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Viva Las Vegas: 2018 Winter Meetings Preview

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Over the weekend the baseball world will descended on Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas for the 2018 Winter Meetings. There’s a lot of work to be done. Let’s talk about what’ll go down in the desert in the next week.

Free Agents

The two biggest names on the market — Manny Machado and Las Vegas’ own Bryce Harper — have yet to find new homes, and they’ll certainly be the most talked-about players at the Winter Meetings. But there were, by my count, 151 other free agents out there when the offseason began and so far only 14 of them have signed. Some of them, like Patrick Corbin and Josh Donaldson, were major signings. Most of them were minor signings, though, and guys like Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, A.J. Pollock, J.A. Happ, Andrew McCutchen, Charlie Morton, Marwin Gonzalez and many, many more are still looking for employment.

In early November we ran down the top free agents, from highest-ranked to lowest, to help you get a jump on who is available.

Teams buying, teams selling

It’s not just players looking for homes this week, however. It’s teams looking to fill their needs. The Phillies are allegedly hunting for big game. The Yankees need some pitching. The Braves have to find a right fielder and are also in the hunt for a starter or two. If the Nationals don’t retain Bryce Harper, they will likely be looking for an outfield bat. The Mets claim that landing Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz were not the end of their offseason moves and that they’re in win-now mode. The Dodgers may have been handed the NL West with the Diamondbacks’ rebuild, but they need some more talent if they are to be more than N.L. pennant-winners. The Cubs and Brewers have the Cardinals breathing down their neck thanks to their just landing a big fish in Paul Goldschmidt. The Rays believe they are contending but will need some offense, one suspects, if they are to truly do so. There are any number of teams — maybe too many — embarking on or continuing rebuilds, so any number of big name players are likely on the trading block. Even contenders like the Indians are said to be dangling big names, with Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer apparently available. There is a lot of potential wheeling and dealing to be done.

Managers on Parade

Trade deals and free agent negotiations take place behind closed doors, so we can only talk about those once they happen. One of the major public activities of the Winter Meetings is when all 30 of the managers meet and greet the press. Or, well, 29, given that the Orioles don’t currently have a manager. They may want to get on that, by the way. Aside from them, there are five new men at the helm of their teams: David Bell with the Reds, Chris Woodward with the Rangers, Charlie Montoyo with the Blue Jays, Brad Ausmus with the Angels, and Rocco Baldelli with the Twins. I’ll be in the scrum for a lot of these guys — they do them two at a time so I can’t see everyone — and I’ll let you know if they say anything fun. And, of course, I’ll be rolling out my annual Most Handsome Managers rankings, which have shockingly become a Winter Meetings institution.

Hall of Fame Vote

The Today’s Game Committee — formerly known as the Veterans Committee — will meet on Sunday to vote in, or not vote in, new inductees for the Hall of Fame. For the past week or so I’ve been profiling the candidates. Here are those profiles:

My guess is that if anyone gets in it’ll be Piniella, and I can squint and see Lee Smith getting in given how long he stayed on the BBWAA ballot, but you never know with this bunch. They’ve voted in absolutely no one on several occasions in recent years. Be sure to check in on Monday when we find out.

The Boring Business of Baseball 

Outside of the transactions and the Hall of Fame stuff, we have the more mundane Winter Meetings business. As I discussed in this story about the changing nature of the Winter Meetings, the vast majority of the people at the Meetings aren’t there for transactions. They’re there to network, seek jobs and discuss the business of baseball like any other industry convention. Ever year we hear about a rule change or a proposal for future rule changes at the Meetings. There is no single rule change that everyone is talking about at the moment, but a pitch clock has been rumored to be in the offing for a few years now. Sometimes we’re completely surprised with that kind of stuff.

The Rule 5 Draft

The final event of the Winter Meetings is the Rule 5 Draft, which will take place at 8am on Thursday morning. You likely have no idea who most of the players who will be selected, but by next summer you may very well know some of them who are either picked or who were made available this week. Max Muncy could’ve been had by anyone last year, went un-picked and all he did was hit 35 homers for the National League Champions. Given that even the combined minds of 29 front offices didn’t think he was worth a roster spot last year, you’ll be forgiven for not having any idea about the guys in this year’s Rule 5. But, if you want to at least attempt to be prepared for it, here’s a good place to start.

So, yes, there’s a lot to be done. I’ll be on the scene at Mandalay Bay — and maybe a few other places around Sin City — bringing you all the best hot stove business we have to offer and, as usual, some more fun odds and ends from baseball’s biggest offseason event.

Minor League Baseball accuses MLB of making misleading statements

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Yesterday several members of Congress, calling themselves the “Save Minor League Baseball Task Force,” introduced a resolution saying that Major League Baseball should drop its plan to eliminate the minor league clubs and, rather, maintain the current minor league structure. In response, Major League Baseball issued a statement accusing Minor League Baseball of refusing to negotiate and imploring Congress to prod Minor League Baseball back to the bargaining table.

Only one problem with that: according to Minor League Baseball, it has been at the table. And, in a new statement today, claims that MLB is making knowingly false statements about all of that and engaging in bad faith:

“Minor League Baseball was encouraged by the dialogue in a recent meeting between representatives of Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball and a commitment by both sides to engage further on February 20. However, Major League Baseball’s claims that Minor League Baseball is not participating in these negotiations in a constructive and productive manner is false. Minor League Baseball has provided Major League Baseball with numerous substantive proposals that would improve the working conditions for Minor League Baseball players by working with MLB to ensure adequate facilities and reasonable travel. Unfortunately, Major League Baseball continues to misrepresent our positions with misleading information in public statements that are not conducive to good faith negotiations.”

I suppose Rob Manfred’s next statement is either going to double down or, alternatively, he’s going to say “wait, you were at the airport Marriott? We thought the meeting was at the downtown Marriott! Oh, so you were at the table. Our bad!”

Minor League Baseball is not merely offering dueling statements, however. A few minutes ago it released a letter it had sent to Rob Manfred six days ago, the entirely of which can be read here. It certainly suggests that, contrary to Manfred’s claim yesterday, Minor League Baseball is, in fact, attempting to engage Major League Baseball on the issues.

In the letter, the Minor League Baseball Negotiating Committee said it, “is singularly focused on working with MLB to reach an agreement that will best ensure that baseball remains the National Pastime in communities large and small throughout our
country,” and that to that end it seeks to “set forth with clarity in a letter to you the position of MiLB on the key issues that we must resolve in these negotiations.”

From there the letter goes through the various issues Major League Baseball has put on the table, including the status of the full season and short season leagues which are on the chopping block, and implores MLB not to, as proposed, eliminate the Appalachian League. It blasts MLB’s concept of “The Dream League” — the bucket into which MLB proposes to throw all newly-unaffiliated clubs — as a “seriously flawed concept,” and strongly counters the talking point Major League Baseball has offered about how it allegedly “subsidizes” the minor leagues:

It is simply not true that MLB “heavily subsidizes” MiLB. MLB teams do not pay MiLB owners and their partner communities that supply the facilities and league infrastructure that enable players under contract to MLB teams the opportunity to compete at a high level and establish whether they have the capability to play in the Major Leagues. MLB just pays its OWN player/employees and other costs directly related to their development. MLB does not fund or subsidize MiLB’s business operations in any form and, in fact, the amounts funded by MiLB to assist in the development of MLB’s players far exceed anything paid by MLB to its players, managers, or coaches at the Minor League level. Through the payment of a ticket tax to MLB, it is arguable that MiLB is paying a subsidy to MLB. Either way, talk about subsidies isn’t helpful or beneficial to the industry. The fact is that we are business partners working together to grow the game, entertain fans, and develop future MLB players.

You should read the whole letter. And Rob Manfred should probably stop issuing statements that, it would appear, are easily countered.