The young man who answered a late-night phone call to the Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek on Wednesday was extremely nice and extremely helpful in canceling a Winter Meetings reservation. He had been doing it all night, and at the end of the call, he asked an innocent question.
"What is this lockout everyone is mentioning?"
Great question, man.
It's extremely complicated if you ask MLB and the MLBPA, but it all does boil down to something pretty simple: The sides couldn't agree to a deal even though they knew for years that this was coming, and 30 owners decided the best way forward was to shut down their sport right in the middle of an exciting offseason that followed a really good season.
That leaves everyone in limbo, and as we try and grade the start of the offseason, that leads to a lot of "incompletes."
Giants fans have grumbled about the lack of spending, but what if they follow their pitching moves by bringing Kris Bryant back, or adding Nick Castellanos and Seiya Suzuki? The Dodgers lost Max Scherzer and Corey Seager, but got Chris Taylor back on a very reasonable deal and are rumored to be pushing hard for Freddie Freeman. A disastrous start to their offseason could end up leading to a healthier long-term outlook.
Farhan Zaidi and Andrew Friedman are two of the best execs in the game and they mostly sat out the craziness. After winning a combined 213 games last year, they've earned the right to be judged only when this is all over. But we still have early standouts and teams and people on the other end, so here are some winners and losers from the first month-plus of free agency:
WINNER: Aggressive players
In his lengthy letter to fans after the lockout went into place, commissioner Rob Manfred included the following line: "While we have heard repeatedly that free agency is "broken" -- in the month of November $1.7 billion was committed to free agents, smashing the prior record by nearly 4x"
Yeah, we're going to go ahead and say it wasn't a coincidence that owners went crazy with their spending just in time to lock out the players and then point and say, "Wait, look how much we're spending."
The benefit of that for the players is that those who were aggressive got really, really solid deals. Kevin Gausman and Robbie Ray both cleared $100 million and the other big pitcher on the market, Scherzer, got $130 million over three years. Corey Seager shot past $300 million. Marcus Stroman got a huge AAV from the Cubs. Marcus Semien finally cashed in.
You should root for the best players to get what they're worth, and a lot of them did in the scramble before free agency, locking up new homes before the lockout and before the holidays.
LOSER: People who care about the sport
At midnight on Wednesday, all team websites scrubbed stories about current players and free agency and turned all of their avatars into stock images.
It's a licensing issue, but really all it hurts is the fans, the ones who like to read about their favorite team, like to see Tweets like "The Boston Red Sox have talked internally about Carlos Correa" and like to pepper beat writers with that eternal question: "Are the Giants going to do anything big?"
The news comes out in a trickle in the offseason, but there's still a lot to digest on a daily basis and a lot to analyze. MLB has essentially asked fans to not pay any attention for two months, and that sucks for everyone.
WINNER: Steve Cohen
Cohen took to Twitter to whine when Steven Matz, of all people, signed in St. Louis, which was honestly pretty embarrassing. But the nice thing about being worth more than $10 billion is that you can pretty easily wipe that kind of thing off the map with one phone call.
Cohen gave Scherzer $130 million, shooting well past previous AAV records and guaranteeing one of the best 1-2 punches in MLB history. Injuries could keep the deGrom-Scherzer duo from being as dominant on the field as they are on paper, but this was still a coup for the Mets and their new owner, who has shown that he truly doesn't care how much he has to spend to get the Mets back into contention.
Starling Marte, Mark Canha and Eduardo Escobar were also added, with the latter two moves being sneaky-important. As the Giants showed last year, there's a huge advantage to just having a bunch of players who don't suck, and Canha and Escobar are two good players who will soak up a ton of at-bats as they move around the field.
If Cohen truly follows the Dodger plan -- spending big early while protecting draft picks and rebuilding the farm system -- the Mets are going to be a force for years to come.
LOSER: The Phillies
The Braves are the reigning champs. The Mets are trying to spend their way to that point. The Marlins added Avisail Garcia to a lineup that desperately needed pop and traded for Gold Glove-winning catcher Jacob Stallings, the perfect fit for their super-talented young pitching staff.
The Phillies have ... signed Corey Knebel and Johan Camargo for a combined total of $11.4 million.
Bryce Harper won the MVP award because he was a one-man show in the second half, and thus far his front office hasn't added any help. Maybe when this is all over the Phillies go out and get Harper's friend, Bryant, or add Trevor Story or Castellanos to the heart of their lineup. But at the moment, they're a big-market team that's done nothing to change the outlook after four straight seasons right around .500.
WINNER: Donnie Ecker
It was not a surprise that Ecker, the well-regarded hitting coach for the Giants the previous two seasons, ended up moving on in what seems to be a very quick march to soon being an MLB manager. But the Texas Rangers? Ecker becoming their bench coach/offensive coordinator earlier this offseason seemed like a step down after helping the Giants to 107 wins.
A month later, it all makes sense.
The Rangers committed $500 million to Seager and Semien, forming the game's best middle infield out of thin air. Throw in Jon Gray and Kole Calhoun and they committed $561 million to free agents in 24 hours, the most money a team has ever spent in free agency.
They are the big early winners here, and Ecker has, for the second time in three years, joined a team on the way up. If he can do in Texas what he did for guys like Brandon Crawford and LaMonte Wade Jr., the Rangers should be dangerous in a hurry.
Oh, and to top it all off, Ecker is a huge USC football fan. What a week.
LOSER: The A's
The Rangers got much, much better. The Mariners added Robbie Ray and have been connected to guys like Bryant and Story. The Angels are pushing to upgrade their rotation. The Astros are still right there at the top. The AL West has been the early monster in free agency, and all of this is bad news for an organization that just watched Marte and Canha sign in New York and is expected to at least partially tear it all down when the lockout ends.
The A's have made their veteran starting pitchers available in a bid to save money and Matt Olson has come up in plenty of trade rumors, as well. Billy Beane and David Forst have been working their magic for years, but it might be their finest act if they're able to keep the A's in contention in the AL West given everything else that's happening in the division.
WINNER: Bob Melvin
The Padres were everyone's offseason winner last year and that, uhh, didn't work out at all. They have been much quieter this time around in free agency, but A.J. Preller already made one of the moves of the offseason.
Melvin is one of the best managers in the game and the perfect choice to lead a clubhouse that lacked leadership last season. He's leaving the A's and the AL West at the perfect time, and while the two teams at the top of his new division are heavyweights, the Padres certainly have enough talent to compete with the Dodgers and Giants for the 2022 NL West crown.
On top of all that, Melvin gets to live in San Diego. Nobody has made a better decision this offseason than he did.
LOSER: Fans of a drawn-out offseason
In recent years there has been some talk of having a deadline during the offseason, some sort of mechanism that would allow MLB to capture some of the craziness that's seen during NBA and NFL free agency. It seems unlikely, but anyone who does want a change can certainly point to the end of November as Exhibit A.
With teams and players scrambling to get business done, the sport had the most exciting offseason week in recent memory. Players and organizations and even owners like Cohen were trending over the weekend and throughout Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and that's a good thing for a sport that often gets left behind.
It was a ton of fun, and if MLB could find a realistic way to replicate it in some form -- maybe there's a dead period between the Winter Meetings and, say, January 15 every year? -- future offseasons would certainly have a lot more buzz.
WINNER: Johnny Cueto
You can shut the sport down, but you can't slow Johnny Cueto's mastery of social media. Cueto's Instagram workouts are still going strong and might be more entertaining than even past ones, and he had the best profile pic change in the game.
No matter what, Cueto is going to have a good time and remember this is all supposed to be entertainment. A lot of people in charge of the sport could learn from that.