Major League Baseball always sets up a stage in the front of the media room at the Winter Meetings to make announcements. It went largely unused in Las Vegas last year.
The Red Sox did baseball a favor last year by bringing Nate Eovaldi in to announce his new deal from the podium, even though it had been agreed to four days earlier.
Beyond that, the meetings generated little news beyond the Indians trading Edwin Encarnacion to the Mariners and a few free agents signing new deals.
That could, we hope, change in San Diego this year. As the Winter Meetings get started Monday, baseball is working at a much faster pace.
Through Friday, teams had spent approximately $475 million on free agents, with three deals worth at least $50 million. At this same stage in 2018, only $286 million had been invested in free agents and about half of that was the $140 million the Nationals gave to lefthander Patrick Corbin.
Zack Wheeler’s five-year, $118 million deal with the Phillies and Cole Hamels taking one year and $18 million from the Braves has led to active talks involving Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg.
The Yankees already have met with both in person.
“I think it was an important part of the process for them,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “It sounds like they have met with many teams, and obviously I can’t predict the future or the timing of their futures. Only really they control that.”
Agent Scott Boras, who represents Cole, Strasburg, Dallas Keuchel, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, hinted at the GM Meetings in Arizona last month that his usual wait-and-see approach to free agency could shift this season.
“Teams control the timing,” Boras said.
Boras prefers to wait out the market, a tactic that has worked well in the past. But one of his clients, infielder Mike Moustakas, already signed a $64 million deal with the Reds.
The Yankees trying to outbid the Angels — and perhaps the Dodgers — for Cole sets up what could be an exciting week. David Price’s $217 million deal with the Red Sox is a record for pitchers that won’t last much longer.
Why the better pace?
Six different teams have won the World Series the last six seasons and 10 in the last 15 years. Owners of aspirational teams such as the Angels, Braves, Brewers, Dodgers, Padres, Phillies, Rangers, Reds, Twins, and White Sox are growing impatient and willing to add to their payrolls or take chances in trades.
Mike Trout has played in three playoff games, all in 2014. The Angels need Cole more than the Yankees do.
The trade market has been active, too. Dylan Bundy, Jake Marisnick, Omar Narvaez, Tommy Pham, and Jurickson Profar have been dealt.
Where do the Red Sox fit into this?
In theory, they could be right in the middle. As starting pitchers come off the free agent market, it increases the chances of the Sox finding a trade partner for Eovaldi or Price to clear some payroll.
The idea of trading Mookie Betts , other teams suggest, is far-fetched given he will be a free agent after the coming season and is projected for a $28 million salary via arbitration.
“Maybe the Dodgers,” one executive said. “But who else could do that?”
The Sox could pair a player such as Andrew Benintendi with Price or Eovaldi to get a better return. Jackie Bradley Jr. is another trade candidate.
New chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom doesn’t have a blank canvas. But he was hired to bring change. Here’s his chance.
Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, one of Bloom’s mentors, said one benefit of joining a new organization is not having an emotional attachment to the players.
Bloom would need ownership approval to make a major move. But you can’t assume anybody is untouchable. The Sox have so far had a quiet offseason, and that won’t last.
STILL IN THE GAME
Idelson is on a new road
The news release issued in February referred to Jeff Idelson retiring after 25 years with the Hall of Fame, the last 11 as president.
“When you work somewhere for that long and leave, they use nice words,” he said.
But Idelson, 55, wasn’t ready to stop working — or to get out of baseball. He partnered with acclaimed baseball photographer Jean Fruth to start a program called Grassroots Baseball and helped publish a book of photographs and stories with the same name.
The idea was to celebrate amateur baseball while, at the same time, encouraging kids to play. Idelson and Fruth arranged for sponsors and set out down Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif. They stopped at Boys & Girls Clubs along the way to hold clinics for groups of 50 grade-school students.
Hall of Famers George Brett, Rich Gossage, and Trevor Hoffman were among the former players who participated.
The kids received a free ball and glove and hopefully an appreciation of the game they could build on.
“It was baseball in its purest form and such a joy to see,” Idelson said. “We met a ton of parents, volunteers, and coaches, and their perspective of the game was eye-opening. There’s hope among the parents and coaches that the game will grow.”
For Idelson, it also represented an opportunity to reconnect with his own roots in the game.
He grew up a Red Sox fan in West Newton and worked as a vendor at Fenway Park.
“You’d work for six innings then get to watch the next three,” Idelson said. “I loved it. My parents were rabid Red Sox fans. It coursed through my blood.”
Idelson interned with the Sox after college then joined their media relations department in 1987. That led to a job with the Yankees as director of media relations for five seasons, and eventually to Cooperstown.
Idelson is not ruling out a return to baseball in some capacity. But the immediate plan is to take the Grassroots program to Latin America next season with Fruth. He’s also involved with a new museum project in San Francisco, where he now lives.
“Grassroots Baseball. Where Legends Begin” has sold well. The 224-page book has dozens of memorable photos from around the world and essays from 17 former players, including Hank Aaron, Wade Boggs, Whitey Ford, Ichiro Suzuki, and Fernando Valenzuela.
Go to grassrootsbaseball.com for information on the program and the book.
CALL TO THE HALL?
Evans getting another chance
The Hall of Fame’s Modern Era Committee will meet in San Diego on Sunday to consider Dwight Evans, eight other players, and former MLB Players Association chief Marvin Miller.
The results will be announced at 8 p.m. Eastern. Candidates need 12 of the votes cast by a 16-member committee to get in.
The Red Sox tried to help Evans, issuing a news release trumpeting his accomplishments and showing where he ranked statistically from 1972-91, the span of his career.
The Sox made a good case, particularly in pointing out that when he retired, Evans was one of 22 players with at least 10,000 plate appearances and an OPS of .840. He is the only one not in the Hall.
Evans lasted only three seasons on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. But his case has benefited from what is now a more nuanced understanding of a player’s value.
If the committee digs into the numbers, Evans should make it. But the same can be said for Lou Whitaker, Dale Murphy, and several other players. It also remains an embarrassment to baseball that Miller is not in the Hall of Fame considering his vast impact on the game.
The winner of the BBWAA’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award will be announced Tuesday in San Diego. The late Nick Cafardo is a candidate.
The Hall’s Ford C. Frick Award for broadcast excellence will be announced Wednesday, also in San Diego. Two Red Sox broadcasters, Joe Castiglione and the late Ned Martin, are candidates.
Other observations on the Sox:
■ The Winter Meetings will be the first time Alex Cora takes questions since the 2017 Astros were accused of using a camera to steal signs from opposing catchers then banging on a garbage can to signal hitters.
Their setup was in the runway behind the dugout. Cora, who was Houston’s bench coach that season, was interviewed by MLB as part of its investigation.
Cora is unlikely to face any fine or suspension. I’m told MLB is approaching this more from an organizational standpoint — what the NCAA terms as “lack of institutional control” — and would levy punishment on the team or its leadership.
But Cora, who often preaches accountability to his players, shouldn’t cite the investigation as a reason not to comment.
■ Sandy Leon, who was traded to Cleveland last week, joined the Red Sox in 2015 having played only 34 major league games over three seasons for the Nationals.
He left having played 358 games for the Sox and 15 more in the postseason. He also earned $6.2 million and a World Series ring.
Leon never went on the injured list with the Sox, which isn’t easy for a catcher who started 306 games over five years, and became known for how well he worked with pitchers.
Leon had a dreadful .622 OPS with the Sox — .525 the last two seasons — and that’s why he’s gone. But the Sox were 178-128 (.582) when he started. Leon’s working relationship with Chris Sale was especially productive.
■ Travis Shaw reported to spring training with the Red Sox last season. Well, sort of.
Shaw, who has a home in Fort Myers, needed a place to play catch before joining the Brewers. He picked a soccer field behind JetBlue Park and flung the ball around with a friend.
His season went downhill from there. He hit .157 with a .551 OPS in 86 games and was demoted to the minors for a time. The Brewers then non-tendered him after the season after Shaw rejected a cut from the $4.7 million he made in 2019.
As the Sox look to fill gaps in their roster, Shaw could make sense. As a lefthanded-hitting first baseman, he could platoon with Michael Chavis or Bobby Dalbec at first base. Shaw also can play second base and third base.
Shaw, who turns 30 in April, had 63 home runs and an .844 OPS with Milwaukee from 2017-18. A one-year deal for a player eager to reclaim his career could pay off.
■ Could Nate Eovaldi turn into a bargain? The Sox signed him to a four-year, $86 million deal a year ago. He was going into his age-29 season and had an adjusted ERA of 112 and 9.5 WAR in his career over 850 innings.
A year later, Zack Wheeler landed five years and $118 million from the Phillies. He’s going into his age-30 season with an adjusted ERA of 102 and 9.7 WAR over 749⅓ innings.
Eovaldi pitched poorly for most of 2019, largely the result of injuries and the Red Sox mismanaging his return from injury. But as the starter market takes off, he could be a good value over the final three years of the deal.
Siwoff was a No. 1 source
Seymour Siwoff was not a name recognizable to most baseball fans. But you unquestionably benefited from his work.
Siwoff, who died Nov. 29 at the age of 99, was president of the Manhattan-based Elias Sports Bureau from 1952 until last March. Elias kept statistics for Major League Baseball (and other major sports) and for many years was the only trustworthy source for records, streaks, and the other information that enlivened the work of broadcasters and writers.
The pregame media notes that are a staple of the business are invariably filled with information provided by Elias.
There are easily accessed databases now that answer most questions. But particularly esoteric queries usually end up going to Elias. Coming up with a question that only Elias could answer was a bit of an accomplishment.
Siwoff took a niche service and turned it into something that changed how sports were consumed.
Siwoff occasionally visited the press boxes in New York, always sharply dressed in a suit and tie. He also had the longest-standing active membership in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, which came with card No. 1.
That honor will now go to 99-year-old Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who still regularly attends Twins games.
As white knights go, Steve Cohen has a few bruises. His hedge fund, S.A.C Capital Advisors, paid $1.8 billion in fines in 2013 to settle an insider trading charge and Cohen was prohibited from managing outside funds for two years. It sounds like a plot line from “Billions” and the devious Bobby Axelrod character is at least loosely based on Cohen. But Mets fans are thrilled Cohen is in the process of adding to his minority stake in the team and take over for owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon in five years. The Mets have long been a big-market team that doesn’t act like one, and ultimately their lack of success falls on the Wilpons. Cohen is a 63-year-old lifelong Mets fan who had longed to own a major league team. It’s hard to imagine somebody with a reported worth of $13 billion will sit back for five years waiting to have fun with his new toy. For now, he will have a say in major moves . . . Happy birthday to Alfredo Aceves, who is supposedly 37 but could well be 47. Aceves played for the Yankees and Red Sox from 2008-14 and was a character. He wore 91 as a tribute to Dennis Rodman and occasionally acted like Rodman. Aceves was suspended for three games in 2012 after an angry confrontation with Bobby Valentine. Later that season, Aceves got into it with Dustin Pedroia in the dugout after repeatedly throwing to second base trying to hold a runner who had a foot on the bag. In 2013, Aceves lobbed his pitches during a session of live batting practice in spring training and went nose to nose with John Farrell about it. But Aceves also had a 3.83 career ERA and could throw six pitches at speeds from 63 to 98 miles per hour. Aceves hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2014.