Ortiz signing, failed Haren-for-Marmol trade cap busy week
The Red Sox and star slugger David Ortiz reached a new two-year deal
The Angels and Cubs had a deal in place to trade former All-Star pitchers
Both developments were intriguing for their impact on the top two free-agents
To the list of outdated baseball terms -- which includes such archaic phrases as "scheduled doubleheader," "reserve clause" and "bullpen cart" -- we can now add another: "offseason."
Never has that been more clear than in the five days since Sergio Romo froze Miguel Cabrera with a sizzling fastball on a frigid Sunday evening in Detroit to clinch the Giants' second World Series title in three years. In addition to the usual bevy of options declined and picked up, there has already been a managerial hiring in Miami -- the fourth since the final week of the regular season -- a trade involving an All-Star pitcher with a no-hitter on his resume (Ervin Santana) and, on Friday night, the first big name to get a multi-year contract in the first hours of free agency while a potential trade of two All-Star pitchers was first reported as happening before falling apart.
Such a flurry of activity is surely a sign of a busy Hot Stove season ahead, which will gain increased attention with the opening of free agency this weekend. Friday night's moves were especially notable, however, not just because they involved such familiar names as David Ortiz, who agreed to a two-year, $26 million contract that will keep him in Boston for an 11th and 12th seasons, and Dan Haren, whom the Angels attempted to trade to the Cubs for Carlos Marmol. They are also interesting for the ways in which they could impact the two biggest names on the free-agent market.
Start with the Ortiz signing, the night's major development that actually came to fruition. There never seemed to be any real doubt that Big Papi would be back to bashing in Boston, but he had made just enough comments about being shown respect by the team he's helped lead to two world titles that other clubs were dropping hints they'd welcome his services. One of those teams was the Texas Rangers, who had indicated an interest in Ortiz should Josh Hamilton, who sits atop most lists of available free-agents, depart the Lone Star State.
With the Red Sox out of the running for Hamilton, and the Yankees reportedly looking to get their payroll under the luxury tax threshold, neither of those powers will be pursuing Hamilton this winter. Hamilton will no doubt have his share of suitors but the Rangers' chances of keeping their former MVP slugger have just improved -- if, that is, Texas even wants him back after he slumped badly in the second half while dealing with more off-field drama.
As for the soon-to-be 37-year-old Ortiz, his $13 million average annual salary is actually less than what he made from the Red Sox in 2012, when he earned $14.475 million. If he can replicate his turn-back-the-clock performance from this past season, in which he posted a 1.026 OPS (his best since 2007) and avoid the injuries that limited him to one game after mid-July, this is a bargain for Boston. There are of course other matters for the Red Sox to address if they are to get back to being a .500 team, to say nothing of ending a three-year postseason absence, but Ortiz's return can only help.
Haren, meanwhile, would have been the second Angels starter to be traded this week, after Santana was dealt to the Royals on Wednesday. Even after the Marmol trade collapsed, the Angels still wanted no part of Haren, declining his option and making him a free-agent. Why would Los Angeles be in such a rush to trim its rotation, and so willing to part with Haren, whom it traded four players to acquire just two and a half years ago? The answer lies partly in their efforts to focus on keeping Zack Greinke, widely considered the best starter available on the open market.
Greinke is a free-agent and while much has been made about his previous battles with social anxiety disorder and speculation that he will prefer low-wattage cities like Milwaukee and Kansas City, his two previous homes, the Angels can offer Greinke a lot of money and a good chance to win and not nearly the spotlight some might expect. The Angels, who are more Anaheim than Los Angeles, aren't nearly the media-grabbing machine that the Dodgers are, to say nothing of clubs based in cities like New York, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia.
There's also the fact that Greinke is as close as this market has to a dominant No. 1 starter. Though he has not been as scintillating in the past three years as he was in his AL Cy Young-winning season of 2009, he posted nearly identical numbers after his late-July trade to the Angels as he did with the Brewers (.750 winning percentage for both, 3.53 ERA in L.A. vs. 3.44 in Milwaukee). Clearly, the Angels have made keeping him a top priority and they will just as likely show him the money to prove it.
While all the attention has thus far focused on its starting rotation, Los Angeles' most pressing need may be its bullpen. As noted by SI.com's Jay Jaffe on Thursday, Angels relievers had the AL's most blown saves and highest rate of allowing inherited runners to score while posting the third-worst ERA. Marmol is inconsistent (temporarily lost his closer's role last season) and erratic (his 45 walks were the most by any relief pitcher and his 1.54 WHIP, 12th-highest among NL relievers) enough that he was far from a sure thing to patch that 'pen.
If the Cubs want Haren badly enough, they'll now have a chance to pursue him in free agency, where Haren figures to be the second-best starting pitching option available behind his now ex-teammate Greinke. Though Haren went on the disabled list for the first time in his career in 2012, he made 30 starts for the eighth consecutive season. His ERA spiked by more than a run (3.17 to 4.33) and his K/BB ratio dropped significantly (from an AL-best 5.82 to 3.74), and he'd be the closest thing to an ace a lot of teams are likely to get.
Though that trade fell apart, Chicago, which topped 100 losses for the first time in 46 years, is surely not done dealing yet. The same can be said for the other teams to make headlines on Friday and even those that didn't. As this week proved, the offseason is always on.
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