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Saying goodbye to the Winter Meetings

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The team executives and agents have made their escape from the Dolphin Resort and the Winter Meetings are winding to a close.  I have a plane to catch and a couple of kids to see this evening. The hot stove roller coaster is not going to stop, but I need to jump off for now.

It has been a pretty wild week.  Certainly more so than Indianapolis last year, when it seemed like the mere suggestion of an extra dollar would give team executives a case of the vapors. This year? I’m pretty sure three of the guys working the lobby bar were offered seven-year deals.

We’ll continue to analyze the Meetings Madness and all that spins out from it today and on into the dark of winter. For now, though, I think we can say a couple of things with relative certainty:

  • The recession is over, at least as far as baseball is concerned.  I don’t think they would have done it anyway, but if the owners had half a thought of crying poor in the runup to next fall’s labor negotiations, such a strategy has been rendered inoperative by the cash bacchanalia of the past week. Teams are rich — at least some of them — and everyone is getting fat;
  • Silly tabloid and talk radio chatter about the Red Sox playing it conservative and caring more about their investment in English soccer than the baseball team was proven … silly;
  • The Yankees — though they’re certainly healthy and I believe they’ll ultimately be fine — didn’t have a great Winter Meetings. The highlights: a testy Derek Jeter press conference and being forced into offering a seventh year for Cliff Lee by the quite ballsy tactics of Lee’s agent, Darek Braunecker. One can never truly know what goes on behind the scenes, but the Bombers seemed to be on their heels all week.
  • The White Sox are going for it. The Dunn deal. The Paul Konerko signing.  The balance of power in the AL Central may have shifted. If the Twins don’t bring Carl Pavano back it definitely has;
  • The Royals signed Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera. That actually happened. I fully expect them to contact the agents for Dion James, Andres Thomas and Jeff Blauser within the week;
  • Ozzie Guillen continues to be the funniest manager there is, and White Sox beat writers should thank God every day that they get to cover him and not Eric Wedge or someone boring like that;
  • Luke Scott probably had the worst Winter Meetings of anyone, and he was only here for 20 minutes. He’s probably sitting in a duck blind or a birther convention right now, wondering why the lamestream media hates him so.

As for me, it was a blast.  Unlike last year, I knew more or less what I was doing at the Winter Meetings.  I talked to a ton of front office people and some agents and realized that, the closer you get to the actual decision making, the less clear cut all of the moves appear to be. At least compared to the kind of certainty we as fans and commentators usually display.

I’m not convinced that this means that it is actually as complicated as the teams and agents make it out to be. I got the sense that some of these guys are so bogged down in details and office politics that they don’t take the time to look at the big picture. But it’s wrong to say that a team is being dumb simply because they make a dumb move. Maybe they’re too smart by half. Or confused by the fog of war. Or — and I know this is shocking — smarter than we are and aware of stuff we simply don’t know.

Whatever the case, it was a great week, and the hot stove season is sizzling more right now than it has in a good four or five years.  Here’s hoping it will keep us warm until pitchers and catchers report.

Today is the anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s Iron Man streak ending

ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, MARCH 31 AND THEREAFTER - FILE - In this Oct. 5, 1938 file photo, New York Yankees' Lou Gehrig scores the first run of the 1938 World Series against the Chicago Cubs as he crosses home plate in the second inning of Game 1 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. A dozen years before Babe Ruth’s famed ‘Called Shot,’ teammate Lou Gehrig hit an equally dramatic homer. Gehrig was 17 when his high school team traveled to Chicago to take on a Chicago team. In the bottom of the ninth, with two outs and his team down 8-6, Gehrig hit a ball over wall and onto Sheffield Avenue to win the game. The historic ballpark will celebrate it's 100th anniversary on April 23, 2014. (AP Photo/File)
Associated Press
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Today is a significant baseball anniversary. On this day in 1939 Lou Gehrig asked out of the lineup as the Yankees played the Tigers in Detroit. It both ended his Iron Man Streak at 2,130, but also marked the beginning of Gehrig’s very public acknowledgement of ALS, the disease which would come to bear his name. Gehrig would never play again.

While it was clear that Gehrig’s body was betraying him and his baseball skills were abandoning him in the first few games of the 1939 season, some say the ultimate impetus for Gehrig asking out of the lineup happened earlier that day. The story goes that Gehrig collapsed on the grand staircase of the Book-Cadillac hotel where the Yankees were staying and that later, as he sat in the hotel bar, he told manager Joe McCarthy that he couldn’t play anymore.

The Book-Cadillac is still there. It deteriorated over the years and then was renovated. It’s a Westin now — the Westin Book-Cadillac. It’s a wonderful hotel and the bar area still has much of its old charm, but the grand staircase is gone, replaced with a couple of escalators. I stay there whenever I’m in Detroit. I’m friends with one of the Book-Cadillac’s bartenders and I try to see him whenever I’m there. When I sit in that bar I often wonder if Gehrig sat near where I was, telling McCarthy that he just couldn’t do it anymore. There are a lot of ghosts in Detroit. Gehrig’s is mostly in New York, but there’s a little bit of him in Detroit too.

Cal Ripken would later break Gehrig’s record. I doubt anyone breaks Cal’s. But in some cases the record holders are less interesting than those who were surpassed.

More talk of a juiced ball

VIERA, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Washington Nationals practice balls  during spring training workouts on February 18, 2014 in Viera, Fl.  (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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At the end of March we linked a story from Rob Arthur and Ben Lindbergh at FiveThirtyEight which sought to figure out why home run rates have spiked. Their theory was that it was either randomness or a juiced ball. They tested baseballs and found no evidence of a different ball, so that seems to have ended that.

Except it didn’t end it because, as so often is the case in the early part of a season, we are seeing some statistical, well, let’s just call it “interestingness” and people don’t like to let such interestingness go. To that end Yahoo’s Jeff Passan — acknowledging the Lindbergh/Arthur study — asks once again if the balls are funky.

It’s all based on exit velocity of baseballs, which Passan notes has spiked. He doesn’t come to any conclusions — just not enough data — but the very act of asking the question in a column and Passan’s acknowledgment that he sounds like a conspiracy theorist tell you that that’s his hunch. And it could be the case. I still think the ball got juiced in 1987 and again, on a more permanent basis, in 1993, but there’s no evidence to really support that. Just one of those “can’t think of anything better” sort of situations.

For now, though, it’s May 2. And I suspect that for as long as there have been May 2nds in a baseball season, people have looked at the stats and suspected something weird was afoot. Maybe something weird is afoot. We just can’t really know.

A-Rod knows how to keep his bat dry

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez watches his RBI single during the first inning of a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday, April 19, 2016, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
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Alex Rodriguez had a big night in a losing effort last night. He homered and drove in four. In the past week or so he’s raised his average over 50 points and may be finally shaking off the offseason rust. When you’re over 40 it takes you longer to do everything.

But even if it takes his reflexes some time to get up to speed, you can never take away the knowledge and experience of a savvy veteran with a high baseball I.Q. For example, whether he’s hitting or not, the man knows that it’s important to keep your bat dry on a rainy night:

Sean Burnett opts out of his Dodgers deal, to sign with the Braves

Washington Nationals relief pitcher Sean Burnett walks off the mound after being pulled during the eighth inning in Game 2 of baseball's National League division series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Monday, Oct. 8, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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In early April the Dodgers agreed to a minor league contract with pitcher Sean Burnett after he didn’t make the Washington Nationals’ roster out of spring training. He was assigned to Triple-A Oklahoma City. As is usually the case, veterans like him have an opt-out if they don’t make the big club after a certain amount of time, and Burnett has opt-ed out, realizing that he’s likely not in the Dodgers’ plans.

But he could be in the Braves’ plans. They stink on ice. Ben Nicholson-Smith reports that he’s signing with them and will report to Triple-A Gwinnett tomorrow.

Burnett, 33, hasn’t appeared in the majors since he pitched three games for the Angels in 2014 and hasn’t pitched regularly in the bigs since 2012. Tommy John surgery will do that to a guy. He did toss eight and two-thirds scoreless innings for the Nationals during spring training and has allowed only two earned runs in seven and two-thirds innings of relief work for Oklahoma City. There may still be something there. Innings will need to be eaten in Atlanta this year. Burnett may be able to eat them.