Winter Meetings sign

Greetings from the 2012 Winter Meetings


We are coming to you live from Music City U.S.A.  From the largest non-casino hotel in the country, if you care about such things. The reason: the 2012 Winter Meetings, where everyone in baseball who matters — except the players, for the most part — are assembling to, well, meet.

A lot of you know this drill by now, but for those who don’t, the Winter Meetings are baseball’s version of that one big convention the higher-ups in your company attend each year. Just, you know, with baseball. It’s in a big hotel. There are a lot of seminars and workshops and a big trade show and a job fair and if you didn’t know any better and just looked at it from the corner of your eye, you might think it’s the Annual Conference of Re-Insurers or the National HVAC Technicians Convention. Ninety percent of what goes on here is just an industry trade show, with people wearing lanyards with their name on it, trying desperately to find Blahblahblah Conference Room B so they can sit through some PowerPoint presentation.

But the 10% beyond that involves general managers, agents, players and the like discussing trades and free agent signings and positioning your favorite team for next season. There’s no reason why someone can’t sign Josh Hamilton in mid-November or early January, but when everyone goes off-site to a hotel, they’re just way more likely to talk about such things, so you get big deals. Last year Albert Pujols signed during the Winter Meetings. The year before that Carl Crawford did.  This is where the magic happens.

Among the magic on tap this year:

  • The new homes for top free agents Hamilton and Zach Greinke;
  • Potential trades for R.A. Dickey and Justin Upton;
  • The Tampa Bay Rays possibly leveraging their pitching depth to land a bat;
  • The Kansas City Royals possibly leveraging their position player depth to land an arm;
  • The Phillies, rumored to be in on all sorts of players, trying to find some way to revitalize their offense in order to better complement what is still a fine pitching staff;
  • The Los Angeles Dodgers, who are as rich as Croesus, signing everyone who isn’t nailed down. And they’re taking a long hard look at the players who are nailed down.

In addition to the teams all looking to fill holes, the Winter Meetings will feature the Veterans Committee inductees to the Hall of Fame — we previewed that recently – and some public announcements from the game’s heavy hitters like Bud Selig, Scott Boras and guys like that.  It all happens here, and we’ll have it all.  Before that, though, some scene setting:

source:  I got here on Saturday.  This is a good thing for a couple of reasons. First, this place is gigantic and merely finding one’s room is a massive undertaking.  Seriously, check this out.  It took me 24 hours of trekking in order to get my bearings. Each of those different sections — Cascades, Delta, Conservatory, Magnolia, etc. — has its own giant atrium and gardens and waterfalls and stuff. Each also has its own room-numbering systems. So, for example, your room number may be 0179 in the Delta section. When you have to call the desk you’d say “I’m in Delta 0179,” which sounds a lot more like something from “Battlestar Galactica” than baseball. C’est la vie.

The second reason it was good that I got here early was because I was able to go to this cool restaurant that I’ve been wanting to go to for a long time and have what was nothing short of a transcendent meal. I normally wouldn’t share this info with you because it’s a personal thing, but it will be important for you to know about it in the event NBC fires me for sketchy expense reports. See, the restaurant is called The Catbird Seat, that phrase was one made famous by legendary Brooklyn Dodgers announcer Red Barber (and also James Thurber), and since there is a tenuous baseball connection I’m gonna see if NBC will pay for it. If not, well, it’s been nice knowin’ ya.

The important thing about the geography of the place is that, unlike the previous Winter Meetings HBT has covered, there really is no central meeting place.  Because it’s is so huge and spread out there is less of a sense that conversations are being observed and overheard. Which leads to interesting things like what happened yesterday: my girlfriend Allison on an elevator, hearing someone congratulating some official from the Orioles about … something. Saying “this is going to be great for Baltimore.”  Maybe it’s some business deal we’ll never see or care about.  Maybe, though, it’s a free agent signing we won’t hear about until later today. I don’t know. No one knows. There is a sense in this place, far more than in any of the previous three Winter Meetings, that things are happening just out of sight, behind some fern, beneath some waterfall or in some random grotto. Which is exciting and fun. Oh, and if the Orioles do announce a big signing today, I’m going to choose to credit Allison.

Anyway, that’s the scene.  I’ll be here through Thursday. Lots of things will be posted here at HBT. Other, more ephemeral  things, will be tweeted here.  As always, be sure to refresh HBT early and often this week, as we will be posting something about virtually everything that goes down from the hardest news events to the silliest rumors to everything in between. But don’t worry: we’ll guide you. It’ll all be OK.

Now, into the craziest week of baseball’s offseason.  But first: a picture of the band that was playing in the hotel’s Irish pub last night. Their name was — really — Def Leprechaun, and I found that to be quite amusing. They gave a shout out to the baseball people in town and played Peter Paul and Mary’s “Right Field.” I liked ’em. I shoulda bought one of their t-shirts.


Concerns over Jon Lester’s throwing ability much ado about nothing

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20: Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)
Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

Going into Thursday night’s NLCS Game 5, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts planned to have his team be annoying and distracting on the base paths for Cubs starter Jon Lester. Lester, you see, has a hard time making throws when he’s not pitching from the rubber, as seen here.

The Dodgers got an immediate opportunity to test their strategy, as Enrique Hernandez drew a four-pitch walk to start the game in the bottom of the first inning. Hernandez was taking leads between 15 and 25 feet, just taunting Lester to throw over to first base. Lester never did. And despite being given the luxury of such a large lead, Hernandez never attempted to steal second base.

It ended up costing the Dodgers a run. After Justin Turner struck out, Corey Seager lined a single to center field. Hernandez, large lead and all, should’ve been well on his way to third base, but he settled for staying at second base. Carlos Ruiz then flied out to right field on what should’ve been a sacrifice fly. Hernandez instead just advanced to third. Howie Kendrick grounded out to end the inning with the Dodgers having scored no runs.

In the bottom of the second inning with two outs, Joc Pederson dropped down a bunt, but Lester was able to field it and make a bounce-throw to Anthony Rizzo at first base to end the inning. Lester stared angrily into the Dodgers’ dugout as he walked off the field. If it were me, I’d have been glaring angrily not because the opposing team was attempting to exploit my weakness, but because the strategy is so poor.

The bunting would continue in the seventh inning as first baseman and noted power hitter Adrian Gonzalez tried to sneak a bunt past Lester on the right side of the infield. Second baseman Javier Baez was able to scoop it up and fire to first. Gonzalez was initially ruled safe, but the call was overturned upon replay review.

Lester countered the Dodgers’ bunting and greedy lead-taking by just pitching his game. He went seven innings, allowing just one run on five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. The Cubs went on to win 8-4, taking a 3-2 lead in the NLCS. A worthy consideration for the National League Cy Young Award based on his regular season performance, Lester now has a 0.86 ERA in 21 innings spanning three starts this postseason. Turns out, the yips isn’t debilitating if you’re really good at your main job.

Cubs swat their way past the Dodgers 8-4 in NLCS Game 5

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20:  Addison Russell #27 of the Chicago Cubs hits a two-run home run in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

During the regular season, the Cubs had the second-best offense in baseball behind the Rockies, averaging 4.99 runs per game. It was the best after debiting the Rockies for playing in Coors Field. There was no way, after getting shut out in NLCS Games 2 and 3, that the offense was going to stay dormant much longer. They broke out for 10 runs in a Game 4 victory on Wednesday night. They scored eight more to beat the Dodgers 8-4 in Game 5, taking a 3-2 NLCS lead.

The Cubs took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when leadoff batter Dexter Fowler greeted Kenta Maeda with a single to center field. He’d come around to score on a one-out double by Anthony Rizzo who, like teammate Addison Russell, hadn’t hit much until breaking out in Game 4.

Starter Jon Lester was able to silence the Dodgers’ offense despite their strategy of attempting bunts and taking big leads, knowing Lester has trouble throwing when it’s not from the pitching rubber. They managed just one run, coming around in the fourth inning to knot the game at 1-1 when Howie Kendrick doubled, stole third base, and scored on an Adrian Gonzalez ground out.

Ultimately, Lester lasted seven innings, holding the Dodgers to five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. Addison Russell allowed him to leave with a lead, slugging a two-run home run off of reliever Joe Blanton in the sixth to break the 1-1 tie.

The Cubs tacked on plenty of insurance in the top of the eighth against reliever Pedro Baez, which proved to be rather necessary. Russell reached on an error by Baez, Willson Contreras singled, and Albert Almora, Jr. moved both runners up a base on a sacrifice bunt. Dexter Fowler then hit a single to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, but Baez didn’t break to cover first base. Gonzalez wasn’t able to beat Fowler to the bag, allowing the Cubs’ fourth run to score. Kris Bryant hit a weak grounder to third base and he was able to beat that out as well, pushing across another run in the process. Anthony Rizzo lined out, but Baez prolonged the inning by walking Ben Zobrist. Ross Stripling relieved Baez, but he served up a bases-clearing double to Javier Baez, making it an 8-1 ballgame. Jason Heyward, as has often been the case, popped up feebly, mercifully ending the inning with the Cubs having hung up a five-spot.

Pedro Strop took over for Lester in the bottom of the eighth. He gave up a double to Andrew Toles, then hit Justin Turner to begin the inning. Though Strop was able to induce a ground ball double play from Corey Seager, Carlos Ruiz followed up with a double to left-center to push in a run. Howie Kendrick flied out to send the game to the ninth.

Closer Aroldis Chapman took over with a six-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. He issued a leadoff walk to Gonzalez, then served up a single to Yasiel Puig. Joc Pederson grounded out, but Josh Reddick knocked in Gonzalez and moved Puig to third with a single to center. Toles plated Puig with a sacrifice fly, making it 8-4. Turner grounded out to shortstop to end the game, finalizing the victory for the Cubs.

The two clubs will take Friday off to travel back to Chicago. Game 6 will take place at Wrigley Field at 8:00 PM EDT. Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers opposite the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks.