The Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Angels didn't just dominate the podium at the winter meetings. They were the only teams that used them to reshape their clubs.
As Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes and some other All-Stars found new homes, the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies were uncharacteristically quiet this week, failing to make any big free-agent signings or major trades. Not like last year, when the Red Sox landed Carl Crawford and the Yankees and Phillies wooed Cliff Lee.
Perhaps it's a sign that the luxury tax is working, that the high-revenue teams have maxed out their spending. Or perhaps that the big-market powers all had first basemen, and the starting pitchers available were second-tier at best.
"We did go into the meetings with kind of a healthy skepticism about free agency, but certainly not a prohibition against signing free agents," Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said Thursday. "We won't ever go that far, but what we did last year is not something that people expect us to duplicate or replicate, when you spend nearly $300 million on free agent signings. That's not something you're likely to do year in and year out. It could turn into some real money."
Miami and the Angels committed $522.5 million to just five free agents. The new-look, new-attitude, formerly low-budget Marlins reached agreements with All-Star closer Heath Bell ($27 million for three years), All-Star shortstop Reyes ($106 million for six seasons) and All-Star left-hander Mark Buehrle ($58 million for four years), a total of $191 million even before they failed to reel in Pujols and C.J. Wilson.
The Angels closed the meeting by reaching a $254 million, 10-year deal with Pujols — the second-largest contract in baseball history — and a $77.5 million, five-year agreement with Wilson. That's $331.5 million, if you're counting, for a team that began 2011 year with the fourth-highest payroll.
"This was the Marlins' winter meetings up until the last few minutes," Wilson's agent, Bob Garber, said as team officials were heading home.
Agent Scott Boras, who usually seizes the winter meetings spotlight, stayed in the background. He planned to meet Friday with client Prince Fielder to report on what teams are interested in the other free agent slugging first baseman. Fielder is still in the early stages of making a decision. The Cardinals now have an opening, and the Chicago Cubs also appear to be a good fit, but other teams could pursue Fielder if they're willing to provide a nine-figure deal.
Boras also represents Edwin Jackson, another starting pitcher from a relatively weak free-agent group, and relievers Ryan Madson and Francisco Rodriguez. In the game of closer musical chairs, there may not be enough seats, with Francisco Cordero also looking for a job and Oakland's Andrew Bailey possibly available in the trade market.
The Angels and Marlins already have made their push. With a lone World Series title in 2002, the year before Arte Moreno bought the franchise from The Walt Disney Co., the Angels want to overtake the financially struggling Dodgers as the prestige team in southern California.
"This is obviously the moment where we have thrown our hat in the ring," new Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said in announcing the deals with Pujols and Wilson.
The Marlins, with revenue from their new ballpark, want to become an NL power and make fans forget when the club was dismantled following surprise titles in 1997 and 2003.
"It's an energy city, and I think that's one of the things that brings the players there. They see the energy," Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said. "I want our team to be important."
Already, the rest of baseball has noticed.
"It changed the market," San Diego Padres general manager Josh Byrnes said. "It changed the landscape."
AP Sports Writers Jimmy Golen and Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.