Tuesday, December 16, 2003 Updated: December 17, 4:47 PM ET
Orioles enjoying a good ol' time
By Sean McAdam Special to ESPN.com
Twenty-nine teams showed up in New Orleans -- Brian Cashman and Co. remain on double-secret probation -- but not everyone left for home with the same prize packages.
In that regard, the winter meetings are no different than the regular season -- expectations (and budgets) aren't the same for everyone. Where some small-market teams were content to make cost-conscious improvements, others were fixated on acquiring -- or in some cases, dumping -- big-name players.
The fallout isn't final, either. In fact, the biggest deals of all (Manny Ramirez for Alex Rodriguez first, then Nomar Garciaparra to the Los Angeles Dodgers) likely will be completed by phone.
Here's a scorecard on the winners and losers from the just-concluded winter meetings.
Winners Baltimore Orioles: After six years in the AL East wilderness, the O's took a giant step back toward respectability -- if not outright contention -- by snagging shortstop Miguel Tejada to anchor their infield and fill the middle of their batting order.
You could argue that the O's overpaid for Tejada, but after faltering in attracting big-name free agents over the last five seasons, the team was desperate to show a commitment to winning to its suffering fan base.
What's more, the O's aren't done. They expect to get a deal completed with Pudge Rodriguez, too, and Vladimir Guerrero also is in their sights.
Now, about that pitching staff ...
St. Louis Cardinals: Speaking of pitching ...
In the span of 72 hours, GM Walt Jocketty obtained three starting pitchers -- Jeff Suppan, Jason Marquis and Adam Wainwright -- along with an outfielder to replace J.D. Drew (the nomadic Reggie Sanders) and a lefty reliever (Ray King) to team with Steve Kline.
Pitching is the coin of the realm in the competitive NL Central. The Astros have Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller; the Cubs boast Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano.
Now, the Cards have some quantity to go with their quality (Matt Morris and Woody Williams).
Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox landed their targeted closer, Keith Foulke, to solidify their bullpen. As an ancillary benefit, they took him away from another American League rival (Oakland).
After their disastrous experimenting last season, the Sox now can lean on the 2003 Fireman of the Year with a league-leading 43 saves. Moreover, Foulke is pitch-efficient and durable, enabling the Sox to use him for multiple innings and in tie situations.
While waiting for principal owner John Henry to pull off the Ramirez-Rodriguez blockbuster, GM Theo Epstein laid some groundwork to work the back half of the deal (Nomar to the Dodgers) and replace Ramirez's bat in left field.
Kansas City Royals: GM Allard Baird continues a fine winter of economical improvements.
After re-signing third baseman Joe Randa and pitchers Curtis Leskanic and Brian Anderson, Baird added second baseman Tony Graffanino and catcher Benito Santiago, the latter of whom should be a big help with the Royals' young pitching staff.
No big names here, but then, the Royals don't have the budget for big names. Baird continues to make his payroll go a long way.
New York Mets: The Mets were woeful defensively last year, but GM Jim Duquette already has improved that aspect of the team greatly, particularly up the middle. After signing slick-fielding Kaz Matsui to play shortstop, he also signed Mike Cameron to play center field.
If the Mets do nothing else -- and they're still looking for a closer and perhaps a third baseman -- they've taken a significant step forward to limiting the number of runs they'll allow next year.
Losers Atlanta Braves: The Braves' run of consecutive division titles might be in serious jeopardy.
They've lost a lot of offense (Gary Sheffield, Robert Fick, Javier Lopez) and pitching (Greg Maddux, Jason Marquis, Adam Wainwright).
Eli Marrero gives them a solid receiver behind the plate and J.D. Drew may finally blossom under manager Bobby Cox. But the starting rotation has never looked so suspect.
Chicago White Sox:Carl Everett, one of their deadline acquisitions, is gone. Bartolo Colon is gone, too. Roberto Alomar will soon follow.
With payroll concerns, either Carlos Lee or Magglio Ordonez also could be dealt.
Sure, they locked up Mark Buehrle for four years, but this is a franchise running in place -- at best.
Minnesota Twins: After two straight division titles, the rent has come due for the Twins.
They've lost the back end of their bullpen (LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado) and a valuable left-handed pitcher (Eric Milton). Outfielder Jacque Jones also could become cost-prohibitive.
They retained Shannon Stewart, their MVP from last season, but some rival executives have questioned the wisdom of spending $6 million annually on an outfielder with poor defensive skills and little power.
Sean McAdam of the Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.