NASHVILLE, Tenn.—It might not be fair to call David Wright Mr. Met. After all, he doesn't wear a size-22 baseball cap. However, the six-time All-Star third baseman is the closest thing to a Mr. Met in the non-mascot division. He was one of the franchise's first-round picks in the 2001 amateur draft following his senior year of high school in Chesapeake, Virginia, made his major-league debut three years later, and is now the franchise leader with 1,426 hits.
"Heck, I've been a Mets fan my entire life," Wright said. "I went to see their Triple-A farm club, the Tides, play all the time when I was a kid growing up in Norfolk. Playing for the Mets has been a dream come true."
Despite that fact, there was a bit of hesitation on Wright's part before he agreed to an eight-year, $138-million contract that will keep him with the Mets through the 2020 season. The pact was finalized Wednesday during the third day of the Winter Meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Resort.
Wright wanted to make sure the Mets were committed to winning after four consecutive fourth-place finishes in the National League East. Wright also needed to know the franchise was on solid footing after owner Fred Wilpon lost a reported $700 million in the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme. Wright received his assurances in October when general manager Sandy Alderson made a visit to Norfolk for a round of golf and a late lunch.
"Once Sandy told me about his plan for making the Mets a winning franchise again, I was all in," Wright said. "I called my guys (agents Seth and Sam Levinson) and told them that we needed to get this done."
Retired third baseman Chipper Jones was a fixture in the Braves' lineup for nearly two decades, and he will almost certainly be inducted into the Hall of Famer in Cooperstown someday. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez admits it is going to feel strange when spring training begins in February and Jones is not in uniform.
"How much time do we have?" Gonzalez inquired when asked how much Jones will be missed. "We'll miss his presence, and we'll obviously miss his bat in the lineup. Even at 40 years old last year, he did some incredible stuff. We'll miss him in the clubhouse. We'll miss him as that constant after 18 years. But along those lines, the Atlanta Braves missed Smoltz and Glavine and Maddux and those guys, and we have guys on our team right now that can step up and be that guy. Not necessarily be Chipper Jones, but be themselves and be leaders. He wasn't a yeller or a screamer, but he went out there and played the game the right way and behaved the right way. The way you want to be as a Brave."
The Padres went 48-36 in their last 84 games last season to finish with a 76-86 record. While the Padres finished 18 games behind the Giants in the NL West, playing well for a three-month period provides hope that they might be able to contend in 2013.
"I like the way we ended the season last year, there's no doubt about it," manager Bud Black said. "We've got the same group of position players coming back, and with a couple guys maybe trying to fight to get on the club. It depends, like it does with every club, on how you pitch. Last year it was a tough year for us on the mound, primarily health-wise. Down the line, I think we have to have a healthy year on the mound, do what we did offensively the second half of the year, and then we'll see how the year plays out."
The Marlins were the darlings of last year's Winter Meetings in Dallas, as they signed two big-ticket free agents in shortstop Jose Reyes and closer Heath Bell. A day after the meetings ended, they came to terms with another free agent, left-hander Mark Buehrle. In all, the Marlins gave the trio contracts totaling $189 million.
At this year's meetings, the Marlins are an afterthought. Manager Ozzie Guillen was fired after one season and a last-place finish in the NL East. Reyes, Bell, and Buerhle have all been traded, as has star infielder Hanley Ramirez.
It is reminiscent of the 1997-98 offseason, when the Marlins gutted their roster after winning the franchise's first World Series. The Marlins went 54-108 in 1998 and seem headed for a similar finish in 2013. However, new manager Mike Redmond—one of 19 rookies on that 1998 team, the back-up catcher—says he is ready for the challenge.
"It was probably a similar sort of situation," Redmond said. "We had coaches that taught and developed, and that's what we did. We went in there and cut our teeth in the big leagues. We have a lot of talented players and great opportunities for guys to go out there and establish themselves as major-league players, and that's what we're going to do. We are going to get in there, we're going to teach, we are going to change the culture, and we're starting off fresh. You know, I'm excited for it."
The Mariners agreed to terms on a one-year, $700,000 contract with outfielder Jason Bay on Wednesday. Bay became a free agent when he and the Mets mutually agreed to buy out the final year of the four-year, $66-million contract he signed as a free agent during the 2009-10 offseason.
Bay had a total of 1.2 WARP during his three seasons with the Mets. However, the Mariners are hoping a change to familiar scenery will help. Bay is from Trail, British Columbia, and his wife is from Seattle.
"It's an interesting story, it's an interesting situation," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "You've got to feel good about taking a chance on a guy that's been a great performer at times at the big-league level. Add some strength to our team as a right-handed bat. He's a high character guy, hard worker, good personality. He's had a tough couple of years. I think it's a great pickup."
New Indians manager Terry Francona had the media cracking up during a half-hour interview session. After spending last season in the ESPN broadcast booth following his stormy departure from Red Sox following their collapse at the end of 2011, Francona certainly looks rejuvenated.
"The last couple of years have been uneven, a little bit of a roller coaster," Francona said. "I think you go back to September of '11, and that was tough, man. I don't care what city you're in. When you go seven and whatever—20?—if you're the manager, you're wide open for criticism. That's just the way it is. And the way things ended was difficult. I thought stepping back was probably a smart thing. It's not necessarily the easiest thing in the world to tell yourself you need to do that, but it was, I think, really healthy for me. I know I get back into it now feeling like I'm better prepared to do the job correctly because it's got to be almost 24 hours a day to do it right, at least I think so. I was pretty beaten up by the end of that last year."
The Angels' rotation will have a new look next season, but whether it is a better look is open to debate. Ervin Santana was traded to the Royals this offseason and Dan Haren signed with the Nationals. Zack Greinke might also be too rich for the Angels to re-sign in free agency, particularly if the bidding surpasses $150 million.
Thus, it seems the Angles might miss the postseason for a fourth straight season in 2013, which would be quite a drought considering they made the playoffs six times between 2002-09. However, they’re still trying to make upgrades. The Angels signed free-agent right-hander Joe Blanton to a two-year, $15-million contract Wednesday. Manager Mike Scioscia says he believes his team's rotation will be strong enough to contend in the deep American League West.
"We have right now a couple good guys to build around, when you talk about Jared Weaver and you talk about C.J. Wilson," Scioscia said. "Obviously there are some young guys coming up, guys like Garrett Richards that are going to have opportunities, and Jerome Williams, too. But when you talk about the Greinkes, you talk about a lot of the other pitchers that are still out there right now with some question marks as to whether they are going to be part of your team or not. You know, there are things you have to prepare for. Starting rotation is obviously the heartbeat of your club, and I know that Jerry Dipoto is putting a lot of time and effort into it."
The Pirates have been one of baseball's best stories during the first four months of each of the last two seasons. Both years, they've led the NL Central in July and looked to be on the verge of breaking their string of losing seasons (which now stands at 20, the longest such stretch of futility in major North American professional sports history). However, Pittsburgh collapsed in the final two months of both seasons, going a combined 38-77 after July 31.
The Pirates said one of their biggest off-season objectives was to try to determine the reason for the late-season fades. However, manager Clint Hurdle believes the explanation is simple.
"As silly as it sounds, we've just got to play good, solid baseball," Hurdle said. "We've got to sustain momentum. I think some of it does come with experience. I think some of it comes with guys being in situations they've never been in before, not all our men, but enough of our men to develop an attitude where we're just going to work to get better every day.
“We can finish the season stronger, not just finish the season but to finish it stronger, show improvement every day. I thought they had a much better understanding going into (the 2012) season about the 162-game schedule. We got to taste that again. It's a hard season. It's a long season. You've got to be a good club to win your division. You've got to be a good club to work your way into a wild card opportunity. We weren't good enough."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland was forced to scramble for a closer in the postseason after Jose Valverde had meltdowns in Game Four of the American League Championship Series against the Athletics and Game One of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees. Though a number of pundits believe Detroit will eventually break down and sign free agent Rafael Soriano, the team says they are willing to consider hard-throwing rookie Bruce Rondon for the closer's job. The 21-year-old Rondon has yet to pitch in the major leagues, though.
"There's certainly a possibility he'll get an opportunity," Leyland said. "I'll get a pulse for him in spring training—what I feel about him, his makeup. The one thing that Valverde was very good at was he could turn the page pretty quickly. And a closer has to be able to do that. When you get a young guy, I don't know for sure how a guy is going to respond. You don't know if you give somebody an opportunity, and those things happen. They let one get away. How do they respond to it? How do they bounce back the next day? It's such an important part of your team because, when you let them get away in the ninth inning, obviously, those can have an impact on your entire team. So that guy is going to be huge for us as he is for every other team."
According to those who have played for him over the years, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is a hitting savant. Thus, he has never been completely comfortable with the idea that the Phillies are built on pitching. Philadelphia has the big three of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee at the top of the rotation and Jonathan Papelbon as the closer. Manuel readily admitted he would like to see the Phillies improve their offense this winter after having their five-year reign as NL East champions end last season.
"We've needed some hitters ever since we lost Pat Burrell and Jayson Werth," Manuel said. "They would hit fifth and sixth in our lineup. They had .400 on-base percentages. Those were the guys that were always on base and allowed a seventh-hole hitter like Pedro Feliz to knock in 85 runs. That's kind of what we're looking for. We cannot have regular players that play on the corners in our outfield and not drive in runs. We have to get more than 40 or 45 RBI out of them."