In another life long ago, I worked in minor league baseball and was fortunate to attend a few winter meetings (Dallas in 2005 and Orlando in 2006). It’s a surreal experience for any baseball fan to suddenly be there in the midst of baseball personnel at every turn. Let me tell you what pretty much goes down as I remember it.

There’s a main hotel lobby that is the hub of everything. You stand there and look around to see famous reporters like Peter Gammons and Ken Rosenthal, agents like Scott Boras, managers like  Jim Leyland, front office executives and even some players. Barry Bonds made a splash was he unannounced made an appearance into the hotel in Orlando back in ’06. A friend and I would hang out in said lobby at night and rub elbows with reports and other baseball dignitaries while being an earshot of any rumor that Peter Gammons is hearing as well. MLB.com would have a remote set up in one of the hallways, which has now been joined by MLB Network. It’s truly a cool experience for fans. Anyway, just a brief recap of what I remember from ’05 and ’06. Here are some thoughts on the most recent meetings that just finished up from Orlando.

  • So much for that rough economy last year that limited teams’ spending. The Nationals are single-handedly trying to stimulate the economy themselves. Werth signs for $126MM, plus the Nats are in the hunt for Cliff Lee and Carl Pavano. Say what you want about the deals, but the Nats are suddenly willing to spend money to compete.
  • At this point I’m fairly certain Scott Boras would be able to negotiate a seven-year deal worth $22 million for me at my current job. Who thought we would see so much talk on seven-year deals to players in their 30s?
  • Here’s an intriguing thought—even though I do think Lee will eventually sign with the Yankees, what if he does decided that he loved Texas enough to accept their deal over the Yanks. How much of a blow would that be to New York? A team that has done pretty much nothing to this point in the offseason. Plus, they are still waiting to hear if Andy Pettitte is coming back, and the Red Sox just went out and made the biggest splash (or splashes) by acquiring Adrian Gonzalez via trade and signing free agent Carl Crawford and are considered the frontrunners for catcher Russell Martin. Lee signing anywhere else but New York would be a disaster for the Yankees at this point.
  • The Orioles were certainly active in deals by trading with the Twins for shortstop J.J. Hardy and infielder Brendan Harris, and picked up slugger Mark Reynolds in a trade from Arizona. That’s all great for the O’s, but if you saw this team in 2010 they need pitching. Though they did just sign Koji Uehara and just offered reliever Kevin Gregg a two-year deal so that’s a start.
  • The Royals apparently have a liking for ex-Braves. Melky and Francoeur in one week? How will the Braves recover from losing these two studs?
  • It’s really discouraging as a Pirates fan or a fan of any small market team to see the big boys go out and sign Carl Crawford, Cliff Lee and other big names and then see the Buccos pull in guys like Scott Olsen, Kevin Correia and Matt Diaz. The Pirates were definitely active at the meetings, but ugh. Olsen and Correia may just be an upgrade to Zach Duke, who was dealt to Arizona for Cesar Valdez earlier this offseason.

There you have it as the winter meetings conclude for another year. The next question this offseason is who will Lee sign with and when?

“Irresponsible.”

“Absolutely batshit crazy.”

These are just a few of the great quotes from the reaction to the Jayson Werth deal. Years from now we may look at free agency and remember deals before the Jayson Werth contract and deals after the Jayson Werth contract.

Werth is not a superstar. Yet the Nationals seem to think he is one when they threw the free agent market out of whack by signing him to a seven-year deal for $126 million. It’s the third largest contract for an outfielder in MLB history. Manny Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano are the only two OFs to land larger deals than Werth’s mega contract.

Werth did not become an everyday player until 2008 with the Phillies. In three years in Philadelphia, Werth hit 24, 36 and 27 home runs, but has yet to have a 100-RBI season. Not to mention his clutch ability left something to be desired in Philly…he hit .186 with runners in scoring position in 2010. His career slash line is .272/.367/.481. He will turn 32 years old next May, which means he’ll be 39 once this contract expires. Werth was a nice complement piece in Philadelphia with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins being the stars. In Washington, Werth will be expected to be a star on a team that features one other top hitter in Ryan Zimmerman. This signing screams of a panic move by the Nats for losing slugger Adam Dunn to the White Sox, which begs the question of if they can afford Werth for $126MM why couldn’t they keep Dunn at $56MM over four years? The Dunn deal is less risk, more proven, and in my opinion, a more valuable player.

I just can’t envision a scenario where the Nats don’t end up regretting this signing. Even if Werth has a couple great seasons in that nation’s capital, I don’t see him producing all the way until he’s almost 40 years old. These are the kind of contracts that get teams like the Nationals in trouble. See the Rangers committing a good portion of their payroll to A-Rod years ago. It took them years to get out of that hole. The Yankees of the world can get away making a

This ridiculous contract will not only affect the Nationals, but will also leave a lasting mark on the entire free agent landscape this offseason. Carlos Pena picked up $10 million for a one-year deal with the Cubs, Carl Crawford is about to become a very rich man to play for the Red Sox and who knows what other crazy deals we’ll see before we reach spring training.

There were numerous deals throughout the league on Friday. Let’s recap in the order that they were announced:

White Sox Acquire Edwin Jackson from Arizona
The Diamondbacks fire sale continues and believe it or not, but they may have picked up a better return for Edwin Jackson than they did for Dan Haren.I’m not sure what the D-Backs franchise plan is at the moment, but they seem to love trading for mid-rotation starters and then trading them away.

Jackson was traded for the fourth time of his career for pitcher Dan Hudson (No. 66 top prospect according to Baseball America) and low-level minor leaguer David Holmberg. Hudson is a great pickup for Arizona, but I’m not certain that they didn’t have more with Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth when they traded the two of them to Detroit last December for Jackson. I still think they should have held onto Scherzer. Despite throwing a no-hitter earlier this year with about 45 walks, Jackson isn’t having a very good season with a 5.16 ERA, 7.0 K/9 and a 4.0 BB/9. Forgetting about the deal last year, this stand alone deal was a good one for Arizona. Jackson will provide the White Sox some rotation depth with the loss of Jake Peavy as they battle the Twins for the AL Central title, but I can’t help thinking they gave up way too much in this deal. Though there’s also rumors going around that their plan is to flip Jackson around to the Nationals for maybe Adam Dunn? Crazy shit going down right here.

Rangers pick up Jorge Cantu and Cristian Guzman
Yesterday, the Rangers dealt for Marlins first baseman Jorge Cantu for two Double-A pitcher (Evan Reed and Omar Poveda) and today they added speedy infielder Cristian Guzman. Texas will send another couple of Double-A pitchers in Ryan Tatusko and Tanner Roark, which begs the question of who’s left at Double-A Frisco?

Guzman could have waived his 10-and-5 rights, but agreed to the trade. Guzman is hitting .282/.327/.361 while playing shortstop, second base and right field. Cantu has 10 home runs, 54 RBI and a slash line of .262/.310/.409 in 97 games. The Marlins may also not be done dealing as it looks like Cody Ross is also available. Neither of these guys (Cantu and Guzman) are going to single-handily win a division title for the Rangers, but they provide the team depth, experience and someone to play first base.

Yankees Bring Berkman to the Bronx
First the Yankees acquired Austin Kearns for a player to be named later from Cleveland. They like his right-handed bat. Ah, whatever. The next deal will make headlines. The Yankees continued to wheel and deal, trading for long-time Astros slugger Lance Berkman. In exchange, the Astros got reliever Mark Melancon and low-level minor league infielder Jimmy Paredes. Apparently after years and years of thinking they were still in the hunt, the Astros have finally given up the fight and are selling, selling, selling.

For some reason the Astros are sending about $4MM to cover part of Berkman’s salary for this year. Isn’t one of the prominent reasons to trade with the Yankees is that they have no payroll and will pay anyone and anything to play for them?

This trade will make big headlines in New York, but it would have been great had it been two years ago when Berkman was hitting like Lance Berkman. He’s currently in mist of a disappointing season with 13 home runs, 49 RBI and a slash line of .245/.372/.436 through 85 games. And I swear most of those home runs and runs batted in were against the Pirates this season. He’ll play DH for the Yankees and is an obvious upgrade over Colin Curtis, who has been playing there. Plus, the big guy still gets on base with 60 walks in 85 games for a .372 OBP. Berkman has the 10-and-5 rights, but waived his no trade clause in this deal, which he did when the White Sox attempted to get him.

There are the deals that went down today with possibly another one on the way with twitter blowing up right now on how the Dodgers are close to acquiring Ted Lilly from Chicago. Now does Paul Maholm go anywhere or Adam Dunn or Jose Bautista? Ah, the trade deadline. Don’t you just love it?

End of game: Capps sets down his former team 1-2-3 in the ninth to preserve the win for the rookie. 5-2 Nats victory. Well the Pirates certainly went with the script tonight as they struck out 16 times (14 by Strasburg). If you can believe it, Strasburg was as advertised and lived up to all the hype tonight. I can just imagine what people are predicting for him in Washington. He was pretty super tonight even throwing strong heat (97-99MPH) in the seventh inning. I think the most impressive thing for him tonight was when he got to a couple of full count and 3-1 count at-bats, he had the confidence to fire away and still blow it by the hitters and ended up walking none. Incredible. Let’s see how he does when he’s not facing the Pirates lineup though. At least the Bucs didn’t completely embarrass themselves and get shut out as they were able to hold a lead into the sixth inning. That’s all I got. Live blog is over.

End eighth: The Nats load the bases with no outs, but only get one run on a GIDP. 5-2 Nats and here comes Capps to try to close it out. Ugh.

Mid eighth: Wait a minute…Dunn just hit an opposite field single?? This truly is a night for firsts. This may not even be a save opportunity for Capps once the bottom of the eighth is finished.

9:06PM: I just realized unless the Pirates do something here in the eighth to generate some offense, they are going to get to face their former closer Matt Capps. Oh irony!

End seventh: About 90 percent of the country just realized Strasburg is out of the game and turned the channel once they figured out this was suddenly just a game between the Nationals and Pirates and nothing special going on anymore.

8:55PM: It’s official. Strasburg’s night is done. His line looks like this: 7.0IP, 4 hits, 2 runs, zero walks and 14 strikeouts and most likely a victory. No walks and 14 K’s—pretty incredible to live up to the hype for this game. Keep in mind this is the Pirates offense he faced tonight. They’re tied for the worst hitting team in the majors with a .237 average coming into tonight. Still though, it was an amazing performance.

Mid seventh: Wow. This is getting ridiculous. Strasburg strikes out the side again for his seventh consecutive strikeout. He’s one away from the rookie record, but I would have to believe his night is done considering he’s near 100 pitches. The Pirates hitters will be glad to see the bullpen come rolling in here.

End sixth: Baseball Reference is already on top of Strasburg’s 11 strikeouts. The most strikeouts in a debut was 15 strikeouts. Not bad, kid. But Strasburg’s night isn’t done yet as the Nationals bring him out to start the seventh.

8:40PM: Well that’s the end of the line for Karstens following the back-to-back home run by Willingham. Evan Meek coming on in relief. 4-2 Nats.

8:35PM: See what I mean? My intuition could just feel that coming on. Adam Dunn hammers a Karstens offering into the second deck in right field. 3-2 Nats.

Mid sixth: Strasburg’s fastball-changeup combo will be a dangerous tandem for National League hitters. Walker and Milledge had no chance in the top of the sixth. Something tells me the Pirates aren’t scoring any more runs, and something also tells me they probably won’t hold this lead very much longer. That’s just my pessimistic Pirates mentality.

End fifth: The Pirates broadcast made an interesting statement earlier about this being one of the most hyped regular season games in more than 25 years. Boy that seems a bit of a stretch. One-game playoff games count as regular season games so I would say those, maybe opening day when baseball returned after the strike? Just throwing a couple out here.

Mid fifth: The bottom of the Pirates order is awful with backup catcher Jason Jaramillo in there. Strasburg has eight strikeouts through 5. Yawn, he’s also losing which is more important. I find it funny how there’s so much importance and attention placed on just this game, but his next start will just be another game with much less attention. As if we are supposed to see something great just because it’s his first start in the majors. He’ll pitch better games later this season.

End fourth: Who knew there could be excitement in this game even when Strasburg isn’t pitching? Milledge mows down Josh Willingham at home plate for a double play and the third out to keep the score at 2-1. I’m kind of surprised they sent Willingham at all since the ball wasn’t too deep. Bottom of the order up for the Bucs…this should be bad.

Mid fourth: Delwyn Young was quoted before the game as saying jokingly: “Never seen people excited to see the Pirates in town.” Young just hit a two-out, two-run homer off Strasburg. 2-1 Pirates. Strasburg has been a little wild, working behind in a bunch of counts and Young made him pay with a big hit. Nationals Park is suddenly quiet.

7:55PM: UH OH! Walker doesn’t give a damn about this Strasburg hoopla as he and Milledge hit back-to-back singles.

7:52PM: ESPN has to be pretty pissed they weren’t able to televise this game and lost out to MLB Network. What are they countering with? Only about the 11th Sportscenter of the day.

End third: The crowd would have went bonkers if Strasburg’s first at-bat was a hit, but thankfully Ronny Cedeno rebounded to make a nice play to nail him at first. Still 1-0 Nats. Will the Pirates get to Strasburg in the fourth?

Mid third: One time through the lineup and I’m not feeling it for the battling Bucs. They are striking out two times per inning and Strasburg’s adrenaline seems to be charged up. Hey, now he gets to hit too!

7:31PM: So Strasburg is 21 years old and his battery mate Pudge Rodriguez is what…about 65? Pudge signed with the Rangers on July 27, 1988…Strasburg was just seven days old. Ridiculous.

Mid second: Well at least the Bucs won’t be no-hit tonight. Four strikeouts through two innings. Nationals fans must already think he’s a bust since he hasn’t struck out every batter he faced. They seriously expect him to win every single time out. Might be just a bit high on the realistic expectation bar.

7:20PM: Pretty impressive at-bat against Garrett Jones falling behind 3-0 before striking him out on the next three pitches. Good Lord do people in Washington know baseball? Every pitch Strasburg throws as a ball is heavily booed…even if it’s way outside.

Who had Andy LaRoche in your office “first hit off Strasburg” pool? You just won!

End first: The Pirates announcers were just building up the other starter in Jeff Karstens and how well he’s pitched this year and about two seconds later, Ryan Zimmerman homers to center. Nice one, guys. Hopefully that won’t be all they need in this one.

Mid first: A 1-2-3 inning for the rookie. McCutchen had the best hit off him, but lined it to short. Walker grounded out and former National Lastings Milledge struck out to end the inning. Speaking of which, does Washington want Milledge back by any chance??

7:08PM: 75 percent of the country just said “who in the hell is Neil Walker?” out loud. And Walker promptly grounds to first for the second out.

7:04PM: Well MLB Network just blacked out for me since I’m in the Pittsburgh viewing area, so it looks like I’m stuck with the Pirates announcers again. I was actually looking forward to hearing what some of the national guys said about the Pirates, but that was until I saw Bob Costas as the play-by-play man tonight. I guess if you really want to over hype something, Costas is a good way to do it. I’m surprised he was able to pull away from his busy schedule of preparing for the next Olympic Games to call this game. First pitch coming in seconds.

This was definitely a last-minute decision on my part, but I figured tonight’s game was big enough to make my live blog debut. I wouldn’t have done the live blog if it was just Stephen Strasburg making his ML debut, but since he’s facing my hometown Pirates I figured what the hell. I mean it’s not everyday that the Pittsburgh Pirates are on national freaking television…actually I couldn’t tell you the last time they were on the national stage. Such is the life of a Pirates fan. Anyway, I’ll be updating probably every half inning or more when it calls for it. Five minutes till first pitch…here we go.

Last night the Nationals selected their future catcher, slugger and phenom in the form of Bryce Harper with the first overall pick in the amateur draft. Tonight they make news on the field as the 2009 first overall pick Stephen Strasburg makes his major league debut against the Pirates.

This game will be seriously over hyped like only ESPN and MLB Network know how to do, but I’m sure they are loving the Nats opponent. They would have loved to see his face division foe, the New York Mets or another rookie phenom Jason Heyward and the Braves. Hell, they would have preferred the Reds or Padres at this point. But nope, he’ll face the hapless Pirates. Seriously, you know this is a momentous game when they have no choice but to put the Pirates in the national spotlight.

So how will the kid do tonight after posting a 7-2 record with a 1.30 ERA in 11 minor league starts? I do not think he’s going to no-hit the Pirates or anything like that. If Strasburg was a no talent ass clown who the Pirates love to make look like Warren Spahn then I would be worried about tonight (see Ramon Ortiz on May 1, Homer Bailey on May 12, Dave Bush on April 20, Brett Myers on April 25 or pretty much every time they’ve faced Bronson Arroyo). But for reasons that I can’t even begin to explain, the Pirates tend to hit better than average pitchers in recent years. They defeated Roy Halladay this year and scored three runs off of Tim Lincecum on Sunday.

Plus no matter how Strasburg and the Nationals try to downplay this as “just another game,” it certainly isn’t. There has to be some degree of nervousness that will set in for the rookie at some point on this national stage probably early on. He’s not in Harrisburg or Syracuse anymore. He’ll be on a strict pitch count, but I think the Pirates will get a couple runs off of him through five or six innings, possibly a quality start but check your no-hitter/perfect game predictions at the door—that won’t happen tonight.

With one month of the 2010 season is in the books, what have we learned so far this year? Not too much actually. There have been teams who were expected to win that are winning while there has also been some surprises and bad starts in April. You can make certain observations from the first 23 games of the year, but they should be tempered to a point because the season is obviously still very new. I will attempt to sift through the early observations to pick ones that could be for real and others an aberration.

The Rays 17-6 start to lead the AL East—The Rays look scary good right now as they cruised to their best start in franchise history. I think this start is definitely for real. With that said, will they continue to play .740 ball? Of course not, but this team is for real thanks to their stellar pitching. The rotation of Matt Garza, David Price, James Shields, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis have all been great, which is what you need to be successful in the big leagues. Not only has the pitching been sterling, but the Rays are also leading the league in runs scored with 144. They will have to keep it up to compete with the Yankees for the division lead all year, but I think they have enough pitching and young stars to do just that.

Padres and Nationals fast starts—The Padres are leading the NL West with a 15-8 record while the Nats are off to a 13-10 start. I believe both of these starts are an aberration. Remember when the Nationals first moved to Washington and had a ridiculous first half due to one-run wins before it came crashing down in the second half? Well, the Nats did the same thing this April as most of their wins have been close ball games. Washington is in the bottom half of the league in ERA, so the pitching will not be there for this team to stay above .500 even if/when Strasburg arrives. On the other hand, the Padres pitching has been stellar but their 2.91 ERA is just too low to expect it to continue all year and their offense is still a problem, hitting just .248 in April.

Horrible starts by the Braves, Red Sox, White Sox, Dodgers—Before any fans of these teams start calling it quits on a season, just calm down. Isn’t the saying that every team wins 60 games and loses 60 games, but it’s what you do with the other 40 games that makes you a good or bad team. There are still about 140 games to the season for these teams to rebound. The Braves have already started a turnaround thanks to a visit from the Astros. The Red Sox are too talented to be under .500 for most of the year, so I expect them to turn it on soon. The White Sox pitching will get hot soon enough, but the Dodgers are one team that could be in trouble. Their pitching hasn’t been there, the defense has been shoddy at times and injuries to Vicente Padilla and Manny Ramirez are reasons for this slow start. Plus, when your GM starts blasting the team and their start center fielder in the first month of the season, it’s never a good sign.  And they can’t seem to beat the Pirates at this point, which is really not a good sign. It might get worse in Dodgertown before it gets good.

In short, the month of April cannot be trusted. A look at the standings on May 1, 2009 shows the Blue Jays in first of the AL East at 16-9 before stumbling to a 75-87 finish. The Mariners and Marlins were also in first place and the NL wild card winner (Rockies) was buried in dead last in the NL West. We shall soon find out who’s for real and who’s not in 2010.

With less than one week until Opening Day, let’s take a look at some early week links from around the baseball world.

MLB Trade Rumors is wondering the same thing I posted about a couple of weeks ago with Jermaine Dye’s lack of work. They are right—retirement would be a shame for someone who can still produce.

Not every roster spot is set in stone at the start of spring training as we are reminded by the Nationals prospect Ian Desmond winning the job at shortstop for Washington. He beat out Christian Guzman, who will serve as the Nats utility player (hey, can he play the outfield?). It will be interesting to see how Desmond develops after getting a brief taste of the majors last September.

Good thing Strasburg’s in the minors to avoid the attention and pressure from the media. Nothing like a minor league start as one of the top headlines at MLB.com. Hmm, Altoona is only a couple of hour drive for me.

Did I mention just one week away?! I have to purchase my MLB-TV package soon.

Baseball Musings breaks down Curtis Granderson and what to expect for him this year in the Bronx. Was last season a fluke or did Grandy peak early? He may not hit lefties, but he may crush that short porch in right at Yankee Stadium.

And last, what would a links post be without a link from Baseball Reference? Stat of the Day takes a look at Phil Hughes being awarded the fifth spot in the Yankees rotation and how many other 24-year-old’s in their fourth season were locks in the Yanks rotation. For the record, I don’t know about this decision for Hughes as a starter, then again he didn’t look good in the bullpen this spring either.