The Winter Meetings have gone the way of the World Series. Not long ago, executives and owners of each team would be represented at the World Series, and then deals and signings would be culminated at the Winter Meetings. Now, usually only executives from the teams playing in the World Series attend the games, and last week showed how the Winter Meetings have changed.
The Winter Meetings used to be a showplace for all types of activities. MLB Network, ESPN, and regional networks such as NESN, YES, MASN, and SNY were in Florida for the whole week, without much to report. Big money was spent on covering the “news,” and there wasn’t much in the way of transactions.
Teams sent up to 50-60 people to meetings on marketing, advertising, and merchandizing. General managers spent time discussing instant replay and changing rules on home plate collisions.
“I think sometimes GMs feel pressure to do things at the [Winter] Meetings,” said one GM. “They try to get [deals] done earlier so they don’t feel there’s a gun to their head. That’s just my theory. And the other thing is you can’t stop the process or momentum of a deal just because you need to wait for the Winter Meetings. You do it and complete it in due time.”
There were a few minor deals and a three-team trade between the Diamondbacks, White Sox, and Angels, but most of the big names that were rumored to be on the block — pitchers David Price, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Jeff Samardzija, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Chris Sale — are still with their respective teams.
The possibility of Matt Kemp going to Boston, Texas, or Seattle never materialized as the Dodgers didn’t get offers close to the return they thought they’d get because teams are waiting to see how Kemp comes back from his ankle injury.
Shin-Soo Choo, Kendrys Morales, Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ervin Santana are still free agents. Masahiro Tanaka still has not been posted.
So how do we juice up the Winter Meetings?
Scott Boras has ideas.
“The Winter Meetings need to have a process where people like myself are not restricted to a hotel room for 20 hours a day for three straight days,” Boras said. “It’s essentially become a job fair for applicants for players.
“A very good thing would be a baseball roundtable. There should be an entirety of a group in one place. We have journalists asking baseball questions, not just team-specific questions but global questions concerning baseball. If you have baseball people represented from every aspect of the game it would draw tremendous interest.
“It would allow a dialogue, a conversation, much like you do with presidential campaigns in a town hall setting. That meeting would cause attention for the general good of the game and address issues like the Hall of Fame, Marvin Miller, catcher collisions, instant replay. Everyone could hear more about what people think. We’d have a better understanding of the game.”
Boras’s think-tank would certainly liven things up, but what really excites baseball fans are trades, signings, and rumors. Fans want to see their team make a deal at the Winter Meetings so it’s talked about everywhere. That was certainly missing last week.
Should Major League Baseball invoke a weeklong moratorium on discussing deals ahead of the Winter Meetings? That would at least return sincerity and urgency to the event.
It’s hard to stop the momentum of trade talks or player signings, but at least have the talks culminate at the Meetings to generate the buzz for baseball.
There’s also been talk that the Winter Meetings might be retired before too long. Teams can do their work on the phone, through texts and e-mail. The face-to-face interaction seems unnecessary now. Losing the annual forum would be a shame.
There are some old-school GMs like Kevin Towers, Brian Sabean, Brian Cashman, Ned Colletti, Doug Melvin, Walt Jocketty, Terry Ryan, and Dan Duquette who enjoy the face-to-face, who like seeing the agents, the ex-players wandering around the hotel looking for someone to speak to about a job.
There are those who enjoy having dinners and bonding with people from other organizations in a social setting.
There’s also that feeling of accomplishment when two teams get together and hammer out a big deal in a hotel room and then announce it on the big stage in the ballroom.
As we said, with major networks devoting hours of programming to this event and all the money spent on rights deals (especially ESPN), you would think this setting would be newsworthy.
“I think teams need to be told by MLB or individual owners of teams: do something. This is our winter showcase, a chance to create interest in baseball,” said one team president. “I’m like everyone else, I wait for my GM to come back with something at these meetings that we can pop. We’d rather do it here, but most of the time the timing just isn’t right.”
Mining for power takes digging deep
It’s becoming harder to find power in this non-steroid era. So the Red Sox are fortunate they have David Ortiz and Mike Napoli — their top free agent priority — to provide it.
And that was precisely the motivation Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers had in dealing for Mark Trumbo. Towers can live with the strikeouts and low on-base percentage if the return is 30-40 homers and 100-plus RBIs.
He’s banking on the possibility of 75-80 homers between Paul Goldschmidt and Trumbo in the middle of the order.
Trumbo is 27, and likely to become a better hitter as he matures. He’s struck out 465 times in 460 career games, including 184 last season (fifth in the AL).
“Just looking at the West, and looking at the National League and looking at the free agent market going forward, I just don’t know where you’re going to find power. If 180 strikeouts translates into 40 homers and 150 or 120 RBIs, and Goldie has another Goldschmidt type year, we’ll be happy with those two big righthand bats in the lineup.
“With power is going to come with strikeouts. Just didn’t want to have an entire lineup, or two-thirds of our lineup that was all lots of strikeouts, and I think we don’t have that.”
Towers asked his scouts and his international people in Asia and Latin America if there was any power on the horizon, and he got a big fat no.
The three-team deal — in which the White Sox received Adam Eaton and the Angels gained Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs — proved that teams are willing to give up a lot for power, and for young, controllable pitchers.
The Red Sox have both. Their corral of young pitchers, including Brandon Workman, Henry Owens, Anthony Ranaudo, and Matt Barnes, could bring established players in trade. Will Middlebrooks has big power and also could be used as a trade chip.
Apropos of nothing
1. The Red Sox have already given A.J. Pierzynski a list of “tendencies,” which they give to every new player. It’s a breakdown of every thing the Sox do on the diamond and how they do it. Most players are blown away by the meticulous nature of the report.
2. Gary Sheffield has made quite a post-baseball career for himself. He owns a resort hotel in Florida. He’s a certified player agent who last offseason negotiated a deal for Pittsburgh closer Jason Grilli. He recently signed a two-year deal to be a baseball analyst on TBS. The feeling is he may emerge as the Charles Barkley of baseball. But his other passion is boxing and Sheffield has a plan that would unionize boxers. “Boxers have no protection whatsoever,” Sheffield said. “When their careers are over or they become disabled and hurt. I have a plan to make sure that boxers in need can have something to fall back on.” Sheffield, who hit 509 career home runs, suggests that promoters donate a certain percentage of the total purse for each fight to a fund that helps boxers after they’re through fighting.
3. MLB announced last week that it will ban home plate collisions by 2015. Former Orioles catcher and MASN analyst Rick Dempsey remembers five major collisions in his long career. The two most memorable were when Butch Hobson knocked him out and when Bo Jackson broke his thumb. “The Hobson collision was the worst,” Dempsey recalled. “I was out [unconscious] for three minutes. Pretty unforgettable. I broke my thumb on the Bo collision and it cost me some time.”
4. Jason Bay may be resuming his career in Japan.
5. The feasibility study done by Leger Marketing regarding the profitability of bringing baseball back to Montreal had positive results. “Based on the information collected and a conservative analysis, the return of Major League Baseball to Montreal would be financially viable under a set of realistic assumptions, including a modest but competitive payroll, average ticket prices in line with league averages, a local broadcasting rights deal in line with other similar MLB markets, other innovative sponsorships and partnerships, and the revenue distributed to all teams through the multiple facets of the MLB revenue sharing model,” the study concluded. It would include a $467 million downtown stadium that is partially public funded and seats 36,000, with a realistic expectation of 28,500 for average attendance. The Rays and A’s are sure to be paying close attention given all of their stadium issues.
Updates on nine
1. Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox — If Stephen Drew returns to Boston and Xander Bogaerts becomes the third baseman, the Red Sox would have an eager trade partner in the Marlins, who have a need at third base. If you’re thinking Middlebrooks as a front piece to a Giancarlo Stanton deal, that’s likely not going to happen. According to a major league source, the Red Sox and Marlins have had a few discussions regarding Middlebrooks but the Sox would need to know Drew’s status before engaging further.
2. Jonathan Papelbon, RP, Phillies — Papelbon is being shopped pretty hard and the team many scouts believe could use him most is the Yankees. “He fits pretty well there. There’s two years left on the deal. Not sure the Yankees are completely sold on Dave Robertson being their closer. He’s best suited as a setup man, but Papelbon would get hyped up in New York, replacing Mariano [Rivera]. I think it would be a positive thing and a good fit and I would think it’s been explored already.”
3. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Marlins — The plan is to bat Salty fourth as a lefthanded hitter and sixth as a righthanded hitter. The Marlins are really excited to have him. As GM Dan Jennings (who, by the way, is the scout who signed Jason Varitek for the Mariners) said, “What’s exciting is to have a catcher who has won a World Series in the middle of our clubhouse. I think the fact he’s young and experienced and a leader is going to be big for our team this season.”
4. A.J. Burnett, RHP, free agent — Pirates officials seem to think Burnett will come back for one more year, but they have entertained thoughts of signing other veteran pitchers. “There’s no reason for [Burnett] not to be back,” said one Pirates official. “He can still pitch at a high level and we think he only wants to play for us. Seems like a no-brainer.”
5. Bronson Arroyo, RHP, free agent — Arroyo’s agent, Terry Bross, came away from the Winter Meetings with four teams willing to offer his client a two-year deal. It’s going to take a three-year deal or perhaps a two-year deal with a vesting option to land the most durable and consistent pitcher on the market. The Twins and Pirates make sense.
6. Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH, free agent — Morales is a very good switch hitter, but the market for him has shrunk in a hurry. The Angels were a possibility but they now seem headed toward a Raul Ibanez match. The Mariners signed Robinson Cano and Corey Hart and traded for Logan Morrison, so they are likely no longer interested in bringing Morales back. While he still makes sense for the Orioles, his price tag does not. Morales has averaged 22 homers and 76 RBIs in two seasons since his broken ankle cost him a whole year. “There is a market for Kendrys,” said Scott Boras, Morales’s agent.
7. Mark Mulder, LHP, free agent — Out of baseball for five seasons, Mulder wants back in. His offseason workouts have convinced him that the shoulder restrictions he had toward the end of his career are gone. Mulder is throwing off a mound and well. His friend, free agent second baseman Mark Ellis, is convinced Mulder can make it back. The lefty would like to stay on the West Coast on a one-year, incentive-filled deal.
8. Kevin Youkilis, 1B/3B, free agent — If Youkilis is healthy, he could be a popular low-cost solution for teams like Tampa Bay, the Yankees, Baltimore, Cleveland, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Texas. Youkilis, who lives in California, has a preference to stay on the West Coast but he may not have the luxury of picking his landing spot. The Rangers have some interest in Youkilis because of his connection with hitting coach Dave Magadan.
9. Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds — Attempts to deal Phillips, who has four years and $50 million remaining on his contract, have not gone well, starting with a Brett Gardner-Phillips proposal that the Yankees walked away from. Some teams think Phillips showed disinterest on the field last season. Not a positive thing for someone on the trade block.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Over the last three seasons free agent reliever Joaquin Benoit has a 1.075 WHIP; from 2011-13 the reliever with the best WHIP is Koji Uehara at 0.639.” Also, “Fernando Rodney made 68 appearances for the Rays last season but allowed no base runners in only 25 games covering 22⅓ IP,” and “The Cubs hit .218 with runners in scoring position in 2013, the worst rate in the majors.” . . . Happy birthday, Mo Vaughn (46).Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.