ORLANDO, Fla. -- Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt, who may be the best businessman in a room full of millionaires and billionaires here at the Waldorf Astoria at Disney World, indicated he believes the Yankees would retract Alex Rodriguez's monstrous deal if they could. There was no word from Yankees, but DeWitt was really talking about his own situation with his own superstar anyway.
DeWitt's remark is only meaningful because Albert Pujols has been looking to repeat Rodriguez's contract, which guarantees the Yankees' slugger $275 million but could actually wind up costing New York an extra $30 million in home run milestone monies for a $305 million total. Pujols is said by people close to the situation to want a 10-year deal like A-Rod got for about $30 million a year like A-Rod, and is just about the same age as Rodriguez when he signed that contract at age 32 in 2007 that will take him through age 42. Rodriguez is often credited for arranging that deal. If he did, he's a heck of a lot smarter than your average ballplayer.
In any case, DeWitt, who miraculously recovered the vast majority of the $150 million purchase price of the Cardinals by selling the parking garages for approximately $90 million and is one of baseball's few billionaire owners, made it clear he doesn't want to repeat the Rodriguez deal. After saying he couldn't imagine the Yankees were happy with that deal, he didn't react positively to my prediction to him that Pujols would get $240 million for eight years. The $30 million a year is what he questioned more than the eight-year term, though he didn't really OK the eight years either (he had no reaction to that).
DeWitt said the Cardinals did plan to talk to the most prominent 2011-12 free agent between now and shortly after the New Year.
Judging by how far apart the sides could be, this negotiation could take awhile. Though ultimately, it probably gets done. Pujols took a safe deal last time at $100 million for seven years in 2004, and the great likelihood is that DeWitt and Pujols work it out, whether or not the two sides see eye-to-eye right now. One competing exec predicts Pujols will stay in St. Louis for $25 million a year for six or seven years. If so, DeWitt has repeated his parking garage coup.
Two prominent closers, Boston's Jonathan Papelbon and Cincinnati's Francisco Cordero, have hit the trade market. And their teams may be willing to pay part of their salaries depending on what they can get back. Word around here is that the market for Papelbon is very thin due to three factors: 1) he had an off year, raising concerns about whether he's burning out, 2) he's arbitration eligible and could top $10 million, and 3) he's a free agent after next year.
If the Red Sox are able to trade him, they may jump into the free agent closer market, which means Rafael Soriano could be in play for them. But it's more likely that they tender Papelbon a contract and keep him as their closer for one more year.
The Braves made a nice deal for a middle-of-the-order bat, taking Dan Uggla off Florida's hands for utilityman Omar Infante and lefty reliever Mike Dunn. The Braves loved the fact that Uggla has batted .390 over the last three seasons at Atlanta's Turner Field, and they badly needed to balance a lefty-heavy lineup. By their own admission, the Braves had a "popgun offense" in the playoffs last year when Martin Prado and Chipper Jones were out with injuries but are still short offensively even with those two returning in 2011. Jones and Braves All-Star catcher Brian McCann were said to love the move. And what's not to like?
The Marlins, meanwhile, in effect "saved'' $30 million on a day when they traded Uggla, who had recently rejected a four-year, $48 million offer from them but signed catcher John Buck to a three-year, $18-million contract. They may try to put that money into their pitching. Marlins people were said to be shocked that Uggla didn't take the deal, and $48 million does seem like a fairly healthy offer for a very good yet one-dimensional player.
Let's hope the Marlins don't look at it as found money, and indeed do spend the rest of their "savings.'' Buck is a nice start. But they have many more bucks yet to spend.
Yankees people don't seem to think there's any chance Derek Jeter will surrender his captaincy and legacy by leaving New York. Yet they say they are still willing to "overpay'' him. It may indeed be an overpay based on his sagging 2010 stats that included a career-low .270 average, but while some Yankees people won't acknowledge Jeter's value to the business, they need him back for the sake of the multi-billion dollar franchise.
It's an unusual situation -- both sides need each other. Yet neither seems to be making a strong move to get close to an agreement. It will be interesting to see how long the dance lasts. But the prevailing opinion is that the Yankees will offer him a three-year deal and are not likely to give much if any pay cut from the almost $19 million he's averaged the past 10 years, which could put the total deal at around $57 million for three years. A friend of Jeter's said he didn't think Jeter would be pleased with anything in the $50 million neighborhood. But so far, it doesn't seem like the team is likely to venture too far from that area.
While there's bound to be interest in Jeter if ever a point comes where talks have stalled, other executives around baseball still can't see the Yankees icon leaving the pinstripes. "What's he going to do, go to Baltimore?'' one competing exec asked, sarcastically.
The Brewers surely know their chances to keep Prince Fielder long-term are slim bordering on none. But they also appear to be coming to the realization that the trade market for a one-year slugger with a $12-million salary isn't going to be great.
The Brewers helped revitalize baseball in Milwaukee by making the playoffs in 2008, and after two straight losing seasons can probably expect a dropoff in ticket sales. But the decline would be that much more precipitous if they sent Fielder away. So it appears they will most likely handle Fielder in the same way the Padres are treating Adrian Gonzalez; they will take him into the season, then considering trading him at the deadline depending on whether or not they are in the race.
Terry Collins, Bob Melvin, Chip Hale and Wally Backman are the four candidates remaining for the Mets' managerial opening, which is interesting in that all four mean already work for the organization. Backman, currently the manager at Single-A Brooklyn, and especially Hale, the team's third base coach, are said to have had good first interviews, but the overwhelming likelihood is that the competition comes down to Collins, the organization's minor league field coordinator, and Melvin, a scout who formerly managed the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Collins was probably the favorite entering the derby in light of some strong connections that included a close relationship with Paul DePodesta, the newly hired right-hand man of GM Sandy Alderson, and Sandy Koufax and Dave Wallace, who are favorites of owner Fred Wilpon. However, a few are starting to suggest now that they believe Melvin has a very good shot at winning the job for a variety of factors, including 1) he is a steadying influence, which may appeal to Alderson, 2) he had a decent track record of success as Arizona's manager, 3) he has a strong intellect, and showed it in his first interview, and 4) Melvin has his own high connections, including a long relationship with commissioner Bud Selig, who is close to Alderson and helped push him to get the Mets' GM job.
Alderson continues to impress with his smarts and demeanor, especially in a tragic week when his war hero father John, 87, was struck and killed by a car in St. Petersburg, Fla. Alderson has promised to continue to work half-days (at least) to keep the Mets' process moving. But there's no pressing need in that the other 29 teams have managers, and only a couple of nearly 200 free agents have signed.
Hale and especially the feisty Backman, a member of the Mets' 1986 world championship team, would represent much more popular choices among the fans, and Collins' connections are very strong. But ultimately, Alderson may go with the safest of the four bets, and that could be Melvin. Collins is a workaholic who's earned praise for his work in player development for the Mets, but he hasn't been a candidate in many places since he resigned the Angels following a partial player revolt in 19999 that divided a lost clubhouse (with the one notable exception being the Dodgers when DePodesta was the GM there).
• The Tigers are in talks with Adam Dunn. The Nationals' last offer to Dunn came around September 1, a month before the season ended, possibly another clue they -- along with most if not all of the National League -- sees him as an American League player. Dunn has great pride and wants to stay in the NL, but his options look limited there right now. The Cubs were thought to be a possibility, but it seems they haven't suggested they are big players to date for him. "He has a strong market,'' one person close to Dunn said. That's definitely true in the American League. While he has put an effort out to become a decent first baseman, he still isn't one. In the AL, the possibilities include the White Sox, Orioles, A's and Angels, in addition to the Tigers.
• The market is said to be especially strong for Adrian Beltre, who is being sold as one of the three two-way star players on the market, along with Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth. The Red Sox remain interested, but people close to the situation say they may have a hard time keeping Beltre. After non-free-agent Uggla turned down $48 million, Beltre looks like he'll top that and may come closer to repeating the $64-million, five-year deal he once got from Seattle.
• The early favorites to land Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth remain the Angels and Red Sox, respectively. But one executive warns, "Don't dismiss Detroit.'' The $52 million the Tigers have coming of the books could be put to use with one if not two big bats.
• The Red Sox are hoping to re-sign Victor Martinez but the Rangers are looking at him, as are the Tigers and Orioles. The Rangers still want to keep Cliff Lee -- the superstar of the market -- and it'll be interesting to see how signing V-Mart could impact that.
• Lee will take his time in his efforts to give everyone interested a chance and maximize his take, with the goal being to get CC Sabathia's $161-million, seven-year deal.
• If the Rangers don't keep Lee, they will consider moving Rookie of the Year closer Neftali Feliz to the starting rotation.
• The Pirates and Nationals look like they may try to be real players for stars this winter. "We have some flexibility,'' is the way Pirates GM Neal Huntington put it. Though, teams that have lost perennially know they often have to overpay to have any chance.
• Orioles GM Andy MacPhail says the Orioles want a corner infielder, and it's believed they are looking at Adrian Beltre and/or Paul Konerko. Konerko won't be easy as he is very close to White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and shouldn't be ruled out as a possibility for Arizona. The Orioles have had trouble luring top free agents in the past, but word is Buck Showalter stood up at a meeting and said he could help lure stars this time. Showalter is off to a great start as Orioles manager, but that's not going to be an easy job.
• Showalter hasn't necessarily lined up coaches so easily, as Juan Samuel, Don Wakamatsu and Brian Butterfield all took jobs elsewhere, Samuel with the Phillies and the other two with Toronto.
• Ironman lefty Pedro Feliciano should have a good market. There are a lot of relievers but lefties are in demand. The Yankees are among teams to show interest.
• The Yankees are again making the pitching coach an organizational decision. Joe Girardi is believed to want longtime friend Mike Harkey, the bullpen coach. But there are several more candidates, including ex-Yankee Gil Patterson, who's been in the A's organization. Leo Mazzone and Rick Peterson don't look like candidates.
• The attendance-challenged Rays will lose Crawford and Soriano, and most likely Carlos Peña, too, with their decision to slash payroll. They had some interest in keeping Peña at a deep discount, but that doesn't look likely now. They may try to hold onto Joaquin Benoit, who starred as a set-up man for them in 2010. Rays GM Andrew Friedman has done a terrific job building the bullpen the past few years has yet another challenge with Grant Balfour and Randy Choate also free agents
• The White Sox are looking for lefthanded bats, and want two of them. Their own lefthanded hitting catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, is believed by competitors to be likely to go back to Chicago's South Side team. The White Sox are also pursuing Hideki Matsui, and there is a decent chance they'll make a deal with the former World Series MVP. The A's are also in the mix for Matsui.
• When they are done hiring a manager, the Mets are said to be willing to consider "mid-tier'' free agents. They need a starting pitcher, a second baseman, a backup catcher and plenty of bullpen help.
• Frank McCourt, who's still the Dodgers' owner, was seen in the lobby, huddling with GM Ned Colletti.
• The Diamondbacks are willing to listen to offers for anyone, which includes even young star Justin Upton. New GM Kevin Towers is aggressive, and says he wants young major league ready players in return. The Yankees and Red Sox are among teams to have checked in. Another Arizona exec summed up their request this way: "Everything.'' That fits in line with what a competing exec said, "They ain't trading Justin Upton. No way.''