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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.

The Mets are among six teams that help Dominican prospects earn high school diplomas

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - APRIL 19:  A detailed view of the blackboard with theoretical physics equations in chalk by Alberto Ramos, Theoretical Physics Fellow and visitor, Antonio Gonzalez-Arroyo from the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid (both not in frame) at The European Organization for Nuclear Research commonly know as CERN on April 19, 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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In a special for USA TODAY Sports, Mike Vorkunov details how six teams — the Mets in particular — provide an education program that helps their Dominican prospects earn high school diplomas. It seems like an obvious win-win: smarter players make smarter decisions, making them more likely to achieve their potential as athletes. That, of course, requires spending money, which is why only six teams make the investment. For the players, if baseball doesn’t work out, they are better able to support themselves in other ways.

Vorkunov lists the Pirates, Tigers, Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Mariners as the other teams who provide an education program for their Dominican prospects. We learned earlier this month that the Phillies were also investing in making sure their minor leaguers eat healthy. As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, “few teams” supply their minor league players with healthy food options.

Juan Henderson, the head of the Mets’ Dominican academy, said, “We see the benefit of it. I gotta tell you, we’re working with a new generation of baseball players. You see in the past that players just carry a bat and a glove and a helmet on the baseball field and in the academy. Those years, I think, are going to be pretty much over. Now they also do that, but they also carry books, they also carry an iPad, they also carry a laptop.”

Kudos to the six teams for making a great decision and here’s hoping the other 24 teams follow suit.

Video: Albert Pujols hits 569th career home run, tying Rafael Palmeiro

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 22:  Albert Pujols #5 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim returns to the dugout after scoring in the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on May 22, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Angels first baseman Albert Pujols cranked out a two-run home run in the third inning against Rangers starter Derek Holland, breaking a scoreless tie. It’s the ninth homer of the season for Pujols and the 569th of his career, putting him into a tie with Rafael Palmeiro for 12th on baseball’s all-time home run leaderboard.

Harmon Killebrew is Pujols’ next target at 573, followed by Mark McGwire at 583 and Frank Robinson at 586.

Pujols hadn’t homered since May 13. He entered Monday night hitting a mediocre .228/.309/.395 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 188 plate appearances.

Alex Gordon to miss three to four weeks with a fractured scaphoid bone

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 22:  Alex Gordon #4 and Mike Moustakas #8 of the Kansas City Royals collide going for a foul ball against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on May 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The White Sox defeated the Royals 3-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Monday has unfortunately been a day of injury news. Royals outfielder Alex Gordon is the latest to hit the 15-day disabled list, as he has been diagnosed with a fractured scaphoid bone in his right wrist. The club has recalled infielder Cheslor Cuthbert from Triple-A Omaha.

Gordon suffered the injury colliding with third baseman Mike Moustakas attempting to catch a fly ball on Sunday afternoon. He is expected to miss three to four weeks, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports.

Gordon was having a tough 2016 campaign and the injury only makes it worse. He’s hitting .211/.319/.331 with four home runs and 10 RBI in 166 plate appearances on the year.

The Royals will likely use Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando in left field in Gordon’s absence.

Orioles trade reliever Brian Matusz to the Braves

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 17:  Brian Matusz #17 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the fifth inning on May 17, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Orioles announced on Monday night that the club has traded reliever Brian Matusz to the Braves in exchange for minor league pitchers Brandon Barker and Trevor Belicek. The Braves are also receiving a Competitive Balance Round B pick (76th overall) in the 2016 draft.

Matusz, 29, made his season debut on April 23 after battling a back injury since early March. It’s been a struggle, as the lefty has yielded eight runs on 11 hits and seven walks with just one strikeout in six innings. He is earning $3.9 million and can become a free agent after the season.

MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports that the Braves are expected to designate Matusz for assignment. Essentially, the Braves bought the draft pick for Matusz’s remaining salary of $3 million of $3.9 million total.

Barker, 23, has been pitching at Double-A Mississippi after getting a taste of Triple-A last year. So far this season, the right-hander has a 2.00 ERA with a 40/12 K/BB ratio in 45 innings spanning eight starts and a relief appearance.

Belicek, a 23-year-old left-hander, has spent most of the year with Single-A Rome, compiling a 2.49 ERA with a 29/1 K/BB ratio in 25 1/3 innings over 11 relief appearances.