DALLAS — It is the new image of baseball’s moneyed elite: For the second time in three days, the Miami Marlins walked up to the winter meetings podium to introduce a high-priced free agent while working doggedly behind the scenes to bring more sparkling stars to baseball’s newest ballpark.
The Marlins, dominating the market under art dealer-owner Jeffrey Loria, increased their spending spree to $191 million in less than a week, agreeing Wednesday to a $58 million, four-year contract with left-hander Mark Buehrle just hours after finalizing a deal with All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes.
“Now how about three more?” new manager Ozzie Guillen said. “Hey, you shoot for the moon, just in case.”
With Albert Pujols unwilling to accept their $200 million-plus offer, the if-you’ve-got-it-flaunt-it Marlins turned their attention to pitching in an effort to get off to a quick start in April at their $515 million, retractable-roof stadium. It has never been clear that the three-time NL MVP, coming off his second World Series title in six seasons, would be willing to leave the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I’m hoping they keep the other animal in St. Louis,” said former Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez, now skipper of the NL East rival Atlanta Braves.
In the evening, about two dozen free agents offered salary arbitration in November had to decide whether to accept by the midnight deadline. Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz was expected to accept.
Texas general manager Jon Daniels sounded resigned to losing ace left-hander C.J. Wilson, another pitcher Miami had pursued.
“I haven’t received a call to say he’s chosen to go elsewhere, but we’re prepared for that call,” Daniels said.
After winning the 2003 World Series and then dismantling the roster because of a lack of revenue, Loria is collecting free agents like old masterpieces, trying to build a sound Miami machine with the funds provided by the new stadium and an expected boost in attendance.
Guillen and Buehrle were together on the Chicago White Sox this season, when the 32-year-old pitcher went 13-9 with a 3.59 ERA and won his third straight Gold Glove.
“This kid is special,” Guillen said. “He pitched in the big scenarios, big moments, very tough city to pitch. When people love you in Chicago that means something.”
Buehrle’s deal is subject to a physical, which the sides were arranging.
Reyes, a four-time All-Star, finalized a $106 million, six-year contract, two days after closer Heath Bell completed a $27 million, three-year deal with the Marlins.
The cash-strapped Mets, who signed Reyes when he was 16, never made a formal offer.
“If you’re asking whether I should have sent him a box of chocolates, perhaps I should have done that,” general manager Sandy Alderson said.
“But on the other hand, the box of chocolates would have cost $106 million.”