Another Winter Meetings have come and gone, once again with not a whole lot accomplished, and after hearing various GMs expressing their dread of spending the better part of five days holed up in their hotel suites, surrounded by their analytics geeks, texting away with little or no personal contact and baseball talk with the outside world, you have to wonder if this is yet another baseball tradition that has passed its time.
Used to be the Winter Meetings were a Hot Stove haven for baseball and its fans – a week of free publicity in the middle of its offseason, like no other sport, where GMs, front office execs, managers, scouts, and even owners convened and socialized, actively swapping stories and players, a lot of times over cocktails in the hotel bar. Now, it has dissolved into nothing more than a 24-hour-a-day, week-long infomercial for the MLB Network, with panel after panel of baseball scribes and talking TV heads rambling on about trades and potential signings that never happen. At least at the Winter Meetings anyway.
“The problem,” said former Cubs executive and Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, “is that you have clubs with payrolls of $200 million and clubs with payrolls of $60 million and teams are shopping in different markets for their needs and different dollars to fill them. To line up these two is very difficult without a deadline. Without a deadline, teams find it a lot easier to say ‘no’. Look what happens in July where there is a deadline. Every year, there’s a flurry of activity and it’s coming from 30 different places. Imagine if there was a deadline at the Winter Meetings where everyone is in the same place?”
Years ago, there WAS a deadline at the Winter Meetings, at least for trades between leagues. If a deal could not be reached by the last day of the meetings, clubs had to wait until the next inter-league trading period in spring training.
“I don’t know if there needs to be a deadline but there does need to be some sort of break for the GMs,” said Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowski. “In recent years the job has become a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year job. There is no offseason. I do agree that people tend to respond to deadlines. I’m also not quite sure why it is, but even the free agents seem to be signing later and later.”
This past week it seemed like 90% of the MLB Network time was spent on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado as the huddled masses waited with much anticipation for Scott Boras’ grand arrival at the Winter Meetings and his state-of-the-Harper address. There was no way either of them was signing with anyone in Las Vegas. Boras and Machado’s agent, Dan Lozano, are going to drag this out as long as they can. The Phillies, who have said they may very well spend foolishly to get what they want this winter, remain engaged on both Machado and Harper. Problem is, neither of them want the Phillies.
Boras and Lozano apparently also have the White Sox heavily in on Harper and Machado respectively — especially after Chicago acquired Yonder Alonso, Machado’s brother-in-law, from the Indians Friday. But given White Sox Board Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s longstanding very public disdain for Boras, and his rigid stance on wild spending, it’s hard to envision a marriage with either of those two big free agents. Boras is content to string the Phillies and White Sox along while waiting for the Dodgers – where Harper really wants to go – to clear payroll and outfield depth by moving Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp before stepping up to the plate. Same with Machado, who has privately expressed his desire to be a Yankee, unless the Phillies throw caution to the wind and blow him away with a 10-year/$300 million deal. Another free agent who has privately told people he’d like to be a Yankee is Daniel Murphy, who, as a lefthanded hitter who puts the ball in play and can fill in at second or first and will come fairly cheap, as in a two-year deal, would seem a perfect fit for them, especially if they can’t get Machado for something far less than 10 years/$300M.
Besides the non-stop Harper/Machado chatter, the Winter Meetings were dominated by the Marlins’ shopping of catcher J.T. Realmuto. Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen has been relentless on this one, as he should be, and if sacrificing shortstop Amed Rosario is really the stumbling block for him, here’s something to consider. When Mets GM Frank Cashen acquired Gary Carter as the centerpiece for a future championship team, he gave up an All-Star shortstop in Hubie Brooks plus three top prospects. Shortstops are a whole lot easier to find – as Cashen did with Rafael Santana – than franchise catchers.
IT’S A MADD, MADD WORLD ...
Such was the desperation for any news of consequence at the Winter Meetings that the story that drew the most attention was the MSNBC report of Yankee president Randy Levine being considered for Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff. As the report went viral all over social media, one wag who knows Levine well put it in quick perspective. “Why would anyone even think Randy would leave the best job in the world to take the worst job in the world?” ... New Orioles GM Mike Elias got off to a bad start with the Orioles beat reporters when, in a briefing in his Mandalay Bay Resort suite at the Las Vegas meetings, he flatly denied having made a choice of manager. He was then asked if he’d even made an offer to a manager to which he stammered, “I ... I ... no.” But as he talked, on the TV screen behind him, which was tuned to the MLB Network, there was a scroll announcing ‘Orioles hire Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde as their new manager’. Elias left the meetings without confirming Hyde’s hiring until he got back to Baltimore on Friday and it was almost as if he was embarrassed about it. Or maybe it was Hyde who had some second thoughts after coming to the realization there is no worse job in baseball than managing the Orioles, a team with dysfunctional ownership and upper management doomed to 100-loss failure for the foreseeable future ... The three biggest free agent contracts so far – the Nationals six years/$140 million to Patrick Corbin, the Phillies signing Andrew McCutchen for three years/$50 million and the Rays signing 35-year-old Charlie Morton to a two-year/$30 million deal – are all being wildly panned in baseball circles. Rival execs seem to all be agreed the six-years/$140M for Corbin was a gross overpay by the Nats for a 56-54 career pitcher who’s never had an ERA under 3.00, while McCutchen is widely viewed as a player in steep decline. As for Morton, one exec said: “We considered going in on him but his medicals were awful. Our people don’t think he’ll get through next season.” ... Leave it to Mariners GM Jerry DiPoto, whose motto is “a trade every week,” to close out the meetings by acquiring Edwin Encarnacion in a three-team deal from the Indians from his hospital room after being treated for a blood clot on his lung. Even though he had 72 homers and 214 RBI in his two years with the Indians, Encarnacion, who is owed $25 million next year, should not think about taking up residence in Seattle. Odds are good Dealin’ Jerry will have him moved again before spring training.