ORLANDO -- Four years ago, the last time the Winter Meetings were held at the Swan and Dolphin Resort, the lobby was abuzz about one thing: The rumored offer the Red Sox were sending the way of then-free agent outfielder J.D. Drew.
The meetings are back on Disney property and there was a new buzz hovering around the enormous Christmas tree anchored in the middle of the Dolphin's lobby. This time, however, there were a pair of items that dominated late-night conversations on the night prior to the opening of the Hot Stove season's centerpiece.
This time the curiosity centered around Jayson Werth and Adrian Gonzalez.
While both subjects had obvious tie-ins into the future of the Red Sox, it was Werth which offered the greatest similarity to the tone set by Drew's deal back in 2006. The outfielder had shocked the baseball world by agreeing to a seven-year, $126 million deal.
"How about that Werth deal?" was easily the most repeated phrase throughout the night. The answers, again, were eerily similar to those formulated when analyzing Drew's agreement.
One big league executive surmised that he didn't see the value of Werth exceeding $10 million per season. Another wondered how he could be making relatively the same as Matt Holliday, a player perceived to be a cut above (at least offensively).
More than a few baseball decision-makers came to conclusion that it was simply a case of Washington using the only weapon in its arsenal to attract a big-name free agent: Out-spending everybody else. (It was a ploy the Nationals attempted in the Mark Teixeira dealings, actually topping the Yankees' winning bid.)
Others questioned Werth's make-up, surmising that he chose the money over a legitimate chance to win.
Then there was the amazement that Scott Boras would actually let his top free agent sign prior to the Winter Meetings, and before his chief competitor in the open market, Carl Crawford, committed. (The offer was THAT good.)
Some, however, sang the merits of Werth, dating back to when the Blue Jays first made the one-time catcher an outfielder only to get handcuffed by the fact he ran out of options, forcing a trade for reliever Jason Frasor. "There's not a lot of guys who were like Jayson," said one executive, remembering watching a much younger Werth in the Blue Jays' system.
The Red Sox also liked him, although not nearly enough to even contemplate an offer the likes of the one dished out by the Nationals. In fact, the Sox never got to the point of making a formal offer to Werth prior to the big signing.
Then there was Gonzalez.
Perhaps the lobby electricity wasn't quite as intense regarding the first baseman because his case had been one which had been percolating for more than 48 hours. Heck, David Gonzalez -- a dead ringer to his brother, Adrian -- roamed through the baseball-types throughout the hotel without nary a double-take. (The older brother is involved in establishing baseball academies throughout Southern California.)
The talk among baseball executives in regard to the Gonzalez deal was the amazement that no major league-ready piece was part of the puzzle that went over to the Padres.
"I would have thought that [Daniel] Bard would have been included, with Heath Bell's situation (becoming a free agent after next season," said one baseball big-wig.
As for the Red Sox' side of the acquisition, there were few naysayers. The closest anybody came was suggesting Gonzalez could have trouble with fastballs on the inside portion of the plate. Other than that? Not many negatives. His swing was made for Fenway Park. He would win games with his glove. The compliments kept on coming.
So while everybody back in Boston braces for another "major announcement" press conference (figuring to be a bit more publicized than the Marco Scutaro introduction), here are a few more things we took away from the initial plunge into baseball's offseason:
CASEY KELLY KICK-STARTED A NEW ERA
Walk through the Dolphin's lobby, ask about Kelly, and you were bound to get a least a few differing opinions. Some were wary of the numbers he ended up with in Double-A Portland last season (3-5, 5.31 ER in 21 starts). Others -- including one American League general manager -- offered the reminder that pitching at that level as a 20-year-old is no easy task.
But all of that didn't matter.
Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod liked Kelly … a lot. They scouted him. They drafted him. And they had felt a bit more invested in the pitcher's progress than most outsiders throughout the past season or so. It was for this reason that the San Diego general manager and his assistant had no problem making the hurler a centerpiece in a trade for the face of a franchise.
But they weren't alone in their infatuation. That's why it took this long for the apple of the Sox' eye, Gonzalez, to don a Boston cap.
When the Red Sox were talking trade with Toronto in '09, they refused to discuss the possibility of putting Kelly in any deal for Roy Halladay. That was a common theme when the Sox explored the kind of blockbuster they executed Sunday.
It wasn't until the Sox finally relented a few weeks ago, and agreed to include Kelly in the trade for Gonzalez, that any kind of true traction could be uncovered.
WHAT WERTH SIGNING MEANS FOR THE SOX
On the surface, the outfielder heading to the Nationals would simply cut out one big option for the Red Sox when looking for a big bat for their outfielder. But there are other subtleties that came with the news.
For instance, with the signing of Werth the Red Sox are virtually guaranteed to have to secure the top available compensatory draft pick, which would be the one they get from Detroit at No. 19 for the Tigers signing of Victor Martinez.
The only other two remaining free agents ranked higher than Werth who could supplant Boston as the team to get the Tigers' pick are Cliff Lee and Rafael Soriano, neither of which are candidates to be signed by Detroit. There were some concerned in the Red Sox organization that Werth might go to the Tigers, negating the Sox' claim on the coveted first-rounder.
Another not-quite-as-subtle aspect of the Werth signing that the Red Sox will feel is how it positions the other big-name outfielder, Crawford.
The consensus throughout the lobby was that while the Red Sox might not be out of the Crawford sweepstakes, the chances of the left fielder ending up calling Fenway Park his home just got a whole lot more remote.
Besides the challenge that would come with balancing a lefty-heavy lineup (considering the addition of Gonzalez), the price of Crawford might handcuff the Sox in a way they would be uncomfortable with going forward.
Not only did the Werth deal virtually guarantee Crawford would be locking down an eight-year deal, but with the likes of the Yankees and Angels seemingly having no problem getting caught up in a bidding battle, the Sox might have to settle for one budget-altering contract (Gonzalez) this time around.
WHAT IF YOUKILIS DIDN'T SIGN
One conversation that popped up in the middle of the lobby was, with Werth getting his deal, how much Kevin Youkilis would be getting on the open market if he didn't sign his current contract (4 years, $41.125 million).
If he didn't ink the extension in '09, Youkilis would have been joining Crawford and Werth as one of the elite free agent hitters in this free agent class.
In the last three seasons, Youkilis has the third-best OPS in baseball (.964). Werth is at No. 24 (.889). He is also just two months older than the newest National.
Bottom line: The Red Sox would be looking at potentially having two corner infielders making close to 1/5 of their entire payroll.