When sportswriters want to get sentimental about the good old days of a Winter Meetings trade, many will cite 1990, when the Toronto Blue Jays and San Diego Padres decided to do a clean swap of franchise stars. That trade involved Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez saying goodbye to nationalized health care and hello to friendlier high-wage income taxes to play in San Diego while Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter would take their place up north and win a few World Series championships in Toronto.
Since that time many have belabored the point that the Winter Meetings have become a side show for agents to turn these “talks” into a signing convention. Of course, the next era of big free agent signings did take off in the ’90s, when the Yankees found themselves dateless in 1992 after failing to acquire Barry Bonds, Greg Maddux and David Cone.
Ironically, this did cause interim commissioner Bud Selig to go into a tirade when he ordered the meetings to go on hiatus until 1998. (I say ironically because something tells me that today Selig would see it as an improvement if a possible Hall of Fame player entered free agency in his prime and turned down more money to play for the Yankees). Since that time, free agent signings have become accepted as part of the fabri,c but this year feels a bit different in terms of the quality of free agents available.
The Lee-Crawford-Beltre-Werth sweepstakes
Among the top free agents available come Monday when baseball officials meet at a Disney hotel in Orlando, only Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, Adrian Beltre and Jayson Werth seem to have legitimate leverage when it comes to choosing multi-year offers. (Sorry Derek Jeter, but the Yankees’ more-than-fair proposal will probably be the only serious offer you’ll get this offseason).
However, among those names it seems that only four teams are considered as legitimate destinations.
Cliff Lee: Yankees, Rangers
Carl Crawford: Angels, Red Sox, Yankees
Adrian Beltre: Red Sox, Angels
Jayson Werth: Red Sox, Angels
Both Beltre and Werth are represented by Scott Boras, which makes their signing with the Angels a bit difficult. It’s been reported that bad blood still exists between Angels owner Arte Moreno and Boras after talks stalled in 2008 regarding Mark Teixeira. Since then, the Angels have announced a slight reconciliation between the two over dinner and cocktails, but it’s probably a long way from any serious honeymoon.
Popular opinion seems to place the Yankees as the favorite to land Lee. This is a reasonable expectation since the Yanks do have a need for starters and the last time this need was known they signed both CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett during the ’08 Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.
Werth feels too much like Plan B for the Red Sox and his fate will depend on where Crawford decides.
Beltre was reported to have turned down an offer from the A’s, but the legitimacy of that story is still being debated.
The Greinke-Upton for all ye prospects sweepstakes
Since the offseason began, Zack Greinke and Justin Upton have dominated the trade talks. Greinke was a given based on his availability during the 2010 trade deadline, but Upton’s availability has come out as a bit of a surprise.
Every offseason during the meetings it seems, a major name is offered up as teams scramble to put together the best possible package. In 2003, the Red Sox were pushing to find a suitable package to entice the Rangers to unload the expensive Alex Rodriguez into their laps. Talks were stalled over union concerns and the Yankees sneaked in a few months later. As a side note: The reported trade between the Rangers and Red Sox would have been a straight exchange of Manny Ramirez for Rodriguez, and since no star-for-prospects terms were involved, this may have qualified as the new sentimental favorite—once again pointing to how rare these kind of Winter Meeting trades have become.
At the 2007 Winter Meetings, the Twins pitted the Yankees and Red Sox against each other for the right to name Johan Santana as their No. 1 starter. The plan backfired, the meetings came to a close and the Twins found themselves settling for a lesser package from the Mets a month later.
Last year’s meeting saw most of the trade talk center on Roy Halladay. Like the Twins a few offseasons ago, the Blue Jays had a rookie GM trying to figure out a tricky path of moving a bona fide No. 1 starter to only a few select teams. It’s become obvious that the Halladay trade ended up a lot better for Toronto than Santana did for Minnesota, but it did take a few months after the Winter Meetings to finally complete.
Both Greinke and Upton could easily find their services desirable to any major league baseball team, but what are the chances they are traded next week? According to reports, both teams are expecting a sizable return in prospects, with Arizona being almost irrational in its expectations.
It’s possible Greinke could go in a deal similar to one at the the 2006 meetings when Miguel Cabrera was sent to Detroit (with Dontrelle Willis) for a bevy of quality prospects. Of course, two of the top prospects, Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, had some issues, but they were young and raw enough to seem promising. Recent reports do have Greinke “open” to playing in New York or Boston, which is good news for the Royals, since the team’s only stipulation is to NOT deal him to a division rival.
Possible Winter Meetings scenarios
Among those in the know, the Rangers seem like a logical uniform change for Greinke. They do have the prospects and the desire to keep their pitching formidable in the AL West. Yet this move will depend on what Cliff Lee and the Yankees decide to do. The Rangers seem firm on their five-year offer to Lee, with Texas being a tax-friendly state as their incentive, but if the Yankees make it six years, Lee will probably sign and the Rangers become aggressive with Greinke.
Regarding Justin Upton, a handful of teams will inquire but like those who have no business shopping in a Louis Vuitton store, many will look around and be impressed, but once they see the price reality will sink in. Thanks but no thanks.
Since Werth’s fate seems tied to where Crawford goes, I wouldn’t be surprised to see either of them unsigned after next week. Reports have Crawford looking for eight years, while Werth seems convinced that six is enough. Both would be expensive and if the Red Sox do put pen to paper, a lot of other factors involving their crowded outfield will have to be decided.
Speaking of the Red Sox, I expect them to aggressively pursue the other big trade piece, Adrian Gonzalez, as well as explore the value of some of their extra spare parts— Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonathan Papelbon and Marco Scutaro.
The Chicago White Sox will get antsy and nearly pull the trigger on trading away either Carlos Quentin and/or Gordon Beckham, but come to their senses and, instead, get crazy and offer Vladimir Guerrero an expensive two-year contract.
Rumors circulate that Ichiro Suzuki has been offered in an unconfirmed deal, but the story is later denied.
The Orioles hold up their promise to be active and sign Derrek Lee to a two-year contract.
And finally the Yankees, based on recent developments, offer a four-year contract to Jeter that pays him more per season than Troy Tulowitzki! Jeter feigns slight disgust and moderate bafflement and then waits until the final day of the meetings to sign said contract.
And Jeter’s agent, Casey Close, thanks his lucky stars and quietly celebrates that this didn’t get ugly amid all the mouse ears and tired parents at one of the hotel bars near the lobby.