2000 Winter Meetings: Show Me the Money

This article was written by Steve West

This article was published in the Baseball’s Business: The Winter Meetings: 1958-2016


Baseball's Business: The Winter Meetings: 1958-2016

They say everything is bigger in Texas, and when you combine that with the most anticipated free agent in history and a new owner determined to throw money at his team to try to win it all, you get the 2000 Winter Meetings. Over the course of the weekend, nearly a billion dollars was given to players by teams with seemingly more money than they knew what to do with, and once again prognosticators predicted the doom of the sport.

The stars of the show were expected to be shortstop Alex Rodriguez, outfielder Manny Ramirez, and left-handed pitcher Mike Hampton, and so it was. People had been anticipating Rodriguez’s free agency for years, reasoning that a young superstar with the numbers he had put up would break all kinds of records both on and off the field.

A lot of free-agent action had already taken place before the meetings, with the Yankees, most notably, giving right-hander Mike Mussina a six-year, $88.5 million contract, taking him away from a division rival (the Orioles.).

Manny Ramirez had asked the Indians for a 10-year deal worth $200 million. Balking at that, the Indians responded with seven years and $119 million.1 With the two sides far apart, the Indians had signed Ellis Burks to a three-year, $20 million contract, reasoning that they were likely to lose out on Ramirez and would need a replacement, although they said the door was still open for Manny to return.2

Rodriguez, for his part, was looked at by every team in the league. Some, of course, just made cursory glances, knowing they had no hope at landing the four-time All-Star. By the time the Winter Meetings arrived, agent Scott Boras said that a number of teams had expressed serious interest in Rodriguez, and thought they might be able to get it done during the meetings. “We’ve narrowed it down to eight, and I’ve been negotiating with a smaller group,” he said.3

Rumors had spread about Rodriguez’s demands. Many expected him to become the first $200 million man, with a contract length of at least 10 and perhaps as high as 15 years for the 25-year-old. The Mets reportedly dropped out of the bidding, claiming that Rodriguez wanted an office in the ballpark, his own PR staff, and a billboard as big as Derek Jeter’s in New York.4 Meanwhile, when Rodriguez mentioned on his blog how far back the fences at Safeco were, the Mariners said they were not going to move them, and Boras had to clarify that they were not asking for the fences to be moved as part of the contract.5

As the days ticked down to the meetings, things began to happen. Southpaw Denny Neagle, who had won 15 games between the Reds and Yankees during the season, signed with the Rockies for five years and $51.5 million on the Monday before the meetings. The day before the meetings, the Red Sox signed pitcher Frank Castillo for two years and $4.5 million.

Also on Thursday, future Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn returned to the Padres on a one-year, $2 million deal, keeping him with the only team he’d known for 19 years. “I wanted an opportunity to play my whole career here,” he said. “When you think about all the options that you have, that was foremost in my mind. I’m glad that it worked out.”6

On Friday, December 8, the Winter Meetings opened at the Wyndham Anatole Hotel, near downtown Dallas, Texas. Anticipation ran high, and fans flocked to see what was going on. Neither of the top two free agents was in town yet, with Rodriguez and Boras in Miami meeting with Mariners officials, while Ramirez’s agent, Jeff Moorad, was in California talking to Red Sox people.

Still, news of the first big deal broke right away, that of pitcher Mike Hampton signing with the Rockies. Not formally announced until Saturday, the news raced through the hotel that Hampton had signed for eight years and $121 million, the biggest contract in baseball history, passing the $116.5 million that Ken Griffey Jr. had signed with the Reds in February.

Hampton rejected similar offers from several teams, including the team he was leaving, the Mets, and said he wanted to go to a place where he could raise his family. “What it boils down to is a family decision,” he said. “As a whole, this was the place I could move my family to without taking my kid out of school every three months or so.”7

The New York media — and Mets brass — slammed Hampton for talking about “quality of life” issues in choosing Denver over New York. “I consider that an insult, with a capital ‘I,’” one Mets official said. “But if Mike really believes that, (bleep) him, let him go.”8 Hampton was also attacked for his comments about school districts. Mets GM Steve Phillips said, “It’s always the money, especially when it’s not about the money.”9 But Hampton’s agent, Mark Rodgers, said the offers he had received were all equivalent in terms of money. “The New York media want to rake him over the coals. That’s fine, but it’s not justified.”10

Major League Baseball Vice President Sandy Alderson said that once again teams had gone too far in giving in to player demands. “There is a benefit to saying no from time to time,” he commented. “It would be nice for baseball to experience that benefit occasionally.”11

On the baseball side of things, Hampton was moving to Coors Field, the worst pitching ballpark in baseball, where he had never done well. “It’s a test I look forward to and something that I think will make me a better pitcher in the long run,” he said.12

The Rockies knew their park was a problem in attracting pitchers, and had decided to offer so much money to top-level talent that it would blow them away. Signing Hampton and Neagle for more than $175 million was all part of their plan. “We added a horse. A number-one starter at the top of the rotation,” said Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd. “He’s one of the best competitors in the game at his position.”13

Also on Friday, a few other smaller deals were announced. Andrés Galarraga signed with the Rangers for a year and $6.25 million. Galarraga had missed 1999 because of cancer, then hit .302/28/100 for the Braves in 2000, and was being looked at by several teams after winning The Sporting News Comeback Player of the Year Award. “We looked to add a bat with home-run potential, something we sorely missed last year,” said Rangers GM Doug Melvin.14

Meanwhile, another first baseman, Mark Grace, accepted a two-year, $6 million contract with the Diamondbacks. The Cubs felt they had young first-base talent coming through their farm system and didn’t want to block them, so they decided to let Grace go. Grace was unhappy that the Cubs didn’t try to re-sign him after he had spent his whole career there, and promised he would get revenge on his old team on the field. “I know we play them nine times this year and I want to kick their (butt) nine times,” he said.15

For their part, the Cubs were busy looking for pitching, and signed relievers Jeff Fassero (a lefty) for two years at $5.1 million and right-hander Tom Gordon for two years and $5 million. Gordon had missed the whole 2000 season after surgery, and his deal was pending a physical.16

After the big start on Friday, Saturday was quiet, although the Hampton deal was formally presented. Instead, everyone was speculating about Rodriguez and Ramirez, reasoning that if Hampton could get so much money, just how far would people go for those two? Teams were beginning to realize just how big a commitment it would take for one of them. “We’re not going to get crazy on the Manny Ramirez chase,” said Phillips. “We feel that mortgaging our future for an outfielder is not in the best interest of the club.”17

Not much was happening on the business side of things, either, as everyone was watching the free-agency fireworks. On Saturday, baseball did release its minority hiring report, which showed that minorities had gone from 20 percent to 22 percent of employees overall since the 1997 survey. On the field, minority employees, such as managers, coaches, and scouts, had gone from 26 percent to 30 percent.18

Managers and umpires got together during the weekend for a rare discussion. In recent years the top of the strike zone had gotten lower, to the point where anything above the belt was being called a ball. Umpires said they were now being instructed to call the strike zone by the book, while managers said that some movement was okay, but not that much. “We’d all like it to move up an inch or two above the belt. … But 10, 11, or 12 inches? That’s wrong. I don’t know if the umpires can do that,” said Twins manager Tom Kelly.19

The discussion was said to be fruitful, but everyone had reservations until they saw the new zone in practice. “There needs to be patience on all parts. We have to live with it. That’s what this meeting was about,” said umpire Ed Montague, while Alderson said, “There are two things we are looking for in the strike zone. One is accuracy and two is consistency.”20 Managers and umpires also had discussions about the pace of the game, body armor, and other topics.

Managers were also talking about the possibility of a work stoppage when the current labor contract expired after the 2001 season. Commissioner Bud Selig had recently addressed competitive-balance issues and payroll disparity, which led players to believe owners wanted to implement salary caps. “I’m fearful of what might happen,” said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, with Marlins manager John Boles saying, “I’m just petrified.”21

The minor leagues had their meetings in association with the major-league teams. The Lowell Spinners (a Boston Red Sox affiliate) were awarded the Larry MacPhail Trophy, annually bestowed upon the minor-league team judged to be the best-run.22 It was also announced that the Triple-A World Series was being canceled. The best-of-five series had been held in Las Vegas for the past three years between the winners of the International League and Pacific Coast League. Due to poor attendance, minor-league officials decided to cancel the event for 2001 and look into future possible formats and locations.23

Sunday saw a lot of activity, including the first trade of the meetings, when Anaheim sent right-hand pitcher Seth Etherton to Cincinnati for shortstop Wilmy Caceres. Overall, trading proved to be very quiet during the meetings, with only five swaps being completed. The biggest deal of the meetings, in both quality and quantity, happened on Monday when the Tigers sent catcher Brad Ausmus, and right-handers Doug Brocail and Nelson Cruz to the Astros for outfielder Roger Cedeño, catcher Mitch Meluskey, and right-hander Chris Holt.

Free-agent deals continued to be announced, however. The Pirates gave two-year deals to left-hander Terry Mulholland and right fielder Derek Bell. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez re-signed with the Blue Jays for four years and $20 million, after the team warned him it would move in a different direction if he didn’t sign quickly.24 And catcher Todd Hundley signed for four years and $23.5 million with the Cubs, pending a medical exam, because of the elbow surgery he had undergone three years earlier. It was a return home of sorts for Hundley, who grew up in Chicago while his father, Randy, played for the Cubs. “I’ve always wanted to play here and to come home to the organization. To play at the place I was at a lot as a kid, missing school. … It’s great to be home,” he said.25

Late on Sunday, the Mets announced they had signed a four-year, $42 million contract with right-handed pitcher Kevin Appier. “New York is a very exciting city,” he said. “You can’t get a bigger stage than that. If we do great that’s only better. I’m glad to have the opportunity.”26

Also on Sunday, the Rangers gave contracts to right-handed pitcher Mark Petkovsek (two years and $4.9 million) and third baseman Ken Caminiti, the 1996 National League MVP, for one year and $3.25 million, with two option years and bonuses that could take the full contract over $20 million. But the best was just about to break.

Scott Boras spent four hours with Rangers officials during the afternoon, followed by five more hours late into the night.27 The news broke in the early hours of Monday morning, and was made official a few hours later: The Rangers had come to an agreement with Alex Rodriguez on a 10-year, $252 million contract, by far the largest deal in the history of baseball, or any other sport, for that matter.

In 1998 Tom Hicks had spent $250 million to buy the Rangers, and now he was spending $252 million on just one player. “I like to win. I like to build things,” he said.28 Hampton’s record contract had lasted just two days, with the Rodriguez deal more than doubling the baseball record. It also exactly doubled the dollar total of the previously listed highest contract in sports, the $126 million that Kevin Garnett had received to play for the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves in 1997.29

Reaction across the league was furious. “In two days, we’ve doubled a new highest salary,” said MLB’s Alderson. “I don’t like the exponentiality of that. … It’s a straight upward trend that doesn’t look like it will augur at all. Every club will be affected by this.”30 Faced with criticism by the industry about how big and how distorted the deal was, Hicks said, “I think that’s a very complicated issue that can’t be solved just by the owners but solved collectively by the whole industry.”31

Meanwhile Rangers players were excited. “If the money wasn’t there, it wouldn’t be offered,” said first baseman Rafael Palmeiro.32 Galarraga, signed by the Rangers on Friday, reacted with delight to the Rodriguez deal. “With this team, we’ve got four or five guys who can hit 40 home runs,” he said.33 In the front office they were bullish on the team’s future. “Alex is the player we believe will allow this franchise to fulfill its dream of continuing on its path to becoming a World Series champion,” said Hicks.34 “I know expectations will be high. We’re ready to meet that challenge,” said GM Melvin.35

When they saw the price tag for Rodriguez, the other teams that had been finalists for his services learned just how far away they really were. The Mariners were eliminated because they wouldn’t offer more than five years. “When they came with a three-year guarantee and a two-year out, I was in disbelief. I just walked away from it, and knew I wouldn’t have a real choice,” Rodriguez said.36 “We couldn’t go there,” said Mariners GM Pat Gillick. “There would have had to have been a major hometown discount to get us into the ballpark.”37 The Braves lost out when they would not give a no-trade clause. “Where (Alex) plays ball, he wants to make his home. So that was really something that directed us in a different direction,” Boras said.38

Later in the week Rodriguez addressed the Mets’ lack of attention during the bidding process. The Mets had dropped out early, citing various requirements by Rodriguez, such as an office in the ballpark and his own PR staff. Reportedly his original first choice, they were never in the running after they made those allegations. “I was intrigued by the way they dropped out of negotiations. That was quite dramatic. All they had to do was say they’re not interested. And I would have been very happy with that and moved on,” he said.39 On the other hand, it was suggested in some quarters that the Mets were making excuses, because they had chickened out when the price got so high.40

Comparisons of how much money the contract was worth ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. One note said that you could pay the entire payrolls of the Yankees, Braves, and White Sox for $244 million. Another said that Rodriguez would average $45,000 per at-bat during the course of the contract. And one even pointed out that you could get more than 84 million McDonalds Happy Meals ($2.99 each).41

Even the Yankees chimed in on the Rodriguez contract, with their own star shortstop Derek Jeter a year away from free agency. “We expect to no longer hear any criticism from any quarter of the Yankees since our record is absolutely consistent in that we have not broken any barriers. The lion’s share of our spending is on retaining our own players,” Yankees President Randy Levine said. He also said it would be “the height of hypocrisy” for the teams that had spent big to “ever complain about anything again.”42

In other action on Monday, right-hander Darren Dreifort decided to stay with the Dodgers for five years and $55 million. Then, late on Monday night, the second superstar contract was agreed on when — almost overshadowed by the Rodriguez deal — Manny Ramirez decided to sign with the Red Sox for eight years and $160 million, the second largest deal ever.

By that point the meetings were coming to a close, with a number of teams having already packed up and left town the day before they were officially scheduled to end on Tuesday. With the circus folding its tent, the news that Ramirez had spurned a $136 million offer from Cleveland barely caused a ripple in the media, exhausted by the huge numbers being thrown around.

Although both sides had given their best pitches to Ramirez, sending players, coaches, and others to talk to him, he decided that Boston had a better chance to win than Cleveland did. The presence of his good friend Pedro Martinez was also cited as a huge factor for Ramirez going to Boston.43 Both sides gave the obligatory quotes about how well the process had worked, and how good a player the Red Sox were getting. “Dan was a bulldog on this project from Day 1,” said Manny’s agent, Jeff Moorad.44 “This kid has been the most gifted hitter in the business. We’re a lot stronger than we were,” said Red Sox GM Dan Duquette.45

Deals continued to be made in the days after the meetings ended, however, following up on events that had begun in Dallas. Having signed a new shortstop in Rodriguez, the Rangers then traded the incumbent, sending Royce Clayton to the White Sox for two right-handed pitchers, Aaron Myette and Brian Schmack.

A week after the meetings ended, the Houston Astros joined the money parade, extending the contract of first baseman Jeff Bagwell for five years and $85 million, tying another first baseman, Toronto’s Carlos Delgado, for the third highest average annual salary.

With that, the 2000 Winter Meetings effectively came to an end. It had been a weekend that had shocked the sport, and the ripples from those few days in Dallas would reverberate for years to come. Commissioner Bud Selig said he hadn’t been surprised by the money spent at the Winter Meetings. “The inequity in this system is now so apparent,” he said. “The question is, how do we fix it and what do we do?”46 Wendy Selig-Prieb, president and CEO of the Milwaukee Brewers, followed her father’s lead, saying that all the money being spent got their attention. “There needs to be meaningful reform in the economics of baseball,” she said.47

There were renewed calls for the economic restructuring of the game, with owners pointing to other sports as a model. The NFL and NBA, for instance, had salary caps, revenue-sharing, and other limits on player pay that helped them to succeed, and Braves President Bill Bartholomay called for similar structures in baseball. “They have to recognize what other sports have done, bite the bullet and everybody will do better,” he said.48

With the labor agreement expiring after the 2001 season, people were already looking at the threat of tough negotiations leading to another strike or lockout. “I pray there isn’t another work stoppage, because if there is, baseball is in trouble,” said Phillies manager Larry Bowa.49 Donald Fehr, executive director of the players union, heard the discussion of a work stoppage, but dismissed it. “I’m not going to respond to that stuff,” he said. “They’ll say what they say. I’m not going to play that game.”50

In total, teams had committed to almost three-quarters of a billion dollars in contracts throughout the Winter Meetings, putting them over a billion dollars for the offseason. “The well’s got to run dry. It seems it does for a little bit, but then it starts back up,” said Bowa.51

A final word may go to the star of the weekend. “Hopefully when it’s over, they won’t be calling Mr. Hicks a fool but the wisest man in baseball. Only time will tell. But I’m looking forward to the challenge. For me, it revolves around baseball,” said Rodriguez.52 Time would prove him completely wrong.

 

Notes

1 Tom Withers, “Tribe Offers Arbitration to Three,” Ashtabula (Ohio) Star Beacon, December 8, 2000: B1.

2 Ibid.

3 “Amending Fences Not in Mariners’ A-Rod Plan,” Lethbridge (Alberta) Herald, December 5, 2000: B3.

4 Jon Heyman, “A-Rod Upset at Mets,” Stamford (Connecticut) Advocate, December 13, 2000: C6.

5 Ibid.

6 Ronald Blum (Associated Press), “Gwynn Stays With Padres; Cone Leaving the Yankees,” Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach), December 8, 2000: C5.

7 Ronald Blum, “Hampton Gets $121M to Love Coors Field,” Rockford (Illinois) Register Star, December 10, 2000: 9G.

8 Bob Klapisch, “Criticism of Area by Hampton Has Mets’ Brass Angry,” Stamford Advocate, December 10, 2000: C5.

9 Blum, “Hampton Gets $121M.”

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid. It didn’t work out that way. Hampton only spent two years with the Rockies, compiling a 21-28 record, with a 5.75 ERA and a 1.677 WHIP. He would have two good years in Atlanta before injuries derailed his career.

13 Josh Dubow (Associated Press), “Hampton Hoping to Avoid the Curse of Coors Field,” Fitchburg (Massachusetts) Sentinel & Enterprise, December 10, 2000: C3.

14 “Galarraga Finds Home With Rangers,” Chicago Daily Herald, December 9, 2000: section 2, page 3.

15 “Cubs Get Help for Bullpen,” Rockford (Illinois) Register Star, December 9, 2000: 3E.

16 “Cubs Bolster Bullpen; Galarraga Signs With Texas,” Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World, December 9, 2000: 10C.

17 Blum, “Hampton Gets $121M.”

18 “Baseball Makes Marginal Increases in Number of Minority Employees,” Chicago Daily Herald, December 10, 2000: section 2, page 4.

19 “Baseball Notes,” Columbia (South Carolina) State, December 11, 2000: C3.

20 “Mets Load Up on Pitchers Appier, Trachsel,” Columbia State, December 12, 2000: C5.

21 “Baseball Notes,” Columbia State, December 11, 2000: C3.

22 “Simply the Best,” Lowell (Massachusetts) Sun, December 8, 2000: 9.

23 “No Triple-A Series,” Syracuse (New York) Herald-Journal, December 13, 2000: D2.

24 “Rodriguez Narrows Field,” Doylestown (Pennsylvania) Intelligencer Record, December 11, 2000: B8.

25 “Ramirez Gives Sox a Building Block,” The Capital (Annapolis, Maryland), December 14, 2000: D5.

26 Ben Walker (Associated Press), “Appier in New York for Physical, Close to Deal With Mets,” Ukiah (California) Daily Journal, December 11, 2000: 6.

27 “Megadeal,” Northwest Florida Daily News, December 25, 2000: D5.

28 Thomas Stinson, “$252 Million,” Columbia State, December 12, 2000: C1.

29 Ibid.

30 Ronald Blum, “Owners Deliver $1B to Players,” Rockford (Illinois) Register Star, December 13, 2000: page number unknown.

31 Stinson.

32 “Rodriguez’s Deal Shocks Baseball,” Augusta Chronicle, December 12, 2000: 3C.

33 “Galarraga Should Fit Nicely in Texas,” Stamford Advocate, December 12, 2000: C5.

34 Ronald Blum, “Rangers Win Rodriguez Sweepstakes — at Record Price,” Chicago Daily Herald, December 12, 2000: 2.

35 Ibid.

36 “ARod Addresses the Media,” St. Albans (Vermont) Messenger, December 13, 2000: 9.

37 “M’s Couldn’t Come Close to Texas-Sized Bid,” Walla Walla (Washington) Union-Bulletin, December 12, 2000: 14.

38 Stinson.

39 Jon Heyman, “A-Rod Upset at Mets,” Stamford Advocate, December 13, 2000: C6.

40 Bob Klapisch, “Despite Signing Mussina, All Not Well With Yanks,” Stamford Advocate, December 5, 2000: B8.

41 Stinson.

42 “Jeter May Benefit From A-Rod’s Deal,” Syracuse (New York) Herald-Journal, December 13, 2000: D2.

43 “Ramirez Gives Thumbs-Up to New Deal With Red Sox,” Augusta Chronicle, December 14, 2000: 5C.

44 Ibid.

45 Ibid.

46 “Selig: Changes Coming in Game’s Economic Structure,” Augusta Chronicle, December 14, 2000: 5C.

47 Ibid.

48 “Selig Knows Score and It’s Not Good,” The Capital, December 14, 2000: D5.

49 Blum, “Rangers Win Rodriguez Sweepstakes.”

50 Ronald Blum, “Salaries, Naysaying on Rise,” Doylestown (Pennsylvania) Intelligencer, December 13, 2000: B6.

51 “ARod Addresses the Media,” St. Albans Messenger, December 13, 2000: 9.

52 Stephen Hawkins, “Texas Welcomes A-Rod,” Fitchburg (Massachusetts) Sentinel & Enterprise, December 13, 2000: B3.

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