutch pitcher, and there are whispers around the game that Lee might prefer to stay in a clubhouse where he was comfortable and a mere 4― hours from his home in Little Rock, Ark. But few believe the Yankees will lose a race for the player they've been targeting for a year. Their failure to land him at the trade deadline only makes them want him more, and the Yankees usually do not lose players they want this badly. "The Steinbrenners aren't going to let Lee get away this time,'' one competing GM opined. The Rangers are giving it a game effort, and they have a favorable tax situation (luxury and U.S. taxes) on their side, but are thought unlikely to go beyond five years for the star left-hander. It's still hard to imagine an ending in which Lee isn't donning the pinstripes.
Prediction: Yankees, $150 million, six years.
2. Carl Crawford. This splendid athlete is fortunate enough to be pursued by the Angels, Rangers, Yankees and Red Sox -- though the Rangers will be out if they are lucky enough to land Cliff Lee. The Yankees have a chance to secure both players, and can't ever be counted out, but they have no real outfield hole, and their pursuit might at least lose its urgency if they lock up Lee. The Tigers, Astros and several more may be in the bidding for the superb runner and defender who showed he could thrive in the No. 3 hole in the second half last year and seems ready to show more power. Two people close to Crawford say they'd be surprised if he chose Boston over the Angels, Rangers or Yankees, but those are merely opinions. The buzz is that the Angels are most likely to win this big-time derby. At 29, Crawford is two years younger than Jayson Werth, so his price might have just gone up.
Prediction: Angels, $144 million, eight years.
3. Adrian Beltre. The A's were said to be acting like they were about to give up after Beltre ignored their reported $64 million, five-year offer for at least two weeks. He is believed to seek a contract comparable to the one the Angels bestowed on Torii Hunter, which was $90 million over five years. Beltre said recently at David Ortiz's bowling party he'd like to return to Boston, but the Adrian Gonzalez deal makes that seem somewhat improbable, if it wasn't already. The Rangers are another team that likes Beltre but it doesn't appear he fits there as they are currently constituted, with six-time All-Star Michael Young manning the hot corner. This is a tough one to handicap.
Prediction: Angels, $75 million, five years.
4. Paul Konerko. He and White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf have such a close relationship it's hard to imagine Konerko leaving the South Side of Chicago, especially for Baltimore, which appears to be his second most viable option. Agent Craig Landis meets Tuesday with White Sox assistant GM Rick Hahn here to figure out the numbers. If Konerko wants three more years, it's hard to see the Sox not doing that, at about $13 million per year, just slightly south of what Adam Dunn got from the Sox on a per-year basis when he signed his four-year, $56 million deal with them last week.
5. Rafael Soriano. There hasn't been much buzz about this terrific closer. It's not necessarily a great closer market, but Soriano had such a superb season (AL-leading 45 saves, 1.73 ERA) he should still do well. The Angels could use him. The Rangers and Red Sox might consider him, as well, especially if Texas makes Neftali Feliz a starter (that seems unlikely now) or the Red Sox find a taker for Jonathan Papelbon. It's a funny closer market with Papelbon and Cincinnati's Francisco Cordero available in trade, and Bobby Jenks nontendered by the White Sox due to a potentially high arbitration number, flattening breaking ball and rounding body. The Nationals look like they have a future closer in Dew Storen, but they can never be counted out of anything at this point.
Prediction: Angels, $40 million, three years. (note: it is highly unlikely the Angels will get three big-time free agents, but they look like a possible favorite in each individual case.)
1. Darek Braunecker. He is a star here with Cliff Lee, his Arkansas neighbor and client, being the player most likely to impact pennants in the next few years. Don't let his down-home, easy-going nature fool you, as he's managed to secure well over $100 million for talented but enigmatic right-hander A.J. Burnett.
2. Scott Boras. Folks were raving abut the Werth contract, which beat the target, Matt Holliday's $120 million, seven-year deal of a year ago. It's hard to understand when a player beats the goal, but it does happen on occasion. Boras also represents Beltre, Soriano and close to 20 free agent players overall, including some former big-time stars such as Manny Ramirez, Magglio Ordoņez and Johnny Damon.
3. Greg Genske, Brian Peters and Scott Parker. Legacy Sports has Crawford, and they've prepared a video of this four-time All-Star for your viewing pleasure. Crawford will become the first speed merchant to exceed $100 million, and he will do it by a large margin. The Angels need help near the top of their lineup, and he seems to fit them perfectly. The Red Sox and Yankees both love him (don't they always loved the same players?). This trio got the deal for Adam Dunn and also has free agents Orlando Hudson, Brad Penny and Jeremy Bonderman.
4. Craig Landis. This Californian has represented a lot of pitchers in his day, including recently re-signed Dodger Jon Garland, and he has Konerko again. Konerko passed up bigger bucks last time in Anaheim and Baltimore to stay with the White Sox, and he'll likely return to the place he's called home since 1999.
5. Casey Close. He's fresh off the protracted, soap-operatic Derek Jeter negotiations, which ended with a creative and complex deal that guarantees Jeter at least $56 million over four your years if he exercises the fourth-year player option, and $51 million over three if he does not. Close still has a couple interesting cases here. Derrek Lee is a fine first baseman coming off by far his worst year but may be a great signing for someone. And Scott Downs is a terrific set-up man who could help any team in baseball.