Each year, Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings are the best time for teams, executives, and agents to make deals, whether they’re free agent signings or player trades. After the busy week finishes amongst some of the most powerful figures in professional baseball, a lot of the most sought after free agents have either been re-signed to their original team, or find a new home for the next few years. This year at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, Texas, two teams made bigger splashes than the others: the Miami Marlins and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
I think that the biggest shock for not only the Winter Meetings, but for the entire off-season thus far is the willingness of the Miami Marlins front office to open their pockets and court the biggest free agents of the winter. The organization made three major signings, agreeing to terms with closer Heath Bell (3-years/$27 million), shortstop Jose Reyes (6-years/ $106 million), and starting pitcher Mark Buehrle (4-years/ $58 million). In a span of about a week, the Marlins spent $191 million. That’s a heck of a lot of money, considering the organization has never been known to be a big spender and sells off most of their old talent once they’ve become too expensive.
The payroll in Miami will be jumping to over $100 million for the first time in the team’s history, quite a large increase from the 2011 payroll of $57 million. So, how in the world can the Marlins afford these top tier free agents all of a sudden? Well, as most of you know, they will be opening up a brand new, state-of-the-art stadium right in downtown Miami. Tim Kurkjian reported on ESPN this week that the Marlins are not only getting out of one of the worst leases in the MLB with the opening of their new stadium, but they are projecting to sell a lot of tickets this year and beyond, creating a new revenue level they’ve never been able to achieve before. So, instead of waiting until they reach that point to spend money on free agents, they have decided to do so now, creating more excitement to the team. The one thing that makes me suspicious is that none of these contracts includes no trade clauses, and when they were courting Albert Pujols, they wouldn’t bend on their stance. In my eyes, it is because of their past fire sales once they won their two World Series titles in 1997 and 2003. They have successfully created more excitement; now it will be a question as to whether it puts people in the seats and if these big time free agents stay in Miami for the length of their contract.
The other team that made a big splash at the end of the Winter Meetings was the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, by singing first baseman Albert Pujols (10-years/ $254 million) and starting pitcher C.J. Wilson (5-years/$77.5 million). LA was rumored to be linked with Wilson for most of the winter, mostly because he is originally from Southern California. Before Angels GM Jerry DiPoto swooped in and signed Wilson, his agent proclaimed that his pitcher was less than an hour away from signing with the Marlins…imagine if they signed him too?
Overall, I think that Wilson fits in nicely with the Angels, and partnering up with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana, they form one of the scariest pitching rotations in the league. The bigger surprise was the organization’s ability to steal Albert Pujols from re-signing with the St. Louis Cardinals. There were some whispers going on around the league that Pujols wasn’t too happy with St. Louis for a number of reasons, and it seemed to be enough of a problem not to re-sign with the team that he won three MVPs, two World Series titles, and spent 11 seasons with. So, the new Angels first baseman will be in SoCal for the next decade, signing the second most lucrative contract in MLB history. LA’s payroll will be projected at $140 million for 2012, much higher than the front office anticipated, but owner Arte Moreno felt that signing these players and spending $331.5 million this off-season would pay dividends.
The next step is to actually play…these signings are great, but like the Red Sox learned last year, you don’t win championships on paper, but on the field. It will be an interesting 2012, that’s for sure!