This article was written by Jerry Swenson
This article was published in Baseball’s Business: The Winter Meetings: 1958-2016
Introduction and Context
The 2002 Winter Meetings were held from December 13 to December 16 at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. This was the fourth time they were held at this venue. Economic conditions in some markets had made contraction — eliminating two or more teams — a concern during the 2001 Winter Meetings. Contraction was not a consideration during the 2002 meetings as two events occurred in 2002 that deferred any discussion of contraction until later in the decade.
On February 5, 2002, Commissioner Bud Selig had issued the following statement: “While the clubs would have preferred to contract for 2002 and begin addressing the economic issues immediately, events outside of our direct control, including yesterday’s court decision in Minnesota, have required us to move the date of contraction to 2003.”1 Later that year, the collective-bargaining agreement (CBA), agreed to in August 2002, eliminated contraction as an immediate concern and prohibited it through the 2006 season.2 The CBA increased local revenue-sharing and provided a revenue-sharing central fund, reinstated the luxury tax, and provided a $10 million discretionary fund for the commissioner.3
A series of developments after the 2001 World Series ultimately led to Major League Baseball taking ownership of the Montreal Expos. Shortly after the World Series ended, Selig had announced that two teams would be dropped before the 2002 season. There was not much interest from many owners in getting out of baseball.4 The owners of the Montreal Expos and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays wanting to remain in baseball were featured prominently in MLB’s assuming ownership of the Expos. Jeff Loria, the owner of the Expos, wanted to operate a baseball team as did John Henry, the owner of the Florida Marlins.5 Also occurring at this time was sale of the Boston Red Sox by the Yawkey Trust. John Harrington of the Yawkey Trust was tasked with selling the club to the highest bidder. There was interest from Charles Dolan (Cablevision) and syndicates headed by Miles Prentice and Joseph O’Donnell in bidding for the Red Sox.6 Another group of bidders, including Les Otten, Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino, and George Mitchell, did not have enough money to meet the top bids. This group of bidders needed another partner to provide additional money to win the bidding.7 Meanwhile, Selig was arranging a three-way franchise swap. Henry would swap the Marlins for the Red Sox, Loria would swap the Expos for the Marlins, and Major League Baseball would buy the Expos.8 The winning bid for the Red Sox (including the New England Sports Network and Fenway Park) was not the highest bid; both Dolan and a group headed by Prentice presented higher bids.9 No one had ever paid half as much for a baseball team at the time.10
Finances continued to play a role in the business plans and strategies of the previous contraction candidates and would affect player movement during the meetings. Major League Baseball implemented a payroll budget and informed the Expos’ general manager, Omar Minaya, that the team payroll must be reduced to $44 million. Given this budget requirement, Minaya was not expected to be able to retain the current group of players, who were expected to earn more than $50 million.11 General managers on other teams hoped that Minaya would quickly identify the players he would make available.
Free-agent signings were also very slow heading into the meetings. Referring to the free-agent market, Orioles Executive Vice President Jim Beattie commented, “It’s not a quickly developing market, that’s for sure. Even with the December 7 deadline [for offering players salary arbitration], I didn’t think there was much urgency. People are still tiptoeing into the water. There is a lot of consideration among teams not to be the one to set the market.”12
The Red Sox operated with an interim general manager, Mike Port, during the 2002 season but elected to search for a new GM after the season. They initially offered Billy Beane the position but he decided to remain with the Oakland A’s. The Red Sox promoted Theo Epstein, assistant to team President Larry Lucchino, to general manager on November 25, 2002.13
Although many teams were slow to sign free agents before the meetings, the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets were exceptions. The Phillies signed free agents Jim Thome and David Bell hoping to improve the team before its move into a new ballpark in 2004.14 The Phillies also showed interest in Tom Glavine, but he eventually signed with the New York Mets.15
The Los Angeles Dodgers were looking for roster flexibility but were hampered by payroll issues and a concern about exceeding the luxury tax threshold. To help alleviate these concerns, they traded infielders Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek to the Chicago Cubs for Todd Hundley in early December.16
There was not a great deal of player movement throughout the meetings; only five significant trades were made and seven major-league free agents agreed to deals.17 The trade market partially hinged on the Montreal Expos, who did not trade some of their more coveted players, including Bartolo Colon and Javier Vasquez. Many teams and agents said this clogged the marketplace.18
The Mets continued to be active in the offseason. They traded their Gold Glove shortstop, Rey Ordonez, to Tampa Bay. Both clubs were pleased with the deal. Lou Piniella, the Tampa Bay manager, said shortstop was the team’s most pressing need,19 and Ordonez would help his young pitching staff. The Mets had soured on Ordonez because of his offensive struggles and inconsistent fielding.20 This move, along with Mets third baseman Edgar Alfonzo signing with the San Francisco Giants, put the Mets in a position to have a new starting left side of the infield in 2003. Jose Reyes and Sanchez were expected to share the primary duties as shortstop while Ty Wigginton was expected to take over at third base.
Oakland’s Billy Beane acquired first baseman Erubiel Durazo from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a multiteam deal. Beane called Durazo “almost … my Holy Grail.”21 The Diamondbacks acquired right-handed pitcher Elmer Dessens from the Cincinnati Reds, and the Reds acquired infielder Felipe Lopez from the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays were to acquire a player to be named later (minor-league pitcher Jason Arnold).
Epstein made one trade, acquiring first baseman-outfielder Jeremy Giambi from the Phillies for pitcher Josh Hancock. After the meetings, he made what turned out to be one of his most important signings. The Minnesota Twins, another one of the teams identified as a 2002 contraction candidate, released David Ortiz during the meetings. The Twins could not find a team willing to trade for Ortiz and did not want to go to salary arbitration with him.22 He signed with the Red Sox on January 22, 2003.
The remaining trades during the meetings included the St. Louis Cardinals acquiring pitcher Brett Tomko from the San Diego Padres for pitcher Luther Hackman and a minor leaguer, while the Atlanta Braves acquired left-handed pitcher Ray King from the Milwaukee Brewers for infielder Wes Helms and lefty John Foster.
The Rule 5 draft included a few players who had played in the major leagues, including Shane Victorino. The Padres selected the future All-Star. However, his stay in San Diego was short and he ended up establishing himself in 2006 as a starting outfielder for the Phillies.
The Business Side
The business aspects of this meeting were much different than the 2001 meetings. There was no talk of contraction but there were payroll restrictions placed upon the Expos. Although the Expos did not move any of their stars during the winter meetings, they did trade right-handed pitcher Bartolo Colon to the Chicago White Sox along with minor leaguer Jorge Nunez before the 2003 season. The Expos received right-handed pitchers Orlando Hernandez and Jeff Liefer, outfielder Rocky Biddle, and cash.
The general managers discussed a minimum age for batboys and eventually decided that further legal advice was needed but that the minimum age would be either 14 or 16.
Also, Bud Selig’s idea to have the league winning the All-Star Game would get home field advantage was not discussed.
Finally, Hal McCoy, who covered Reds baseball for more than 30 years, won the Baseball Writers Association of America’s Spink Award.
The 2002 Winter Meetings were noneventful as player signings were slow going into the meetings and continued to be slow during the meetings. Brian Cashman, the Yankees’ general manager, said, “Montreal is stagnating things because they have so many players that might be attractive.” 23 Teams were slow to offer arbitration to nonstars. The possibility of more free agents on the market acted to slow player movement.
The Atlanta Braves were active shortly after the meetings as they continued to remake their pitching staff. They acquired right-hander Russ Ortiz from the Giants on December 17, traded righty Kevin Millwood to the Phillies for catcher Johnny Estrada on December 20, and re-signed right-hander Paul Byrd. Meanwhile, pitcher Greg Maddux accepted salary arbitration from the Braves.
The free-agent stars were slow to sign, although some signed shortly after the meetings. The Astros signed Jeff Kent on December 18, the Yankees signed Hideki Matsui on December 19 and re-signed Roger Clemens on December 30. The Dodgers signed Fred McGriff on December 20. On January 20 catcher Ivan Rodriguez signed a one-year deal with the Marlins.
1 David Schoenfield, “Contraction Time,” https://assets.espn.go.com/mlb/s/2002/0205/1323230.html.
The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, owner and operator of the Metrodome, sued the Twins and Major League Baseball for an injunction to require the team to honor the remaining year of its lease. Hennepin County District Court Judge Harry Crump granted the injunction because of the “irreparable harm” which would have resulted if the Twins exited early and the “public interest” in assuring that the team play out the final year of its lease. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the decision. See http://sabr.org/research/play-ball-minnesota-baseball-litigation-lore
2 Doug Pappas, “Summary of New Collective Bargaining Agreement,” https://roadsidephotos.sabr.org/baseball/02-3CBA.htm.
4 Doug Pappas, “Why John Henry and Tom Werner Won the Sox,” https://roadsidephotos.sabr.org/baseball/bb02-1.htm.
9 Murray Chass, “Owners Give Approval to Sale of the Boston Red Sox,” https://nytimes.com/2002/01/17/sports/baseball-owners-give-approval-to-sale-of-the-red-sox.html.
11 Jason Reid, “Expos Find Many Suitors,” https://articles.latimes.com/2002/dec/14/sports/sp-baseball14.
12 Peter Schmuck, “Winter Meetings Might Be All Talk,” https://articles.baltimoresun.com/2002-12-13/sports/0212130046_1_players-teams-signing.
13 Associated Press, “Epstein’s Promotion Completes Front Office Overhaul,” https://a.espncdn.com/mlb/news/2002/1125/1466352.html.
14 ESPN.com News Service, “Phillies Beat Out Indians in Pursuit of Thome,” https://a.espncdn.com/mlb/news/2002/1202/1470010.html.
15 Associated Press, “Mets, Glavine Agree to Contract,” https://reds.enquirer.com/2002/12/06/wwwredznote6.html.
16 Jason Reid, “Karros Is Too Much of a Luxury,” articles.latimes.com/print/2002/dec/04/sports/sp-dodgers4.
17 Ronald Blum (Associated Press), “Moves Expected After Winter Meetings,” https://peninsulaclarion.com/stories/121702/bas_1217020008.html#.Vty69seZZ0U.
19 Ronald Blum, “Baseball Winter Meetings,” https://2.ljworld.com/news/2002/dec/16/baseball_winter_meetings/.
22 Garry Brown, “Fortunately for Boston, David Ortiz Was Unwanted by the Minnesota Twins,” https://masslive.com/redsox/index.ssf/2013/11/david_ortiz_unwanted_by_minnes.html.
23 Associated Press, “No Trades Made as Winter Meetings Begin,” https://a.espncdn.com/mlb/news/2002/1213/1476554.html.