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.

The Cubs live for another day, but death will come soon

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The Cubs had a nice night last night. Javier Baez finally broke his hitless streak with not one but two homers. Willson Contreras hit a nearly 500-foot homer. Jake Arrieta, possibly pitching for the last time as a Cub, dug down for a gutsy performance, pitching into the seventh inning, working around some walks to allow only one run while striking out nine.

After the game, Cubs players sounded hopeful notes about believing in themselves, taking them one game at a time, getting the series back to L.A. for a Game 6 and Game 7. They’re professional athletes who know better than any of us that to achieve a thing you have to believe you can achieve that thing, so it’d be dumb to expect anything else from them in this situation. Ballplayers, quite admirably, don’t sound a note of defeat until they are actually defeated.

But let’s be realistic there: they’re still a dead team walking.

  • They’re dead because, as we have been reminded oh so many times, only once in 35 tries has a team come back to win a seven game series in which they’ve found themselves down 0-3. That team did so because Dave Roberts worked some magic. Dave Roberts is working for the other team now.
  • They’re dead because their biggest weakness this postseason — their bullpen — is not going to have its best pitcher, Wade Davis, available today in Game 5 after throwing 48 pitches in Game 4.
  • They’re dead because while the Dodgers used five relievers last night, none of them were worked particularly hard and neither Brandon Morrow nor Kenley Jansen were used at all, allowing them to come in and work hard and heavy tonight if need be.
  • They’re dead because the man on the mound to start tonight’s game is Clayton Edward Kershaw. Yes, he has had some less-than-glory-filled moments in the postseason in recent years, but all of those have come at the tail end of starts, when his managers have left him in perhaps an inning too long. See the above bullet point — and Dave Roberts’ early hook in Game 1 — if you think that’ll be a problem tonight.

The Dodgers lost last night, yes, but it was their first loss in the postseason. All teams have lost at least one postseason game since it went to the three-round format, so it was likely inevitable that L.A. would drop one. Heck, maybe they’ll drop two before the NLCS is over, but they’re not going to drop the next three in a row.

Last night’s Cubs win was nice for them, but it only delayed the inevitable.