Some rival officials have wondered for months when the sleeping giant that has been the Los Angeles Angels would start to stir this winter. Arte Moreno, the Angels' owner, has watched a division rival play in the World Series the last two years, and the Texas Rangers are now perceived as one of the best franchises in the sport.
Meanwhile, there has seemingly been erosion in the Angels, with some spectacular failures of decision-making (hello, Mike Napoli and Vernon Wells). At a time when the Los Angeles Dodgers have been down, Moreno's team never fully dominated the L.A. market as it maybe could have.
So Moreno made changes in his front office, hiring Jerry Dipoto as general manager and charging him with making the team better. Backed by the strength of a massive TV contract, the Angels are in pursuit of C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols, and they appear to be the frontrunner for Wilson.
It's possible they have two offers out in excess of $300 million for the pair; it's unclear whether they could sign both players, writes Mike DiGiovanna.
This is not a team that has gone on the cheap, by the way; their payroll was at $141 million last season, and if they were to add Wilson and Pujols, they would officially enter the territory of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Signing Wilson would give the Angels a staggering rotation, and remember, he comes at the expense of the Rangers -- in the same way that Napoli's 2011 season cut both ways.
Nobody doubts whether the Angels have the cash, although it is debatable whether enormous investments in two players past their 30th birthdays is the right thing to do. Wells is owed $63 million over the next three years, and while the Angels do have young outfielders on the rise in Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout, the core of the team is aging. Signing Pujols would bring the Angels a lot of attention now, and he would undoubtedly be perfect for the lineup in 2012 and 2013 and make the team better. Playing for an American League team would enable Pujols to eventually transition into the role of designated hitter as he grew older, which might the best thing for him.
But it's an enormous investment, and an investment that would surprise many agents, who have found Moreno to be dead-set against the idea of very long-term contracts in the past. "There's no way Arte's giving him a 10-year deal," said one agent Wednesday, after news of the Angels' pursuit of Pujols had gotten out through Ken Rosenthal.
This could all be very reactionary for Moreno; the Angels have stopped winning titles the last few years, and the Dodgers soon will have new ownership, perhaps with Magic Johnson at the forefront. Maybe Moreno feels a bit threatened and wants to command the attention of the market in this critical juncture. We'll see.
Prince Fielder seems like a more natural fit for that kind of contract, because he's the younger player, but keep in mind: Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, has not had a good relationship with Moreno in recent years.
Bill Dwyre watches the bidding for Pujols, who turns 32 in January, and wonders: Is everybody nuts?
The St. Louis Cardinals outlasted one bidder for Pujols, and now must vie with another. Bernie Miklasz wonders: What else could Pujols want?
The same simple questions are in play now, as they were earlier in the week:
1. Does Pujols have enough frustration with the entire St. Louis negotiation that he'll leave over a few million?
2. Or, do the Angels need to separate themselves with their offer in order to coax Pujols out of St. Louis?
Executives involved in the process are becoming more and more convinced this is about Pujols climbing the steps of average annual value in salary; at $22 million and deferred money built into the offer, Pujols would rank fourth behind Ryan Howard, Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez.
The Rangers are preparing for the departure of Wilson.
• Alex Anthopoulos has been collecting assets in the two-plus years he's been on the job as general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, but rival executives say he is ready to make big moves, to cash in some of those controllable pieces and land some established help.
The Jays are talking with the Oakland Athletics about Gio Gonzalez, writes Susan Slusser. And the Jays and Rangers are viewed as the early favorites in the bidding for Yu Darvish, who announced on his blog that he intends to pitch in the major leagues next year.
• Scott Boras says the Seattle Mariners could contend with the addition of the right player -- like Fielder, who is a Boras client. The Rangers checked in on Fielder. I've written here before that within the industry, many have viewed Texas as the sleeper for Fielder.
The window is closing for the Milwaukee Brewers, writes Tom Haudricourt.
• The Miami Marlins signed Mark Buehrle, who will pitch for a team other than the Chicago White Sox for the first time, as Phil Rogers writes. The Marlins have moved on without Albert, writes Clark Spencer. The Marlins' plans will hinge on a chemistry experiment with Hanley Ramirez, writes Linda Robertson.
The Washington Nationals missed out on Buehrle.
From Elias: Buehrle signed a four-year contract with the Marlins and joins forces with Ozzie Guillen, his manager during his time with the White Sox, in Miami. Buehrle has won 107 games with Guillen as his manger, tied for the highest win total any active pitcher has under a current manager. Detroit's Justin Verlander has won 107 games with Jim Leyland as his skipper.
Buehrle's $58 million deal immediately becomes the second-largest free-agent contract in Marlins history, behind the $106 million contract Jose Reyes just signed in front of the $52 million agreement the Marlins reached with Carlos Delgado in 2004-05.
• The Houston Astros hired their general manager. He's got a left-hander to deal.
Jim Crane, the Astros' new owner, grew up as a Cardinals fan, so it's not exactly surprising that he hired the brains behind the St. Louis draft and development system.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Arizona Diamondbacks have talked for more than a week about a possible Trevor Cahill match in a deal and have discussed the names of many prospects in return, including Trevor Bauer.
They are willing to give up prospects, writes Nick Piecoro.
2. The Philadelphia Phillies are close to finishing a deal with Jimmy Rollins.
3. Francisco Rodriguez accepted arbitration.
4. Atlanta Braves GM Frank Wren is not caught up in the buzz of the big deals happening.
5. Carlos Pena is not expected to come cheaply for the Tampa Bay Rays, writes Marc Topkin, if Tampa Bay wants to sign the first baseman. Tampa Bay continues to talk to free agents.
6. The Colorado Rockies cleared some money for a pursuit of either Hiroki Kuroda or Michael Cuddyer by trading Huston Street. The Rockies almost added Edinson Volquez, writes Troy Renck, and they will now likely call on Jair Jurrjens.
7. The San Diego Padres were closing in on a deal with Francisco Rodriguez, but that changed, and instead, they traded for Street; Josh Byrnes says San Diego is very happy with how it turned out.
8. The Dodgers aren't interested in Manny Ramirez.
9. The San Francisco Giants aren't going to re-sign Cody Ross or Carlos Beltran. Like it or not, they're not the Yankees, writes writes Andrew Baggarly.
10. Jim Leyland says Miguel Cabrera may hit third for him next year. And within the same John Lowe story, there is word that the Tigers are closing in on a deal with Octavio Dotel.
11. The Cincinnati Reds' Walt Jocketty is frustrated about not getting traction for a deal; within this story, John Fay writes that Jocketty confirmed his talks with the Rays.
12. The Kansas City Royals traded an infielder.
13. The Minnesota Twins view their three catchers as a luxury, writes La Velle Neal.
14. The Cleveland Indians are keeping a close winter watch on Ubaldo Jimenez. Juan Marichal wants to help him, writes Paul Hoynes.
15. The Chicago Cubs are working on small deals, writes Paul Sullivan.
16. The White Sox have lost the face of their team and their ace to the Marlins, writes Joe Cowley. It looks like John Danks might stay with the White Sox after all.
17. Pudge Rodriguez and the Nationals are parting ways. You have to wonder if Rodriguez's career is over.
18. The Pittsburgh Pirates bolstered their rotation with Erik Bedard.
19. The Pirates cut Ross Ohlendorf. They signed Nick Evans, who could be part of a first base platoon.
20. Ryan Howard's deal doesn't look so bad now, writes Bob Brookover.
21. David Ortiz went back to Boston.
22. Kelly Johnson may be moved to the outfield, writes Bob Elliott.
23. Reyes says the New York Mets never made him an offer.
24. The Yankees won the bidding rights for a shortstop. But already there is exploration into the question of whether they could sign and trade him, because there probably isn't a lot of lure for him to come to the U.S. and then be the sixth infielder, as he would be with New York.
25. The Yankees are interested in a Mets pitcher, writes Andy Martino. The Mets are trying to flip him for cheap position players.
26. The Baltimore Orioles will attend the workout for Yoenis Cespedes.