What in the name of Chico Salmon just happened? The hot stove just went microwave on us. On the day after Cyber Monday, baseball staged its own version of Fat Tuesday, cramming what seemed like a winter's worth of player movement into one day.
The next time anybody wants to tell you baseball is dying, go ahead and tell them to look up what happened on Dec. 3, 2013. It was the day baseball markets big and small and everything in between shuffled around players and threw around money like drunken hedge fund owners in a one-day fantasy league.
"When did I miss the trading deadline getting changed to Dec. 3?" joked one general manager.
Including signings and trades that were agreed upon or announced, in one day teams spent more than one-third of a billion dollars ($349.25 million to be exact) on seven free agents, traded 23 players and sent 43 more players into the market as non-tendered free agents.
And we're not even including the announcement that Tony Clark became the first former player to be named executive director of the players association or that baseball is seriously considering a spending cap -- at least as it relates to the bids teams submit for players made available through the posting agreement with Nippon Pro Baseball.
Let Dec. 3 forever be known as Chico Salmon Day, in honor of the peripatetic late infielder who played seven different positions for seven different organizations, not including the Marlboro Smokers, his winter league team in Panama that was managed by a man named Winston. That's a true story, as is the one that Salmon was so afraid of ghosts he slept with the lights on, a towel jammed under the door and chewing gum stuffed in the keyhole. Salmon, who died in 2000, was born on Dec. 3 and Tuesday would have been his 73rd birthday.
Salmon (.249 career hitter) was the Nick Punto (.248) of his day, which means he'd be pulling down $2.75 million for part-time duty in today's game. If you didn't think the game was flush with cash, what with the new national TV deals putting another $27 million or so into team's pockets, you weren't following Chico Salmon Day. To help you sort through the blizzard of deals, here is all you need to know about CSD:
The most dangerous team in baseball, again, is the Yankees coming off a non-playoff season
The last time the Yankees missed the playoffs, 2008, they spent nearly half a billion dollars on free agents and won the World Series. This time, after missing the playoffs for a second time in six seasons with their worst winning percentage in 21 years and having lost half a million paid customers in four years, the Yankees are again trying to spend their way back to relevance.
New York dropped $238 million on Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury and still has room for Hiroki Kuroda and Robinson Cano. And if Alex Rodriguez and his luxury tax number of $27.5 million comes off the books, they could get Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, too.
Is seven years and $153 million too much for Ellsbury, a very good player who looks like the next Carl Crawford in terms of questionable durability and power? Of course. But the Yankees will worry about that later. Their farm system has given them no good options, and that's why 2013 happened. New York had the worst production in the league at first base, third base, rightfield and DH, a veritable impossibility given its bandbox of a ballpark and the most expensive payroll in the league.
The Yankees still need pitching
Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes combined for 91 starts and 532⅓ innings last season. If Kuroda retires or returns to NPB in Japan, New York will need to replace all of that volume. And if the posting rules are changed, they may not be able to buy their way into getting Tanaka.
Jay-Z is getting an education about hardball
The newly minted agent's $310 million sticker price on Cano scared off teams and didn't make the Yankees flinch. Meanwhile, Scott Boras, the agent who never moves quickly, artfully delivered Ellsbury to the Yankees before the winter meetings.
Now Cano could be looking at two options that don't sound like the market you would expect for the best free agent available: taking about $17 million more from New York than the Yankees gave Ellsbury, a far inferior player, or leaving the Yankees to go play in Seattle and that huge ballpark for an extra $30 million, or $3.75 million per year.
The Red Sox are sticking to the blueprint
While the Yankees continue to run counter to the industry trend by paying players huge dollars as they age through their mid-30s, Boston keeps financial and roster flexibility by limiting length of contracts. Goodbye, Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Hello, A.J. Pierzynski, the latest microphone-ready addition to the Sox. Can the Boston clubhouse get any more personality than this group? Yes: Sources indicate they are close on a two-year deal to add Charles Barkley as bullpen coach.
Dave Dombrowski is the smartest man in the room without having to talk about it
The Tigers' GM is the new John Schuerholz, the architect of great teams in Kansas City and Atlanta. Dombrowski gets out in front of the market and dictates deals. He has traded for Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Jose Inglesias in recent years and almost never loses a deal. So if he comes bearing Prince Fielder and $30 million to take him off his hands, I'm running. And if he asks for Ian Krol, a lefty with an electric fastball, and Robbie Ray, a 21-year-old lefty with 10.1 K/9 last season, in exchange for Doug Fister, I suddenly like Krol and Ray a whole lot more.
And you can't beat the investment in Joe Nathan. Closers typically aren't worth $10 million a year (see Jim Johnson), but Nathan is one of the truly reliable ones and Detroit had a glaring need with Bruce Rondon yet to show he's ready for the role.
Now if Dombrowski somehow lands Shin-Soo Choo . . .
The Rockies sold low on a good young player
Colorado waited a year too long to move Dexter Fowler. After his breakout 2012 season, the centerfielder regressed in 2013 and hit just .214 on the road. Now he's been shipped to Houston in exchange for pitcher Jordan Lyles and outfielder Brandon Barnes.
The A's are going for it; the Orioles are not
Oakland will spend about $27 million on groundball relievers Luke Gregerson and Johnson and a starting pitcher, Scott Kazmir, who last threw enough innings to be an ERA qualifier (162) back in 2007. They also cashed in a prospect with power, Michael Choice, to get a fourth outfielder, Craig Gentry, from the Rangers, although Gentry is a valuable commodity on a winning team. And that's the point: Oakland has a ready-to-win team that needs the finishing pieces to get to a World Series.
Baltimore? Different tune. Its attendance has shot up 34 percent over the past two years but the Orioles are not sinking much more into their major league payroll. They let a good team fall apart late last year because of a lack of depth. Now they can't afford a $10 million closer (Johnson), but the Athletics, playing in Plumbers Park, can.
The catching market is very, very weird
Really, it's one big game of musical chairs. Take Toronto -- please. The Jays' catching core is Eric Kratz, Dioner Navarro and Josh Thole, which hardly improves upon J.P. Arencibia, Henry Blanco, Mike Nickeas and Thole, which brings to mind Jose Molina, John Buck, Rod Barajas, Sal Fasano, Bengie Molina, Greg Myers, Kevin Cash . . . well, you get the point.
Navarro, Pierzynski, McCann, Saltalamacchia, Brayan Pena, Chris Stewart, Ryan Hanigan, George Kottaras and Eli Whiteside all have changed teams since the season ended. Whiteside is the definition of how catchers have become interchangeable pieces. From Nov. 5, 2012 to Nov. 12, 2013 -- just 53 weeks -- Whiteside went from the Giants to the Yankees to the Blue Jays to the Rangers to the Cubs, his seventh organization in seven years.
Chico Salmon would be proud.