With spring in sight, time to catch up on winter action
Mapping out baseball's busy offseason, from parade route to Hot Stove kitchen
After the Red Sox paraded the World Series trophy around Boston on duck boats the second day of November, baseball put its toys away and began a winter of work to prepare for 2014.
Soon, the annual parade of signings and trades fueled the Hot Stove League, winding its way through the offseason with a wintry mix of rumor and reality. Along the route, the teams in pursuit of that coveted trophy began to take shape, with maneuvers from coast to coast and even across the Pacific Ocean.
Now that baseball's procession of winter wheeling and dealing is coming to an end, here's a curbside look at the route this year's offseason parade of activity took toward the upcoming 2014 season:
November began, as always, with some street cleanup in one city and a collection of hardware about to be scattered all over the place. In 2013, it was Detroit's Miguel Cabrera scooping up the heavy metal, earning consecutive Most Valuable Player Awards in the American League for the first time in two decades, taking Players' Choice top honors and adding a Silver Slugger.
Other highlights from the annual Baseball Writers' Association of America awards included the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw with his second National League Cy Young Award in three years, and Jose Fernandez of the Marlins receiving the double reward of NL Rookie of the Year honors and a heartwarming reunion with his grandmother from Cuba.
With the end of the World Series came the beginning of free agency, and this class was noted for being top-heavy on position players. Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo were the headliners in that realm, and already there was anticipation that the most coveted pitcher would be a Japanese star named Masahiro Tanaka, but only if the Rakuten Golden Eagles would in fact make him available to U.S. teams.
There's also the trade route and, boy, was there a blockbuster to really begin the winter with a bang. The Rangers acquired slugging first baseman Prince Fielder from the Tigers for second baseman Ian Kinsler on Nov. 20, a doozy of a deal featuring All-Star talent and big bucks that rocked the Hot Stove League awake. The Cardinals and Angels got together a couple of days later, with third baseman David Freese heading west and Peter Bourjos to St. Louis.
The first few weeks of the offseason also allowed for time to fill managerial openings on five teams. Taking over the reins: Bryan Price in Cincinnati, Matt Williams in Washington, Brad Ausmus in Detroit, Lloyd McClendon in Seattle and Rick Renteria with the Cubs -- and don't forget Ryne Sandberg in Philadelphia, a late-season addition.
December means the Winter Meetings, but a slew of moves before that annual convention began to reveal the route this offseason parade would take. The first sign of the Yankees being the Yankees again, for instance, came when they signed veteran catcher Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million deal on Dec. 3.
That was part of a flurry of transactions before the Winter Meetings were to begin in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Among them, the A's traded for closer Jim Johnson and signed veteran starter Scott Kazmir, the Tigers picked up a bona fide closer in Joe Nathan while trading starter Doug Fister to the Nationals, and Norichika Aoki was dealt from the Brewers to the Royals.
Then came two huge pre-Meetings salvos, as Cano bolted for Seattle and the Yankees brought in Ellsbury -- monster deals for the two most coveted free agents on the market. Cano, signed and developed into a star in Yankees pinstripes, agreed to a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Mariners. The Yankees countered by swooping in to take Ellsbury away from the rival Red Sox with a seven-year, $153 million contract.
The first deal once the annual convention of rumors, trades and signings began saw Curtis Granderson land across town with the Mets -- complete with a playful "True New Yorkers are Mets fans" jab. The Meetings also begat a good, old-fashioned talent swap with a three-way trade sending slugger Mark Trumbo to Arizona to hit alongside breakout star Paul Goldschmidt, left-handed pitchers Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago heading to the Angels and outfielder Adam Eaton to the White Sox.
While the movers and shakers were doing their thing, three of the all-time great managers were honored with their election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame -- Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, all heading to Cooperstown in July.
The Yankees added veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran on a three-year deal with the holidays approaching, but it was the Rangers who really went all in for an outfielder. Texas swooped up the highest-rated position player remaining on the market, coming to terms with Choo on a seven-year deal worth $130 million.
On Christmas Eve, word finally came down that Tanaka would in fact be posted under a new system, which capped the posting fee at $20 million but opened up negotiations to any team that offered that fee. That's a refundable deposit a lot of teams were willing to put down as the calendar flipped to 2014.
January began with another trio bestowed with the highest honor in the sport. In an election that again was preceded by considerable debate, the BBWAA elected three first-timers on the Hall of Fame ballot: pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and hitting star Frank Thomas. Maddux finished with 97.2 percent of the vote, the eighth-highest total of all time.
Pitching continued to be the focus in the first month of a new year, with a pair of 25-year-old stars in the spotlight.
Kershaw, the lefty with two Cy Young Awards and three straight NL ERA titles, agreed to the richest deal ever for a pitcher, signing a seven-year, $215 million contract through 2020. In the wake of Kershaw's long-term bonanza, the Tigers signed AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to a one-year, $15.5 million deal, and the Rays signed 2012 winner David Price, a frequent subject of trade rumors, to a one-year pact worth $14 million.
Meanwhile, Tanaka was headed for a big payday before his first Major League pitch. With a Jan. 24 deadline looming, the sweepstakes whittled down to five teams -- Cubs, D-backs, Dodgers, White Sox and Yankees. In the end, the Yankees finished first in pursuit of Tanaka, who signed a seven-year deal worth $155 million.
And, with that, the Yankees further embossed an indelible mark on this offseason's parade, either as a spectacularly opulent float or a wild herd of elephants, depending on one's perspective.
February is here, and only a few days remain before the first camps open, with the rest on board by Valentine's Day. Some interesting names remain available, so there's some work to be done. But, for the most part, rosters are constructed once again following another procession of activity this offseason.
Once all 30 teams reach their destinations in Arizona or Florida, another parade will begin. It's the one that gears up for a 162-game season, runs that marathon route into October and ends with the next opportunity to show off the World Series trophy.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnSchlegelMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.