Slugging it out in the AL West
DALLAS - Last year at this time, the Red Sox were leaving the winter meetings as the victors.
This year, the co-winners are the Los Angeles Angels and the Miami Marlins.
The Angels, sick of getting kicked around by the stacked Texas Rangers, decided to get back into the fray. New general manager Jerry Dipoto, who once worked as a Red Sox scout, has started his new career with a bang. Yesterday he signed Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $254 million deal (hey, he kept it under Alex Rodriguez’s $275 million) and also signed former Ranger C.J. Wilson to a five-year, $77.5 million deal.
And now the Angels are stacked.
Earlier, they acquired catcher Chris Iannetta from the Rockies and sent catcher Jeff Mathis to the Blue Jays. Now they appear to have an excess at first base in Pujols, Rookie of the Year runner-up Mark Trumbo, and the recovering Kendrys Morales.
Manager Mike Scioscia feels he may be able to convert Trumbo into a third baseman, while Dipoto said he also has a history as a corner outfielder. If not, there should be a healthy market for the strong first baseman, who had an excellent first season (29 home runs, 87 RBIs).
Morales will likely DH, but the beauty for Pujols is that he can occasionally rest his body by DHing.
“This is an exciting time for our organization,’’ Dipoto said. “When we were putting our roster together with the projection of how much we were allocated to spend, this was certainly one of the scenarios we envisioned, and it’s a tribute to the aggressive nature of our owner [Arte Moreno].’’
Wilson is added to an already excellent starting rotation, and the Angels may be in the market for another closer/reliever.
It wasn’t until Wednesday that the Angels made a serious run at Pujols, who also was being pursued by the Marlins. As things unfolded, Moreno gave Dipoto the green light to get something done.
The Angels now have latitude to deal other pieces like Morales, Trumbo, and righthander Ervin Santana to help fill other needs, like the bullpen.
“We’ve done a lot, but you never say you’re done,’’ said Dipoto. “We have some other needs to fill.’’
So now the Rangers, coming off back-to-back World Series appearances, are up. There is speculation that their counter to the Angels could come in the form of outbidding everyone for Japanese starting pitcher Yu Darvish and perhaps adding first baseman Prince Fielder.
They have already announced that they’re converting closer Neftali Feliz to a starter and have acquired Joe Nathan to be the closer.
The Rangers may also be in on veteran righty Roy Oswalt.
Fielder’s market will be clearer now, with Pujols leaving St. Louis, where he may now be considered a traitor the way Cleveland fans see LeBron James as one for joining the Miami Heat.
Fielder is expected to get at least an Adrian Gonzalez-Mark Teixeira type deal - somewhere in the eight-year, $170 million range. Agent Scott Boras, seeing a 10-year deal for Pujols - who turns 32 in January - may pitch that length, given that his client is some five years younger.
In the end, Pujols turned down a reported $210 million from the Cardinals and about the same amount from the Marlins, who came hard after him. The Marlins’ splash came in the form of lefthander Mark Buehrle, shortstop Jose Reyes, and closer Heath Bell.
Pujols, a three-time National League MVP, had his worst statistical season in 2011 - .299 with 37 homers and 99 RBIs - but was banged up much of the year with a shoulder injury. The Cardinals, coming off a World Series championship, approached the Pujols talks methodically, feeling that his loyalty to the area would work in their favor.
Cardinals management seemed stunned at the turn of events.
“We are disappointed,’’ team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. told the Associated Press. “I would like our fans to know that we tried our best to make Albert a lifetime Cardinal but unfortunately we were unable to make it happen.’’
GM John Mozeliak did not comment on Pujols’s departure.
In a short time, the Cardinals have lost legendary manager Tony La Russa and now Pujols - not the greatest start for new skipper Mike Matheny.
It’s unknown whether the Cardinals would jump into the Fielder fray, and it appears they won’t be able to get in on shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who is likely to re-sign with Philadelphia.
While the Marlins insist that Hanley Ramirez is going nowhere, they could find a very lucrative market for the slugging shortstop - in St. Louis or even Boston.
For now, the Cardinals are likely to shift Lance Berkman from right field to first base, which may open the door for them to pursue a Carlos Beltran or Michael Cuddyer (who is getting closer to re-signing with the Twins).
It was an amazing couple of days for the Marlins and Angels, just as it was for the Red Sox last offseason.
But it didn’t pay off for the Sox, who failed to make the playoffs. Which only goes to prove that nothing is won in December.
At this time a year ago, nobody would have imagined that St. Louis would have won the World Series. And everyone questioned their idea to sign Berkman and put him in right field.
“The splash is great to energize your fan base,’’ said one GM, “but we’ve all learned the hard way that no matter how good you think you are, things happen - good things and bad things.’’