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):
• 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.