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.

Aaron Judge ties the rookie home run record with his 49th blast

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Monday afternoon baseball that isn’t either (a) part of a doubleheader; or (b) on a holiday is always a bit unsettling, but today’s rare Monday tilt gave us a gift in the form of history: Aaron Judge hit his 49th home run, tying the rookie record.

The dinger came in the third inning of this afternoon’s Royals-Yankees tilt. It was the sixth pitch from Jake Junis and left via right field. Mark McGwire also hit 49 with the Athletics in 1987. Judge has the rest of today’s game and five more games after it to hit number 50 and claim the record for himself.

Watch:

Major League Baseball wants you to look at a screen while you’re at the ballpark

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During the debate last week involving expanded netting at major league ballparks, the familiar refrain from the anti-netting crowd rung out: “hey, netting wouldn’t be necessary if you simply paid attention!” These folks get particularly upset at the idea of people looking at their phones or other electronic devices during the game, implying — or sometimes explicitly stating — that if you do that you almost deserve to be hit with a 100 mph foul ball.

The problem with that, though, is that Major League Baseball increasingly encourages fans to use their phones during games. You can order your concessions through them now. Fans are encouraged to use the MLB.com Ballpark app for an increasing number of in-game features. And, of course, the video boards — always in the opposite direction of the hitter — are getting larger and larger and contain more and more information that the clubs and the league want you to see.

But it goes farther than that. Or at least it will soon. As this article from TechCrunch makes clear, in the future, Major League Baseball wants you actually watching the game action through your phone or your iPad. It’s an augmented reality feature in which you hold up your tablet and . . .

In essence, it’s a bit like watching TV broadcast in person, with information overlaid on the action as it happens in real-time. The data is gathered from Statcast, MLB’s in-house analytics tool . . . Players on the field, meanwhile, get small, square popups featuring their faces that can be tapped open to offer up personalized player information

Which is kind of cool, actually. Personally I am fascinated with the possibilities of augmented reality. For me it usually comes to mind when I’m out hiking and I want to know what a certain kind of tree is or something (my natural education was sorely lacking as a child), but there are tons of other applications. Even though I probably know more about the players and what’s going on on the field than your average American, I’d still probably use such a product, at least a little bit at a game.

But, of course, there is that safety tradeoff. How can Major League Baseball continue to be hands-off about a netting policy and maintain that fans assume the risk of foul ball injuries while simultaneously encouraging the use of electronic devices that will, necessarily, distract them from directly observing on-field action? Indeed, if they do continue to maintain that paradoxical approach, I’d expect this quote from the article to be used at a trial of an injured fan suing for damages:

“People are already using their phones, and we don’t think this is all that different,” MLB Product VP Chad Evans told us at the event. Of course, in a sport where small spherical objects are regularly projected into the stands at high speeds, it’s a good idea to keep your eye on the field. Perhaps popping up an alert on screen when a ball approaches would be a good start.

That last bit — not the quote, but the article’s suggestion of a warning — is comical given how quickly a ball can make it into the stands. Even fans paying rapt attention can get hurt by fast foul balls. Expecting them to process a warning and then act based on it when instinct often isn’t fast enough is ridiculous.

Cool product, for sure. Like I said, I’d probably even use it on occasion. But the more technology and the more distractions Major League Baseball pours into the game, the more responsibility it will have when those distractions contribute to fan injuries. In light of that, they simply cannot continue to be hands-off with respect to the matter.