- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
The winter meetings haven't started yet, but baseball's winter market is already buzzing, with news breaking all over the place:
Folks in the industry expected David Wright to take the New York Mets' offer and he did, as Adam Rubin writes.
The risk of leaving a $100-million-plus offer behind is just too great, at a time when Wright would have been a year from free agency. And without a big-time show of power, Wright was always going to be worth markedly more to the Mets than to any other team, because of his connection with the franchise; he is to the Mets what Derek Jeter has been to the Yankees.
The signing of B.J. Upton demonstrated, again, that teams will pay significantly for power -- and Wright has been more of a high-average hitter, with 35 homers over the last two seasons.
The challenge for the Mets' baseball operations people moving forward will be to construct a roster around Wright with about $80 million or so at their disposal, because there are no indications the Mets will be increasing their payroll any time soon.
For a period of about four years, 2005-08, you could make a case that David Wright was perennially a legitimate NL MVP candidate. But over the last four years, 2009-12, Wright appears to have settled in as closer to a "very good" player, as measured by both traditional stats and advanced metrics.
• When Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo spoke with Denard Span for the first time after acquiring him from the Minnesota Twins on Thursday afternoon, he could tell Span was a little anxious -- and excited. "He mentioned what a great time he had in Minnesota, and how he was looking forward to playing with guys like Jayson Werth and Bryce] Harper," Rizzo told me.
Rizzo has been scouting Span for years, having first seen him when he was a high school senior in Tampa, Fla., before trying to trade for him in the summer of 2011. At that time, Span was dealing with some concussion issues and Rizzo was concerned about the price tag.
But now, with Minnesota trying to rebuild the organization's pitching, Rizzo surrendered hard-throwing pitching prospect Alex Meyer for Span -- a player who gives Rizzo tremendous flexibility in determining how to proceed at filling the first base job. Because Span hits left-handed, Rizzo doesn't feel as much pressure to sign Adam LaRoche to help balance the predominantly right-handed- hitting Washington lineup.
Now Rizzo has multiple options and is in a position to look for the best possible deals, thusly:
1. He could re-sign LaRoche, who likely has a very limited market -- in part because the Nationals made a qualifying offer to him, which would cost the team that signed him a top draft pick. Some GMs think LaRoche may wind up getting his best deal from the Nationals -- and the two sides were relatively close to a new contract earlier this month.
If Rizzo signs LaRoche, he could trade Mike Morse, who would have good value this winter in light of some of the free agent-prices (hello, B.J. Upton). Morse, 30, is coming off a year in which he hit .291 with 18 homers in 406 at-bats, and he'll be eligible for free agency next fall after playing for $6.75 million next summer.
2. The Nationals could let LaRoche walk away and then shift Morse to first base, which is probably Morse's best defensive position.
3. Washington could keep LaRoche and Morse and work from extraordinary depth in 2013, especially in light of the respective injury histories of Morse, Werth and LaRoche. Remember, the Nationals have Tyler Moore, and Washington manager Davey Johnson likes to use his whole roster a lot, and he loves this trade.
A possible Washington lineup (and it's pretty darn good):
CF Denard Span
RF Jayson Werth
LF Bryce Harper
1B Adam LaRoche
SS Ian Desmond
It's possible that Werth could be moved to left in spring training, as Adam Kilgore writes in this piece.
• The Twins had no choice but to try to trade to rebuild their pitching, because they don't have a lot of ways to do that. The free-agent market is thin, their minor league system is pitching-poor, and rival executives say their major league team has almost no assets that could net top pitching talent in return. Span, with his team-friendly contract, had that kind of value.
Let's face it: Until Minnesota improves its pitching it is doomed to irrelevancy, and Alex Meyer has the stuff to be a front-line starter.
Now it's up to the Twins to develop him, writes Tom Powers.
• For all the speculation about Joe Mauer possibly being traded, it's worth reviewing some of the hurdles to any deal:
1. He's a Minnesotan with a full no-trade clause.
2. He's the Cal Ripken of the Twins franchise, with his value to the Twins going beyond just his OPS and catching skills. If they were to trade him, they'd need a major package of players in return, in addition to some national parks.
3. He's probably overpriced right now, at $23 million annually, so any team acquiring him would want salary relief that the Twins wouldn't want to give.
Around the league
• With the Atlanta Braves and Nationals making aggressive moves this week, some agents are speculating that Philadelphia Phillies GM Ruben Amaro will be itching to do something splashy -- like signing Josh Hamilton. They're just speculating, but as one said, "That's his M.O."
• The Yankees never made an offer to Russell Martin, given how they've placed a priority on pitching this winter with their available funds and knowing what he was looking for. Martin told David Waldstein he had a great time in New York.
The Yankees' deal with Mariano Rivera could be finished as soon as today.
• If the Pirates are ready to trade Joel Hanrahan, the Dodgers are ready to discuss and have starting pitching to offer (like Chris Capuano). But the fact that Pittsburgh agreed to terms with Martin probably means that the Pirates are making a push for 2013 and trading their closer wouldn't seem to fit that.
Martin is a good fit for the Pirates, and yes, they overpaid a bit -- but that's what they need to do to get good veteran players to come to Pittsburgh. Texas also had made an overture to Martin.
This is the most expensive free-agent signing in Pirates history, writes Rob Biertempfel.
• The Phillies' best offer to B.J. Upton was $55 million over five years, according to Mark Bowman of MLB.com. The Upton signing is a risk for Atlanta, writes Jeff Schultz.
• The San Francisco Giants will talk about Brian Wilson again today, but the expectation is that they will non-tender the reliever. There have been no talks about a new negotiated deal for the arbitration-eligible closer -- and really, there's no reason for Wilson to haggle over a deal with San Francisco. He'd be better off going to free agency and finding a job in which he'd be more assured of being a closer.
This decision looms as the Giants prepare for the winter meetings, writes Alex Pavlovic.
• Some officials believe Ryan Dempster may land with the Brewers eventually, because it would put him closer to his old home in Chicago.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Mac Engel thinks the Rangers should spend their money on their rotation and not on Josh Hamilton. If the Rangers sign Zack Greinke and pass on Hamilton, they would need to bolster their lineup, and the best free-agent fit still on the board could be Nick Swisher, because of his positional flexibility -- he can play right, left or first base.
3. Alex Anthopoulos says he feels good about his team.
4. The Tigers know how to deal with Scott Boras, writes Bob Nightengale.
14. The Angels could work on the back end of their rotation, writes Mike DiGiovanna.
• Chris Duncan's focus is on the future, in spite of his cancer diagnosis.
• John Erardi wants to keep Cooperstown clean.
I respond respectfully: It's too late.
And today will be better than yesterday.