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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.

The Rays are considering reliever Tyler Clippard

New York Mets pitcher Tyler Clippard throws during the eighth inning of Game 4 of the National League baseball championship series against the Chicago Cubs Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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On Thursday, we learned that the Diamondbacks were still considering free agent reliever Tyler Clippard. You can add the Rays to the list as well, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

The Rays traded lefty reliever Jake McGee to the Rockies in exchange for outfielder Corey Dickerson in late January, so Clippard would be able to slot right in behind closer Brad Boxberger. Clippard, 30, compiled a 2.92 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 31 walks over 71 innings in a season split between the Athletics and Mets. The strikeout rate was at its lowest since the right-hander become a full-time reliever in 2009, and his walk rate was at its highest since 2010, which may be a factor in his still being a free agent in February.

Report: Juan Uribe is too expensive for the Giants

New York Mets' Juan Uribe follows the flight of his solo home run off Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Chris Rusin in the third inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that, while the Giants are interested in free agent Juan Uribe, the utilityman’s asking price is too high for the club. Despite having a capable starter at every position, the Giants are a bit thin on depth and Uribe would be a nice fit given his versatility.

Uribe, 36, spent last season with the Dodgers, Braves, and Mets. He hit a combined .253/.320/.417 with 14 home runs and 43 RBI over 397 plate appearances. In his only postseason plate appearance for the Mets, he hit an RBI single in Game 3 of the World Series against the Royals.

Uribe has mostly played third base in recent seasons, but also has plenty of experience at second base and shortstop.

A study showed “grit” isn’t always a great attribute

Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper slides into third with a three RBI triple during the third inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, April 25, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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This popped up in my Twitter feed and I felt it had some applicability to baseball. This past October, Olga Khazan of The Atlantic highlighted a study in which researchers from the University of Southern California and Northeastern University performed three separate but related experiments to determine how “gritty” their subjects were.

One experiment had them solve anagrams. The second, a computer game. Finally, the third test had them solve math problems. Those who were deemed “grittier” attempted to solve fewer anagrams, which means they were sticking too long with difficult words rather than skipping and moving onto easier ones. The “grittier” crowd worked harder when losing at the computer game, but worked only as hard as the less-gritty when winning. With the math problems, the subjects when stuck were given a choice to take $1 and quit or keep going for a potential reward of $2 but $0 if they failed. The study showed that the “grittier” people weren’t any more productive but were more willing to risk the $1 for the doubled prize.

“Grit” is also a common colloquialism in baseball circles, used to refer to players who always run out a routine ground ball or pop-up. Other common characteristics include a willingness to dive for fly balls, slide into players to break up double plays, and to stick up for their teammates when there’s a disagreement between members of two teams. Often, those deemed “gritty” are in many other ways subpar players, but their perceived “grit” gives them value.

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is a rare superstar player who has earned the “grit” descriptor. There are many examples showing why he has earned it, but the most famous incident occurred on May 13, 2013 at Dodger Stadium. Harper turned his back to the field to chase an A.J. Ellis fly ball but went face-first into the wall, suffering abrasions on his face and a jammed left shoulder. This was during a game the Nationals were comfortably winning 6-0 in the sixth inning. At the time, the Nationals were 95 percent favorites to win the game, according to FanGraphs. Is the risk of suffering an injury — which could keep Harper out only a game or two, or cause him to miss the rest of the season — worth potentially turning a double or triple into an out?

Famously, Philadelphia fans and talking heads got on outfielder Bobby Abreu’s case in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s because he appeared gun-shy when approaching the outfield fence on fly balls. He was under a lot of pressure to sacrifice his body for the supposed good of the team, and developed a reputation as “soft”. As a more recent example, former Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins caught flack from fans when he didn’t run out a routine pop-up against the Mets on August 30, 2012. Then-manager Charlie Manuel benched the veteran. At the time, the Phillies were 62-69 and 17.5 games back of first place in the NL East and 8.5 games behind the second Wild Card. Freak injuries can happen, as Rollins’ teammate Ryan Howard showed when making the final out of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals. Is that non-zero injury risk worth the tiny chance that the infielder drops the pop-up and Rollins gets a single (or, in rarer cases, a double) in a game that is essentially meaningless?

The aforementioned study shows that maybe Abreu and Rollins had it right after all. Statistically, a freak injury that occurs on a “hustle” play is bound to happen. Maybe that’s what it will take to stop expecting athletes to put their bodies on the line for no realistic gain.

Zach Britton settles with the Orioles for $6.75 million

Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Zach Britton delivers a pitch against the Boston Red Sox in the ninth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Boston. The Orioles won 6-4. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
AP Photo/Steven Senne
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The Orioles and closer Zach Britton avoided an arbitration hearing, agreeing to a $6.75 million salary for the 2016 season, Jon Heyman reports. The club has now handled all of its remaining arbitration cases and won’t have to go to a hearing with any players.

Britton, in his second of four years of arbitration eligibility, filed for $7.9 million while the Orioles countered at $5.6 million. $6.75 million is exactly the midpoint between the two submitted figures.

The 28-year-old lefty saved 36 games in 40 chances last season for the O’s while putting up a 1.92 ERA with a 79/14 K/BB ratio over 65 2/3 innings.