Winter Meetings open for business

Winter Meetings open for business

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The best signing yet of this free-agent pitchers' market wasn't a free agent at all, Jose Guillen has a new team to "suitcase" him ... and did someone say, "What comes around, goes around?"

Minutes of the Winter Meetings, starting with that last point:

On the day plans were announced for the Civil Rights Game, a new annual event to celebrate the movement begun in baseball by Jackie Robinson, the team which 50 years ago provided his forum was saluted as MLB's top organization of 2006.

The administrative pronouncements served as backdrop to the nuts and bolts of player developments at Disney's Swan and Dolphin Resort. These were headlined by the Cards putting a long-term lock on ace Chris Carpenter, the Mariners bagging free-agent outfielder Guillen and formalization of a series of anticipated signings.

And all that activity was, at least symbolically, in pursuit of the spoil handed Monday to the Dodgers -- chosen by Baseball America as MLB's top 2006 organization.

The day's biggest bundle was dropped by the Cardinals, not at the free-agent counter but clearly influenced by the high demand for pitchers on that market.

The World Series champions reached an agreement on a new five-year contract with Carpenter valued at about $77 million if the option for a sixth year, in 2012, eventually is exercised.

The new deal keeps intact Carpenter's $7 million salary for 2007 and exercises a previous $9 million option for 2008. Added on are the seasons 2009-11 with an approximate annual value of $15 million, plus the 2012 option.

Both team and pitcher thus have made out well from the $300,000 contract Carpenter signed with the Cardinals after sitting out the 2003 season following shoulder surgery. St. Louis has captured the National League Central each of the last three seasons, with Carpenter winning 51 games and a 2005 National League Cy Young Award.

"It's nice to know that they believe in me this much and believe that much to keep me around for five more years," Carpenter said. "It's a great feeling, and we're obviously excited to be able to be a part of the Cardinals organization for the next five years."

Later in the evening, the Rangers reacted to the same market forces to hold onto one of their own. Right-hander Vicente Padilla, who won 15 games last season and 16 in the two prior seasons combined, tentatively agreed to a three-year, $33 million deal.

Padilla's contract, which includes a 2010 option at $15 million, is subject to results of a physical.

Guillen joined his eighth team for his 11th Major League season, agreeing to a one-year contract with Seattle that includes an option for 2008. Both manager Mike Hargrove and general manager Bill Bavasi are excited by the defensive prospects of Guillen next to center fielder Ichiro Suzuki.

"We feel like this is a signing with some real upside," Bavasi said. "Our doctors have given him a very complete physical, and we are very confident he's healthy."

Guillen wasn't last season, when he got into 69 games around elbow, hamstring and elbow injuries while earning $4 million from the Nationals. So his $5.5 million deal (exclusive of a $3 million incentive package) from the Mariners is at least a healthy raise -- and, incidentally, brings the outfielder's take to $13 million since being kept off the Angels' 2004 postseason roster by manager Mike Scioscia for his attitude.

Yet to pass his physical is Bengie Molina -- but if he does, the Giants will have their catcher for the next three years. reported the deal as otherwise done to provide San Francisco's replacement for Mike Matheny, whose recovery from lingering post-concussion syndrome is considered unlikely.

Baseball America has been selecting its Organization of the Year since 1982, but this is the first time the medal went to the Dodgers. The honor reflects franchise success at all levels, not just on the big-league stage.

Club owner and chairman Frank McCourt accepted the honor as confirmation of "the beginning of the next great era of Dodger baseball and [indication that] we have returned to our rightful spot as one of sports' model franchises."

Otherwise, there was plenty of business during Day 1 of the Winter Meetings -- old business, as clubs placed bows atop deals long in the works:

• The Giants reclaimed one infielder and retained another. Rich Aurilia, who spent the first nine seasons of his career in San Francisco, returned with a two-year contact. And ironman third baseman Pedro Feliz signed a new one-year deal after anchoring the Giants' hot corner for all but 44 1/3 innings of the 2006 season.

• The Reds and David Weathers agreed to a new two-year deal that will keep the veteran right-hander in Cincinnati's bullpen.

Weathers, 37, was the one constant in a Reds bullpen overhauled on-the-fly in the course of the 2006 season. He filled a variety of roles, including a turn as closer to lead the team with 12 saves.

In an odd twist to the Posting System that has rung up $77 million in negotiating rights for the Red Sox (Daisuke Matsuzaka) and Yankees (Kei Igawa), the Rockies took out a $1.3 million marker on a Mexican pitcher who intrigues them.

Colorado is working out an agreement with the Yucatan Leones to allow left-hander Oscar Rivera to compete for a job in Spring Training. If Rivera, currently 5-2 with a 2.32 ERA in nine starts for Mayos de Navajoa in the Mexican Winter League, lands a 40-man roster spot, the Rockies would pay Yucatan $1.3 million for his rights.

In the dugout, new Oakland manager Bob Geren announced Ty Van Burkleo as his new hitting coach. Van Burkleo, a left-handed-hitting first baseman who had a 14-game big-league career in the mid-'90s, spent the last six seasons as the Angels' roving Minor League hitting instructor and replaces Gerald Perry.

Off the field and in the broadcast booth, Gary Matthews joined the Phillies' crew. The original Sarge, a coach with the Cubs the last four seasons, joins an announcing team headed by Harry Kalas, the 70-year-old legend who signed a new three-year extension with the club whose games he has called since 1971.

Finally, Rob Butcher, completing his 10th year as the Reds' director of media relations, received the 2006 Robert O. Fishel Award. Bearing the name of the late American League vice-president for public relations, the award for 26 years has recognized excellence in that field.

Tom Singer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.