SAN DIEGO -- Whoa. What just happened? Only the wildest 48 hours in the history of the winter meetings. That's what.
"In my 27 years in the business," said Marlins general manager Dan Jennings, as the winter meetings insanity was finally slowing to a trickle Thursday morning, "I don't know that I was ever involved in a crazier 48 hours than this. And it was happening from 11 in the morning to 4 in the morning. Every night."
Starting with the moment Jon Lester picked the Cubs late on a memorable Tuesday evening, it felt like an earthquake rippled through the Manchester Grand Hyatt. And the transactions started flying.
But not just the usual flurry of free-agent signings, large and small. We saw an incredible succession of trades (not all of them official yet), involving the likes of Matt Kemp, Dee Gordon, Jimmy Rollins, Yoenis Cespedes, Rick Porcello, Mat Latos, Wade Miley, Howie Kendrick and Dee Gordon.
These weren't salary dumps or money deals. These were baseball deals. Involving big-name major league players. And they kept coming, one after another.
"You know what it reminded me of?" Jennings laughed. "The grand finale of a fireworks show."
We know that trying to absorb all that action, all at once, isn't easy. So we're here to help -- with our annual take on the winners and losers of the winter meetings.
The winter meetings winners ...
What's not to like? Reeling in Lester was a franchise-changing event. Period. But that wasn't all the Cubs accomplished. Don't forget Miguel Montero. And Jason Hammel. All in the wake of the hiring of manager Joe Maddon. And suddenly, the Cubs weren't pointing for 2016 or 2017 anymore.
They have lots more to do, and lots of young players to develop, before we can say they're up there with the Cardinals or Pirates. But after this week, it's official. The future has arrived.
Since practically day one of this offseason, White Sox GM Rick Hahn has been in attack mode, trying to fix the issues of a team that lost as many games (89) as the Cubs and Phillies and lost nearly as many as the Astros. He added Adam LaRoche and Zach Duke before he even arrived in San Diego. He had Jeff Samardzija and David Robertson stuffed in his travel bag by the time he left.
And Hahn clearly has more dots he hasn't quite finished connecting, starting with a potential deal that could send Dayan Viciedo to Seattle for badly needed bullpen depth in front of Robertson. We're not sure the White Sox are better than the Tigers, Royals or Indians yet. But "they're good," said one AL Central exec Thursday. "Really good. They'll be no fun to play."
The Dodgers won the fourth-most games in baseball this year (94). So it's hard to say they're better. But it's harder not to appreciate the creativity and vision of what they've done. As intriguing as their stealth pursuit of Lester was, it was even more intriguing to watch them strike on multiple fronts, within hours of knowing a Lester signing wasn't happening. Even by making trades with two teams (the Angels and Padres) they'd made a combined three deals with in the previous 38 years.
Love the new DP combination of Kendrick and Rollins. Love the upgraded up-the-middle defense of Kendrick, Rollins and Joc Pederson. Love how the ground-ball, funky-contact approach of Brandon McCarthy fits that defensive upgrade. Love how they cut payroll, added to their prospect depth and injected life and leadership into their clubhouse so decisively. Just don't love their lineup without Kemp and Hanley Ramirez. But there's more activity coming, in the probable addition of a free-agent starter (James Shields?). And maybe much more. So no one won the week like the Dodgers.
Remember when the Marlins promised Giancarlo Stanton that they'd surround him with the talent to win? Hey, whaddaya know, they're actually doing it.
Gordon and Christian Yelich could wreak some havoc at the top of their lineup. There's a first-base upgrade coming any day now, whether it's Justin Morneau or one of several alternatives whose names haven't surfaced yet. Latos could be a big rotation piece if he can stay healthy and focused. And they seem confident Dan Haren will eventually choose collecting $10 million over retirement. So if Jose Fernandez makes any sort of impact in the second half, this is now a playoff team. Mark that down.
The winter meetings losers ...
Boy, has this been painful to watch. The A's may have done this before. And done it well. But it feels as if this fall's clearance sale of Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Samardzija -- piled on top of the exits of free agents like Lester, Hammel, Jed Lowrie, Alberto Callaspo, Luke Gregerson and Jonny Gomes -- has been tougher than usual.
Maybe Brett Lawrie can turn into Donaldson. And eventually, we know, Billy Beane will strike and begin reassembling the blown-apart pieces on this roster. But the reviews on the prospects they've gotten back haven't been particularly glowing. And the scars left by August/September, the wild-card loss and all these trades won't heal fast. So no matter what magic Beane works between now and spring training, it's been a messy winter, topped off (or bottomed out) by this week's fire sale of Moss and Samardzija.
Dan Duquette's style has never been to jump at the big-ticket items hanging on the racks in November and December. He's always been able to stay cool, operate patiently and find better value later in the offseason. And it's always worked. So maybe that's what's coming again here. But for now? Yikes.
This team won the American League East by 12 games. Twelve. And all it's done this winter is wave adios to three huge pieces of that team -- to Nelson Cruz, to Nick Markakis, to Andrew Miller -- while replacing them with, well, nobody. Oh, sure, the Orioles will find a way to add a couple of bats, and a left-handed reliever, eventually. But you know what the odds are of finding a 40-homer guy like Cruz sitting in the free-agent bargain bin again next February? Zero. So boy, does this team have work to do.
Teams that get to the World Series are always a step behind when the gun sounds on the offseason track meet. We know that. And it's very possible that the most important development in the Royals' 2015 season actually came about this October, when this team's magical blitz through the postseason finally validated everything the Royals have been trying to be, to achieve and (maybe most of all) to forget.
But if we're going to judge the Royals strictly on the basis of what they've done, it's impossible to keep them out of the losers column. They've lost Billy Butler and Shields to free agency. They haven't been able to find a free-agent starting pitcher willing to take their money. They haven't been able to sign or deal for a right fielder. They replaced Butler by handing $17 million to a guy (Kendrys Morales) who had a .612 OPS and slugged .338 last season. So there's no getting around this. They're a worse team now than they were the night of Game 7. Sorry.
And speaking of Game 7 ... the Giants may have won October, but let's just say November and December haven't been quite as exhilarating. And their winter meetings week was a huge disappointment. They made Lester their No. 1 target of this offseason. He told them, "I loved you guys, but no thanks." And, well, now what?
Pablo Sandoval isn't coming back. Lester isn't changing his mind. They need a third baseman. They probably need two starting pitchers to replace Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong (though one of them could still turn out to be Peavy). And while the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Padres have been filling up the "SportsCenter" Bottom Line, the Giants haven't filled a single hole. Not this week. Not this winter. We know one of the best front offices in baseball will figure out something one of these days. But we're afraid their winter meetings report card isn't one they'll be showing off to the family when they arrive home.