AL East general managers have been top stars of the winter
Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos did a great job by trading Vernon Wells
The Red Sox' Theo Epstein made key moves to improve their bullpen and lineup
Only Brian Cashman of the Yankees did not have a great winter as an AL East GM
The baseball stars of this winter include four of the five general managers in the American League East. Yes, that's every one of them except for that poor GM who has four World Series rings but got overruled this winter. Here are the top 21 winners of the winter:
1. Alex Anthopoulos, Blue Jays GM
How he got rid of all but $5 million of Vernon Wells' contract remains a mystery that will likely never be solved. While it had been suggested that the deal included no exchange of money, SI.com learned that $5 million went with Wells to Los Angeles of Anaheim in the trade for outfielder Juan Rivera and catcher Mike Napoli, who was traded only a few days later to Texas for Frank Francisco. That's still not much money considering Wells has $86 million and four years remaining on his contract. He will actually be paid more each of the next four years than Carl Crawford, the star outfielder whom the Angels wouldn't go for before he signed with the Red Sox last month for seven years and $142 million.
The Wells trade is hard to explain. But it looks like the Angels overreacted to either 1) all the bad publicity they received for missing out on Crawford and Adrian Beltre, who signed with the Rangers or 2) the lack of other hitting alternatives. There's no doubt Wells improves their lineup. And he helped Angels owner Arte Moreno make good on his pre-winter promise to do "whatever it took'' to make the club better after a rare losing season in 2010. Here, it appears the Angels did that, and more.
Anthopoulos graciously defended the Angels when asked by phone how he robbed them so badly. "Wells hit 30 home runs, he was an All Star. He's a great person, and he's great in the community,'' Anthopoulos said. That may be so, but Wells told the Jays he only would leave for two other communities, the Rangers, who play in his hometown of Arlington, Texas, and the Angels, who travel to Arlington for nine games a year and boast his good friend and Texas neighbor Torii Hunter.
In light of the short field of alternatives, that shows just how miraculous this move by Anthopoulos was. When Toronto talked to the Rangers about Wells, word is they would have had to pay more money to offset the deal. Anthopoulos said, "We never engaged significantly with any other team. The other teams just were inquiring and that's how far the conversation went.'' From the Angels' perspective, Wells' contract is for three fewer years than Crawford's, and Wells showed some new life in hitting 31 home runs last year. Those are pluses. But exactly when did his contract stop being considered one of the worst in baseball? His numbers are a little misleading as well. His home-road splits last year were telling, as he posted a .991 OPS at home in the Rogers Centre and .708 on the road. "Great deal for Toronto,'' one competing executive said, summing it up. No kidding.
2. Theo Epstein, Red Sox GM
He upgraded a lineup that produced the highest OPS in baseball (.790) and the second most runs to the archrival Yankees (818) despite major injuries to Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, among others, by making two of the biggest acquisitions of the winter in Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. With those two, their batting order looks like it might be the best in baseball. There's no telling how much damage Gonzalez will do now that he's away from Petco Park, has lineup protection and a healed shoulder. Crawford gives them an extra element of speed that will make them impossible to slow down. But Epstein didn't stop with the two superstars. Bobby Jenks gives them the best back-end bullpen depth in the league and the opportunity to trade longtime close Jonathan Papelbon if they can find a suitor. They are now the favorites in the American League.
3. Hal Steinbrenner, Yankees owner
He exerted his authority by overruling longtime GM Brian Cashman on Rafael Soriano and paying $35 million over three years (with two opt outs) for one of the game's better closers to be the game's best setup man. While other teams may scoff at the price of this deal, it gives the Yankees 1) a lockdown eighth inning guy to go with the same in the ninth, 2) a chance to rest the now 41-year-old Mariano Rivera at least a bit and 3) an obvious heir apparent to one of the greatest Yankees ever. It may sound like a lot of money to others but it's chump change to an organization whose only goal is to win the World Series and whose revenues are almost off the charts. Hal made the right call here, and his comments throughout the difficult Derek Jeter negotiations were statesmanlike and fair, especially compared to those issued by his wacky brother Hank.
4. Dan O'Dowd, Rockies GM
He locked up two superstars, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, keeping perhaps baseball's best young tandem together for at least the next seven years. Tulo got $134 million on a seven-year extension and CarGo got $80 million for seven years, ensuring that the Rockies would maintain one of baseball's most dynamic duos for a long time to come. Plus, O'Dowd brought back Jorge De La Rosa, added Ty Wigginton and generally put Colorado in a great place for years to come. That's the goal, after all.
5. Ruben Amaro, Phillies GM
It didn't hurt that Cliff Lee loved Philadelphia so much that he wanted desperately to return, and $24 million a year is a record contract for a pitcher. But bringing Lee back on a five-year guarantee is about the best single acquisition any GM did this winter. Folks lamented the decision not to pair Lee with Roy Halladay last year, so now they will have those two plus Roy Oswalt and a rejuvenated Cole Hamels, making this a rotation for the ages. Their lineup is a bit lefty heavy, but that's nit picking what promises to be an excellent team.
6. Mark Attanasio and Doug Melvin, Brewers owner and GM
Most small-market owners would have traded Prince Fielder by now, but not only has Attanasio committed $15.5 million to Fielder for what is very likely the slugger's final season in Milwaukee, he and Melvin imported the pitching that gives one of the sport's better young nuclei a chance to win a tight, improved division. By importing Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum in trades, the Brewers no longer have a huge pitching deficit and give themselves a chance to unseat the Reds and Cardinals atop the NL Central. While the deals gutted their farm system, it was well worth the risk.
7. Scott Boras, player agent
He got $126 million for Jayson Werth, who while an excellent five-tool player is unproven as a No. 3 or 4 hitter and who's also 31 years old. He got $10 million for Carlos Peņa whose .196 average last year was south of the Mendoza line. He got $5.5 million for Johnny Damon after a year in which he was moved to the DH spot. And he got $96 million over six years for Beltre (assuming his sixth-year option vests; otherwise it's still not bad at $80 million over five) after comparing him to Torii Hunter -- which is a stretch -- who once got $90 million over five. In addition, Boras got the $80 million over seven years for Carlos Gonzalez, who still wasn't eligible for arbitration. (Boras was not in favor of accepting this deal, and the Rockies are very likely going to save tens of millions on this one.) He also successfully navigated a landscape with 20-plus free agents, a few of whom were fairly unproductive in recent years and one of whom carried the scarlet letter S (that would be Manny Ramirez). He's down to Kevin Millwood, Jeff Weaver, Hank Blalock and Scott Schoeneweis in a typical whirlwind winter.
8. Kenny Williams, White Sox GM
He bolstered the White Sox lineup with one of the best lefthanded power hitters in the game in Adam Dunn (four years, $56 million), and kept Paul Konerko (three years, $37.5 million) and A.J. Pierzynski (two years, $8 million) on reasonable deals. It doesn't hurt to have a chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who engenders loyalty among his players. Pierzynski could have gotten more money from the Dodgers or Blue Jays, for instance. But Williams, nonetheless, did a boffo job. The only bittersweet result for him was Ozzie Guillen's contract for 2012 being picked up. That shouldn't be a surprise, considering Reinsdorf and Guillen love each other but it does mean baseball's biggest soap-operatic duo of Williams and Guillen will continue.
9. Legacy Sports -- Greg Genske, Brian Peters, Scott Parker, player agents
They got $142 million for Crawford, $56 million for Dunn, $11.5 million for Orlando Hudson, $3 million for Brad Penny and even found time for a neat $30 million, four-year extension for the Royals' Billy Butler, which was one of the best player contracts of the winter. Superb job all around by this crew.
10. Billy Beane, A's GM
Sure, he was left at the altar by Beltre. But Beane bounced back nicely, improving the offense three times, with the pickups of David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui. He also bolstered the bullpen with Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour. They are now officially a threat in the AL West.
11. Andy MacPhail, Orioles GM
Bouncing back from multiple rejections for prime free agents, he rebuilt the infield with trades for J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds before reeling in Derrek Lee on a reasonable $7.25-million deal. He also added Kevin Gregg to a bullpen in need. While the Orioles will be hard-pressed to contend in the AL East, they are indeed much-improved. Now, it looks like MacPhail has a pretty decent shot at Vladimir Guerrero at a very decent price. The Orioles are interested, but are saying they only have a few dollars left for free agents. Which, at this point, may be enough.
12. Ned Colletti, Dodgers GM
He signed 10 players, improving their rotation and depth and giving them a better chance in an underrated division and against their archrival, the World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Despite the soap opera that is the Dodgers' ownership mess, he got good deals on Jon Garland ($5 million), Vicente Padilla ($2 million), Marcus Thames ($1 million), Dioner Navarrro ($1 million) and others.
13. Beverly Hills Sports Council, player agents
They suffered a bad breakup when Dan Lozano, one of four longtime partners, left and took superstar Albert Pujols plus a few other good players with him (Joey Votto, Michael Young and Jimmy Rollins among them). The agency that has represented Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Jose Canseco, Mike Piazza and many other stars was left with a raft of free-agent relievers for whom to find jobs this winter, and they did an exceptional job, especially on the deals for Gregg ($10 million, two years with a third year option that could take it as high as $20 million), Octavio Dotel, $($3.5 million), Arthur Rhodes ($4.1 million) and others. The $3 million deal for Brad Hawpe with San Diego was also very solid, especially with Jorge Cantu later signing a non-guaranteed $850,000 contract with the Padres to split first base duties.
14. Jim Hendry, Cubs GM
He survived a rough year and a couple bad contracts to do what he could to revive the Cubs. First of all, it was the absolute right thing to do to give Mike Quade the managing job after saying he had an opportunity to win it, then seeing Quade go 24-13 and obviously deserving it. Beyond that, Hendry improved his roster. Peņa can't possibly hit .196 again, can he? Assuming he doesn't, he's a power-hitting threat and good glove man with incentive to put up a big year since he's on a one-year deal. Kerry Wood's $1.5-million contract is so light no one could believe it (although it's thought there's an agreement for a personal services deal when his playing days are over).
15. Bill Smith, Twins GM
He brought Jim Thome back for $3 million, one of the most reasonable deals of the winter. Carl Pavano was a fair deal at $16.5 million for two years, but Pavano was almost necessary for the Twins. The Twins lost half a bullpen to free agency, but they get back star closer Joe Nathan (not to mention Justin Morneau) from injury and are a definite contender for yet another AL Central crown.
16. Darek Braunecker, player agent
He had the Yankees at $148 million for seven years for Lee, and probably could have gotten more. He had two other teams at seven years, as well, and the Rangers nearly became the fourth before stopping at $120 million for six years (or $138 million with loads of the money deferred). But his client only wanted to go to Philly, and under those circumstances still did well to get him a record $24 million a year when Halladay, the reigning NL Cy Young winner, is on the same staff and making $20 million. The Phillies offered less than half that amount to Lee only the year before. Funny what free agency will do for a star.
17. Andrew Friedman, Rays GM
The slick executive made Tampa a lot more interesting with his bold double play, signing ex-Idiots Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, in a package deal. Ramirez is a risk, but his $2 million salary is reasonable and Damon has a chance to keep his once and future teammate in line. The Rays might still have a shot at returning to the playoffs after trading Matt Garza and seeing most of their bullpen blow up. Friedman tried for several relievers, but wound up with only Kyle Farnsworth and J.P. Howell so far. No team suffered more defections than the Rays did, but their fine scouting and development program could mean they'll surprise some folks again. While Desmond Jennings is expected to begin the year in the minors, starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson looks like a Rookie of the Year candidate.
18. Ed Hayes, player agent
Hayes, a well-known lawyer, got $22 million over two years for Aubrey Huff. While Huff played a vital role on the World Series winning Giants, that price seems a tad high. It certainly seemed high to another Series hero, Juan Uribe, whom Giants people believe left for the archrival Dodgers for $1 million more than they offered ($21 million over three years, as opposed to $20 million) because he was annoyed to see Huff get a salary so much greater. True or not, Giants people joking referred to Uribe's call as "leaving in a Huff.''
19. Larry Reynolds, player agent
Talk about a non-tender bonanza. He got $4.25 million over two years for Matt Diaz after the Braves non-tendered him. Diaz gave a bizarre explanation for picking the Pirates over the Dodgers, but nobody should blame him. He was probably delirious with glee over getting a two-year deal after basically being let go by Atlanta.
20. Frank Wren, Braves GM
Dan Uggla brings the righthanded bat they need to try to balance their lefty-heavy lineup (Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann are all lefthaded). He also managed to spend a very reasonable $1.45 million to keep Eric Hinske, a virtual good luck charm who's been on four different playoff teams each of the past four years, which can't hurt, either.
21. Terry Bross, player agent
Uggla's decision to turn down $48 million over four years from the Marlins was second-guessed by plenty of folks. But he wound up with $62 million over five years from the Tennessee resident's local team, the Braves, to play for a manger he loves, Fredi Gonzalez.
The Dodgers and Yankees were given honors Tuesday night at the B.A.T. charity dinner, as their players donated the most money from their salaries this past season to help support the excellent cause which provides financial support for ex-ballplayers in need. Several of the 2,500 cases were cited including the heart-tugging story of ex-Phillies pitcher Darrin Winston, the former Rutgers star who toiled 10 years in the minors before making his pitching debut with the Phillies at age 31 in 1997. Winston died two years ago after suffering a ruptured spleen in an operation two days after receiving a diagnosis of lymphoma. He left behind his wife, Jerilyn, who spoke beautifully at Tuesday night's dinner, plus six children and one grandchild. The dinner, which also featured Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Ralph Kiner, Orlando Cepeda, Gary Carter, Jim Palmer and many more Hall of Famers, also honored late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner for all his charitable work and Yankees star CC Sabathia and his wife, Amber, for the charitable work they've done through their "Pitch In'' foundation.