By Larry LaRue
The News Tribune
BOSTON – Baseball may be months removed from meaningful victories and defeats, although as the winter meetings drew to a close here Thursday night there were clearly winners and losers.
Winners? Try the two New York franchises.
The Yankees landed premier free agents Jason Giambi and Rondell White and traded for outfielder John Vander Wal. The Mets brought in Roberto Alomar, Roger Cedeno and David Weathers.
New York fans are seeing visions of another Subway Series.
Losers? Plenty of them – including major league baseball.
In an off-season filled with contentious over money, with more than 100 free agents sitting on a dead-quiet market and most teams crying poverty, the commissioner’s office picked Thursday to announce it will try again to contract two teams before the 2002 season.
“We regret that the negotiations for a settlement of the contraction grievance have broken down,” baseball CEO Paul Beeston said. “We will continue our plans to contract two clubs … ”
Translated from baseball-speak: the owners and union can’t even agree on the simple things, any more – and they’re at each other again.
As of this morning, Dec. 14, no team in major league baseball can announce its schedule. None of them know it.
Will Minnesota be in the American League. Montreal in the National League?
Who knows – certainly not Bud Selig.
The Mariners didn’t win big, they didn’t lose big and came away from the winter meetings with a few awards for GM Pat Gillick, a new catcher in Ben Davis and the knowledge that Bret Boone most likely will remain in Seattle next season.
No, he didn’t accept Seattle’s four-year, $30 million deal.
Instead, according to his agent, Adam Katz, Boone may accept the Mariners offer of one-year salary arbitration – and try to more than triple his $3.2 million contract of last year.
“We offered arbitration, it’s his right to accept it,” Gillick said.
“It’ll probably cost us more than we’d budgeted, and that may impact some other things we want to do. But we want Boone back.”
Plan B without Boone was to try to trade for Cincinnati’s Pokey Reese, deal for Colorado third baseman Jeff Cirillo and add power in left field.
“Options? What other options do they have?” Katz asked. “If we accept arbitration, Bret is their second baseman. If they want two second basemen, that’s their decision.”
Spoken like an agent whose client had only one team pursuing him. And there were dozens of those here all week, looking a bit stunned.
Quality free agents like Barry Bonds, Juan Gonzalez, Moises Alou and Chan Ho Park not only didn’t pull down the astonishing offers of last year – when Alex Rodriguez and pitcher Mike Hampton accepted record deals – some of them couldn’t even get two teams to bid against one another.
“People keep think one or two signings will break the logjam,” manager Art Howe said. “I’m not sure it’s going to break this winter. Most teams just can’t make the big offers, and most agents won’t lower their sights.”
The American League West took some major hits this week. The Mariners couldn’t get the deals they wanted made – Cedeno and White both listened to their offers and went elsewhere – and on Thursday morning Seattle lost four minor league players in the Rule V draft.
“I guess that means people like our kids,” Gillick said.
Oakland lost Giambi, a hole no one believes they can adequately fill, and pitching thin Texas beefed up its offense with Carl Everett by trading away starting pitcher Darren Oliver.
The Angels? They almost traded Darin Erstadt, then backed out. They almost traded Mo Vaughn – and the Orioles backed out.
After the Indians-Mets deal early on, big names simply didn’t move at the meetings. The Dodgers offered Gary Sheffield to everyone they met. No takers.
Toronto put Raul Mondesi on the market. No deal.
Philadelphia tried to bag three quality players in exchange for third baseman Scott Rolen – and teams listened to the price and walked away.
Scott Boras could be considered a winter meeting loser. Not one of his free agent clients signed a deal. Not Bonds, not Johnny Damon, not Park.
“The market is there,” Boras insisted.
General managers disagreed.
No one seemed to be able to keep their stories straight. When Cedeno signed a four-year, $18 million deal with the Mets Thursday, he was asked if any team had offered him more money.
“Yes,” he said.
Was it Seattle? he was asked.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Cedeno said, “but yes.”
The Mariners version?
“We told him to take the deal in New York,” Gillick said, “because we were going to need more pop in left field.”
By mid-day Thursday, some teams had hit the road. Most agents checked out of the Sheraton here with luggage but no offer. And the Twins and Expos were left to ponder whether they’d exist when spring training begins.