Getty Images

Viva Las Vegas: 2018 Winter Meetings Preview

10 Comments

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.

Free agents who sign with new teams are not disloyal

Getty Images
12 Comments

Most mornings my local newspaper is pretty predictable.

I know, when I navigate to its home page, that I’ll find about eleventeen stories about Ohio State football, even if it is not football season (especially if it’s not football season, actually), part 6 of an amazingly detailed 8-part investigation into a thing that is super important but which no one reads because it has nothing to do with Ohio State football and, perhaps, a handful of write-ups of stories that went viral online six days previously and have nothing to do with anything that matters.

Local print news is doing great, everyone.

I did, however, get a surprise this morning. A story about baseball! A baseball story that was not buried seven clicks into the sports section, but one that was surfaced onto the front page of the website!  The story was about Michael Brantley signing with the Astros.

Normally I’d be dead chuffed! But then I saw something which kinda irked me. Check out the headline:

Is Michael Brantley “leaving” the Indians? I don’t think so. He’s a free agent signing with a baseball team. He’s no more “leaving” the Indians than you are “leaving” an employer who laid you off to take a job at one of its competitors. This is especially true given that the Indians made no effort whatsoever to sign him. Indeed, they didn’t even give him a qualifying offer, making it very clear as of November 2 that they had no intention of bringing him back. Yet, there’s the headline: “Michael Brantley leaves Indians.”

To be clear, apart from the headline, the article is unobjectionable in any way. It merely recounts Ken Rosenthal’s report about Brantley signing with the Astros and does not make any claim or implication that Brantley was somehow disloyal or that Indians fans should be upset at him.

I do wish, though, that editors would not use this kind of construction, even in headlines, because even in today’s far more savvy and enlightened age, it encourages some bad and outmoded views of how players are expected to interact with teams.

Since the advent of free agency players have often been criticized as greedy or self-centered for signing contracts with new teams. Indeed, they are often cast as disloyal in some way for leaving the team which drafted or developed them. It’s less the case now than it used to be, but there are still a lot of fans who view a player leaving via free agency as some kind of a slap in the face, especially if he joins a rival. Meanwhile, when a team decides to move on from a player, either releasing him or, as was the case with the Indians and Brantley, making no effort to bring him back, it’s viewed as a perfectly defensible business decision. There was no comparable headline, back in early November, that said “Indians dump Brantley.”

Make no mistake: it may very well turn out to be a quite reasonable business decision for Cleveland to move on from Brantley. Maybe they know things about him we don’t. Maybe they simply know better about how he’ll do over the next year than the Astros do. I in no way intend for this little rant to imply that the Indians owed Brantley any more than he owed the Indians once their business arrangement came to an end. They don’t.

But I do suspect that there are still a decent number fans out there who view a free agent leaving his former team as some sort of betrayal. Maybe not Brantley, but what if Bryce Harper signs with the Phillies? What if Kris Bryant walks and joins the Cardinals when he reaches free agency? Fans may, in general, be more enlightened now than they used to be, but even a little time on talk radio or in comments sections reveals that a number of them view ballplayers exercising their bargained-for rights as “traitors.” Or, as it’s often written, “traders.” I don’t care for that whole dynamic.

Maybe this little Michael Brantley headline in a local paper that doesn’t cover all that much baseball is unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but it’s an example of how pervasive that unfortunate dynamic is. It gives fans, however tacitly, license to continue to think of players as bad people for exercising their rights. I don’t think that belief will ever completely disappear — sports and irrationality go hand-in-hand — but I’d prefer it if, like teams, athletes are likewise given an understanding nod when they make a business decision. The best way to ensure that is to make sure that such decisions are not misrepresented.