Winter Meetings started pretty slowly, but went out with a bang on Thursday afternoon. Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson joined the Los Angeles Angels while the Marlins have been offering big money contracts to every available free agent. As for the two New York teams, the Yankees made a minor moving, posting the highest bid ($2 million) to negotiate with Japanese shortstop, Hiroyuki Nakajima, who started for Japan during the 2009 World Baseball Classic. As for the Mets, they signed relievers, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco while making a small trade with the Giants for Andres Torres.

For both the Mets and Yankees, we’ve heard a ton of trade rumors, which I’ll get to, but here are five impressions I’ve taken away from this off-season…

Sorry, Cardinal Nation

1. The Marlins failed, big time: Jeffrey Loria is a very, very smart man. He has owned two championship teams and has been around baseball for the last twenty years or so. However, he was embarrassed by both Pujols and Wilson on Thursday afternoon. It was rumored that the Marlins offered Wilson a $100 million contract, but the crafty lefty took $77 million from the Halos instead. In addition, a rumored $270 million offer was made to Pujols. Essentially, the two biggest prizes on the free agent market told the Marlins to eat their $375 million. Not exactly the type of PR a team wants when it moves into a new ballpark.

Say what you want about Jose Reyes, but he’s not the center piece that the Marlins wanted. The move to Miami was supposed to be an exciting one. A new manager (Ozzie Guillen), a new lefty starter (Mark Buerhle), and a new cornerstone (Jose Reyes). In their big move to Miami, the Marlins pissed off their ‘old’ cornerstone in Hanley Ramirez and were shunned by this year’s top two prizes.

It’s one thing to lose out on key free agents. It’s another to look desperate and lose. The egg is on your face, Mr. Loria.

2. Memo To Brian Cashman: No Mega Trades

And I don’t think there will be. Everyday, we hear more and more about lefty Oakland starting pitcher, Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez, 26, has been a full-time starting pitcher for the last two seasons, compiling a 31-21 record with 378 strikeouts in 402 innings. More importantly, Gonzlaez is under team control for three more seasons.

Last season, Gonzalez was fourth in wins (16), tenth in ERA (3.12), and ninth in strikeouts (197). However, these numbers were compiled in the Oakland Coliseum, a very spacious ballpark, and against the lighter hitting AL West.

Billy Beane has made it know that Gonzalez is available and the Yankees have begun to kick the tires. It is rumored that A’s want Jesus Montero and Manny Banuelos as a starting point in any deal. That’s too rich for my blood, but I’m partial to my prospects and Gonzalez’s track record isn’t long enough for me to deal my two best.

Outside of Gonzalez, no other trade names really jump out to me. Obviously, I’d give up the farm for Felix Hernandez, but he’s not available.

Like Cashman has done for the last five years, hang onto the young kids and develop them internally until the right deal comes along.

3. No Met Is Off-Limits

And no Met should be. Look, we know the Mets stink. They aren’t any good. Their TV ratings were horrible last year. They are going to be horrible again this year. The radio numbers were horrible last year. They are going to be even worse this year. The Mets just aren’t a good team and the Wilpons have no intention of selling. That’ll make life a lot tougher for GM Sandy Alderson and his cronies.

The Omar Minaya regime saddled the Mets with a lot of bad contracts and this new brain trust has to work through them. That means every Met is available–not questions asked. The Mets need to hope for a huge first half by David Wright before dumping him for a boat full of prospects. Same goes for Johan and maybe even Jason Bay.

A Jon Niese-Austin Romine trade was apparently discussed with the Yankees. The trade seems like a ‘win-win’ for sides, but it would kill the Mets to see Niese become a star in the Bronx. Romine is no slouch though and could blossom in the right opportunity.

Ike. Murphy. Wright. Johan. Bay. All available for the right price.

4. The Angels Don’t Scare Me:

We’ve seen this before, right? Recently, we witnessed a team pair a free agent ‘ace’ with its two other horses. We also saw that team ink a slugging first baseman to a huge contract. That same team also inked the prize free agent outfielder and added key bullpen pieces, which the Angels haven’t done. The team I’m talking about? The 2010 Boston Red Sox, who went 90-72 and missed the playoffs. This Angel team needs a lot of help in that bullpen and I don’t think they have the $$ needed to address it. If they don’t make any moves, this will ultimately be their Achilles heel.

When you get past the Pujols name, the rest of the Angel lineup isn’t anything special. Vernon Wells, the Angels’ second best hitter, doesn’t exactly strike fear into my heart. Anaheim’s starting foursome of Wilson, Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana should be good, but nothing’s promised. Just ask Boston..

5. Where Will The Prince Reside?

Prince Fielder has been the most popular free agent this off-season. The chubby first baseman, who is only 27 years old, has been contacted by the Brewers, Cubs, Blue Jays, Orioles, Mariners, Nationals, and Angels. We may even see the Cardinals get involved after watching Albert leave. Bottom line–teams like that Fielder is four years younger than Pujols and is essentially entering the prime of his career. With such high competition for Fielder, I can see him getting a contract in excess of $200 million from the right bidder. And I think that bidder will be the Chicago Cubs. New President, Theo Epstein likes making the big splash and I don’t think it was a coincidence that he hired Fielder’s hitting coach, Dave Sveum, to become the new Cub manager.

That’s all I have for now. The Hot Stove will be turning all winter long with news, rumors, and more player movement. Stay tuned..