The 2018 Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas were action-packed and full of surprises.
The Meetings officially started on Sunday, December 9th as the PBEO Job Fair kicked off with dozens of people looking for one of their first jobs in baseball. Although the event wasn’t quite in full swing yet, there were still people hovering around and exploring.
Besides the people at the start of the job fair (and the few media members searching for strong Wi-Fi), there weren’t many people to be seen in the baseball portions of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on that first day. More baseball executives and reporters arrived on Monday as the ratio of people with Winter Meetings credentials to those attending the neighboring rodeo convention increased. For the reporters who filed into the media workroom at nine in the morning, the event got off to a rocky start, as they realized the brown containers of liquid were full of vegan hot cocoa, rather than coffee.
The unofficial kickoff of the Meetings took place with a press conference with Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash, who talked about several developments, including two well-respected members of his staff, Rocco Baldelli and Charlie Montoyo, taking jobs as managers elsewhere in the majors. (He had lots of praise for them.)
Next, Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler discussed the free agent class and the various offseason plans, as well as updating everyone on how his family was after the devastating fires in California destroyed his hometown. Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly, Texas Rangers manager Chris Woodward, and Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell also spoke on Monday.
Later, the Boston Red Sox introduced Nathan Eovaldi after they finalized his four-year, $68 million contract. I asked him what he would have said if somebody told him, back in June, that he would be signing the biggest contract of his life with the Red Sox. “I wouldn’t have believed that at all, especially from where I was in June, not even part of the Red Sox yet.” I also asked if the new contract comes with added pressure, but he said that the size of the deal doesn’t matter. “I try not to put pressure on myself. The contract is what it is, and I have to go out there and perform well. But I feel like, with our group of guys, everybody takes the pressure away.”
In the afternoon, Harold Baines and Lee Smith were elected to the Hall of Fame. The event included a funny moment when Smith couldn’t figure out the buttons on his Hall of Fame jersey, and a sad one, as Baines choked up talking about his father, who passed away before he could see his son become a Hall of Famer.
I also spoke to Red Sox manager Alex Cora about what it was like to bring the World Series trophy back to Puerto Rico (he said it was a “great feeling”). We talked about Dustin Pedroia’s status for 2019, which is becoming more clear and could end up with the veteran second baseman playing on Opening Day in Seattle.
Right after speaking with Cora, I took a stroll with MLB’s chief baseball officer, and New York Yankees legend, Joe Torre. Our conversation began with focus on his opinion of designated hitters in the Hall of Fame. He said that with Harold Baines getting in, the door is opened for guys like Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz. But we mainly discussed pace-of-play. A group of people were meeting Wednesday to discuss the topic, and he thinks the “games are starting to get too long.” He referenced that there were more strikeouts than hits during the 2018 season, something that can become slightly boring to even the biggest baseball fans.
Tuesday featured more than a dozen managerial press conferences. The two most interesting conferences were those of the New York managers: Aaron Boone of the Yankees and Mickey Callaway of the Mets. Boone was brief, providing positive updates on injured catcher Gary Sanchez, while also re-discussing who will play where in the infield. Callaway talked a lot about the catching position, while joking with the media about J.T. Realmuto, and also discussing the Mets’ outfield and farm system.
There were just nine press conferences on Wednesday, including exciting ones from Braves manager Brian Snitker, Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire, and Angels manager Brad Ausmus. Snitker discussed how Atlanta is exploring the idea of using an opener in 2019. Gardenhire discussed more about his farm system than the majors, however news broke as the conference was wrapping up that the Tigers just signed shortstop Jordy Mercer, and although Gardenhire didn’t comment on it, I was among many people who confirmed this piece of news with a front office member from the Tigers standing nearby. Ausmus is excited to see Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani both healthy for the 2019 season. He had nothing but praise for Ohtani, much to the delight of a group of Japanese reporters in attendance.
I was fortunate enough to be able to head up to one of the top floors of the Delano hotel to meet with Tigers general manager Al Avila and his large staff in his suite. We talked about several things, including the rebuild that the team is going through, as well as the farm system. He said he’s not quite sure when the rebuild will end, but he doesn't believe that point is too far away. He also reported he had received a larger-than-usual amount of calls about his major league players, including several pitchers. He mentioned that he wouldn’t give them away for a bargain, but would be eager to finalize a deal if the offer was right. He also reported that he expects 2018 first-overall draft pick Casey Mize to start the 2019 season in either High A or Double A.
The Winter Meetings are not just about trades—they are also a time for entrepreneurs to pitch their products to teams. The annual Baseball Trade Show was a multi-day event that allowed business owners to try and get their wares inside baseball parks.
One of the vendors, AMI, is a business from my hometown in New Hampshire that has been in sports stadiums, fields, and arenas for many years. They make high-quality signs for stadium walls and fencing, and are already in several major and minor league stadiums, but continue to attend the Trade Show to remain visible and current.
The festivities were all but complete by Thursday, when the Rule 5 Draft took place. The event went at a break-neck speed, with teams rattling off their selections every ten seconds. Teams were able to select players not on other franchise's 40-man rosters for a price of $100,000. The San Francisco Giants made two selections, while over a dozen teams made one, and many passed. However, the biggest news of the day was that Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, who fell ill earlier in the week, just finalized a trade from the hospital, getting Edwin Encarnacion in a massive three-team deal with the Indians and Rays which sent Jake Bauers and Carlos Santana to Cleveland, and Yandy Diaz to Tampa Bay.
The Baseball Winter Meetings Meetings are always full of surprises (as well as famous people and exciting products), and were an absolute blast for me this year.