The winter meetings are intended to be the perfect gathering place for all 30 teams to try to sign players, acquire players and conduct crucial off-season business. But it may feel as if the calendar has gone awry when the meetings begin in Dallas tomorrow, because some splashy maneuvering has already been completed.
B.J. Ryan signed with the Toronto Blue Jays for US$47 million, Billy Wagner went to the Mets for US$43 million, Paul Konerko remained with the Chicago White Sox for US$60 million and Brian Giles stayed with the San Diego Padres for US$30 million, eliminating four appealing free agents before Dec. 2.
That means an already barren free-agent class has been reduced, leaving Johnny Damon, A.J. Burnett and Rafael Furcal as the best players left on an emptier stage.
The paucity of glamorous free agents means that teams may continue to pay more for lesser players and may have to be more creative as they try to improve their rosters.
"With the free-agent market being as thin as it is, I think you'll see a lot of teams addressing their needs by trades," said J.P. Ricciardi, the general manager of the Blue Jays. "These are the first meetings where you'll sit down and say, `This is going to be fun.'"
Let the fun begin.
Manny Ramirez has told the Boston Red Sox that he wants to be traded, so his name will loom over four days of meetings at the Wyndham Anatole hotel.
The Mets and the Los Angeles Angels will be among the teams that inquire about Ramirez, who has US$57 million left on the last three years of his contract.
"You know how there's talk every year about the winter meetings and then people come away disappointed because not much happened?" said Buck Showalter, the Texas Rangers' manager. "I think this is going to be the year to make all of those people happy."
Rangers second baseman Alfonso Soriano is another premier player who could be traded. Showalter would not comment on Soriano's situation, but the Rangers are starved for pitching.
Showalter said he felt that the Rangers had offered an enticing package to the Florida Marlins for starter Josh Beckett, but the payroll-slashing Marlins sent Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell to Boston.
The Mets also benefited from Florida's cost cutting by acquiring Carlos Delgado for Mike Jacobs and Yusimero Petit.
Another Marlin, second baseman Luis Castillo, was sent to the Twins.
Showalter said some teams were trying to correct previous mistakes, which is why they acted quickly and paid handsome prices in some cases. Ryan's five-year contract was the largest ever given to a reliever, even though he has been a closer for about a year. Wagner has an option for a fifth year with the Mets and could earn US$50 million if it is exercised.
The Yankees need a center fielder, and Scott Boras, Damon's agent, says his client would be a snug fit as their leadoff hitter. General Manager Brian Cashman may end up pursuing Damon, but, as of now, the Yankees are turned off by Damon's demand for a seven-year contract. Juan Pierre, another Marlin who is likely to be on the move, is an option for the Yankees.
The Mets have been more aggressive than any other team, signing Wagner, obtaining Delgado and trading Mike Cameron to the Padres for Xavier Nady. General Manager Omar Minaya has made three-year offers to the free-agent catchers Ramon Hernandez and Bengie Molina.
Ramirez is also an option for the Mets.
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