The Mets pulled a bit of a surprise when they entered the fray for Jason Bay, joining the Red Sox and perhaps the Angels and Mariners. Those two AL West rivals look like they may battle over John Lackey, just as they did with Chone Figgins (but the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers and others are also lurking). The Cardinals continue to show interest in Matt Holliday, whose market also includes the Red Sox but otherwise remains somewhat mysterious.
Meanwhile, the Yankees and Johnny Damon continued to do the contractual dance after the Yankees pulled off the biggest move of the meetings by landing Curtis Granderson in a three-team blockbuster that netted the Diamondbacks hard-throwing right-hander Edwin Jackson, who is traded a lot more than he should be. (This makes three times for E-Jax.)
And the Red Sox appear to be the favorite to land veteran third baseman Adrian Beltre, who would find Fenway more to his liking than expansive Safeco Field, assuming he goes there rather than Seattle or San Francisco.
The real winners and losers won't be determined for weeks, and probably months, but here are this week's impressions...
1. Brad Penny: He gets 750 million pennies ($7.5 million) and a chance to make another 150 million pennies ($1.5 million) in incentives. It's all like pennies from heaven for a fellow who is coming off a season in which he remained out of shape and got designated for assignment by Boston midway through. The man never ceases to amaze. (It's hard to believe he ever dated Alyssa Milano, too.) Legacy of Sport agents (Greg Genske, Brian Peters and Scott Parker) actually get the credit here for taking advantage of the fact the Cardinals were fixated on doing a one-year deal with someone. Things usually end up working out for St. Louis, but the Cards have given themselves a challenge here.
2. All mediocre, mid-rung or otherwise average pitchers: Beyond Penny's seemingly crazy deal, Randy Wolf got $29.75 million for three years, making up for the fact that the Astros pulled a similar offer a year earlier, while very solid but unspectacular setup man Brandon Lyon got $15 million for three years and good guy LaTroy Hawkins, another past release victim (Yankees), got $7.5 million over two years. "It's about supply and demand," explained Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr., who admitted to being in the bidding for Lyon almost until the bitter end.
3. Agents Arn Tellem, Barry Meister and Larry Reynolds (and all of the agents, really): Tellem's group (which also includes Adam Katz, Tom Reich and Paul Kinzer) got Wolf his haul, while Meister did the work for Lyon and Reynolds for Hawkins.
4. Players in general: For all the cries of collusion, there has been no evidence of it thus far. Of course, it's early, the Big Three free agents (Lackey, Bay and Holliday) have yet to sign and 90 percent of the free agents remain free.
5. Pudge Rodriguez: Thought to be nearing the end of his great career entering last winter, the Cooperstown-bound catcher finagled a two-year deal from the Nats (with agent Scott Boras' help). Backup catchers have been all the rage, as Rodriguez's deal came a few weeks after a $3 million, two-year deal for Brian Schneider -- a horrendous two-way catcher last year for the Mets -- who went to the rival Phillies.
6. Kevin Towers: The personable ex-Padres GM was wined and dined in Indy, and is expected to choose between the champion Yankees and rising Mariners, where he would work for one of his two best GM friends in the game, either Brian Cashman or Jack Zduriencik. Those are good spots for him, as both those GMs are in for the long haul, and Towers knows he won't be viewed as an immediate threat in either place.
7. Yankees: They landed the biggest star in Granderson, who's a major upgrade over Melky Cabrera ("a fourth outfielder," one scout said of the Melk Man) in center. Granderson is a dynamic offensive player, especially when right-handers are on the mound, and the only criticisms of his defense came late last year when some with the Tigers wondered about his range. Cashman publicly fretted about what they gave up, but the reality is that the Yankees weren't sure that young outfielder Austin Jackson would become a star, they soured long ago on Ian Kennedy (though a big Arizona Fall League changed the perception of him for some, including the Diamondbacks) and cocky reliever Phil Coke was expendable for the great Yankees. They were fortunate to re-sign World Series hero Andy Pettitte without the fuss, muss and dramatics of a year ago, and at the fair price of $11.75 million (especially fair for the Yankees, as he's probably worth $32 million for two years elsewhere). The rival Red Sox are working on a number of things, but they don't seem to be at the forefront of the talks for Roy Halladay or Lackey, at the moment, anyway.
8. Diamondbacks: The addition of Edwin Jackson gives them a superb top three, along with Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, who's one of the best No. 2 starters in baseball, if not the best. Kennedy wasn't going to be able to hack it with his soft stuff in the AL East, but Arizona believes it will translate better in their far less powerful division. They weren't sure that Max Scherzer has a varied enough repertoire to become a star in the rotation, but others think otherwise. In any case, it's always better to trade relievers for starters, and the deal that Byrnes instigated clearly helps them in the short run.
9. Phillies: New backup catcher Brian Schneider may look a bit better on a better team in a smaller ballpark, and he only replaces Paul Bako, anyway. Meanwhile, one GM pointed out they upgraded at third (Placido Polanco instead of Pedro Feliz) and on the bench (Ross Gload instead of all-or-nothing Matt Stairs). They also may have a shot at superstar pitcher Roy Halladay, which would give them one of the best one-two punches in baseball history. "If [Halladay's] driving the bus, he'll come to us," one Phillies person said, alluding to the fact that Halladay's winter compound is just down the road from the Phillies' spring complex in Clearwater, Fla. Though Amaro called any more big deals "unlikely" for them, others still say that the Phillies are quietly and strongly trying for Halladay. There are complications, though, which is probably what Amaro is referring to, such as the Phillies being close to maxed out on their $140 million budget and their well-known desire to lock up ace Cliff Lee. How could they possibly afford to have two prime-time pitchers?
10. Brewers: As I mentioned, the price tags for Wolf and Hawkins were steep. But truth be told, these additions do improve the Brewers, which is the point, right? It's hard to go wrong with Wolf, a pitcher who knows how to compete with what he's got (he won't be another Jeff Suppan). Hawkins helps, too, as Milwaukee concentrated on its primary need of pitching. The Brewers didn't reach expectations in 2009, but by drawing more than three million fans in one of baseball's two or three smallest markets, they set themselves up nicely to contend.
11. Nationals: They look like they have a pulse at least. GM Mike Rizzo brought in big-armed Brian Bruney in addition to Pudge and has his sights set on a bona fide starting pitcher. Rizzo spoke of his interest in Jon Garland, and he'd help. But some see Rizzo aiming just a bit higher, perhaps at improving sinkerballer Joel Pineiro, who's drawing interest from the Mets, Cubs and Dodgers and who would cost the Nats $40 million. They won't get Lackey, but they may get someone significant. If so, good for them. Meanwhile, the winter went well for No. 1 draftees Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen, who looks ready soon. They will be better.
12. Rays: They specifically sought a $7 million closer, and lo and behold, one fell out of the sky in Rafael Soriano, who has a career 1.03 WHIP but was lucky to find a spot to close on a contender. The Rays also remain "far apart" in talks for Milton Bradley, a blessing.
13. Braves: A little more work was made for them when Soriano surprised them by accepting arbitration, but they found him a new home in Tampa within 24 hours. The real benefit at the meetings, though, was seeing the price of pitching rise to the point where the $45 million (over three years) left on Derek Lowe's deal looks almost reasonable. Perhaps if they could save $35-to-40 million of that by trading Lowe, they could even make a play for Bay or Holliday.
14. Astros: While they overpaid for Lyon, he still makes the ballclub better and will cover the Astros if they don't get closer Jose Valverde back (though Lyon's better as a setup man than closer). Pedro Feliz is dependable at third base (not to mention very reasonable at $4.5 million).
15. Andy Pettitte: The most accomplished pitcher on the market showed again what a mench he is by quickly coming back to the Yankees for $11.75 million (though he could have tripled his take elsewhere).
1. Mike Lowell: His previously pristine reputation took a small hit when Boston had to pay $9 million of the $12 million remaining on his contract to be rid of him in a deal that's likely to be finalized next week (they are just checking Lowell's surgically repaired hip) for good-hitting prospect Max Ramirez, whose poor work habits annoyed his bosses. And while Texas people were pleased to be getting a very smart guy with a nice personality in Lowell (as opposed to original target Milton Bradley), people who communicate often with the Red Sox front office painted Lowell in another light after the deal was agreed to -- that of an occasionally disgruntled clubhouse guy (that's certainly not the Lowell I remember more than a decade ago coming up with the Yankees). Plus, having been traded two seasons into his three-year, $36-million contract, he has to wonder why he didn't take the $45 million offer Philly made that included a no-trade following his 2007 World Series MVP season.
2. Giants: The worst-hitting team in baseball announced through continually cantankerous GM Brian Sabean that it didn't have the funds to play for Holliday or Bay, which ought to be real encouraging news for Tim Lincecum, the freakish talent who could only manage 15 wins due to a lack of run support. They continue to wait in the unrealistic hope that power-hitting Dan Uggla will be non-tendered by the Marlins (he won't be) and haven't really seemed to figure out how to field an offense to match the pitching talent they've assembled. Even if they eventually get Uggla, they'll have to figure out how to rework their defensive alignment to fit two second basemen (with Freddy Sanchez being the other).
3. Cubs: It is starting to become clearer after more than a month of shopping malcontent Milton that he's going to have to be basically a giveaway. Texas says it's no longer interested, Tampa is offering a dime on the dollar and no clear other suitor has emerged, at least not publicly. One person familiar with their talks says they are getting only "nibbles."
4. Chone Figgins: The excellent new Mariner has to realize now that he signed the only obvious under-market contract this winter. The improving, newly patient All-Star (he led the AL in walks with 101) may actually wind up receiving the same salary in 2010 as Penny, who was a mid-2009 giveaway by the Red Sox. He led the league in walks and is maybe the most versatile star player in the game.
5. Dodgers: It appears the storied franchise may sit on the sideline as the McCourts duke it out this winter. They will need to find two starting pitchers at some point, but they may have to do it on the cheap. Pineiro would help, but at this point, there's a chance they may suffer the indignity of having Washington outbid them for someone they want.