Having left the winter meetings in Dallas last week empty-handed after failing to sign free-agent righthander A.J. Burnett or retain second baseman Mark Grudzielanek or leftfielder Reggie Sanders, Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty decided that "the market has gone crazy." If his first clue wasn't the Blue Jays' giving Burnett, a pitcher with a losing record, $55 million over five years, it might have been the Dodgers' paying shortstop Rafael Furcal more money per year ($13 million) than the Orioles are paying 2002 AL MVP Miguel Tejada.
Displaced anger over his suddenly below-market salary wasn't what drove Tejada to request a trade last Saturday; he said he was unhappy with the Orioles' direction. (He later softened his stance.) Soon rumors swirled that he would be shipped to the Red Sox, who happen to have a disgruntled slugger, Manny Ramirez, on the block. But then every rumor lately has seemed to involve the Red Sox, the most active team of the winter.
With adviser Bill Lajoie, 71, steering a G.M.-by-committee approach in the wake of Theo Epstein's departure, the Red Sox, having already traded for Marlins pitchers Josh Beckett and Guillermo Mota and third baseman Mike Lowell, began assembling a new double-play combination. They stole second baseman and ideal number 2 hitter Mark Loretta from San Diego for backup catcher Doug Mirabelli. Then they erased the mistake of shortstop Edgar Renteria, who led the majors in errors last season after signing a four-year, $40 million deal, shipping him and $11 million to Atlanta for top third base prospect Andy Marte, 22. Who plays short? Perhaps smooth-fielding free agent Alex Gonzalez. Or Tejada.
On Monday it at least became clear who would make that call. Boston said assistant G.M. Jed Hoyer, 32, and director of player development Ben Cherington, 31, will share Epstein's old job. (The Red Sox didn't comment on rumors that Epstein may return as an adviser.) Hoyer and Cherington will no doubt continue the overhaul in the outfield--the Sox will most likely compete with the Yankees for free-agent centerfielder Johnny Damon--and on the hill. The team is shopping pitchers David Wells and Matt Clement. One name floated is 43-year-old Roger Clemens, who became a free agent after he was not offered arbitration by the Astros. Houston G.M. Tim Purpura called it "a gut-wrenching decision," and the club cannot negotiate with Clemens until May 1. Purpura's gut might feel even worse if the Rocket signs with the Rangers, Yankees or Red Sox.