While I was gallivanting at a super-secret location, Anthony Rieber earned his salary covering a very busy baseball week. So let's play our favorite winter blog game - catch up - and check in on all of the major happenings.
We'll go in reverse chronological order:
Friday: The Yankees acquired Michael Pineda and Jose Campos from Seattle in return for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi, and they agreed to terms with free agent Hiroki Kuroda.
Much to discuss here, so let's enumerate:
1. Kudos to the Yankees for solving their internal jigsaw puzzle: Hal Steinbrenner had no problem adding onto the 2012 payroll; his mandate is to get the figure below $189 million by 2014, when the luxury tax threshold rises to that number.
So Kuroda, signed to just one year, doesn't impact that equation and provides a likely back-end upgrade over A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes. And Pineda, under control for five years, gives the Yankees a potential, cheaper alternate to the likes of Matt Cain or Cole Hamels, both of whom can be free agents next offseason, and other aces to come down the pike.
Of course, Pineda has to succeed in order for the Yankees to stay away from those high-priced options a year from now and beyond.
2. Campos and Noesi add to the intrigue of this deal, and neither one is a throw-in. Their contributions (or lack thereof) will factor into the final verdict on this trade. But of course we'll all rightfully regard this, for now, as Montero for Pineda.
Montero looks like a potential offensive stud, and the Yankees, in projecting their 2012 club, foresaw DH as the one position from which they could realistically expect a significant boost, with Montero taking many of Jorge Posada's turns to the plate. I'm not sure how much production the Yankees can realistically expect from the likes of Johnny Damon or Carlos Pena, both free agents still on the market, or any other external options.
Ultimately, however, the immense skepticism surrounding his defense at catcher made Montero available in the right deal. Does a pitcher who has a) 173 strikeouts in 171 major-league innings and b) five years of team control qualifty as "the right deal"? I'd say so. He should have the coverage of good run support (which he lacked in Seattle) and of not being the ace - CC Sabathia is under control through 2016, just like Pineda - so perhaps the Yankees can manage the pressure surrounding the soon-to-be 23-year-old.
Nah, who am I kidding? The Yankees won't be able to manage that pressure. If Pineda bombs, then he'll hear about it from the fans. But there's a reasonable chance that he won't bomb.
3. Who gets hurt by this deal and the Kuroda signing? Free agent Edwin Jackson, who loses a landing spot. Hughes, who now looks like a spare part and could be traded. You'd have to think that the Yankees will go into spring training with at least six starting pitchers and see how things shake out.
4. Who benefits? Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson both gain leverage. Without Montero around as a core offensive player, both Cano and Granderson figure to be less dispensable as they approach free agency after 2013. Francisco Cervelli, whose hold on a 2012 Yankees roster spot looks more secure. A veteran like Damon or Pena, who can now view the Yankees as a potential one-year employer.
Thursday: Bud Selig signed a two-year extension, going through the 2014 season.
No matter how many times Selig proclaimed he'd be retiring after 2012, absolutely no one around him - including his wife, as Selig happily admitted multiple times - believed him. So Selig has three years to solve the messes in Flushing, Oakland and Tampa Bay and somehow keep more problems from sprouting (which naturally won't happen).
The Mets' problem figures to solve itself, eventually. Either the Wilpons and Saul Katz will eventually give up and sell the club - these minority shares represent nothing more than a Band-Aid - or they'll somehow, miraculously survive. Yes, the franchise has sustained significant damage, with more to come, but there is a strong fan base and a good, new ballpark ready for a rebound if and when said rebound arrives.
Oakland is reportedly close to getting a new ballpark in San Jose.
Tampa Bay? Still a gigantic headache, made all the more painful because the Rays are so darn good and no one comes to their games.
The longer Selig keeps on the job, meanwhile, the further he seems to move away from the scandals under his watch, although the Roger Clemens trial could shed some interesting, unwelcome light - well, welcome, for those of us who look at the endeavor with scorn - on the Mitchell Report. He's going down in baseball history as one of the most active commissioners, and most of his innovations have succeeded.
One hope: If Ryan Braun can't beat his appeal for the failed illegal PED test, then Selig needs to stop bragging about his work with illegal PEDs and, more speficially, touting the young generation of players as clean. It just can't lead to any good.
Wednesday: Ryan Madson signed a one-year, $8.5-million deal with Cincinnati.
For once, agent Scott Boras couldn't work his January magic. The agent tried to spin this as a "pillow contract," a one-season rest stop that could launch Madson into a huge deal next winter. Yet Madson wasn't in obvious need of such a deal, not coming off a great 2011 season with the Phillies.
Boras is normally great at reading teams' minds. In this instance, however, the two teams that spent big money on closers - Philadelphia and Miami - wanted to move quickly and found willing recipients in Jonathan Papelbon and Heath Bell, respectively. The Phillies and Marlins operate quickly and didn't want to dance along with Boras' standard, deliberate approach.
We'll see if Boras can find safer landings for Jackson and Prince Fielder. The Nationals and Rangers are at least engaging in talks on Fielder.
Monday: Barry Larkin was the lone BBWAA inductee into the Hall of Fame.
Congrats to Larkin, a most deserving honoree and a good guy, to boot. I'm happy to see the big jumps made by Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines and surprised that Jack Morris rose all the way to 67 percent.
I think there's a real chance that no one gets in off next year's writers' ballot. The addition of Barry Bonds, Clemens, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling figures to splinter the vote considerably, impacting the fortunes of all the holdovers.
Actually, given Morris' rise, you could argue that he's most likely to get in next year, ahead of all the controversial first-timers.
--So what do we have coming up this week? The formal exchange of arbitration figures tomorrow, which means that we'll see a slew of signings today and early tomorrow. The continuing saga of Fielder's, Jackson's and Roy Oswalt's free agencies. And, well, whatever else comes down the pike.
Have a great day.