2013 Winter Meetings Preview

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL — Greetings from the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort, deep in the dark recesses of the happiest place on Earth. I have been down here with my children since last Tuesday, doing battle with a mouse. The mouse is a worthy adversary. Much respect for him and his hyper-efficiency at separating a man from his hard-earned dollars. Normally when you spend as much money as I have these past few days you feel regret and maybe even some anger. All I can do now, however, is tip my hat in awe and wonder at just how good the mouse is at what he does best.

Now I return my full attention to baseball and its biggest offseason event: The Winter Meetings.

One might think that, given the outrageous flurry of free agent and trade activity over the past week, the Winter Meetings would be anticlimactic and boring. Cano did what everyone expected and took all of the Mariners’ money.  Carlos Beltran signed with the Yankees. Joe Nathan, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, A.J. Pierzynski, Paul Konerko, Justin Morneau, Scott Kazmir and Ryan Vogelsong all signed deals in, like, a six minute period last week. There were something like seven trades last week involving close to 30 players. The wheel spun ’round and ’round and everyone was cast hither and thither and yon. So this week will just be baseball executives drinking and shooting the breeze and stuff, right?

Not necessarily.

Nelson Cruz, Shin-Soo Choo, Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez, Bronson Arroyo, Stephen Drew, Bartolo Colon, Kendrys Morales, Grant Balfour, Corey Hart, James Loney and many, many more free agents are still on the board. Big names like Matt Kemp, Mark Trumbo, David Price, Brett Anderson and Jeff Samardzija are on — or are at least rumored to be on — the trading block. Maybe the sexiest of the sexiest deals have been done, but there is still volume business to attend to on the hot stove.

It’s also worth remembering that the Winter Meetings are about more than trades and signings. Indeed, the bulk of the 3,000 or so people who have descended on Disney World don’t care about that stuff. They are here to network, seek jobs and discuss the business of baseball. Ever year we hear about a rule change. Or a proposal for future rule changes. Or changes in the circumstances of the game, be it relocation, realignment, replay or any other “re” you can imagine. The point of meetings are for humans to actually get together rather than send emails around, and as most of you know, when you get face-to-face with someone, more things can get done. Expect the unexpected. Expect something new to come out of Bud Selig’s office before we all go home.

Finally, there is Hall of Fame business to attend to. There’s a great chance that Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, George Steinbrenner and maybe — at long, long last — Marvin Miller will be voted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee when it meets later this week. Steve Garvey, Dave Parker, Billy Martin and many others from the 1970s-on are under consideration as well.

So, no, we will not be on Cano-Watch this week. We will almost certainly not see anything as big this week as we saw last time the Winter Meetings were in Florida and the Red Sox did things like acquire Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. But baseball is about more than its stars. It’s about several thousand players across 30 major league and 243 affiliated minor league teams. It’s about the execs and employees of those teams. It’s about all of them meeting each day and showing up in the lobby of a strange-looking hotel each evening to drink, chat, brainstorm, mingle and — if we’re at all lucky — get up to no-good.

And HardballTalk will be following it all closely, from both on-site and from our satellite offices around the country. Be sure to check back often between now and Thursday to keep fully-apprised of everyone in baseball doing the do.

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

Braves
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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.