CHICAGO -- Boston already has traded for Jeremy Hermida from Florida, the White Sox have picked up third baseman Mark Teahen from Kansas City and Minnesota acquired shortstop J.J. Hardy from Milwaukee.
They haven't even cleaned up all of the ticker tape from the World Series parade in New York and, already, this winter is off to a rousing start that is very revealing.
|Jason Bay is one of the few prized free agents. But will any team ante up the big bucks for his services? (Getty Images)|
In a down year for both the economy (to say the least) and for free agents (once you get beyond pitcher John Lackey and outfielders Matt Holliday and Jason Bay), several clubs are looking to fill holes the old-fashioned way, via trades.
In Hermida, Teahen and Hardy, three arbitration-eligible players were scooped up by teams looking for early cost certainty in specific areas for 2010, cost certainty that would not be obtainable on the free-agent market probably until well into December or January.
Not that Boston is embarking on an austerity program -- the Red Sox still hope to re-sign Bay, among other to-do list items -- but the Red Sox do need to balance one part of their budget before determining how flexible the expensive part can be. Acquiring Hermida helps with that.
As for the White Sox, as GM Kenny Williams said, the Teahen trade is the perfect kind of deal this winter whereby a team like Kansas City has the ability to choose between "paying the freight" and going to arbitration with a guy like Teahen or choosing to obtain multiple, cheaper pieces that fit into their plans instead.
"I'd say because teams spent a lot of money last year, I don't know if even those teams who did so can spend that kind of money again," said Williams, who sent second baseman Chris Getz and third baseman Josh Fields to the Royals for Teahen earlier this month.
Anyway, as you might have noticed after watching the Yankees cast their wide net and spend $423.5 million last winter on CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira, even within the quote-unquote "free-agent market", there are several different markets at work.
"There actually are about three or four different free-agent markets," Williams said. "The Yankees, Red Sox, both L.A. clubs, the Cubs, there's that market.
"There's the market we probably fall into the B or C market. Then there are the teams behind us from smaller markets who field competitive teams and [decide] to go for it this year.
"Then you have poorer market teams trying to piece things together."
As the GMs gathered here Monday for an abbreviated session of their annual meetings -- they've been cut by a full day -- what a difference a year (and a prolonged recession) makes.
At the GM meetings last November, suites at the St. Regis Monarch Bay Resort in Dana Point, Calif., were going for $1,000. A turkey sandwich and a Coke at the resort restaurant made for a cool $25 lunch.
It was about a month later that the Yankees embarked on their spending spree that would have made proud St. Regis' most notorious guests -- the AIG group that had picked that spot for a junket just a few weeks earlier.
Several executives talked Monday of the dreadfully thin free-agent market. Some players who will qualify as Type A's and, thus, cost a first-round draft pick wouldn't be ranked so highly in other years, which, according to some executives, certainly will turn off some clubs who won't want to lose the draft pick.
As for the trade market, it starts this winter with three players:
Milton Bradley, Cubs: Trading him is probably the most urgent and the most important offseason exercise any club will undertake (though the Cubs predictably are downplaying it). He cannot co-exist in the same clubhouse with manager Lou Piniella or his soon-to-be-ex-teammates, and he's got two years and $21 million left on his deal.
Cubs general manager Jim Hendry would not discuss the situation Monday afternoon at the O'Hare Hilton because he was over at the airline counter looking into one-way tickets. OK, that was a joke. Seriously, what Hendry said for the record was, "He's on our club. Until that changes. ..."
Substitute the word "When" for "Until". At that point, Hendry probably will have plenty of comments. For now, sources say he's spoken with three or four clubs about Bradley so far this winter. Tampa Bay, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, is one. The Rays have some interest in a Bradley-for-Pat Burrell deal, but only if the Cubs pay most of Bradley's remaining salary.
And the Rays aren't overeager even given Burrell's disappointing year in 2009 (.221, 14 homers, 64 RBI). They like players in the last year of their contracts, and they like the odds of Burrell bouncing back.
The Cubs also have spoken with the New York Mets about moving Bradley there, according to sources. And offense-starved San Francisco is always a possibility, and manager Bruce Bochy is known to be open to the idea.
Adrian Gonzalez, Padres: They're broke in San Diego, the John Moores divorce now paling in juiciness to the Frank and Jamie McCourt split in Dodger-ville but nevertheless still hamstringing the club. Gonzalez is their lone remaining trade bait and, even though he's signed for a very affordable $4.5 million next year with a $5.5 million club option for 2011, insiders say the Padres continue looking to cut.
"I think they're going to get rid of all the money they can get rid of," one source with knowledge of the situation said this week. "They'll lowball everything. That's my feeling."
Boston and the Dodgers tried hard to acquire Gonzalez at the July 31 trade deadline last year. New Padres GM Jed Hoyer was one of the Red Sox executives at the time who helped put together a package of prospects to offer the Padres.
Gonzalez is a Gold Glover who hit 36 homers with 119 RBI while playing half his games in pitcher-friendly Petco Park.
"I can't believe he had those numbers in that ballpark," one rival executive said Monday. "If he played in New York or Boston, I think he'd be a 45- or 50-homer guy."
Soon, he might be.
Dan Uggla, Marlins: The question the Marlins must answer, and it is not an easy one, is: Do they want to pay Uggla $8 million in 2010? Because by the time he comes out on the other side of arbitration, that's likely where he'll be. He earned $5.35 million in '09 after beating the Marlins in arbitration.
Florida has a history under its current group of making savvy trades (Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston for Hanley Ramirez and a package of others among them). The Marlins finished second in the NL East in '09 at 87-75, just six games behind Philadelphia.
"He'll hit 30 home runs wherever he plays," one executive said here Monday.
He could play in Florida ... or elsewhere.
He could play second base ... or third.
There's a lot to shake out this winter. These issues, and others. It's difficult to see new Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos not trading ace Roy Halladay after the summer of 1,001 rumors. It's difficult to see any team -- even the Yankees -- laying out another $400-some million for free agents.
For the GMs, this week mostly is about laying the groundwork and setting the stage for what's to come later this winter.
"From my own perspective, I don't think we're out of the woods yet with sports getting slapped in the face by reality," said the White Sox's Williams. "It's not fun and games right now. It's being run as a business."
Let's see whether that statement still holds by the time the Annual Winter Circus reaches the winter meetings in Indianapolis next month.