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.

Struggling Francisco Rodriguez’s job seems to be secure

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Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez continued to struggle on Thursday, allowing a run in a 2-1 loss to the Mariners. It’s the sixth time in nine appearances that the right-handed veteran has allowed a run, bumping his ERA up to 6.23. He’s blown two saves and has two losses on the year.

Despite that, it doesn’t sound like Rodriguez’s job as the Tigers’ closer is in any jeopardy, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports. When asked how much of a leash Rodriguez has, manager Brad Ausmus said, “I’ll let you know.” Ausmus continued, “I think people have short memories. This guy did a pretty good job for us last year. Early on, people were worried because the velocity was down. Well, the velocity is back.”

“But at some point,” Ausmus said, “he does have to pitch the way he pitched last year, because he did an outstanding job for us last year and in a city that has been looking for a closer that was consistent for a long time, he was that.”

Rodriguez, 35, doesn’t have the stuff he once did. And the Tigers do appear to have someone who would be a better option in high-leverage situations. Lefty Justin Wilson has thrown 9 2/3 scoreless, hitless innings so far this season with 15 strikeouts and three walks. But for now, it sounds like Rodriguez will be free to work through his issues.

The Nationals are sad to be leaving Coors Field

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Don’t look now, but the Nationals have the best record in baseball at 16-6. They’re coming off a 10-game road trip in which they went 9-1, including sweeps of the Braves and Mets and a 3-1 series against the Rockies at Coors Field. During that series with the Rockies, the Nationals scored 46 runs, which is nearly as many as the Royals (54) have scored all season long. The Nats scored double-digits in all three wins.

The first game at Coors, an 8-4 loss, saw a three-hit game from Anthony Rendon and a homer from Ryan Zimmerman.

The second game featured Trea Turner hitting for the cycle and driving in seven runs. Daniel Murphy had three hits and five RBI.

The third game saw Turner finish a triple short of the cycle. Bryce Harper had four hits. Zimmerman had three hits including a homer. Murphy homered, too.

The fourth game featured homers from Adam Eaton, Harper, and Murphy. Seven members of the lineup had multiple hits and six had multiple RBI including pitcher Gio Gonzalez.

The series helped the Nationals bring their run differential to +34, the best in the National League. The Yankees are the only team with a better differential at +35.

Indeed, the Nationals are sad to be leaving Coors Field. They return home to open up a three-game set with the ailing Mets on Friday night.