The 2010 Winter Meetings came to a close with the defending American League champion Rangers having made one move: Giving the Cubs nominal cash considerations to draft Angels minor league righthander Mason Tobin for them in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning, December 9.
Flight tracker Twitter was in full force later that day, with rumors swarming that Ray Davis, Chuck Greenberg, and Thad Levine were en route to Arkansas — where Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan had been a week earlier — for a second turf visit to Cliff Lee and his wife and his agent about a return to the Rangers, whom Lee had just helped log a first-ever playoff series win, and then another.
I’m not sure we know what Texas offered Lee during that visit, but it came a day or two after the Yankees reportedly put seven years on the table, leaving the baseball print world convinced the 32-year-old would jump to New York (#behooves) or extend with the Rangers.
A few days after that, Lee called Daniels, and Lee’s agent called the Yankees, letting them know Lee’s return would be not to Texas, but to the Phillies, for whom he’d pitched late in 2009, including in that club’s own World Series run. He was taking five years and a guarantee of $120 million, with a club option for a sixth year (that will vest if he’s relatively healthy these next two seasons) that would make the deal worth $135 million. He was joining a starting staff that already included Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and a still-dominant Roy Oswalt.
At his Philadelphia presser, Lee said: “To get an opportunity to come back and be part of this team and this pitching rotation is going to be something that’s historic, I believe.”
The vibe was understandably electric in Philly, where fans had just seen their club come two games short of a third straight World Series appearance and were now adding one of the game’s best starting pitchers.
It was somewhat less so in Texas, where a first-time World Series franchise had just lost its October ace in mid-December, and had added Mason Tobin.
Philadelphia committed at least $120 million to lock Lee up.
Three weeks after that, Texas committed $80 million to Adrian Beltre (also five years plus an option).
Three weeks after that, Texas traded for Mike Napoli, who was primed to make about $2 million more than the similarly arb-eligible Frank Francisco whom the club traded to Toronto to get him.
The Phillies won 102 games in 2011 but their post-season lasted a week.
The Rangers, meanwhile, returned to the World Series.
With Napoli and Beltre posting the two highest OPS’s on the club.
At almost $40 million less than the Phillies used to lure Lee away from the Rangers.
Beltre was available only because Boston, the day before those December 2010 Winter Meetings, made a trade with San Diego to get Adrian Gonzalez, which meant Kevin Youkilis would slide across the diamond to third base, effectively bouncing Beltre out of the Red Sox’s plans.
Beltre was available to Texas only because the Angels declined to sign him — even though he reportedly begged to join that club — and actually withdrew their five-year, $70 million offer before Beltre had decided on his new team.
Napoli was available to Texas only because the Angels, having failed to sign Beltre and still believing they needed a bat, traded Napoli and Frosty Rivera to the Blue Jays for Vernon Wells — who was owed $80 million of Angels money (and $5 million from Toronto) over the ensuing four years.
Yes, $10 million more (and one season less) than they presumably could have signed Beltre for (and kept Napoli, who lasted four days with the Jays before they flipped him to Texas, something Los Angeles had refused for years to do).
Two of the best moves Daniels or this franchise has ever made, and they were apparently fallbacks to an effort to re-sign Lee.
A.J. Preller wanted to give Pablo Sandoval a reported $100 million-plus, and then, when Sandoval chose Boston instead, Preller targeted Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, who eventually took $68.5 million from Arizona.
If he’d succeeded in signing Sandoval or Tomas, would he have traded for Matt Kemp and traded for Derek Norris and traded for Justin Upton and traded for Wil Myers?
At least some of them were fallbacks.
Like Monta Ellis was when that whole Dwight Howard thing didn’t work out.
Like Tyson Chandler back in 2010, when Dallas tried first to trade for Al Jefferson, and failed.
Maybe I’m seduced by the awesomeness of the reacquisition of Chandler when I daydream about the idea of reacquiring Lee (who would certainly command a less exacting package of prospects than teammate Cole Hamels), but I’d be lying if I said it’s not something I’ve been thinking about, and now I’d better get back to the point before I get carried away.
Pick a trade. Any trade. Pick out any one of the deals made in this frenetic winter around the league, and it won’t take long to find a columnist somewhere high-fiving Team A, and another one fist-bumping Team B.
One national writer who does a great job said this in the last couple days: “The Mariners make it official: Trade Brandon Maurer to [the] Padres for Seth Smith. The Mariners clearly are the team to beat in [the] AL West.”
Because they added Seth Smith?
It’s easy to get carried away when a team makes a trade or signs a free agent, and hard sometimes not to. I’m regularly guilty; you have no idea how much restraint it has taken me not to go ham with a couple thousand chest-bumping words on the non-roster contract Texas has given Kyle Blanks and the roster spot flier the club is taking on Kyuji Fujikawa. (I like those deals.)
But not every team that changed its roster in December got better. It doesn’t work that way.
If all it takes to win the winter is to make a big trade, then, yeah, Texas isn’t winning the winter.
Some of those teams who made headline-grabbing trades or signings before the New Year, likely unwittingly, just got worse.
(A good spot, perhaps, to note that not only did the Royals give $11 million to Alex Rios two weeks ago — they apparently, according to Joel Sherman [New York Post], had agreed to a trade for Rios in July, only to have Rios veto the deal when Kansas City refused to guarantee his $13.5 million option for 2015. The Royals had every opportunity to consider that a bullet dodged when Rios proceeded to hit .186/.210/.268 in 100 Texas plate appearances in August and September before shutting down with a bad thumb, but whatever.)
Actually, the Rios note is relevant for another reason that warrants an absence of parentheses.
Did we know in July that Texas and Kansas City had agreed to terms on an Alex Rios trade?
Did we know until Sherman reported it two days ago?
Do we know there haven’t been red zone trade talks for Texas over the last month that, for one reason or another, just didn’t come together?
Or just haven’t yet?
I’ll never forget the winter-winning, red-carpet, paparazzi-infested joke of a press conference the Angels held to announce the signing of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson at the conclusion of the Dallas Winter Meetings following the 2011 season.
The Angels, trying to erase the sting of missing out on Beltre and seeing Napoli star for Texas, and finishing 10 games behind Texas not only in the 2010 World Series season but in the Rangers’ 2011 World Series as well, finished third in the division with Pujols and Wilson in 2012, and third in the division with Pujols and Wilson in 2013, unable to slide the December 2010 Medal down in the trophy case until winning the West (but zero playoff games) in 2014.
The Angels didn’t have to trade Napoli in a deal for Wells just because they didn’t get Beltre.
Toronto didn’t have to trade Napoli for Francisco.
They didn’t win those trades.
I’m not convinced the Rangers have gotten worse because it’s January 1st and they haven’t made a big trade.
I’m also not convinced they don’t have a big move or two in them this off-season, still.
Stated another way, as I publish my Top 72 Rangers Prospects list (which is in the 2015 Bound Edition, along with writeups on each player) like I tend to do on New Year’s Day, I think there’s a very real chance that the top quarter of this list, if not the top tenth, has names on it that, when Texas reports to Surprise in seven weeks, will no longer be part of the organization.
Anyway, here we go (I went to print before the Rangers lost Herrera in the Rule 5 Draft, traded De Los Santos and Chris Bostick for Ross Detwiler, and waived Rowen):
1. Joey Gallo, 3B-1B
2. Jorge Alfaro, C
3. Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez, RHP
4. Nomar Mazara, OF
5. Jake Thompson, RHP
6. Ryan Rua, OF-1B-3B-2B
7. Luke Jackson, RHP
8. Luis Ortiz, RHP
9. Lewis Brinson, OF
10. Nick Williams, OF
11. Andrew Faulkner, LHP
12. Ronald Guzman, 1B
13. Marcos Diplan, RHP
14. Keone Kela, RHP
15. Jake Smolinski, OF
16. Alec Asher, RHP
17. Ryan Cordell, OF-1B
18. Jerad Eickhoff, RHP
19. Corey Knebel, RHP
20. Brett Martin, LHP
21. Travis Demeritte, 2B-3B
22. Yohander Mendez, LHP
23. Spencer Patton, RHP
24. Tomas Telis, C
25. Jairo Beras, OF
26. Phil Klein, RHP
27. Hanser Alberto, SS
28. Jose Leclerc, RHP
29. Michael De Leon, SS
30. Alex Claudio, LHP
31. Abel De Los Santos, RHP
32. Odubel Herrera, 2B-OF
33. Lisalverto Bonilla, RHP
34. Pat Cantwell, C
35. Jon Edwards, RHP
36. Josh Morgan, 2B-SS
37. Yeyson Yrizarri, SS-2B
38. Sam Wolff, RHP
39. Chris Bostick, 2B
40. Will Lamb, LHP
41. Jared Hoying, OF
42. Ti’Quan Forbes, 3B-SS
43. Samuel Zazueta, LHP
44. Chris Garia, OF
45. Kelvin Vasquez, RHP
46. Cole Wiper, RHP
47. Jose Valdespina, RHP
48. Victor Payano, LHP
49. Connor Sadzeck, RHP
50. Jose Trevino, C-3B
51. Akeem Bostick, RHP
52. Josh McElwee, RHP
53. Frank Lopez, LHP
54. Evan Van Hoosier, OF-2B
55. Matt West, RHP
56. Trever Adams, 1B-OF
57. Martire Garcia, LHP
58. Preston Beck, 1B-OF
59. Luke Tendler, OF
60. Cody Kendall, RHP
61. Drew Robinson, OF
62. Eduard Pinto, OF
63. Cody Ege, LHP
64. Seth Spivey, 2B-3B
65. Brett Nicholas, C-1B
66. Ben Rowen, RHP
67. Jose Almonte, OF
68. Luke Lanphere, RHP
69. Kellin Deglan, C
70. David Ledbetter, RHP
71. Sherman Lacrus, C
72. David Perez, RHP
I guess the point of this report, which I will admit is self-directed in part, is that you don’t win the winter in December, and don’t really win anything in the winter.
There’s a message of hope, and of better things ahead, wrapped up in any Happy New Year wish, and while we all deserve a massive helping of that this year on the baseball front — Prince and Derek and Matt and Martin and Tanner and Elvis and Jurickson and Yu and you and me — the science isn’t always crisp on the correlation between off-season headlines and winning baseball games.
I’m just happy that there’s no more 2014 baseball.
Here’s to 2015.
(Hat tip, Nick Pants.)
Happy New Year.