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Baseball in December: the Winter Meetings

December 9, 2010

Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona had plenty to smile about all week in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Danny Wild/MLB.com)

I got back today from the MLB Winter Meetings down at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., — a rough week for us baseball folk. I know this is the much-anticipated Army-Navy week, but I’ve been immersed in baseball for the past few days, so I’ll stick to that for now.

The winter meetings are, from the outside looking in, probably a confusing event where fans assume general managers get into a circle and throw around names and trade offers. In reality, it’s a week-long event that mixes front office brass, reporters, TV cameras, random fringe media and mobs of job seekers into a huge world of hotel hallways, ballrooms, lobbies and bars. Emphasis on bars.

Former Yankees reliever Jeff Nelson and Hall of Fame reporter Peter Gammons at the MLB.com Live studio. (Danny Wild/MLB.com)

It’s actually sort of sad to admit that, from my perspective, the engine running these latest meetings was Twitter. The media workroom at the Walt Disney World Dolphin & Swan Resorts was packed with at least 200 writers (I can only imagine where some of these clowns were from), and everyone had Twitter going. The rumors, the stories, the news all stems from text messages and Twitter postings, which is really not what many of us who got into sports journalism ever envisioned.

One of the most popular website destinations was MLBtraderumors.com, which basically compiles all the Twitter rumors and blog posts and (wait for it) actual published news stories into one glorious page of  news.

And it seemed pretty quiet all week, although looking back, there were a number of deals: Paul Konerko stayed with Chicago, the Rays waved goodbye to half their roster in trading Jason Bartlett and watching Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford cash in elsewhere. Shaun Marcum was traded, JJ Hardy went to Baltimore, the Nationals stunned (in a bad, bad way) the baseball community with a ridiculous $126 million contract to the aging Jayson Werth.

Cubs 1B Carlos Pena is flanked by agent Scott Boras (l) and Chicago GM Jim Hendry. (Danny Wild/MLB.com)

The WM are fun, though — there is so much noise on Twitter and such that it was common to see a deal reportedly fall apart, and then literally 15 minutes later, it’s suddenly done.  It’s always exciting to hear a good rumor or have someone shoot you a text that a big deal has gone down — “Crawford to Boston. Just broke. You hear this?” a co-worker texted me late last night as a few of us kicked back in a hotel bar.

The meetings are just as much, if not more Minor League Baseball-centered than anything else. I was told about 500 job seekers were there, with about 400 open positions, many of which were internships with Minor League clubs. It’s got to be intimidating for a college grad to fly to Florida, get a hotel, a bunch of cabs, a suit and try to stand out amongst a huge crowd of eager baseball fanatics looking for a dream job. Every MiLB team was there, holding interviews and discussing business with other clubs.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. (Danny Wild/MLB.com)

I bumped into/spotted a few baseball names in Orlando: Frank Robinson and Tommy Lasorda both made the rounds of the main lobby at the Dolphin. Retired slugger Fred McGriff, 26th all-time with 493 home runs, popped up at the hotel bar. Free agent outfielders Johnny Damon, sporting a tall rooster mohawk, and Gary Sheffield, sporting a huge glitzy ring, both were there (word was Damon wants back with Boston, Sheffield wants Tampa Bay). Pitching coach Rick Peterson was everywhere, chatting with everyone. Yankees reliever Jeff Nelson hovered around the MLB.com set, while Harold Reynolds flashed his smile all week in the main lobby. My flight home was even star-studded, with cast of American Chopper sitting behind me en route to Stewart Airport in Newburgh, NY.

A lot of the media talking heads you see on TV throughout the year were around, mingling among the rest of us — ESPN’s Buster Olney, Jayson Stark, Pedro Gomez and Tim Kurkjian… Peter Gammons, in a navy suit with white running sneakers, was always fun to see in action… some guy trailing White Sox GM Ken Williams, handing him a baseball card to sign… An assortment of Major League managers came and went, from Red Sox skipper Terry Francona in sweats and a t-shirt, to Angels manager Mike Scioscia is a tidy blue suit with red Angels tie.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter stands beside Arizona GM Kevin Towers (R) during a press conference announcing a trade for Mark Reynolds. (Danny Wild/MLB.com)

One colleague told a funny story about his trip from his hotel to the main site, in which Reds manager Dusty Baker invited him into his cab and, after offering to split the fare, Baker brushed him back saying he “probably makes a lot more money.”

I was surprised by the amount of foreign media, which is to say, there were no Japanese players on the move or even on the radar of being traded, yet the TV cameras were everywhere, waiting for something to happen.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi talks with the media. (Danny Wild/MLB.com)

D-Backs manager Kirk Gibson chats with reporters. (Danny Wild/MLB.com)

Incoming Pirates manager Clint Hurdle spoke about moving from Texas to Pittsburgh. (Danny Wild/MLB.com)

Bravers manager Fredi Gonzalez will also assume a new job. (Danny Wild/MLB.com)

Managers held press conferences every 30 minutes in the media workroom — a set schedule had guys rotating in from 2-5 p.m. each day. The TV cameras swarmed around the little tables the managers sat behind, making it a good challenge to find not only a good perspective, but also a clear view for a photograph. Some people will shift over and help you out, and some will just get in your way, even if they’re not really working.

The MLB.com media room buzzed with the sound of laptop keyboards, reporters cursing at the slow wi-fi, snapping fingers to find the right words. Down the hall, the TV networks set up shop with studios and lighting and live reports. And around the corner, Minor League teams held seminars and meetings. It’s an environment where everyone — is that Steve Phillips? — seems to look familiar.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland holds court. (Danny Wild/MLB.com)

Cubs GM Jim Hendry speaks about signing Carlos Pena. (Danny Wild/MLB.com)

Cliff Lee was undoubtedly the name in the mind of everyone mingling around. Early on it was reported that a deal was unlikely to be done this week. Oh well. When Joe Maddon, the Rays’ manager, sat down with his trademark black-rimmed glasses, he spoke already in a past-tense about Carl Crawford, a day or so before he would sign with Boson.

Rays manager Joe Maddon chats with the media. (Danny Wild/MLB.com)

The Minor League side of the meetings features a business seminar and a multi-day trade show that showcases vendors, merchandise, free food and ballpark entertainment. An annual gala featured a live band and food on Wednesday before a banquet ended the meetings on Thursday night. The Rule 5 Draft, in which Minor League veterans are selected by other organizations, was held Thursday morning.

Cubs skipper Mike Quade talks about his new gig. (Danny Wild/MLB.com)

I got to stay at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, which was as nice and fancy as it sounds — a southwestern-themed Disney resort that encircled a lake about a mile away from the Dolphin and Swan resorts, the main hub of the meetings. We had to take cabs and shuttle buses to the main hotels. The Coronado was awesome, though, despite the record-low temperatures (32 on one day).

Angels manager Mike Scioscia wore a team tie. (Danny Wild/MLB.com)

I think Crawford going to Boston boosts the Yankees chance of landing Lee in that, without Crawford as a secondary acquisition plan, they’ll go all-in on courting Lee. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him pick Texas, though. The Yankees need help in their rotation and bullpen, and Robert Fish, selected in the Rule 5 Draft from Anaheim, will neither help nor will he make the roster. Having Boston sign Crawford after acquiring Adrian Gonzalez had to really burn Yankees GM Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenner bros. Boston is now the team to chase with a stacked lineup and good starters.

I will be at Army-Navy on Saturday and look forward to getting some epic photos of the cadets celebrating at the final whistle. Let’s do it.

BEAT NAVY.

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