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.

Cards’ Pujols hits 700th career home run, 4th to reach mark

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES – St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols hit his 700th career home run on Friday night, connecting for his second drive of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers and becoming the fourth player to reach the milestone in major league history.

The 42-year-old Pujols hit No. 699 in the third inning, then launched No. 700 in the fourth at Dodger Stadium.

With the drive in the final days of his last big league season, Pujols joined Barry Bonds (762 homers), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) in one of baseball’s most exclusive clubs.

It’s been a remarkable run for Pujols. This was his 14th home run since the start of August for the NL Central-leading Cardinals, and his 21st of the season.

Pujols’ historic homer was a three-run shot against Dodgers reliever Phil Bickford. The ball landed in the first few rows of the left-field pavilion, the same location his two-run shot touched down the previous inning off left-hander Andrew Heaney.

Pujols received a prolonged standing ovation from the crowd – he finished out last season while playing for the Dodgers. He took a curtain call, raising his cap in acknowledgment.

The fans chanted “Pujols! Pujols!” They finally sat down after being on their feet in anticipation of seeing history.

Pujols snapped a tie with Alex Rodriguez for fourth on the list when he hit career homer No. 697 against Pittsburgh on Sept. 11.

Reaching 700 homers seemed like a long shot for Pujols when he was batting .189 on July 4. But the three-time NL MVP started to find his stroke in August, swatting seven homers in one 10-game stretch that helped St. Louis pull away in the division race.

“I know that early in the year … I obviously wanted better results,” Pujols said after he homered in a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 22. “But I felt like I was hitting the ball hard. Sometimes this game is going to take more away from you than the game (is) giving you back.

“So I think at the end of the day you have to be positive and just stay focused and trust your work. That’s something that I’ve done all the time.”

Pujols has enjoyed a resurgent season after returning to St. Louis in March for a $2.5 million, one-year contract. It’s his highest total since he hit 23 homers for the Angels in 2019.

He plans to retire when the season ends.

Pujols also began his career in St. Louis. He was selected by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1999 amateur draft and won the 2001 NL Rookie of the Year award.

The Dominican Republic native hit at least .300 with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of his first 10 seasons. He helped the Cardinals to World Series titles in 2006 and 2011.

He set a career high with 49 homers in 2006 – one of seven seasons with at least 40 homers. He led the majors with 47 homers in 2009 and topped the NL with 42 in 2010.

Pujols left St. Louis in free agency in December 2011, signing a $240 million, 10-year contract with the Angels. He was waived by the Angels in May 2021, and then joined the Dodgers and hit 12 homers and drove in 38 runs in 85 games.