LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Jayson Werth and the Washington Nationals got an early jump on baseball’s winter meetings. The Boston Red Sox were busy, too, completing their trade for Adrian Gonzalez.
Next up, another big name was sure to stir discussion: George Steinbrenner. The late New York Yankees owner was on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, and the Veterans Committee was to release its voting results Monday morning.
Yet even before a Disney resort ballroom was set up to announce deals, the action started Sunday.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and agent Scott Boras waited in a corner while workers finished preparing the lights, podium microphone and Major League Baseball backdrop, then said Werth had agreed to a startling $126 million, seven-year contract.
The deal seemed to catch most everyone by surprise.
“I didn’t know until a few hours ago,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman admitted. “It all happened very quietly.”
Boston and San Diego took care of business when the Padres agreed to trade Gonzalez, their All-Star first baseman, to the Red Sox, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity, pending the teams announcing the swap early Monday.
Free agents Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford figure to draw lots of attention later this week. On the trade front, the Toronto Blue Jays seemed ready to send pitcher Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee.
The last-place Nationals got Werth, the 31-year-old All-Star right fielder from Philadelphia, just days after slugger Adam Dunn left for the Chicago White Sox.
“To just spend money wildly on people is not the point. What we’re going to do is create an atmosphere … of winning,” Werth said on a conference call.
Werth hit .296 with 27 home runs, an NL-leading 46 doubles, 85 RBIs and a career-best 106 runs last season. He parlayed that into a deal astounding for its sheer size — both in terms of dollars and years.
“It’s a long time and a lot of money,” New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson quipped. “I thought they were trying to reduce the deficit in Washington.”
The Red Sox had been one of the teams interested in Werth. They’re getting Gonzalez, and hope to reach agreement on a contract extension.
The road from the Orlando airport to the meetings site passes under a Disney World archway that proclaims “Where Dreams Come True” and many clubs aim to get a head start on success in 2011.
Already, it’s been an active offseason. So far, 26 free agents have signed since the end of the regular season; last year, only 14 had made deals going into the winter meetings.
Juan Uribe, Miguel Tejada, Lance Berkman and Javier Vazquez are among several free agents who have changed teams while Dan Uggla, Omar Infante and Clint Barmes have been traded.
As always, the Yankees figure to be on the prowl at this annual swap shop, especially after losing to the Rangers in the AL championship series. The teams figure to tangle again for Lee, with New York trying to lure the prize pitcher on the free-agent market away from Texas. Lee’s decision could come this week.
Closer Rafael Soriano, sluggers Adrian Beltre, Paul Konerko and Magglio Ordonez and pitchers Carl Pavano, Kevin Millwood and Chris Young are part of the free-agent crop still in play.
The meetings typically produce trades. Kansas City pitcher Zack Greinke’s name has been floated and so have those of the Upton brothers, Tampa Bay outfielder B.J. and Arizona outfielder Justin.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.