LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Before the Winter Meetings started Monday, a particularly curmudgeonly executive wondered why they even existed anymore. The days of Bill Veeck sitting in a hotel lobby and courting trades with an OPEN FOR BUSINESS sign felt positively antiquated.
“We’re all sitting in our suites texting each other,” the executive said. In a text, of course.
He lamented the artifice of it all, the idea that a particular 72-hour window should somehow spur free-agent action and turbocharge trade activity. “It’s a weird event that creates artificial pressure,” he said, and it was almost as if his lips rode an interstate to God’s ears, because those 72 hours later, as the meetings ground toward a finish Wednesday night, the event featured all the pressure of a hose with a hole.
Eight relief pitchers signed. So did two starters rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Four trades were made. And that was it. The winter of baseball’s discontent continued with what felt like a stalemate. It’s Dec. 14, a week and a half to Christmas, when the sport typically shuts down until the new year and begins its quick dash toward spring training, and the biggest contract handed out belongs to Tyler Chatwood for $38 million.
Unsigned are Yu Darvish, J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Jake Arrieta, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Alex Cobb, Wade Davis, Jay Bruce, Zack Cozart, Jonathan Lucroy, Lance Lynn and Carlos Santana – the top 13 major league free agents in Yahoo Sports’ Ultimate Free Agent Tracker. Outside of Shohei Ohtani choosing the Los Angeles Angels and Giancarlo Stanton joining the New York Yankees late last week – two bonanza moves, admittedly – the constipated market lingered on and left executives and agents wondering when, exactly, it would unclog.
Teams’ efforts to push back signings to drive down prices has worked in every market except relief pitching, where Juan Nicasio, Pat Neshek, Anthony Swarzak, Jake McGee, Joe Smith, Bryan Shaw, Tommy Hunter and Chris Martin each received multiyear deals. Beyond that, the starting pitching market remains at a standstill, the everyday-player market is even slower. Just three have signed: catchers Welington Castillo and Chris Iannetta, and center fielder Leonys Martin. The combined outlay for the three: $25.25 million.
The greatest squeeze is felt at the top, and the common thread among a number of the top free agents is Scott Boras, the agent who, more than any, doesn’t just have a reputation of taking clients into January without a deal but relishes it. Whereas panicky clients could spook a number of agents, Boras leans in – often risking overplaying his hand but leaving open the possibility of striking gold, too.
Absent that, these meetings will be remembered for Derek Jeter’s absence, Stanton’s drive-by on the Marlins, Ohtani’s iffy elbow and some guy who trawled the Dolphin resort’s lobby in an electric-pink suit, hopeful it would catch someone’s attention and that person would hire him. Hopefully that did not happen, because that guy was a clown.
Yes, the trade of Marcell Ozuna to the St. Louis Cardinals invigorated Wednesday a tad, as did the Los Angeles Angels’ acquisition of Ian Kinsler. And yet in the grand scheme, with Manny Machado available, with Zack Greinke being dangled, with rumors dangling in the ether, the supposed artificial pressure hadn’t seemed to squeeze teams into moves for the sake of moves. The prudence in baseball today is practically paralyzing.
At the very least it inhibits the motor functions of maneuvering. Texts were exchanged. Calls were made. Deals simply weren’t struck. Free agents are going to sign. Rosters are going to be filled out. The business of baseball, as different as it looks in style, remains substantive and meaty. The game doesn’t generate upward of $10 billion a year by itself.
The meetings are part of the greatest machine, and for that reason – as well as the segments of the event that cater to the minor league side of the game – it ain’t going nowhere. The notion of the Winter Meetings as an event draws too much attention and is a guarantee to remind those who might’ve forgotten that December is still baseball season, too.
Perhaps next year will bring better fortune for the gluttons who consume every last trade rumor and all the signings. It will be in Las Vegas, after all, and what could possibly go wrong when baseball, money, casinos and alcohol enter into an unholy alliance? That will be the meetings to end all meetings, with Bryce Harper and, presuming he doesn’t get traded and sign an extension, Machado hitting free agency at 26 years old, with Josh Donaldson a half-decade older joining him, with Clayton Kershaw a possibility to opt out of his contract.
This was a placeholder, and history will consign it to that. Hopefully it’s a symptom and not a virus, a bug that continues into the new year and leaves players scrambling over one another for gigs. If not, this could flood the next week and a half with a mess of deals and return baseball to its standard offseason, that of trades, signings, intrigue, excitement and far too many texts. One that’s open for business.
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