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 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 apparently also has the White Sox heavily in on Harper, but given White Sox Board Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s longstanding very public disdain for the Avenging Agent, it’s hard to envision any marriage there. 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.