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Hot Stove boils over on epic day of deals

Ellsbury, Nathan and Pierzynski among the big names who changed teams @RichardJustice

It might have been the best Hot Stove day ever, a day of so much moving and shaking, it'll take a few days to digest it all.

At last count, 21 players changed teams, including Jacoby Ellsbury, Joe Nathan and A.J. Pierzynski. There were five big-ticket free-agent signings totaling around $215 million.

If you like trades, we had those, too -- five of them in all, involving 16 players. Heath Bell and Seth Smith got traded. So did Dexter Fowler and Craig Gentry and Ryan Hanigan. And that's just a start.

In all, 14 of baseball's 30 teams finished Tuesday with a different look than they began the day.

And this was all on Tuesday. Actually, the action began to heat up late Monday, when the Tigers and Nationals hooked up on a four-player trade that sent right-hander Doug Fister to the nation's capital.

While we were still trying to figure that one out, the Orioles and A's made another big one, with All-Star closer Jim Johnson moving to the West Coast.

And then on Tuesday, there was an avalanche of movement, one after another, signings and trades, punches and counterpunches.

No surprise that A's general manager Billy Beane was the busiest man of all, making three trades to acquire Johnson, Gentry and Luke Gregerson. Earlier on Monday, he signed free-agent left-hander Scott Kazmir.

Also no surprise that the Yankees spent the most money, signing free-agent center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to a deal worth at least $153 million over seven years.

Yes, another Boston player is going to be wearing pinstripes next season. To save you the trouble of looking it up, Ellsbury will be back at Fenway for the first time on April 22.

Hey, isn't it great to have the Yankees back in the game? Go ahead and admit it. You missed 'em, didn't you?

At a time when most teams, including the Red Sox, have sworn off the long-term contracts, the Yanks went back to doing things the old-fashioned way.

The Yankees had been reluctant to dip back into free agency so dramatically, but having missed the playoffs in 2013, and with little on the horizon in their farm system, they've already committed $238 million to Ellsbury and Brian McCann.

They're not done. They'd apparently like to re-sign Robinson Cano and have also had discussions with Carlos Beltran and Shin-Soo Choo.

Mostly, though, teams avoided long-term commitments. Of the four other free-agent signings, none was longer than three years. In fact, only one player -- catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia -- got three years, that from the Miami Marlins, who jumped back into free agency with a $21 million signing.

Justin Morneau got two years and $13 million from the Rockies. Meanwhile, Pierzynski and Nathan signed one-year deals with the Red Sox and Tigers, respectively.

So, who won?

Clearly, Detroit had a nice day. Nathan locks down a problem area, and even though Dave Dombrowski still has work to do with his offense, the Tigers are a solid team.

However, the dynamics are changing in the American League Central. The Royals added Jason Vargas to their rotation, and if they snag Beltran, it would be easy to see the teams as dead even.

The A's got better, too. Gregerson improves a bullpen that was already one of baseball's best, and Gentry is a terrific addition because he's an above-average defender and can impact games in all sorts of ways.

The Rockies have to feel pretty good about their day as well. Morneau is a nice, affordable replacement for Todd Helton, and in its deal with the Astros, Colorado got a 23-year-old starting pitcher -- Jordan Lyles -- with a huge upside.

The Red Sox (Pierzynski), Marlins (Saltalamacchia), Astros (Fowler), Rangers (Michael Choice ), Rays (Hanigan) and Padres (Smith) were among the other teams that finished Tuesday feeling they'd taken a step in the right direction.

In the end, though, no one made out better than the Yankees. Ellsbury was one of the three best players on this free-agent market. He's a four-tool guy who is tremendous in center field, a disruptive player on the bases and a career .297 hitter.

Yes, the Yanks gave a seven-year deal to a 30-year-old speed guy, so there's some risk involved. General manager Brian Cashman is not blind to the potential downside.

McCann comes with some risk, too. There are no perfect free-agent signings. For the Yankees, it was critically important to get better for 2014, and regardless of what happens at the back end of these deals, they did get better.

So let's take a deep breath and see what else the Hot Stove cooks up the rest of the week and at the Winter Meetings next week. Cano, Beltran and Choo are still out there. Trades are still being discussed. Don't touch that dial.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.

Heath Bell, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dexter Fowler, Craig Gentry, Jim Johnson, Scott Kazmir, Justin Morneau, Joe Nathan, A.J. Pierzynski, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Seth Smith