Greetings from the last day of the Winter Meetings

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We watched and waited yesterday to see if the Mega Deal would go down. We waited to see if Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke would sign anywhere. None of that happened, so we did what everyone else does at the Winter Meetings: we went out. But this was no ordinary outing. This was an Important Mission. Why? Because it involved fine distilled spirits and the making thereof.

In our party: a couple of guys here at the Winter Meetings for the trade show. One is Daniel Cruz of Anchor Brewing and the other is Brian Casterline of B-R Carts and Kiosks, Inc. Daniel is is Anchor’s Marketing Manager and it is his mission to get as many ballparks as possible to carry Anchor’s fine brews. Brian is the managing partner in the design department at B-R, and it is his mission to design and then sell the latest in beer and hot dog carts. If Daniel and Brian are successful in their mission, beer and hot dogs will be delivered unto us more efficiently.

So, what I’m saying here is that Daniel and Brian are doing God’s work.

source:  We met Daniel and Brian through my friend Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated and they, in turn, introduced us to Corsair Distillery. Corsair is a craft distillery here in Nashville, and over the course of the week I’ve managed to try a couple of their products. It’s fine, fine stuff, so when we were given the chance to take a private tour, we jumped on it. Daniel, Brian Jay and I went downtown to the distillery, which is housed in the ancient and beautiful factory that once built the Marathon automobile. It’s a cool and funky space now, with a tap room serving fantastic microbrews and other fun things.  There’s also a cat that prowls the distillery and he is, without a doubt, the luckiest cat in the world.

At the end of the private tour, when we had the chance to taste and then purchase some of those fine products, we  jumped all over that too. I’m taking a couple bottles of their Triple Smoke whiskey home today — think of it as an American version of single malt scotch — and I couldn’t be happier. After that we went to City House (it was actually our second time there this week) and had fantastic noms.

Then it was back to the Opryland for the nightly mingling with the movers and shakers in baseball.  The most interesting person I met last night: Jim Leyritz. Yup. In a bar of all places. But — and this is extremely important given what has happened in his life in recent years — he was not drinking, which was encouraging. He looks good too, and people tell me that he’s taking care of himself. Glad to see him doing well with the second chance he has been given. Less glad that, when I stopped him and told him that his home run in the 1996 World Series friggin’ killed me, he smiled as if he enjoys thinking about that more than anything else in the world. Grumble.

The night wound down with front office executives, agents, managers, some players, vendors from the trade show, some fans and some scribes like me sharing drinks and asking each other how that mega trade is going to work. Who will land Zack Greinke. Whether he will pan out or be a $161 million+ bust. We asked because, really, none of us know those things. The people who do — the general managers and their assistants — are all holed up in hotel suites someplace with their cell phones and laptops and not really mixing with everyone else. Which really means that the Winter Meetings have been turned on their head from what they were 15 or 20 years ago when all of the deals were done in the hotel bar and all of the rest of us were holed up someplace else.

Last day today. The only scheduled thing of note for fans is the Rule 5 draft.  We’ll provide updates of that later. And, obviously, of anything and everything else going down.

For my part, it’s approximately 12 hours until I will be home in my living room and able to try some of that Triple Smoke …

Pressure is on Phillies to finally spend “stupid money”

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For the Phillies, the term “stupid money” has defined their offseason. Coined in November when owner John Middleton said, “We’re going into this [offseason] expecting to spend money, and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.” While Middleton caught himself, adding, “We just prefer not to be completely stupid,” it was a rare promise — especially these days — by a team owner appearing to actually commit to spending money. Austerity measures, it seems, have been implemented by most other front offices across the league.

One of two bombshells finally dropped on Tuesday: infielder Manny Machado reportedly signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres. The deal also apparently includes an opt-out clause after the fifth year. The other bombshell, of course, is free agent outfielder Bryce Harper.

While the Phillies have been more strongly linked to the superstar Harper, the club’s connection to Machado could not be overlooked. Several prominent members of the front office, including president Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak, worked with Machado during his years in Baltimore. Upon learning today’s news, Klentak said (via Matt Gelb of The Athletic), “If the reports are true, this contract will exceed our valuation. Sometimes you have to walk away.”

The Phillies, mind you, spent the last five years actively and publicly rebuilding, which included a complete overhaul of the front office. All of that losing was designed to have the club be built up just in time for this offseason, featuring two mega-free agents in Machado and Harper. There are free agents every year. Few of them are of Machado and Harper’s caliber and at the age of 26. The free agent market has stagnated in recent years, in part, due to more analytics-focused front offices being hesitant to pay players lots of money beyond their prime years. Machado and Harper still have plenty of prime years left and, arguably, may not have even entered their primes yet. As far as free agency goes, there are no better bets than Machado or Harper.

So, the pressure is now on the Phillies to go get Harper and live up to Middleton’s “stupid money” proclamation. Despite adding J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson, and Jean Segura this offseason, PECOTA still projects the Phillies to finish tied for third place in the NL East at 85-77, just four games behind the projected first-place Nationals. The whole point of rebuilding is to avoid being an 85-win team, teetering on playoff contention. To these more analytically-oriented front offices, it’s either boom or bust. Failing to get Harper would not only make the spurt of activity over the last four months and the entire rebuilding scheme pointless, it would be a slap in the face to fans who endured the pitiful quality of play the club has shown over the last half-decade. Klentak, hired after the 2015 season, subjected fans to things like Jeanmar Gomez, closer; Rhys Hoskins, left fielder; and whatever the heck you call the last three editions of the starting rotation beyond Aaron Nola.

If the Phillies do fail to sign Harper, Klentak will likely say something similar to what he said today, that Harper’s ask didn’t match up with their internal valuations. There will be claims that the Phillies can still spend “stupid money” elsewhere in free agency, like going on a binge and signing Craig Kimbrel, Marwin González, and Dallas Keuchel. No one player left in free agency is a better bet than Harper and no group of players would impact the Phillies’ strength relative to their competitors more than Harper alone would. For the Phillies, it is now Harper-or-bust, and fans should revolt if the club opens the regular season not having signed a free agent superstar.