The winter spending season is off to a fast start if you're a middle-rung middle infielder. Clint Barmes, Willie Bloomquist, Mark Ellis, Jamey Carroll and John McDonald, who combined to hit 25 home runs last year, have deals for $33 million in total. Not bad for five guys who are no better than solid starters or backups.
Good for them. But many others are still waiting. The big deal so far is the $50 million over four years that closer Jonathan Papelbon signed with the Phillies. But there are more monster deals are to come. Here's what to expect (with my own projections):
1. Albert Pujols. One of the greatest players of all-time entered the offseason with a contract offer from the Cardinals of about $200 million for nine years, and he's trying to beat that now. The Marlins made him an offer, and some said it was for nine years, too, but indications are strong that it was for far less than the Cardinals' original bid and Miami's real target is believed to be Jose Reyes. Word seems to be St. Louis won't go much higher, which could mean it dresses the offer up a bit to make it look better so he can stay and save face (eight years, $200 million?). Pujols and his agent, Dan Lozano, could wait for the best deal to materialize, but people who know Pujols say he'd prefer to remain in St. Louis if things are equal, or anywhere close. Projection: $220 million, nine years.
2. Prince Fielder. Brewers owner Mark Attanasio met with agent Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, in Milwaukee but nearly everyone believes the Brewers remain a long shot to retain their cleanup hitter. Fielder offered to stay for eight years and $176 million a couple years ago. But the target surely has climbed since then. The asking price is believed to be $200 million for eight years, which would give him the same annual salary as Phillies' slugging first baseman Ryan Howard. The Nationals, Mariners, Rangers, Orioles and Cubs are viewed as among the possibilities for Fielder. Projection: $195 million, eight years.
3. Jose Reyes. He has at least one offer, from the Marlins though it's been described as a "preliminary'' type bid. Sources suggest it is somewhat less than the $90 million, six-year offer it was reported to be, perhaps closer to $75 million. In either case, it is seen as a "safe'' opening salvo since it's not near the $100 million-plus Reyes is hoping to get. The Marlins are still viewed as the favorite since they seem to have him at the top of their very long list and are clearly trying hard. He would match Carl Crawford's $142-million deal except for an injury history that makes six years seem like a more realistic goal (also the Crawford deal looks like a disaster so far). The Tigers and Brewers have some interest, and the Mets have asked Reyes to come back to them for a counter once he's done shopping. Projection: $120 million, six years.
4. C.J. Wilson. His agent, Bob Garber, seems to be enjoying his moment in the spotlight as much as Wilson. They are off on a tour that will net Wilson beaucoup bucks, though not nearly as much as they seek. Word was, they were looking for close to $120 million over six years, which is obviously absurd. But in a way, he can't be blamed. Wilson is considered by most the best pitcher on the market with MLB experience if age is factored in. The Angels and Yankees are two possibilities, though New York hasn't signed off on a visit yet. The Rangers are believed only pretending to be interested at that level . Projection: $80 million, five years.
5. Yu Darvish. The Japanese star hasn't committed to posting yet, and if he doesn't it will be a real disappointment to his current team -- not to mention all the MLB clubs clamoring for his services. The Rangers, Blue Jays and Yankees are among those mentioned as possibilities, though the Yankees are believed to be gun-shy after a couple bad experiences with Japanese League pitchers. Darvish has terrific stuff, but he doesn't seem anxious to come. Posting: $40 million; Contract: $60 million, five years.
6. Mark Buehrle. A very consistent, tough and athletic performer for the White Sox who's seen by some executives as preferring to stay in the Midwest. However, his best opportunities may be elsewhere (and his agent, Jeff Berry, has been quoted as saying he is willing to consider all situations). Besides, the White Sox feel like they are giving up on this one already, Buehrle's hometown Cardinals don't really need a starter and the Cubs don't look ready to win in the next few years. The Marlins are in, and the Yankees and Nationals are two more expected to be. In a decidedly weak starting pitching market, he could get a year or two more than most figured. Projection: $56 million, four years.
7. Jimmy Rollins. Everyone figures the Phillies won't let him go anywhere, and they may overpay to do it. They love his leadership and defense, and they usually do what it takes to win. He seeks five years, and he can't be blamed for wanting to make up for his under-market deal last time. Many think he'll only get three. But Derek Jeter's deal (three years, $51 million with a fourth year player option) looks like a comp. Projection: $50 million, four years
8. Aramis Ramirez. He turned down a $16 million option for 2012 with the Cubs. So we have to figure he beats that, at least. One of the best-hitting third basemen in the game, but only average defensively. Projection: $39 million, three years.
9. Edwin Jackson. He's very talented, so much so, in fact, that some scouts see him as a potential No. 1 starter even though his statistics (career record of 60-60 with a 4.46 ERA) don't support that sort of outlay. He did not look good against the Brewers, his Kryptonite, in the NLCS, when he posted an 8.53 ERA in two starts. Some might wonder why he is traded so often, too (he's been dealt six times since 2006). Projection: $36 million, three years.
10. Ryan Madson. He thought he had a verbal agreement with the Phillies at $44 million for four years. He could repeat that figure, but most teams don't pay like Philly. The Red Sox, Rangers, Angels, Nationals and Marlins are all believed to be interested. Projection: $34 million, three years (plus an option).
11. Yoenis Cespedes. Hearing only positive things about this 26-year-old Cuban outfielder. A star in the making. Projection: $40 million.
12. Heath Bell. He's said he wants to go back to the Padres. But they aren't likely to be able to compete financially for this All-Star closer. The Red Sox, Rangers or Angels make sense. Projection: $32 million, three years.
13. Michael Cuddyer. A big plus in the clubhouse and batter's box. The Red Sox and Giants could be possibilities, though the Phillies are likely out after getting Ty Wigginton. Projection: $30 million, three years.
14. Carlos Beltran. Had a very nice All-Star year after basically missing all of spring training, putting himself in decent position this offseason. There is, however, the question about how healthy his knee is. The Red Sox and Giants are the most obvious possibilities. Projection: $28 million, two years.
15. David Ortiz. Should get his multiyear deal from Boston. No one sees him leaving. Projection: $28 million, two years.
16. Francisco Rodriguez. He was never going to get that $17.5 million option, anyway. Projection: $27 million, three years.
17. Carlos Peña. Had a nice year on a one-year deal with the Cubs. Great power, fine defender, but you have to accept the low batting average. Projection: $22 million, two years.
18. Josh Willingham. Played home games in the impossible Oakland Coliseum, he still finished with 28 home runs and 99 RBIs. Professional hitter. The drawback is he's only a leftfielder or DH. Projection: $18 million, two years.
19. Francisco Cordero. The Reds didn't pick up his option at $12 million and it's doubtful he approaches that per year in a closer-heavy market. Projection: $16 million, two years.
20. Wei-Yin Chen. Taiwanese pitcher is starring in Japan and is getting a fair amount of action over here. Projection: $16 million, four years.
21. Norichika Aoki. Three-time batting champ is supposed to be the best pure hitter to come from Japan since Ichiro. Projection: $10 million posting. $15 million, three years.
22. Rafael Furcal. Terrific defense is hurt by an off year at the plate, though he wasn't 100 percent for much of the year. Got to be better than Barmes. Projection: $14 million, two years.
23. Paul Maholm. Underappreciated lefthander bounced back with strong season (a 3.66 ERA despite his 6-14 record). Projection: $14 million, two years.
24. Ramon Hernandez. One of the better hitting catchers around. Projection: $12 million, two years.
25. Roy Oswalt. A back injury and retirement talk will keep him to a one-year deal. Projection: $11 million, one year.
26. Kelly Johnson. It's been a good year already for infielders. Projection: $10 million, two years.
27. Hiroki Kuroda. He just may go back to Japan. If he stays, he wants to keep it to the Dodgers or Angels. Projection: $10 million, one year.
28. Alex Gonzalez. Superb defender. Haven't heard much about him. Projection: $10 million, two years.
29. Casey Kotchman. Had terrific year in Tampa Bay after eye procedure. Projection: $10 million, two years.
30. Takashi Saito. Former closer did very well in middle relief for Brewers. Projection: $10 million, two years.
31. Jason Kubel. Cuddyer Lite. Projection: $10 million, two years.
32. Chris Capuano. Solid year with the Mets (11-12, 4.55 ERA). Projection: $9 million, two years.
33. Frank Francisco. Yet another closer, he had 17 saves for the Blue Jays after being acquired from the Rangers for breakout October star Mike Napoli. Projection: $9 million, two years.
34. Javier Vazquez. He has spoken of retirement, but his finish was just too strong. Projection $8 million, one year.
35. Joe Nathan. Good second half (11 saves, 3.91 ERA) should help him. Projection: $8 million, one year.
36. LaTroy Hawkins. Very nice year with Brewers. Projection: $8 million two years.
37. Hisashi Iwakuma. He couldn't come to $16 million, four-year deal with Oakland last year. Good pitcher but velocity is down. Projection: $8 million, two years.
38. Grady Sizemore. A multitalented athlete is thought close to returning to the Indians, his team from the beginning. The only question about him is his health, and it's a good sign that his old team is still interested. Projection: $7 million (plus a lot of incentives), one year.
39. Matt Capps. Not worth trading Wilson Ramos for. Projection: $7 million, two years.
40. Mike Gonzalez. Lefthanders are always useful. Projection: $7 million, two years.
41. Freddy Garcia. Has Yankees and Red Sox interested, which is usually a formula for free-agent success. Projection: $6 million, one year.
42. Erik Bedard. If healthy, someone will like him. Not here. Projection: $6 million, one year.
43. Derrek Lee. Looked good for Pirates. One more year. Projection: $6 million, one year.
44. Johnny Damon. Still going strong. Cooperstown awaits? Projection: $5 million, one year.
45. Brad Lidge. Could bounce back strong from his injury year. Projection: $5 million, one year.
46. Yuniesky Betancourt. Got some bad publicity but one of the better Brewers in the postseason. Projection: $5 million, one year.
47. David DeJesus. Nice player but hasn't become the star he was projected to be. Projection: $5 million, one year.
48. J.D. Drew. Still may play. Projection: $4 million, one year.
49. Jonathan Broxton. Yet another strong closer. If healthy, a monster. Projection: $4 million (plus lots of incentives), one year.
50. Cody Ross. 2010 postseason hero had rough finish to 2011, batting just .197 in the second half. Projection: $4 million, one year.
51. Jeff Francis. Lefthander was still on the mend last year when he went 6-16 with a 4.82 ERA for the Royals, two years after missing the entire 2009 season with an injury. Projection: $4 million, one year.
52. Joel Pineiro. Faded with Angels. Projection: $4 million, one year.
53. Jack Wilson. Excellent defender. Projection: $4 million, one year.
54. Raul Ibañez. Will have to take monster pay cut. Good guy for clubhouse, though. Projection: $4 million, one year.
55. Vladimir Guerrero. One more year? Projection: $4 million, one year.
56. Jason Marquis. Can still provide innings. Projection: $4 million, one year.
57. Jon Rauch. Yet another potential closer. Projection: $4 million, one year.
58. Ryan Ludwick. Useful RBI man. Projection: $4 million, one year.
59. Juan Pierre. Speedster still has value. Projection: $4 million, one year.
60. Rich Harden. Injuries always the question. Projection: $4 million, one year.
61. Octavio Dotel. Showed his value in the postseason, especially by neutralizing Ryan Braun. Projection: $4 million, one year.
62. Andruw Jones. Proved to be terrific off the bench and in the clubhouse for the Yankees. Projection: $4 million, one year.
63. Kevin Millwood. Nice finish with Rockies. Projection: $4 million, one year.
64. Adam Kennedy. Can't be hurt by the interest in infielders. Projection: $4 million, one year.
65. Hideki Matsui. Professional hitter did much better after Bob Melvin came in to manage A's. Projection: $4 million, one year.
• Bobby Valentine meets with Red Sox GM Ben Cherington and his righthand man Allard Baird in Boston today. Valentine looks like the sudden favorite for the manager's job after club honchos declined to make an offer to Cherington's original first choice, Dale Sveum. No other known candidates have been added yet, and that may depend on how this interview goes. It's unsure what the chances of the Red Sox turning to someone below Sveum on Cherington's first list, though there's no word on whether Sandy Alomar, Torey Lovullo or Gene Lamont is out of the picture. Valentine, with a long resume -- he managed the Rangers and Mets, taking the latter team to the 2000 World Series -- and huge personality, is very different than Sveum. It can't hurt him that he is a longtime friend of Larry Lucchino. Valentine looks like the favorite now. But Valentine has come close before.
• Kerry Wood seems destined to go back to the Cubs since he doesn't want to go anywhere else.
• With the new minimum salary $480,000, Brandon Wood's salary with the Rockies is set at $580,000 since he agreed to receive $100,000 over the minimum.
• The Brewers are proving to be a nice development system for coaches and executives. New Cubs manager Sveum was hired off Milwaukee's staff, where he had most recently been the hitting coach. Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, who held that job in Milwaukee before going to Texas, was interviewed in Chicago and had interest from Boston for manager. In recent years, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik and scouting director Tom McNamara also came from Milwaukee. Royals manager Ned Yost also had his first managing job I with the Brewers. Though, some Brewers people were slightly surprised about the clamoring for Sveum, a hit item with two major-market teams.
• Rangers people are still suggesting that a nine-figure deal is a long shot for them (meaning Pujols or Fielder). But we have to remember they were late to the Adrian Beltre party last winter before making one of the best free-agent purchases of that offseason. One focus now is to try to lock up Josh Hamilton.
• Good luck to Scott Kazmir, who's trying to make a comeback in winter ball at age 27. He is a nice kid who didn't take things seriously enough. The Mets were killed for trading him (and it was indeed a mistake) but they knew he was trying to wing it on talent alone.
• Nice job by MLB VP Rob Manfred, union leader Michael Weiner and all their guys to finish the collective bargaining agreement three weeks ahead of the deadline (though there were technically a last few items being finalized at last count). An announcement is expected Tuesday. Blood testing for human growth hormone will begin in spring, so MLB has beaten the NFL to a test for HGH. However, testing is expected to be broken in slowly. Some recent improvements have led to somewhat more effective testing, though Mike Jacobs was the only one caught in the minors so far and it will probably take incredible stupidity to be caught now. There will be a tax system on draft bonuses whereby teams that go over recommended slot totals will be taxed. One drawback to this new system is that some small-market teams -- such as the Nationals, Royals and Pirates -- had wisely begun using the draft to build their talent bases. Hopefully, this won't discourage them too much.