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Marlins mobbed by Angels in search for offseason spotlight

by Matt Smith

Up until Thursday afternoon UK time, the Winter Meetings were all about the Miami Marlins.

Closer Heath Bell was signed just prior to the gathering in Texas, shortstop Jose Reyes joined him in parading in the new Miami colours, and then the rumours kept on coming.

A huge offer had been extended to first baseman Albert Pujols, with members of the Marlins’ staff reportedly looking confident that they would get their man. Meanwhile a staggering six-year deal had been delivered to starting pitcher C.J. Wilson alongside a contract offer to fellow hurler Mark Buehrle.

It was beginning to look like everyone would be heading to Miami, and not just for some offseason sand, sea and surf.

When it was reported on Wednesday evening that Buehrle had accepted the opportunity to reunite with manager Ozzie Guillen, it initially appeared to confirm the trend. However, soon the signing suggested that the Marlins may have been bowing out on their other current targets.

In fact, the Marlins were still very much in the running, but their pursuit – despite tabling the most lucrative contract offers to both players – would be in vain.

I was shocked when I logged on to MLB.com late Thursday afternoon and saw that the Los Angeles Angels had signed both Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. Shocked, stunned and then deflated.

As an A’s fan who has spent the last few weeks reading that the only thing my team will be doing this offseason is trying to trade away our best players, watching a division rival spend a reported $331,500,000 on two players summed up how laughably difficult our current plight is. Any Brit who has watched Moneyball in recent weeks and got an idea of the team’s underdog status doesn’t know the half of it.

Add in the fact that the Marlins were able to offer such vast sums on the back of their impending move into a new ballpark and it just goes to show that if Bud Selig is as committed to competitiveness as he claims, he should be doing all he can to help the A’s find a new home.

The A’s misery is joined by the despair in Houston. They’ve finally seen the back of Pujols, only to know that it’s just a one year reprieve before they are reunited in 2013.

Welcome to the AL West.

There’s no doubt that the double signing is a tremendous coup for the Angels.

The one criticism that could be, and has been, levelled at owner Arte Moreno and the Angels’ Front Office is that they have consistently come up short in recent years on adding that one extra impact hitter that would have pushed them from contenders to a fearsome threat. Their unfathomable decision a year ago to take on arguably the worst contract in baseball in Vernon Wells added volume to those dissenting voices.

When it comes to answering such criticism, dishing out the second most lucrative contract in the sport’s history to sign one of the greatest hitters of all time is a pretty good way to do it.

At ten years and $254m (£162,351,084.15, or £312,213 every week for the next ten years – as Charlie Brown would say: good grief!) with a no-trade clause, it is an extraordinary commitment to make. There is obviously a risk that Pujols’ contract could become a burden in its latter years, but extraordinary commitments are required to sign extraordinary players and there’s every chance that even if he does tail off over the years, he will have earned his money before then anyway.

As for Wilson, that signing wasn’t such a surprise. Although the Marlins were clearly a very attractive proposition, linking up with the Angels almost made too much sense for it not to happen. He gets to stay at home in Southern California, in a division he knows well and on a team that will be extremely competitive and will pay him a sizeable amount of money ($77.5m over five years, or £190,415 per week), if not the absolute top dollar that he could have received from Miami.

The Angels’ moves have set up what could be an epic two-way battle in the AL West with the Texas Rangers for several years to come (I’ve probably moaned enough already about what it will mean for the A’s, so we’ll leave that part of the argument to one side).  Both teams will have a great shot at making the postseason under the new double Wild Card format from 2013, although one will face the prospect of seeing their ultra-talented and expensive team potentially being knocked out on the back of one game. 

The joy of Angels fans will be counterbalanced by the disappointment of Cardinals fans who have seen their iconic first baseman depart. Even on Wednesday night, it looked as though there was a strong chance that Pujols would stay in St. Louis, so it will be a shock to see him go, if not one that was completely unexpected.  Still, they have just experienced the delight of winning the World Series and with Adam Wainwright coming back from a season out injured, alongside a new position player or two from the money that would have gone towards Pujols’ salary, they are not about to turn into an also-ran.

And as for those Marlins, three out of five isn’t a bad return from an elite free agent shopping list heading into the Winter Meetings.  Something tells me they haven’t finished shopping yet either.

It will be very difficult for them to steal the offseason spotlight away from the Angels now, but I’m sure they will give it a good try.

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