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Pujols anticipation spreads with more pursuers at winter meetings

DALLAS -- A little after eight o'clock, the Marlins brass descended the tower elevators, having just completed a meeting with the agent for Albert Pujols, and gave no indication of how it went.

The logistics at the winter meetings' Hilton Anatole being what they are, owner Jeffrey Loria, president David Samson, president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest and general manager Michael Hill then walked roughly a quarter-mile through the crowded lobby's evening merriment with a dozen reporters in tow and deflected all questions about their progress toward signing the budding legend who knows no other major-league home than the Cardinals.

"Nothing to report," Samson said.

There was word Tuesday evening that the Marlins were seeking a quick decision from Pujols -- who reportedly has been offered a 10-year contract by Miami, St. Louis and potentially two late-charging entrants, suggested to be the Angels and Cubs by FoxSports.com and the New York Post -- though it remains unclear when exactly his intentions will leak.

No matter the outcome, the hierarchy of Major League Baseball is ongoing a radical, overnight change.

The last time the winter meetings were held in Dallas in 2005, the Marlins held a fire sale, trading off key players.

In 2011, appearances by Marlins front office personnel in the hotel lobby generate the same frenzy and crowds as entourage-ensconced rock stars.

That's not to say that they've become everyone's darlings or that the newfound wealth will turn them into World Series champions for a third time in franchise history. But even if they don't sign Pujols, they appear to be intent on signing another notable, such as a starter like C.J. Wilson or Mark Buehrle, and have shown a willingness to establish a new manner of doing business, with closer Heath Bell and shortstop Jose Reyes already in the fold through free-agent signings worth more than $130 million.

These are, after all, the Marlins who have never had a payroll more than a few hundred-thousand dollars past $60 million and who have gone as low as $15 million in 2006, a sum so low that they received the ire of the players association.

The Marlins' past success has always been to build rapidly, win a title and tear apart just as rapidly. Now, as they move into a new retractable-roof ballpark within the city limits, they have the resources to not only acquire top talent but retain it, too. What's on display now are big-money offers to free agents, but the new revenue streams of the new stadium will also allow the club to extend younger players such as Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison when their time comes for free agency.

Whoever signs Pujols will undoubtedly be a much better team in 2012 and likely for the next several years, though it's hard to imagine he'll be worth a premium rate by the final few seasons of a 10-year contract in which he'll be 41 at the end. Pujols made $116 million over the past eight seasons, which is hefty compensation but still team friendly for a man who'd make the Hall of Fame even if he retired tomorrow. Though he slumped early in 2011, he managed to finish the season at .299 with 37 home runs and 99 RBIs, which was one batting average point and one RBI shy of his 11th season going .300-30-100.

Whoever lands the game's greatest active player will be the big story upon completion of the deal. For now, however, as the deal is merely anticipated, the focus is on baseball's nouveau riche Marlins.

Other news and notes from day two of the annual winter meetings:

• At the other end of the spectrum from the Marlins are the White Sox. After trading closer Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays for pitching prospect Nestor Molina, Chicago GM Kenny Williams told reporters, "It is the start of rebuilding." As recently as October, Williams conceded that the club was "retooling," which is thought to be a milder form of the more severe term, "rebuilding."

In the narrow context of this trade, the White Sox received a needed boost to their depleted farm system. Molina, 22, had a dominant year split between Single-A and Double-A, posting a 2.21 ERA while striking out 148 and walking just 16 in 130 1/3 innings.

More broadly, what this means is that the potential for further trades -- most likely, outfielder Carlos Quentin and/or starting pitchers Gavin Floyd or John Danks -- could be in the offing, though the trade market might improve after a few free agent starters like C.J. Wilson and former Sox lefty Mark Buehrle ink their new deals, as the teams who miss out will have less supply for their demand.

• For the Blue Jays, the trade could help catapult them into the playoffs in the very near future, particularly given the expansion to a second wild card next season. Santos will be under team control for up to six seasons, so this was far from a win-now move but certainly shores up a weak spot. Toronto's bullpen last year ranked 24th in reliever ERA (4.32) and 29th in save percentage (56.9 percent).

Toronto GM Alex Anthopolous described the 28-year-old Santos as "a guy who has a chance to be an elite closer in the American League," noting his strikeout rate (13.1 K/9) and power slider. He also said he liked that Santos doesn't have many miles on his arm after converting from shortstop to pitcher before the 2009 season.

• The other surprisingly active mover on the day was New York -- as in the Mets -- who signed free agent relievers Frank Francisco (for a two-year deal) and Jon Rauch (for one year) and then traded outfielder Angel Pagan to the Giants for a third reliever, Ramon Ramirez, and for outfielder Andres Torres. Such moves may not win over the skeptical fan reeling from the loss of Reyes, but these were moves that will help New York win more games in 2012 at little long-term cost.

While Francisco and Rauch were among the offenders in the aforementioned struggles from Toronto's bullpen, both should benefit from a move to the National League. Ramirez, after all, is a great example. He had a 4.46 ERA in 42 1/3 innings for the Red Sox in 2010 but finished the regular season with a 0.67 ERA in 27 innings after being traded to the eventual World Series champion Giants. Also Torres, when healthy, has great outfield range, which is essential in Citi Field even with the fences being moved in slightly. Pagan is a better hitter, but the addition of Ramirez makes the trade fair or even a win for New York.

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