Deals don't begin, but continue, at Meetings
No blockbusters yet, but moves play roles at winter gathering
With the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis a week away and the future homes of Matt Holliday, Jason Bay, John Lackey and more than 150 others unknown, it's time to take a look back at the moves that have been made already in the 2009-10 Hot Stove season.
Not surprisingly, with many of the biggest chips in the wheeling and dealing being saved for Indy and beyond, the signings and trades seen so far can mostly be classified as procedural maneuvers or signings that are more about roster pieces than masterpieces.
One of the first no-brainers occurred when the Angels re-upped with outfielder Bobby Abreu for two years and $19 million. General manager Tony Reagins had pulled off one of the coups of last winter when he got Abreu for $5 million, and the veteran rewarded him with a .293 batting average, 103 RBIs and a position as a mentor for a club that was vastly improved when it came to Abreu's forte, on-base percentage.
More re-signings occurred when Ken Griffey Jr. and Jack Wilson stayed with the Mariners, Tim Hudson with the Braves, Freddy Sanchez with the Giants, Tim Wakefield with the Red Sox and Mark Kotsay with the White Sox.
In other moves to be filed in the category of the expected, lucrative options were picked up when the Rays exercised All-Star MVP outfielder Carl Crawford's for $10 million, the Phillies kept Cliff Lee for $9 million, Arizona decided its injured ace, Brandon Webb, was worth keeping around for $8.5 million, and the Red Sox picked up Victor Martinez's option for $7.1 million.
Players had options, too, with Boston's captain, Jason Varitek, exercising his for $3 million and his former teammate and current Dodgers outfielder, Manny Ramirez, exercising his for $20 million.
The most active club on the Hot Stove scene in November has been the Chicago White Sox, with general manager Ken Williams filling roster holes here and there with low-risk, potentially high-reward moves ... and a few trades to boot.
In addition to re-signing Kotsay, Williams signed veteran shortstop Omar Vizquel to a one-year, $1.375 million contract, and he nabbed free-agent outfielder Andruw Jones for one year and an incentive-laden $500,000 deal.
He also wheeled infielders Josh Fields and Chris Getz to the Kansas City Royals for versatile infielder-outfielder Mark Teahen.
"With the addition of Andruw, Mark Kotsay and Omar Vizquel, we feel our bench is taking shape to be a strong asset heading into the 2010 season," Williams said.
Meanwhile, in the American League East, it's safe to say the Toronto Blue Jays aren't counting on free-agent shortstop Marco Scutaro to return to Rogers Centre, because new GM Alex Anthopoulos has already signed two shortstops, nabbing free agent Alex Gonzalez with a one-year, $2.75 million contract and re-signing John McDonald for two years and $3 million.
Left-handed reliever John Grabow might have made a lot of nervous free-agent bullpen arms happy when he re-signed with the Cubs for two years and $7.5 million on the strength of a 3.24 ERA in 25 innings with Chicago after arriving in a trade with Pittsburgh.
But before we label the pre-Winter Meetings Hot Stove action as minor and insignificant, let's look back a couple of years.
Sure, 2007 and 2008 had more big-name signings and deals leading up to the Winter Meetings. Who can forget Torii Hunter signing a five-year, $90 million bonanza with the Angels, and Francisco Cordero inking a four-year, $46 million payday with Cincinnati before the calendar even turned to December in 2007?
And what about the November trades in '07?
Tampa Bay got the 2008 AL Championship Series MVP in the form of right-hander Matt Garza, along with its starting shortstop, Jason Bartlett, for Delmon Young and Brendan Harris from the Twins. And the Phillies got their 2008 World Series-clinching closer, Brad Lidge, from Houston in a multiplayer deal that included Eric Bruntlett, 2009 Gold Glove winner Michael Bourn and Geoff Geary.
Plus, we shouldn't forget that Atlanta got Jair Jurrjens -- who has the stuff to possibly win a Cy Young Award one day -- along with outfielder Gorkys Hernandez for shortstop Edgar Renteria.
In 2008, pre-Winter Meetings trades had serious impact, too.
Nick Swisher went to the Yankees from the White Sox along with Kanekoa Texeira for Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez and helped New York to its first World Series title in nine years.
Holliday went to the A's in exchange for closer Huston Street, lefty Greg Smith and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. Street and Gonzalez helped the Colorado Rockies make the postseason.
And even though the Marlins might not have expected it at the time, their quiet trade of Mike Jacobs to Kansas City for reliever Leo Nunez netted them the guy who would turn into their closer as they made a push for October.
So which of the moves already made before everyone starts their engines in Indy will become genius next year?
It could be a trade, whether it's the Pirates getting infielder Akinori Iwamura from Tampa Bay for reliever Jesse Chavez, or the Brewers sending shortstop J.J. Hardy to the Twins for outfielder Carlos Gomez.
Red Sox GM Theo Epstein's hoping it will be his stealth trade with Florida for 25-year-old outfielder Jeremy Hermida, executed days after Boston's archrival Yankees won their 27th World Series title.
"He's somebody who has positive indicators that future performance might be better than his past performance," said Epstein, who could have been speaking for many baseball executives trying to pull off game-changing moves before the game is even played next week in America's Heartland.
"Certainly this is a good time to acquire him when his value is a little bit low and we'll see if, with a change of scenery, he might be able to fulfill his potential."
Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.