Baseball’s winter meetings begin Monday — just the way many modern executives would like to see them staged every year.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the in-person, four-day event, which had been scheduled to take place in Dallas. In its stead, MLB teams and officials will hold their annual meetings on policy and other matters via the magic of audio and visual technology.
The game’s 30 field managers will all be available to media members in a series of video conferences next week. Manager media sessions are a staple of the winter meetings and an acknowledgement by MLB of the importance of promoting the game during the offseason.
With no in-person event, super-agent Scott Boras will not have a live audience for which to pump up his clients and offer his views on the game and the industry. The Boras Address is an annual winter meetings event, staged in the middle of a hotel lobby in front of throngs of reporters and cameras, and as it starts each year, one can’t help but think of the lyrics to the old Emerson, Lake & Palmer song:
Welcome back, my friends
To the show that never ends
We’re so glad you could attend
Come inside, come inside
Come inside, the show’s about to start
Guaranteed to blow your head apart
Alas, the cancellation of the in-person winter meetings will not deter Boras. Word is his show will go on via Zoom, and as Emerson, Lake & Palmer sang:
You’ve got to see the show, it’s a dynamo
While Boras might lament the absence of in-person winter meetings, general managers and those charged with constructing rosters are mostly untroubled by the cancellation. Truth be told, many GMs view the winter meetings as an anachronistic nuisance. Once upon a time, back in an era of dial-up phones, it was very useful to have all of the game’s powers under one roof. It facilitated conversation, trade talks and meetings with player agents. Now, GMs have year-round running text chains with counterparts in other cities. The dialogue between executives never stops — except for when they get on the plane to fly to and from the meetings. Deals with other teams and free agents can be made early in the offseason or late in the offseason. They don’t have to be confined to a week in December that often creates more hype than happenings.
Free agents, who they are and where they’re headed, tend to dominate the winter meetings. Some years, the big ones sign at the meetings. In fact, Alex Rodriguez, then a Boras client, signed a $250 million contract at the winter meetings in Dallas in 2000. Other years, the top free agents don’t sign for months after the winter meetings. (See Boras client Bryce Harper in 2019.)
This year, the top free agents are outfielder George Springer, pitcher Trevor Bauer and catcher J.T. Realmuto, who spent the last two seasons with the Phillies. It would be surprising if any of these players signed this week. Baseball teams combined to lose about $3 billion in revenues during the 2020 season and that is expected to slow the pace at which the market for top free agents moves.
Realmuto is the player of most interest locally and the Phillies have said that re-signing him is a priority. Time will tell if that gets done. It certainly doesn’t hurt the Phillies’ chances that the New York Mets, whose new owner was not subject to COVID-related financial losses in 2020, are reportedly more focused on free agent James McCann than Realmuto. It also doesn’t hurt that the New York Yankees appear to be more focused on bringing back pitcher Masahiro Tanaka and infielder DJ LeMahieu than spending big on a catcher. The Washington Nationals remain an intriguing potential suitor for Realmuto and others could emerge.
In addition to addressing the catcher position, the Phils must rebuild their bullpen and figure out who is going to play shortstop in 2021. Didi Gregorius signed with the Phillies a year ago this week and is back on the free-agent market. None of the Phillies’ holes will be completely filled this week. There’s been talk of them moving Jean Segura, who is owed $30 million the next two seasons, possibly as a way to free up budget space that could help in the effort to retain Gregorius or Realmuto.
Of course, as (remote) winter meetings week arrives, the Phillies have one other significant hole. They are still without a permanent GM or president of baseball operations after Matt Klentak’s demotion in October. Ned Rice is the interim GM and the search for a full-time leader of baseball operations is ongoing.
Over the weekend, Phillies officials strongly denied that they were open to trade offers for starting pitcher Zack Wheeler. Meanwhile, two notable starters, Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell and Cincinnati’s Sonny Gray, are said to be available for trades, and the market for free-agent relievers is robust.
So check your internet connection. There’s a little bit of everything out there as these stay-at-home winter meetings get going.