It is the new image of baseball's moneyed elite: For the second time in three days, the Miami Marlins walked up to the winter meetings podium to introduce a high-priced free agent while working doggedly behind the scenes to bring more sparkling stars to baseball's newest ballpark.
The Marlins, dominating the market under art dealer-owner Jeffrey Loria, increased their spending spree to $191 million in less than a week, agreeing Wednesday to a $58 million, four-year contract with left-hander Mark Buehrle just hours after finalizing a deal with All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes.
"Now how about three more?" new manager Ozzie Guillen said. "Hey, you shoot for the moon, just in case."
Quite a turnabout for a team that had the major leagues' lowest payroll in 2006.
"The minnows have become Marlins," agent Scott Boras said.
With Albert Pujols unwilling to accept their $200 million-plus proposal, the if-you've-got-it-flaunt-it Marlins turned their attention to pitching in an effort to get off to a quick start in April at their $515 million, retractable-roof stadium. It has never been clear that the three-time NL MVP, coming off his second World Series title in six seasons, would be willing to leave the St. Louis Cardinals. The Los Angeles Angels may still be bidding.
"I'm hoping they keep the other animal in St. Louis," said former Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez, now skipper of the NL East rival Atlanta Braves.
Marlins president David Samson said the team had withdrawn its offer to Pujols. And while the first baseman still had not announced a decision, there were other moves on the third day of the four-day session.
Colorado traded closer Huston Street to San Diego for a player to be named and cash, Minnesota finalized a $4.75 million deal with closer Matt Capps and Pittsburgh completed agreements with left-hander Eric Bedard ($4.5 million) and outfielder Nate McLouth ($1.75 million). The Pirates also acquired infielder Yamaico Navarro from the Kansas City for a pair of minor leaguers.
San Francisco finalized a trade to obtain outfielder Angel Pagan and a player to be named or cash from the New York Mets for outfielder Andres Torres and right-hander Ramon Ramirez.
The New York Yankees, unusually quiet at the annual gathering, won negotiating rights to shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima of the Seibu Lions in Japan's Pacific League. If they sign him within 30 days, they would pay the Lions a posting fee of $2.5 million.
In the evening, three free agents returned to their former clubs by accepting the salary arbitration offers made last month: Boston designated hitter David Ortiz, Milwaukee reliever Francisco Rodriguez and Toronto second baseman Kelly Johnson. And just before midnight, the Houston Astros hired Jeff Luhnow as general manager. Luhnow, who had been the Cardinals' vice president of scouting and player development, is the seventh new GM in the majors since the end of the season.
Texas general manager Jon Daniels sounded resigned to losing ace C.J. Wilson, another pitcher Miami had pursued.
"I haven't received a call to say he's chosen to go elsewhere, but we're prepared for that call," Daniels said.
After winning the 2003 World Series and then dismantling the roster because of a lack of revenue, Loria is collecting free agents like old masterpieces, trying to build a sound Miami machine with the funds provided by the new stadium and an expected boost in attendance.
Guillen and Buehrle were together on the Chicago White Sox this season, when the 32-year-old pitcher went 13-9 with a 3.59 ERA and won his third straight Gold Glove.
"This kid is special," Guillen said. "He pitched in the big scenarios, big moments, very tough city to pitch. When people love you in Chicago that means something."
Buehrle's deal is subject to a physical, which the sides were arranging.
Reyes, a four-time All-Star, finalized a $106 million, six-year contract, two days after closer Heath Bell completed a $27 million, three-year deal with the Marlins. Wanting to get started with talks right away, Loria and Marlins officials met Reyes and his agent just past midnight on Nov. 3, the start of the signing period, at a table outside Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle hotel in New York.
"12:01. Those guys are crazy," Reyes said. "They showed me a lot of love."
The cash-strapped Mets, who signed him when he was 16, never made a formal offer.
"If you're asking whether I should have sent him a box of chocolates, perhaps I should have done that," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "But on the other hand, the box of chocolates would have cost $106 million."