The Athletics and Mariners reportedly christened the 2012 regular season with two games at the Tokyo Dome last week, but since the games were slated to start at 6:10 a.m. EDT, no independent confirmation has yet been obtained. Stateside, big-league play that counts begins tonight in a gaudy new ballpark in Miami when the Marlins host the defending-champion Cardinals.
For those of you who took the winter off — hey, don’t feel bad: ESPN’s Skip Bayless seemingly mails in his baseball analysis year-round — here is a little of what transpired while you were in National Pastime hibernation.
Is December 8, 2011, a date that will live in infamy for the Angels’ AL West opponents? Could be, as the Angels signed both Albert Pujols ($240 million over 10 years, plus $7 million for breaking the all-time home-run record) and C. J. Wilson ($77.5 million over five) to long-term deals.
Of course, the two-time defending AL winners did not stand pat. The Rangers won the bidding rights
to Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters pitcher Yu Darvish
, ultimately signing
($60 million over five years plus the $52 million posting fee). His first Cactus League start impressed the experts
and expectations are high.
Days after Victor Martinez went down with a season-ending injury, the Tigers snatched up the other monster bat at first base, showering $214 million and nine years on Prince Fielder. The resulting logjam means that the defensively challenged Miguel Cabrera is returning to play third base, at least until either hilarity or tragedy ensues.
The Marlins were busy too. Although they whiffed on signing Pujols, the club inked free-agent deals with both shortstop Jose Reyes, worth $111 million over six years, and pitcher Mark Buehrle, who received $58 million over four. (The Fish even took bombastic manager Ozzie Guillen off the White Sox’s hands.)
The Phillies scooped up premier closer Jonathan Papelbon, albeit at a steep price. (The rest of the offseason has been most unkind to the City of Brotherly Love. Still, Philly fans ought not to be overly worried.)
Having lost Pujols, St. Louis re-signed a rejuvenated Lance Berkman to play first base and recruited Carlos Beltran to patrol right field. Having lost Fielder’s offense, Milwaukee brought in third baseman Aramis Ramirez.
Even the thrifty and borderline homeless A’s made their share of splashes, surprising the baseball world by spending $36 million on Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, who will play center field, and giving a contract to Manny Ramirez, who will be the club’s designated hitter once he serves his PED-related suspension.
TRADES OF NOTE
Several young and talented (and cost-controlled) pitchers were dealt. The Reds obtained Mat Latos from the Padres, the A’s traded away Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez to the Diamondbacks and Nationals respectively, and the Mariners sent their highly touted hurler Michael Pineda to the Bronx in exchange for the Yankees’ prized catcher/designated hitter Jesus Montero. (On other pinstripe-related notes, the Yankees further strengthened their rotation by picking up Hiroki Kuroda, persuading C. C. Sabathia not to opt out of his contract, and jettisoning A. J. Burnett.)
Don’t look now, but the Indians may have quietly assembled one of the top rotations in the game, particularly after acquiring veteran sinkerballer Derek Lowe from the Braves.
Oakland GM Billy Beane also sent his youngish closer, Andrew Bailey, to Boston, which is still reeling from the seven-year, $124 million investment in Carl Crawford last offseason. The Red Sox kept clear of this year’s free-agent market but did make two other trades of note, shipping out both of their shortstops: Marco Scutaro to the Rockies and Jed Lowrie to the Astros.