GONE BABY, GONE!

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

Baseball’s Winter meetings ended this afternoon with the completion of the Rule V draft, in which the Rangers neither drafted a player nor had a player drafted.  The esteemed Peter Gammons predicted that the Winter Meetings would be dominated by trades and that free agent signings would ensue later.  He could not have been more off target as free agent signings dominated the headlines from start to finish.

Initially, the Miami (previously Florida) Marlins grabbed the headlines by signing Jose Reyes formerly of the Mets to a contract worth more than $100 million.  They didn’t stop there, pushing hard for Albert Pujols and C. J. Wilson before settling for Mark Buehrle, who they signed for four years at $58 million.  They also inked closer Heath Bell, previously with the Padres, to a three-year contract.

When the Pujols situation didn’t work out with Miami, it was generally assumed that he would be re-signing with St. Louis, though there was rumor of the ever present “mystery team” that showed interest.  This time, there really was a mystery team as the Angels stole the show by swooping in to sign BOTH Pujols and Wilson.  Pujols’ contract is reported to be for 10 years at $254 million, while Wilson’s is five years at $75 million. 

The Angels came to the meetings with the stated intention of keeping their payroll in the $130 – $140 million range.  The best guess at their payroll prior to the meetings was around $125 million, which included nine players under contract at approximately $99 million and an additional $26 million once the dust settled from arbitration and filling out the roster.  That left little maneuvering room for free agent signings to stay in owner Arte Moreno’s preferred salary range.  Obviously, they either lied in the first place or changed their minds, as the additions of Pujols and Wilson will surely run that total at least past the $160 million mark.

With the acquisitions, they have thrust themselves squarely into the hunt for the American League West title.  In addition to the badly needed bat of Pujols for the offensively challenged Angels who scored only 667 runs last season, almost 200 fewer than the 855 Texas scored, the Angels have added a fine addition to their starting rotation in Wilson, who will be either their number three or four starter, and catcher Chris Iannetta, joining the Angels via a trade with the Rockies, who is a material offensive upgrade on last year’s woeful catching corps.

As for the Rangers, very little transpired.  Infielder Greg Miclat was acquired from Baltimore as the “player to be named later” in the Taylor Teagarden trade.  He batted .280 and stole 50 bases at AA Bowie in 2011.  Wilson is of course gone, though it appears the Rangers had assumed all along that he would be.  The earlier signing of Joe Nathan to be the team’s closer freeing Neftali Feliz to be a starting pitcher seemed indicative of the expectation. 

The Rangers’ rotation should be okay.  By season’s end, Derek Holland was really the most feared starter on the staff.  Alexi Ogando was marvelous for the first two months of the season, and with the experience of starting in 2011, will hopefully gain the stamina to pitch an entire season at an elite level.  Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis are also back.  Make no mistake about it though, replacing the 200 starter innings at less than a 3.00 ERA is not a hop skip and a jump in the park. 

Supposedly, the Rangers talked seriously with the Cubs about Matt Garza, though early indications are that Chicago’s asking price is on the moon.  The White Sox are in full rebuilding mode such that John Danks will undoubtedly be moved by next July’s non-waiver trade deadline.  With Buerhle and Wilson off the market, the Japanese phenom Yu Darvish has now been posted, though early indications from the local media have the Rangers sitting this one out.  In any event, there are outside options.

On the other hand, this team has been seeking outside starting pitching for years.  Cliff Lee for half a season is the only one that has provided much help.  Brandon Webb and Rich Hardin were among the outsiders given shots the past two years, and they contributed virtually nothing.  The pitching success of the Rangers over the past two World Series seasons has been based on home grown pitchers, and Texas will again be looking to home grown pitchers for the bulk if not all the starting pitching success in 2012.

A year ago when the winter meetings concluded, Cliff Lee was still in play for the Rangers and Adrain Beltre wasn’t on the radar screen.  The situation worked out for Texas to return to the World Series and the corps of that team returns, mostly in the prime of their careers for 2012.  It may be disappointing to lose Wilson, especially to a divisional opponent, but Rangers’ General Manager Jon Daniels has proven in the past to be creative and imaginative in putting together a contender.  2012 should have similar expectations for Ranger fans no matter what the Angels have done.

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