The other superpower, the New York Yankees, signed a set-up reliever, Rafael Soriano, for $35 million, giving them eight players who would make eight-figure salaries in 2011 — a season that produced the Yankees’ 11th division title in 14 years.
That same winter, Arte Moreno, owner of the Los Angeles Angels, spoke on behalf of all the wannabes. Contemplating Crawford’s seven-year Red Sox contract, he lamented: “It’s crazy. . . . We’re talking $142 million for one player? Seven years on a player is a huge risk financially.”
A little more than a year later, as the 2012 baseball season gets underway, it is clear the sport’s landscape has been altered significantly, and perhaps permanently. The balance of power has not so much shifted as splintered in all directions, and the notion of two giant “superpowers” lording over baseball is as outdated as a Cold War-era Hollywood thriller.
There were still hundreds of millions of dollars being spent this past winter, but it wasn’t coming out of New York or Boston, as both the Yankees and Red Sox mostly sat out the free agent market while preaching austerity.
Instead, it came out of Miami, where the new-look Marlins, no longer penny-pinchers, shelled out nearly $200 million for Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle. It came out of Detroit, where the Tigers emerged out of nowhere to snatch up slugger Prince Fielder for $214 million. It came out of Texas, where the Rangers spent a record $111.7 million to acquire Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish.
And look who tops the list of baseball’s wildest spenders in the winter of 2011-12: That’s right — Moreno and the Angels. If $142 million and seven years was “crazy,” what does that make $240 million and 10 years? That’s what the Angels spent on Albert Pujols, who turned 32 one month after his deal was done. And as if that wasn’t enough, the Angels spent another $77.5 million for five years of left-hander C.J. Wilson, who will open the 2012 season as their fourth starter.
“Baseball,” noted sports economist Andrew Zimbalist told the Associated Press in the aftermath, “needs to have steroids-testing for owners.”
Wilson, who had helped the Rangers to back-to-back American League pennants in 2010 and 2011 before reaching free agency, is an example of how baseball’s new world order has affected the talent market. He had long assumed the Red Sox and Yankees would drive the free-agent market this past winter, as they traditionally had done — but in fact, neither team, despite their needs for starting pitching, made a serious run at him.