Best of the lot

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I can understand why a team would want Meche, who has tremendous talent (Alex Rodriguez has told me 10 times, if not 20, that Meche possesses supreme ability). The part I don't get is the $55 million.

I have wracked my sports writer brain, and all I have so far are three theories, one worse than the next:

1) The $55 million figure represents one million for every career victory (coincidentally or not, Meche is 55-44 lifetime);

2) the two 5's represent the five-something ERAs he had in two of the past three seasons ... in a pitchers' park, no less; or

3) the Royals know they can never be accused of the worst $55 million contract ever since Milton Bradley's idol, Albert Belle, once got the very same deal from the White Sox before they happily pawned him off on another sucker.

But enough about that utter Meche of a contract. Let's get to the deals that make sense, fit a budget, help a team and are generally to be applauded in a winter where madness took over. Here they are, 11 acquisitions I love:

1. Randy Wolf, Dodgers starter ($8 million, one year): Not to brag, but I predicted weeks ago Wolf would be the biggest free-agent bargain this winter. Little did I know he'd tell his hometown Dodgers he'd take a one-year deal in a year everyone had money to spend. He could have gotten three years elsewhere. I've taken hits from readers -- mostly from Philadelphia -- upset he didn't re-up with Philly after they had to sit through his 2005 surgery. But Wolf deserves praise for going home to be near his widowed mother, Judy, and taking a one-year deal to reprove himself.

2. Sean Casey, Tigers first baseman ($4 million, one year): He took a 50 percent paycut after being a rare Tiger to perform superbly in the World Series. After earning his rep as one of the game's nicest players, he showed his clutch, too. And apparently his lack of greed, too.

3. Nomar Garciaparra, Dodgers first baseman ($18.5 million, two years): Not that we need to take up a collection for Mr. Mia Hamm, but Garciaparra will wind up being one of the most underpaid players of his generation. Once upon a time, when he was locked up to a longterm deal early on by the Red Sox, contemporaries and then-comparables Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez waited and cashed in for four and five-plus times more than Garciaparra's salary. Last year he looked like a gamble at $6.5 million coming off yet another injury and trying a new position. This year, after being one of the 10 most valuable players in the league (my opinion, not a stat), he gets a raise but still doesn't break the bank.

4. Tom Glavine, Mets starter ($10.5 million, one year). Always one of his union's strongest and smartest leaders, Glavine now has such a close relationship with Mets COO Jeff Wilpon that the Mets agreed not to pick up their $11 million end of his mutual option as long as he was still considering Atlanta. The Mets eventually signed him back for $10.5 million when the Braves, apparently, couldn't come up with an offer. The Mets also had to pay Glavine a $3 million buyout fee, so he's still extremely well compensated. Yet, the Mets can afford it. And just imagine where they'd be in the Barry Zito negotiations if they had no Glavine.

5. Mike Mussina, Yankees starter ($22.5 million, two years). No deals seem to go easier than the ones between agent Arn Tellem and the Yankees. After the team rejected Mussina's $17 million option, he took $5.75 million less annually to stay an extra year.

6. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox starter ($103.1 million, six years). Boston's game plan to blow everyone away with their $51.1 million posting fee paid off since they knew D-Mat had absolutely zero leverage. The Red Sox originally offered only about $6.5 million a year (close to $40 million for six years) but returned home with Matsuzaka after upping the price to $52 million.

Early speculation about club president Larry Lucchino's trip to Japan was that he'd try to get Seibu to chip in to get the deal done (which would be clearly against the rules), but I do believe it was really only a "fact finding mission,'' as Boston claimed.

Fact No. 1 is, D-Mat was very unlikely to go back to Seibu. Under the circumstances, agent Scott Boras did extremely well, as always; Boras beat the audacious posting fee and became a household name in Japan. Yet, considering the Red Sox believe they can earn $6 million a year via Matsuzaka-driven revenues (the buzz is already extraordinary), the deal works for them, as well. "I'm glad all sides came together,'' GM Theo Epstein said. "Now let's hope he's good.''

7. Moises Alou, Mets outfielder ($8.5 million, one year). One of baseball's more underappreciated clutch hitters, Alou could have gotten two years from Texas, Cleveland and possibly Oakland, but wanted to stay in the National League and have the best chance to get back to the World Series. The pay isn't bad for a player who's missed a lot of games (though not as many as Cliff Floyd).

8. Andy Pettitte, Yankees starter ($32 million, two years). This deal is officially called $16 million for one year, but Pettitte has a player option for $16 million and what player turns down $16 million? Taking a page out of buddy Roger Clemens' playbook, Pettitte made a little noise about retiring. But ol Roj' is going to have to talk to him, because Pettitte never got the farewell tour or retirement Hummer. Thirty-two big ones isn't bad, though the Yankees are happy to welcome back someone they know can pitch in the Bronx after trying so many who couldn't the past several years. The Yankees like Pettitte so much they're taking his word he won't exercise his option for 2008 if he's hurt. That's a whole lotta trust.

9. Greg Maddux, Padres starter ($16 million, two years). I'll count the player option here, too, since the only reason those aren't exercised is if a player can get more elsewhere. In any case, you can still mark Maddux down for 15 wins, or close to it.

10. Jason Schmidt, Dodgers starter ($47 million, three years). It's interesting his former team, the Giants, made no effort to keep him despite having the money and the need (who doesn't need a No. 1 or 2 starter?). Schmidt is seen as a little soft by some East Coasters who think he's happy to coast out West. But the man can pitch. And who can blame him for staying closer to home than picking from a trio of Midwest teams that would have paid him about the same had he agreed to come (Cardinals, Brewers, Cubs)?

11. Vicente Padilla, Rangers starter ($33.5 million, three years). This one met some criticism. But if there was a contract for a No. 3 starter I could live with, this is it. He has as much talent as Meche, and he has proven he can pitch in Arlington.

Honorable mention: Akinori Iwamura, Devil Rays infielder ($4.5 million posting, plus $7.7 million over three years); Eric Gagne, Rangers closer ($6 million plus $5 million in incentives).