Ron Santo joined the Hall of Fame, Heath Bell formally joined the Miami Marlins and Jerry Hairston Jr. joined the surprising flock of free agents into Dodger Blue. The opening day of Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings in Dallas may have featured more hotel lobby-sparked rumors than actual developments, but Monday was not without hard news. While the game's executives and its chroniclers continued to muse whether Big D will live up to its name with Big Deals for Albert Pujols and/or Prince Fielder, the first order of business indeed was a big deal in Chicago as one of the Windy City's favorite sons, the late Ron Santo, had the doors to Cooperstown thrown open for him by the Hall's Golden Era Committee.
Dan Lozano, Pujols' agent, did his work behind closed doors of the Hilton Anatole, the Meetings' headquarters. In-between two meetings with Marlins officials, he also huddled with both the Cardinals and the Cubs. The hit list of the Marlins, whose seriousness in pursuing free agents is no longer being questioned in the wake of their agreements with Bell and shortstop Jose Reyes, also still includes a frontline starter, lefties Mark Buehrle or C.J. Wilson, but the newest Marlin now considers everything else icing.
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"We definitely can win the NL East, even with just Reyes," Bell said at his introductory media conference. "I think we can win the division right now. The Phillies, I think we can beat 'em."Buehrle has the most suitors -- as many as 14 teams, including a trio that have made three-year offers -- while the younger Wilson has the ones with deeper pockets. Early in the day, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Wilson had the six-year offer he seeks from an unnamed team, revealed later by MLB Network's Jim Duquette to be the Nationals. Monday's fresh transactions included a pair of free-agent signings, as trade talk remained just that. Atlanta general manager Frank Wren, willing to make upscale moves with versatile Martin Prado or right-hander Jair Jurrjens, voiced the need to fight the temptation to pull a fast trigger. "There's an adrenaline rush to making a deal," Wren conceded. "But the bottom line is, does it make us better? We're not going to make a deal just to make a splash at home. We're looking to get better. That's the goal." The first signing was Hairston's agreement on a two-year contract with the Dodgers, who were also nearing a similar deal with free-agent right-hander Aaron Harang. Relief pitchers have been the early free-agent market's biggest movers, and another joined the flow when Matt Capps re-signed with the Twins for his second shift as Joe Nathan's replacement. His first go-around came in the middle of the 2010 season, while Nathan was recovering from elbow surgery. Now Capps, 28, again assumes the closer's role with Nathan having taken his free agency to Texas. Harang, 33, went 14-7 last season, his only one in San Diego. He would become the second starter to change teams, and the Dodgers have the first, earlier signing Chris Capuano among five free agents reeled in by Los Angeles GM Ned Colletti. Hairston followed fellow infielders Mark Ellis and Adam Kennedy, and catcher Matt Treanor. Hairston split the 2011 season, his 14th, between Washington and Milwaukee, batting .274 in 45 games after the Brewers acquired him in a Trade Deadline move. The Dodgers will be the well-travelled utilityman's ninth different big league team. Santo was elected to the Hall of Fame as the near-unanimous choice of the 16-member Golden Era Committee, drawing 15 votes as the only one on the 10-man ballot to earn enshrinement. With 12 votes needed for the required 75 percent, Gil Hodges and Minnie Minoso were next with nine votes each. The posthumous election of Santo, just two days after the first anniversary of his death at 70, comes as a bittersweet irony for legions of admirers who felt the honor was overdue, and should have come before diabetes cut his life short. As one of the faces of the '60s Cubs who produced three other Hall of Famers -- Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ferguson Jenkins -- Santo averaged 29 homers and 105 RBIs in an eight-year stretch from 1963 to 1970. In other news, Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay's executive vice president of baseball operations, formally withdrew from consideration for Houston's general manager vacancy. The Phillies, whose meeting with representatives of free-agent shortstop Jimmy Rollins "did not go well" according to reports, entered the fray for another free-agent infielder, third baseman Aramis Ramirez. The five-team NL East champions do have an incumbent at the position, but concurrently were said to be aggressively seeking to move Placido Polanco, the 35-year-old who missed 40 games with various injuries last season. The Marlins, in a sticking-to-decorum way, were three days behind in their own makeover. The day after the brushfire ignited by news of their agreement with Reyes, the Marlins formally announced their three-year, $27 million pact with Bell -- actually reached on Thursday. In Bell, the Marlins have a late-blooming bullpen star who was 31 when he succeeded Trevor Hoffman as San Diego closer and posted 132 saves in three seasons. The skepticism that Bell's edge was sharpened by pitcher-friendly PETCO Park seems unfounded. In five seasons with the Padres, including two in a setup role, Bell's road ERA (2.69) was only marginally higher than his home ERA (2.33). Obviously, no practical evidence yet exists of how Miami's new ballpark will play. But its dimensions suggest it will be pitcher-friendly. Reyes was undergoing the obligatory physical on Monday. Barring any flares arising from that, the Marlins will make official the six-year, $106 million deal that includes a $22 million option for 2018 with a buyout of $5 million.