This offseason has been, for the most part, a mystery. The Carl Crawford signing with the Red Sox was slightly surprising in that most folks had him pegged for the Angels, the Jayson Werth deal with the Nationals was very surprising in that nobody had him going to D.C. and the Cliff Lee agreement with the Phillies was downright shocking.
And while those three, the biggest free agents entering the Hot Stove season, are off the market, there is still plenty of intrigue left, especially at the top. Once again, very little is known about which teams are chasing fine all-around third baseman Adrian Beltre and almost nothing has been heard about the market for Rafael Soriano, a dominating closer in 2010. There's an outside chance, of course, that quiet could mean the market is disappointingly small. But as we have learned, just because little has been said or written about a pursuer doesn't mean they don't exist. No one heard word one about the Nationals deal with Werth until after the press conference was called.
In a market where star players were in great demand, nobody should be surprised if the best of the remaining players still do very well. Beltre's two-way abilities should be very much appreciated right now (see Werth and Crawford, two others who are adept both at the plate and in the field and got good deals). Soriano is coming off an excellent season in which he had an AL-best 45 saves and a 1.73 ERA, although the closer market looks troublesome now, with Boston getting seemingly no takers in trade talks for Jonathan Papelbon.
Plus, there's money out there. The Yankees and Rangers -- the two losers for Lee -- both made nine-figure offers to Lee that were not accepted, so they clearly have money to spend, if they so choose. And the Angels, allegedly cash-rich, should have plenty, as well. Here is a rundown of what we know to date about the prizes that are left:
The Rangers love Beltre, but their situation is complicated by the presence of beloved Ranger Michael Young at third base. He makes $16 million a year and won't be easy to trade now that he's no longer a shortstop (the Rockies have shown the most interest in Young as a second baseman, a position he hasn't played everyday since 2003, but would probably need to involve a third team, making the whole thing complicated). Besides, the Rangers don't seem all that anxious to trade Young. They could move him to first base, the only infield position he hasn't played in his career, or designated hitter, but he's still viable as a third baseman and worth less as a DH.
The Angels are still the team that makes the most sense for Beltre but they have not been bold players in the free-agent market and have had trouble landing premium free agents. Beltre is said by an Angels person to be a "good fit'' for a team that obviously needs offense, and a third baseman in particular. Who knows for sure if there's a fourth team in the bidding? The Orioles were believed to be interested at one point, but they've acquired Mark Reynolds and it would seem to be a waste of Reynolds' talents to make a first baseman out of him. The Pirates, seemingly a long shot, are believed to be another team to have checked in.
• It's clear from Cliff Lee's press conference that his heart was in Philadelphia all along -- although it's curious that on Sunday night he told the Rangers he'd stay with them for about $150 million over seven years (they were at $120 million for six or $138 million for six with a ton deferred). It seems clear the Yankees were his No. 3 choice no matter how you look at it. He apparently just had reservations about New York, and as he said about the amount of money he was being offered, "enough is enough.'' He got plenty, with $120 million over five years.
• The players union put zero pressure on Lee to choose or even consider the highest bidder (the Yankees). "Absolutely not,'' players union chief Michael Weiner said. "That's just not our approach. We want players to make the best use of their right under the Basic Agreement ... As long as a player makes an informed decision, we're happy. There are non-economic considerations. The fact that Cliff took a deal that wasn't top dollar isn't a problem for us.'' Good for them. Their approach is 100 percent right.
• The Red Sox didn't do badly by adding Bobby Jenks to the back-end of their bullpen for $12 million over two years, and now have three power arms back there, with Papelbon and Daniel Bard. Papelbon still seems to be something of a trade consideration, if the Red Sox can find a team.
• Joe Blanton is going to be dealt by the Phillies. It's just a matter of time.
• Tsuyoshi Nishioka has agreement on a three-year deal plus an option for close to $10 million with the Twins. They aren't sure whether he'll play shortstop or second base.
• The Rangers and Vladimir Guerrero may yet get together on a one-year contract. Texas offered one early in the offseason, but at that time Guerrero was hoping for a multiyear contract somewhere. The DH market is tight, though. Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez are still out there, and Hideki Matsui signed for $4.25 million and one year with Oakland.
• Magglio Ordoñez had multiyear offers but was pleased to go back to Detroit for $10 million and one year. He and owner Mike Ilitch have a special bond, one that's maybe just behind the one that Paul Konerko has with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
• In response to earlier reports the Royals were talking to the Blue Jays about a deal of Kyle Drabek and Travis Snider for Zack Greinke, one GM said, "They're asking for a lot more than that.'' Can't blame them if so. Greinke is an ace pitcher with only $27 million to go on his contract over the next two years.