The cash register inside the mind of Scot Shields kept ringing, all winter long.
The Angels spent $50 million on Gary Matthews Jr.? Whatever. The Angels spent $18 million on Justin Speier? Ka-ching!
It wasn't about the Angels. It was about middle relievers.
"I was excited," Shields said, "where that market was going."
Danys Baez, to the Baltimore Orioles, for $19 million. Jamie Walker, to the Orioles, for $12 million. Scott Schoeneweis, to the New York Mets, and Chad Bradford, to the Orioles, for $11 million each.
Those were the three-year deals. Then there were the one-year deals: LaTroy Hawkins, to the Colorado Rockies, and Roberto Hernandez, to the Cleveland Indians, for $3.5 million each. David Riske, to the Kansas City Royals, for $2.25 million. Chris Reitsma, to the Seattle Mariners, for $2 million.
So, by the time the Angels got around to a new contract with Shields 10 days ago, he knew he would not have to choose between staying in Anaheim or leaving for the big bucks, as a closer somewhere.
He and Speier got matching contracts -- four years, $18 million -- to set up Francisco Rodriguez. When the Angels won the World Series five years ago, Schoeneweis was the highest-paid setup man on the playoff roster, at $325,000.
The spiraling market for middle relievers reflects supply and demand. With pitching at a premium in trade talks -- the Atlanta Braves had to give up Adam LaRoche and his 32 home runs to get setup man Mike Gonzalez from the Pittsburgh Pirates -- free agents can sit back and cash in.
"Good pitching is hard to get," Angels General Manager Bill Stoneman said. "Middle relievers, closers, starters -- they're all hard to get in deals."
Payback time? Holy cow!
The Chicago Cubs might be a plum, but they won't be a bargain. They could be yours for $700 million -- or more -- and the cost could approach $1 billion once you add in all the money owed to players through 2014.
The Cubs signed five major free agents over the winter -- Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis and Mark DeRosa -- to contracts that pay a combined $239 million beyond this season.
Jerry Colangelo, the former owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, has declared his interest in heading an investment partnership to buy the Cubs. When he left the Diamondbacks, he left behind contract deferrals worth about $230 million.
Your Los Angeles team of the decade?
The Angels have the foundation to dominate the American League West for years to come, if Baseball America's annual talent rankings are any indication.
The magazine ranked the Angels fourth in minor league talent among the 30 major league clubs, far ahead of their division rivals. The Seattle Mariners ranked 24th, the Oakland Athletics 27th and the Texas Rangers 28th.
The National League West rankings: Colorado at No. 2, Arizona Diamondbacks at No. 3, Dodgers at No. 6, San Francisco Giants at No. 20, San Diego Padres at No. 29.
Have we got a deal for you
Tip o' the cap to the folks with the Lancaster JetHawks. As baseball executives fret over how to attract a new generation of fans in this era of extreme sports and video games, the JetHawks have the best idea: Let 'em in free!
By joining the JetHawks' kids club, children 12 and under get free admission to every game, except on July 4. Nothing sells a day at the ballpark better than, well, a day at the ballpark.
(Membership costs $14, including pizza parties, autograph sessions, a baseball clinic and a T-shirt. The JetHawks are the Class-A California League affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.)
-- Bill Shaikin