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'Business as usual': GM meetings end as MLB's collective bargaining agreement set to expire

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CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Baseball’s general managers and executives headed out to catch their flights Thursday as union executive director Tony Clark, chief negotiator Bruce Meyer poured into the same seaside resort they were vacating.

Everyone is scheduled to meet in three weeks in Orlando for the annual Baseball Winter Meetings, but with the collective bargaining agreement expiring Dec. 1, and negotiations at a trickle pace, there are agents and teams not even bothering to book rooms at the Disney-area resort.

Still, while most teams don’t know their budgets, and agents having little idea what teams are willing to pay with decreases in revenue, everyone came away believing it was business as usual.

“I’m not part of the negotiating team, so I mean, business as usual for us,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.

But he did say they are planning to talk to the agents for all five premier free-agent shortstops – Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Trevor Story and Javy Baez.

“I’m here just to kind of assess all available players in the marketplace,’’ Cashman said, “and then just get as much information as I can for free agents and potential trade people. So obviously what occurred in the past, which is obviously part of that background, it’s certainly not part of that initial process for me.

“The bottom line is, is he a great player? The answer to that is yes. Puts up numbers with the best of them. He’s obviously had an incredible career thus far. He’s a free agent. So my job is to assess him as well as the others that are available and then act accordingly.’’

The personality vetting of Correa will come later.

For now, all that Cashman and every other GM with interest knows is that Correa’s price tag will start with a 3, possibly surpassing Francisco Lindor’s 10-year, $341 million contract with the New York Mets.

Astros fan Robert Rutherford holds a sign referring to shortstop Carlos Correa.
Astros fan Robert Rutherford holds a sign referring to shortstop Carlos Correa.

Los Angeles Angels GM Perry Minasian spent hours at the meetings talking about the need to surround Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout with an abundance of pitching – at least two starters – to prevent them from wasting their prime years.

“We'd like to significantly improve our rotation,’’ said Minasian, who no longer has Albert Pujols’ $30 million salary on the books. "That's an area where we'll definitely look at a certain type of quality. We’d definitely like to find an arm or two that can impact the rotation.”

The Oakland A’s and Cincinnati Reds let anyone and everyone know that everyone and anyone is available on their roster with ownership ordering them to slash payroll. The Reds are shopping pitchers Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo, along with infielders Mike Moustakas and Eugenio Suarez. The A’s are making All-Star infielders Matt Olson and Matt Chapman available, with Olson drawing plenty of interest from the Yankees.

“We have to have any and every conversation,’’ said A’s GM David Forst.”It’s hard to predict four months from now what the roster looks like, but right now we have to be open-minded.’’

Said Reds GM Nick Krall: “As a small-market club, if we don’t build through scouting and player development, we’re not going to have success.’’

Those reversing direction are the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers, who have shed payroll and endured a painful rebuild, but are now letting agents know they plan to spend, and spend big.

“We are committed to having a payroll consistent with our market size,’’ Rangers GM Chris Young said. “We intend to push the payroll up.”

The Tigers need a shortstop, and although Correa appears to be out of their price range, they are strongly looking at Seager and Story. The Tigers’ steepest competition may not necessarily be the Yankees, but the Rangers, who could have as much as $100 million to spend.

The only free-agent signing at the meetings was the failed Yankee starter Andrew Heaney signing a one-year, $8.5 million contract with the Dodgers. It left executives wondering why he was so eager to sign before fully testing the market.

The most discussed future Hall of Famer pitcher was Justin Verlander, and not Max Scherzer or Clayton Kershaw.

Verlander, who received an $18.4 million qualifying offer from the Houston Astros, would normally seem like a lock to take the Astros up on their offer considering he has pitched only six innings since 2019, undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery.

Yet, he also knows it could be a bit uncomfortable returning to Houston. The Astros players revolted when Verlander was scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch during the postseason, telling owner Jim Crane they preferred someone else considering Verlander had not been around all season.

Astros GM James Click, however, backed Verlander, saying it was COVID-19 protocols that prevented Verlander from being around the players.

If Verlander winds up pitching elsewhere, the Yankees are the favored destination.

The Dodgers did not offer Kershaw a qualifying offer after missing the playoffs with a strained flexor tendon, and engaged in trade talks with the Reds about Castillo and Gray. But if Kershaw wants to return, no problem, a spot will be left for him.

“I’m confident,’’ Dodgers president Andrew Friedman said, “we’ll be able to figure something out.”

Kershaw could opt to pitch for his hometown Rangers, but the reality is that if Kershaw pitches a 15th season, it would be only with the Dodgers.

“It’s not just what he’s meant looking back,’’ Friedman said, “it’s also what we think he will do for our championship odds in ’22.’’

Scherzer, who was expected to re-sign with Dodgers, appears now he may be looking elsewhere. He’s not closing the door on a possible return, but his two-month stay hardly left him enamored enough to stay if someone else was offering more money.

And, oh, wouldn’t the San Francisco Giants love to steal away the Dodgers’ valuable asset?

Free agent Freddie Freeman was on the mind of every team seeking a first baseman, with Freeman rejecting Atlanta’s five-year, $135 million offer, and seeking closer to a six-year, $200 million deal. Yet, you couldn’t find a soul who believes Freeman won’t be returning to Atlanta.

And no job was discussed more frequently from the putting green to the bar to the pop-a-shots in the GM lounge than the Mets’ GM vacancy.

They laughed trying to count up the number of candidates who have rejected the Mets’ overtures, and couldn’t contain themselves giggling that their leading candidate could be former Washington Nationals assistant GM Adam Cromie, who has been out of baseball for four years working in a law firm.

“If you’re looking to be comfortable,’’ Mets president Sandy Alderson said, “the Mets are probably not the place to come. If you’re looking to be challenged and rewarded –because I don’t think there’s any doubt that this team is going to be successful over the next X number of years – then go for it.”

Or, as in the case of the dozens who have rejected the overtures, just pass.

General managers also listened to discussions of potential rule changes, from everything from pitch clocks to automated strike zones to enlarged bases.

But while Commissioner Rob Manfred can implement the changes without approval from the union, he must give at least a one-year warning, which has yet to happen.

Really, it’s the least of anyone’s worries as baseball’s 26-year streak without a work stoppage looms. It would temporarily freeze all trades and free-agent signings. Everyone still seems optimistic the season will open on time, just with a revised economic system.

There are only 17 teams who are even trying win next season under the current labor structure, agent Scott Boras says, with 4½ months remaining before opening day.

“Obviously, we’ve got problems,” Boras said. “We’ve got a real cancer in this game. We know now, clubs will sacrifice seasons.”

There may always be franchises that continue to tank and avoid the free-agent market, but no matter how the new collective bargaining agreements looks like, and whether the winter meetings are cancelled, everyone agrees that the industry can’t afford the delay of even a day of spring training.

“Everyone knows what’s stake, says Minasian, “that’s why we’re confident things will get done. We’ll be Ok.’’

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB: GM meetings end without hint of CBA resolution