The Winter meetings have come and gone. The annual event was held this year in Nashville at the Opryland Hotel, where owners, general managers, and agents wined and dined each other for 4 straight nights.
Last year in Dallas the Los Angeles Angels completely stole the show by signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to record contracts. The latter was of course expected, but the former was a would-be stake in the hearts of both the Texas Ranger organization as well as every Ranger fan in the land.
This time of year far too many people pay too much attention to the wrong numbers. The contracts tend to dominate the discussion at the winter meetings. So, when a deal is made like the one the Angels made with Pujols, who was coming off his worst season, everyone lauds the Angels an instant contender. No mind is paid to his steadily declining numbers and the fact that Angel Stadium is a pretty solid pitcher’s park. No comparison is made to the infamous contract Texas gave Alex Rodriguez in 2001 outside of the fact that they are roughly for the same amount of money and years.
Additionally, far too much ceded to the status quo. Zack Greinke is the top free agent pitcher this year and he is reportedly demanding a contract upwards of $160 million for 7 years. The logic is that Philadelphia re-signed Cole Hamels last July to a 6 year contract worth $144 million. Though Hamels is a bit more accomplished the logic here is that Hamels wasn’t in a contentious market—the Phillies signed him before he could take a stroll through Dodger Stadium with Magic Johnson and consider his options. Free agent markets drive up prices for players, and Greinke is at the top of this year’s pitching crop.
It’s a shame because it ultimately results in really good players getting paid way too much, which ends up driving down their value and consequently their production. You don’t have to go any further back than Boston’s now-infamous debacle of signing Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to a combined $296 million less than two years ago.
This is the first winter season in a long time that Texas has taken center stage. This season sees the Yankees and Red Sox—usually big spenders—taking a back seat and doing the bare minimum. The Yankees are actually starting to watch their payroll for the first time in years (as they should with that aging roster). The Angels and Tigers drained their pocketbooks at last year’s meetings. The Marlins have dumped their roster for the third time in their 19 year history. The Rangers are a team with money but without the frivolous need to throw it around and see where it sticks. They signed Japanese import Yu Darvish to a questionable contract last year, but general manager Jon Daniels had been scouting Darvish since 2005. Darvish just finished his rookie season 5th in the American League in strikeouts and a WHIP better than C.J. Wilson, the man he replaced.
The only other team out there keeping Texas from having its way this offseason are the afore-mentioned Dodgers, a team practically swimming in new money. They want Greinke as much as Texas does, and their pursuit of the right-hander is not only keeping them from shoring up their starting rotation, it’s also putting a dent in their chances to re-sign All-Star center fielder and former MVP fielder Josh Hamilton to a long-term deal.
Therein lies the quandary for Texas. The reason they are center stage and not the much more wealthy Dodgers is because the top hitter spent the last 4 ½ seasons in Arlington and the top pitcher is no.1 on Texas’ wish list. The cloud still lingers over their chance to sign either, as Greinke’s decision could just as easily come down to intangible reasons. Greinke, after all, is not a dollar-chaser. Much like Cliff Lee, Greinke is more likely to listen to his wife than he is his pocketbook. Much like Cliff Lee, Greinke could be the pitcher that got away from Texas.
Gone are the days when pitchers felt it was impossible to post great numbers in Arlington, what with the humidity and that dastardly Jetstream. However, there is still a prevailing notion that Texas doesn’t have that final piece to finally win its first World Series championship. They didn’t go after Prince Fielder last year because they didn’t like his physicality and prospects for endurance. They also didn’t need a slugging first baseman (of course, neither did Detroit). One wonders though, whether or not Fielder would have gone to Texas. The Cliff Lee decision still perplexes me, as it should anyone who doesn’t know him personally. All of the pieces were there, on both sides, but he balked at the last moment and signed with Philadelphia. Pujols did the same thing with Miami and high-tailed it to southern California.
It’s the Winter meetings. These things tend to happen. Though, they didn’t happen this year.
This year the meetings came and gone and the biggest deals were for role players on the Red Sox and Giants. Texas did indeed acquire reliever Joakim Soria, who had an off year in Kansas City last season (it’s Kansas City).
Texas has a solid farm system; as solid as anyone else’s. They don’t need a re-tooling by any stretch of the imagination. But, they are missing that final piece. Be it Darvish stepping over the final hurdle and becoming a truly bonafied ace or be it Greinke coming aboard and giving Texas a 1-2 punch to rival anyone else’s, it’s just that one cog.
There are rumors coming out of Los Angeles that Greinke might end up swaying in Texas’ favor as his wife lives in Texas (she’s a former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader),and when it comes down to it Greinke has reiterated in the past that he doesn’t like to play for teams with a penetrating spotlight. Texas has the fanfare because of what they’ve done on the field, but Los Angeles is Los Angeles. Enough said.
Time will tell whether or not Greinke signs with Texas. We’ll likely know very soon, and it should be noted that if he was comfortable with playing Los Angeles then he probably would have already signed. If he’s still mulling the decision then Texas is in the lead. Unless, of course, the Athletics or some other dark horse team comes out of nowhere like the Angels did last year and snatches him up.
If Greinke does sign with someone else then that shores up room to consider Hamilton’s return, which is dubious and won’t happen with a record contract like Hamilton seems to desire. His situation is more unlikely to result in a victory for Texas as he is the prototypical player for any Winter meeting. He’s an awesome talent with significant baggage, who is in no way a guaranteed success year-in year-out. If it’s not for relapsing issues (which are largely overblown by the media) then it’s his injury-prone body. He’s far too good playing center field to slot him as DH, so managers don’t even bother and this of course exasperates his frame and causes him to get injured more often.
In the event that Hamilton doesn’t sign with Texas GM Jon Daniels has a backup plan—one every team in the Major Leagues would envy—involving putting Ian Kinsler in center field and installing soon-to-be-rookie phenom Jurickson Profar at either shortstop (his natural position) or second base.
And then there’s the dark horse Justin Upton offer. The Rangers have all kinds of hitters at all kinds of levels. Texas has always had an embarrassment of riches in regard to hitters, but it’s still never been what it’s like now. Arizona is shopping around the idea of trading Upton, who has 108 career homeruns and only turned 25 years-old last August. If Hamilton departs then Texas could opt to trade for Upton, but if Arizona angles for Profar the deal will never see the light of day as neither Daniels nor owner Nolan Ryan have any interest in parting with Profar.
Of course, with a guy like Profar in the wings a guy like shortstop Elvis Andrus is all of the sudden sort of expendable. Expensive, sought-after, and expendable. Texas has found a new embarrassment of riches precisely by not throwing money around the room and seeing where it sticks. On the other end of the spectrum the Dodgers could be running the risk of doing exactly what the Red Sox a few years ago by going after the best players regardless of their need.