Beltre and Soriano now focus of attention in surprising offseason
The A's, Angels and Rangers have been keeping an eye on Adrian Beltre
Closer Rafael Soriano is coming off a career year for the Tampa Bay Rays
The player's union did not pressure Cliff Lee about taking the most money offered
This offseason has been, for the most part, a mystery. The Carl Crawford signing with the Red Sox was slightly surprising in that most folks had him pegged for the Angels, the Jayson Werth deal with the Nationals was very surprising in that nobody had him going to D.C. and the Cliff Lee agreement with the Phillies was downright shocking.
And while those three, the biggest free agents entering the Hot Stove season, are off the market, there is still plenty of intrigue left, especially at the top. Once again, very little is known about which teams are chasing fine all-around third baseman Adrian Beltre and almost nothing has been heard about the market for Rafael Soriano, a dominating closer in 2010. There's an outside chance, of course, that quiet could mean the market is disappointingly small. But as we have learned, just because little has been said or written about a pursuer doesn't mean they don't exist. No one heard word one about the Nationals deal with Werth until after the press conference was called.
In a market where star players were in great demand, nobody should be surprised if the best of the remaining players still do very well. Beltre's two-way abilities should be very much appreciated right now (see Werth and Crawford, two others who are adept both at the plate and in the field and got good deals). Soriano is coming off an excellent season in which he had an AL-best 45 saves and a 1.73 ERA, although the closer market looks troublesome now, with Boston getting seemingly no takers in trade talks for Jonathan Papelbon.
Plus, there's money out there. The Yankees and Rangers -- the two losers for Lee -- both made nine-figure offers to Lee that were not accepted, so they clearly have money to spend, if they so choose. And the Angels, allegedly cash-rich, should have plenty, as well. Here is a rundown of what we know to date about the prizes that are left:
Adrian Beltre. The AL West seems prominent in the Beltry derby, with the A's the early bidders, the Rangers interested bystanders and the Angels remaining the most logical suitors. The A's tried early with a $64-million, five-year offer, first reported by Enrique Rojas of ESPN, that was summarily rejected. There was word they were dropping out at one point, but it's hard to imagine the A's turning him away if Beltre came back to them.
The Rangers love Beltre, but their situation is complicated by the presence of beloved Ranger Michael Young at third base. He makes $16 million a year and won't be easy to trade now that he's no longer a shortstop (the Rockies have shown the most interest in Young as a second baseman, a position he hasn't played everyday since 2003, but would probably need to involve a third team, making the whole thing complicated). Besides, the Rangers don't seem all that anxious to trade Young. They could move him to first base, the only infield position he hasn't played in his career, or designated hitter, but he's still viable as a third baseman and worth less as a DH.
The Angels are still the team that makes the most sense for Beltre but they have not been bold players in the free-agent market and have had trouble landing premium free agents. Beltre is said by an Angels person to be a "good fit'' for a team that obviously needs offense, and a third baseman in particular. Who knows for sure if there's a fourth team in the bidding? The Orioles were believed to be interested at one point, but they've acquired Mark Reynolds and it would seem to be a waste of Reynolds' talents to make a first baseman out of him. The Pirates, seemingly a long shot, are believed to be another team to have checked in.
Rafael Soriano. His market is the biggest mystery of all. The Angels have already signed two strong middle relievers but still don't have a great closer (Fernando Rodney is the guy for now) and could fortify their bullpen by adding Soriano. The Yankees have the money but don't seem the least bit inclined to spend what would be an insane amount of money on someone who would only be a set-up man for them. And the Rangers, who already have a cheaper but even more talented closer in Neftali Feliz, don't seem of a mind to spend like crazy on a closer. The Angels could ultimately be the ones who get Soriano. Or a surprise smaller-market club could come out of the woodwork, as was the case with Francisco Cordero and the Reds a few years back.
Carl Pavano. Pavano has turned his career around the last few years since leaving the Yankees. He won 31 games combined the past two seasons for the Indians and Twins and established himself as a leader in Minnesota's clubhouse. The Twins and Brewers are both good fits, but Pavano is being patient in hopes of finding a three-year Ted Lilly-like deal (Lilly got a three-year, $33 million deal from the Dodgers). The Rangers potentially could be a player now that they missed on Lee, especially if the price tag is too high in potential trades for the Royals' Zack Greinke or the Rays' Matt Garza, as it might well be. The Nationals are a long-short fourth possibility.
The relievers. Pedro Feliciano is said to relish staying in New York and is close to a two-year deal with the Yankees, who need a lefty specialist like him. Brian Fuentes, who has been unjustly maligned in recent years and can close or set up, is talking to the Orioles and others. Journeyman Octavio Dotel is drawing interest from Toronto and Pittsburgh. Arthur Rhodes, an All-Star for the first time at age 40 last year, and Kevin Gregg are among the other relievers still available.
It's clear from Cliff Lee's press conference that his heart was in Philadelphia all along -- although it's curious that on Sunday night he told the Rangers he'd stay with them for about $150 million over seven years (they were at $120 million for six or $138 million for six with a ton deferred). It seems clear the Yankees were his No. 3 choice no matter how you look at it. He apparently just had reservations about New York, and as he said about the amount of money he was being offered, "enough is enough.'' He got plenty, with $120 million over five years.
The players union put zero pressure on Lee to choose or even consider the highest bidder (the Yankees). "Absolutely not,'' players union chief Michael Weiner said. "That's just not our approach. We want players to make the best use of their right under the Basic Agreement ... As long as a player makes an informed decision, we're happy. There are non-economic considerations. The fact that Cliff took a deal that wasn't top dollar isn't a problem for us.'' Good for them. Their approach is 100 percent right.
The Red Sox didn't do badly by adding Bobby Jenks to the back-end of their bullpen for $12 million over two years, and now have three power arms back there, with Papelbon and Daniel Bard. Papelbon still seems to be something of a trade consideration, if the Red Sox can find a team.
Joe Blanton is going to be dealt by the Phillies. It's just a matter of time.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka has agreement on a three-year deal plus an option for close to $10 million with the Twins. They aren't sure whether he'll play shortstop or second base.
The Rangers and Vladimir Guerrero may yet get together on a one-year contract. Texas offered one early in the offseason, but at that time Guerrero was hoping for a multiyear contract somewhere. The DH market is tight, though. Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez are still out there, and Hideki Matsui signed for $4.25 million and one year with Oakland.
Magglio Ordoñez had multiyear offers but was pleased to go back to Detroit for $10 million and one year. He and owner Mike Ilitch have a special bond, one that's maybe just behind the one that Paul Konerko has with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
In response to earlier reports the Royals were talking to the Blue Jays about a deal of Kyle Drabek and Travis Snider for Zack Greinke, one GM said, "They're asking for a lot more than that.'' Can't blame them if so. Greinke is an ace pitcher with only $27 million to go on his contract over the next two years.