Bat signals: Offense will be in high demand at Winter Meetings
When baseball officials last gathered in San Diego for the Winter Meetings, the session took place at the Town and Country Resort in Mission Valley. No free agents reached agreements and players claimed collusion, which led to the first of three grievances against owners and eventually a $280 million settlement.
The annual get-together is back, this time in downtown San Diego at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, and the average salary has soared from $372,000 to about $3.5 million. But one thing hasn't changed from 1985: The Kansas City Royals are defending AL champions.
Since then, offense has boomed with the Steroids Era and then gone bust in a new Age of the Pitcher. With offense at a premium, teams have pursued hitters with greater urgency this offseason, leaving pitchers Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, James Shields and David Robertson still searching for deals.
''It's been interesting that the market's moved a lot quicker on the bats, both trades and free agents,'' Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. ''Most of the major, bigger-name guys that have been moved so far, whether it's the free-agent market or the trade market, have been offensive players. I think that's a little reflective of the marketplace, there aren't as many offensive players out there, the offensive environment in the game.''
Since the end of the World Series, third baseman Pablo Sandoval has left the champion Giants for a $95 million, five-year contract with Boston, which also signed Hanley Ramirez for $88 million over four years and plans to shift him from shortstop to left field.
Toronto signed catcher Russell Martin for $82 million over five years, Detroit kept designated hitter Victor Martinez for $68 million over four years and Seattle added DH Nelson Cruz for $57 million over four years.
Atlanta, retooling under new president of baseball operations John Hart, traded Jason Heyward to St. Louis and replaced him in right field by signing Nick Markakis. Oakland dealt All-Star Josh Donaldson to Toronto for Brett Lawrie in a swap of third basemen.
''Things can happen quickly here, just because of the proximity of everyone in the same hotel and the availability of everybody's staff,'' New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said. ''But at the same time, if you look at the free-agent market, not a lot has happened on the pitching side, so some of that activity may have to take place before we're able to really have serious discussions with anyone on a possible trade.''
Among those thought to be available on the trade market are Dodgers outfielders Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier; Boston outfielder Yoenis Cespedes; Mets pitchers Dillon Gee, Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon; Washington pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister; Detroit pitchers David Price and Rick Porcello; Philadelphia pitcher Cole Hamels; Oakland pitcher Jeff Samardzija; Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki; White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez; and Atlanta outfielder Justin Upton.
And among free-agent hitters, Chase Headley, Melky Cabrera, Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales remain unsigned.
The four teams chasing the Giants in the NL West all have changed their top baseball front-office person since last year's meetings, with Tony La Russa taking over at the Diamondbacks, Andrew Friedman with the Dodgers, A. J. Preller with the Padres and Jeff Bridich with the Rockies. Matt Silverman replaced Friedman with the Rays.
Baseball set up for big doings, even though many Winter Meetings in recent years often lacked announcements and instead favored agreements announced after teams get home. The press room sprawls across a ballroom with 164 tan chairs spaced before a dais and 300 adjacent work spaces across 25 rows. There are separate areas curtained off for MLB.com (56 work spaces) and radio (38).
As the meetings open Monday, the Hall of Fame Golden Era Committee will announce whether it has elected any of 10 candidates: Gil Hodges, Luis Tiant, Maury Wills, Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce and Bob Howsam. The group considers players and executives whose most significant impact was from 1947-72.
NOTES: Next year's meetings are back in Nashville, Tennessee, and the 2016 session is set for Washington, D.C. - the first there since 1958.