When starting out as an aspiring young scout, I was a “bird dog” for John “Spider” Jorgensen, one of the hardest working guys in the business. One thing “Spider” taught me was to never let other people know what you’re thinking, advice he must have heeded from Vito Corleone. Yet, whenever I went to check out a key prospect, a group of scouts would always be hanging together, gossiping like old women.
Baseball’s winter meetings notoriously take on that same look, only on a larger scale. It’s like a boring poker game where elite executives feel out each other and seldom get anything done. This year, though, things went quite differently.
Before the affair even got underway, the Miami Marlins made a huge splash by landing Jose Reyes with a bait of $106 million over six years. After that catch, new Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen spent the next few days explaining how he would convince the team’s moody former shortstop, Hanley Ramirez, why he should now move over to third base.
“He will have to understand that it’s not me who will be replacing him on the field,” said Ozzie in typical logic. “The guy replacing him is Jose Reyes.”
Then, like the lull before the storm, the meetings became electric when Albert Pujols agreed to sign a 10 year, $256 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. That’s right, the Angels! The shocker left St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, and almost everyone else, scratching their heads in disbelief. But Mozeliak should have never called Albert’s bluff.
A week or so after Tony La Russa announced his retirement as the club’s longtime pilot, Pujols went on record saying he would re-sign with the Red Birds if his friend, Jose Oquendo, became the new manager. Was Albert merely joking? Apparently not. Major League Baseball’s only Hispanic owner, Artie Moreno, made Pujols an offer he couldn’t refuse. So, now the game’s best hitter will move his family out West and make a large investment in Southern California’s pricey housing market. I imagine he can afford it.
Meanwhile, in New York, Yankee GM Brian Cashman rewarded veteran pitcher Freddy Garcia with a nice raise prior to leaving for the Dallas meetings. The soft-tossing Venezuelan inked a one-year pact worth $4 million, even though a few other clubs offered two-year deals. Still, Garcia remained loyal to Cashman, who picked him off the scrap heap last winter.
In other deals worth mentioning, former Atlanta Braves shortstop Alex Gonzalez agreed to a two-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Braves declined to offer Gonzalez arbitration, nor did the Brewers extend that offer to Yuniesky Betancourt. The Brewers decided that Gonzalez, a reliable defender, was the cheapest option available.
Milwaukee faces payroll problems because they rolled the dice and offered arbitration to high-priced reliever Francisco Rodriguez, and much to the team’s dismay, K-Rod accepted. That throws a monkey wrench into the Brewers plans to replace Prince Fielder at first base with Carlos Pena. The veteran Dominican-American is a Scott Boras client who made $10 million with the Cubs last season, and he is not likely to accept a pay cut. As a result, Pena is now a prime candidate to replace Pujols in St. Louis.
Speaking of the Cardinals, it was announced that Rafael Furcal will remain the club’s shortstop for two more years at the tune of $7 million per season. Now it remains to be seen if the aging Furcal, who will be 35, can hit leadoff and stay off the shelf over the grind of 162 games.
The San Francisco Giants swapped center fielders with the New York Mets, sending Andres Torres back East for Angel Pegan. The New Yorkers also acquired reliever Ramon Ramirez in the deal as they continue to bolster their bullpen. But if Torres can’t stay healthy, the trade will be a bust for the Mets.
Now, here are my predictions on deals that may happen this winter. I don’t believe the Marlins are done just yet. Signing Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cepedes would be a marketing bonanza to further inaugurate the new stadium in Miami’s Little Havana district. And if that happens, Logan Morrison, Emilio Bonifacio and a minor leaguer could be shipped to Oakland for Gio Gonzalez, the South Florida native who would round out an outstanding Marlins pitching staff.
I could be a bit loco to create that scenario, but stranger things have happened. King Albert holding court in Anaheim would fit into that category.