This article was written by Bob Whelan
This article was published in the Baseball’s Business: The Winter Meetings: 1958-2016
INTRODUCTION AND CONTEXT
As the twenty-first century began, the commissioner’s office and many team owners were concerned about competitive imbalance. After free agency began in the 1970s, some teams were able to use their financial heft to gain a competitive edge, especially those with lucrative local radio and television contracts; the New York Yankees, for instance, won four of five World Series between 1996 and 2000, and appeared in six of eight World Series between 1996 and 2003.
Steps were taken to address this imbalance. In 1994, a wild-card team was added to the playoff system in each league, thus giving more teams an opportunity for postseason success. After the 2002 collective-bargaining agreement was signed, Major League Baseball imposed a luxury tax. In brief, this meant that teams that exceeded a certain payroll level had to contribute to a fund that was redistributed to financially weaker teams.1 Along with the amateur draft and several new ballparks, more competition resulted. Between 2000 and 2005, 18 of the 30 major-league teams reached the playoffs.
The 2005 postseason produced some surprises. In the American League Division Series, the Chicago White Sox swept the defending World Series champions, the Boston Red Sox, while in the other division series, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim beat the perennially contending Yankees, three games to two. In the National League Division Series, the St. Louis Cardinals swept the San Diego Padres and the Houston Astros defeated the Atlanta Braves, three games to one. In the League Championship Series, the White Sox beat the Angels in five games, while Houston ousted the Cardinals in a hard-fought series, four games to two. In the World Series the White Sox, making their first appearance since 1959, swept the Astros, making their first appearance ever. It was the White Sox’ first World Series championship since 1917.
As the offseason began, there was every reason for most teams to think that with the addition of the right player, they too could win in the postseason. Even before the Winter Meetings began, there were several major trades and free-agent signings, which presaged a very busy offseason.
In late November, there were three major trades. In the biggest, the Boston Red Sox sent top prospect Hanley Ramirez and right-handers Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado, and Harvey Garcia to the Florida Marlins for right-handers Josh Beckett and Guillermo Mota and third baseman Mike Lowell. Ramirez was a budding star, and he proved to be one for the Marlins, as he led the National League in runs scored in 2008 and in batting in 2009 (.342). With the Marlins, Ramirez became an All-Star shortstop. Sanchez became a dependable starting pitcher for the Marlins and later for the Detroit Tigers. Beckett and Lowell were central to Boston’s World Series victory in 2007. Beckett won 20 games that year, and Lowell had a career year at the plate with a .324 batting average, 21 home runs, and 120 runs batted in. This was the proverbial trade that helped both teams.
There were two other consequential trades before the Winter Meetings. The White Sox traded their starting center fielder, Aaron Rowand, and minor-league left-handers Daniel Haigwood and Gio Gonzalez to the Philadelphia Phillies for first baseman Jim Thome. Rowand, an excellent defender, would have his best years with the Phillies, including a .309/27/89 All-Star year in 2007. Gonzalez became a very good starting pitcher, with Oakland and the Washington Nationals (21 wins in 2012). Thome continued as a top-level slugger for several years with the White Sox, with 42 home runs and 109 RBIs as an immediate return in 2006. The other deal saw the Florida Marlins send second baseman Luis Castillo to the Minnesota Twins for two minor leaguers. Castillo, a three-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner who had twice led the National League in stolen bases, continued to be a highly productive player for several seasons with the Twins and the New York Mets. The two right-handed pitchers the Marlins received (Scott Tyler and Travis Bowyer) never made the 25-man roster.
PLAYER MOVEMENT AT THE 2005 WINTER MEETING
The meeting was held December 5-8 at the Wyndham Anatole Hotel in Dallas, Texas. In those four days, 21 free agents signed contracts and 15 trades were completed, with 42 players changing teams. Another 15 players were selected in the Rule 5 draft.
FREE AGENT SIGNINGS
Many of the 21 free agents re-signed with their original teams. For example, All-Star outfielder Brian Giles and star closer Trevor Hoffman returned to the San Diego Padres, and veteran left-handed starter Jamie Moyer went back to the Seattle Mariners.
Five free-agent signings could be characterized as more important than others. Most notably, right-handed starting pitcher A.J. Burnett went from the Florida Marlins to the Toronto Blue Jays. Burnett pitched in Toronto for three years, with 18 wins in 2008. He went on to pitch for the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates, ending his career with 164 victories in the majors. Paul Byrd, a right-handed starting pitcher, signed with the Cleveland Indians after having spent the 2005 season with the Angels. Byrd spent several seasons in the Cleveland rotation, winning 15 games in 2007. Kyle Farnsworth, a veteran right-handed relief pitcher, left the Atlanta Braves for the Yankees. With Mariano Rivera established as the closer in the Bronx, Farnsworth assumed a setup role. He continued as a major-league reliever with five more teams until 2014, with a career-high 25 saves for Tampa Bay in 2011. The Los Angeles Dodgers added star shortstop Rafael Furcal, the 2000 National League Rookie of the Year, who left the always-contending Atlanta Braves. Furcal had several solid seasons with the Dodgers, and also had an All-Star season (2012) with the St. Louis Cardinals. Relief specialist Tom Gordon signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, a move that paid immediate dividends for the Phils, as the right-handed Gordon recorded 34 saves in 2006, the second-best total of his 21-year career.
The first trade of the Winter Meetings saw the Florida Marlins send catcher Paul Lo Duca to the New York Mets for outfielder Dante Brinkley and right-hander Gaby Hernandez. Lo Duca was the Mets’ starting catcher for two seasons, making the All-Star team in 2006 when he batted .318 and helped the Mets reach the National League Championship Series. Neither Brinkley nor Hernandez ever played in the major leagues.
In a trade of relief pitchers, the Baltimore Orioles sent the lefty Steve Kline to the San Francisco Giants for right-hander Latroy Hawkins. Kline pitched two more respectable seasons for the Giants, while Hawkins was in the middle of a 21-year career (1995-2015) that saw him pitch with 11 different clubs, highlighted (perhaps) by appearances in the 2007 World Series with the Colorado Rockies. As late in his career as 2014 (with the Rockies), Hawkins recorded 23 saves.
The Colorado Rockies made two major trades at the meetings. They sent outfielder Larry Bigbie and infielder Aaron Miles to the St. Louis Cardinals for left-handed relief pitcher Ray King. Miles started for three seasons with the Cardinals, hitting .317 in 2008. Bigbie played only 17 more games in the majors, while King pitched only a couple more inconsequential years in the majors. The Rockies also sent right-hander Miguel Carvajal to the Seattle Mariners for Yorvit Torrealba. Torrealba was the starting catcher for two postseason teams, the 2007 Rockies and the 2011Texas Rangers.
In a trade that was thought to be major at the time, the Arizona Diamondbacks sent right-handed pitchers Lance Cormier and Oscar Villareal to the Atlanta Braves for catcher Johnny Estrada. Cormier pitched, mainly in relief, for six more years in the major leagues, and Villareal had a 9-1 record as a Braves reliever in 2006. Estrada, considered a future star at one time (he was an All-Star in 2004 when he batted .314), hit .302 with 11 home runs and 71 RBIs for the Diamondbacks in 2006. He followed that with a respectable season at Milwaukee in 2007, but was out of the majors before the end of the 2008 season.
The Boston Red Sox traded catcher Doug Mirabelli to the San Diego Padres for third baseman Mark Loretta. Mirabelli, a veteran backup catcher, was known as a specialist in catching the knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield. Loretta was an excellent veteran hitter, who finished with a lifetime batting average of .295. It seemed for a time that Mirabelli would be a starter, after several years as a backup receiver, but later in the offseason, San Diego signed future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza to be the regular catcher. Mirabelli requested a return to Boston, and was traded back to the Red Sox early in the 2006 season for catcher Josh Bard, right-handed reliever Cla Meredith, and $100,000. Mirabelli was a member of the 2007 Red Sox champions, in his last year in the majors. Loretta hit .285 and made the All-Star team in his only season with the Red Sox, then spent two years with the Astros and one with Dodgers before retiring.
The very active Florida Marlins sent outfielder Juan Pierre to the Chicago Cubs for right-handers Sergio Mitre and Ricky Nolasco, plus southpaw Renyel Pinto. Pierre was consistently good throughout his career and 2006 proved to be no exception, as he led the NL with 204 hits (including 13 triples), batted .292, and stole 58 bases. In 2010, while playing for the Chicago White Sox, Pierre led the American League with 68 steals. Mitre was part of Florida’s starting rotation for a couple of seasons, making 27 starts in 2007, before moving to the Yankees and then to the Brewers. Ricky Nolasco became a good starting pitcher for the Marlins, winning 81 games for the team. By the end of the 2016 season (which he spent with the Twins and Angels), Nolasco had more than 100 wins as a major-league pitcher. Pinto wound up pitching in almost 250 games in his five-year Marlins career.
The Toronto Blue Jays got first baseman Lyle Overbay and right-hander Ty Taubenheim from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for right-handed starter David Bush, southpaw Zach Jackson, and outfielder Gabe Gross. Overbay was the Blue Jays’ regular first baseman for the next five seasons, posting solid, if not spectacular, numbers during that time. Bush was a regular in Milwaukee’s pitching rotation for five seasons, winning 46 games for the Brewers. Gross, who had been Auburn’s starting quarterback, never became more than a platoon outfielder in the majors, while Taubenheim and Jackson combined for just five major-league victories.
The Atlanta Braves sent heralded third-base prospect Andy Marte to the Boston Red Sox for shortstop Edgar Renteria. Despite the high expectations, Marte never made it as a regular at the major-league level. Renteria batted.293 and .332 in his two seasons in Atlanta. Indeed, postseason appearances and successes followed Renteria throughout his career — he had been with Florida when it won the World Series in 1997, with St. Louis when it lost the World Series (to Boston) in 2004, and would be the World Series MVP with San Francisco in 2010.
Perhaps the most puzzling trade of the meetings was the Texas Rangers-Washington Nationals deal. The Rangers sent second baseman Alfonso Soriano to Washington for right-handed pitcher Armando Galarraga and outfielders Terrmel Sledge and Brad Wilkerson. For Jon Daniels, the Rangers general manager, who built the team into a consistent contender in the 2010s, this was one of his first trades, and it may be one he would rather forget. Soriano had originally come to the Rangers in the trade of Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees after the 2003 season. Soriano was headed for expensive free agency, but he hit 46 home runs and was selected for the All-Star team for the Nats in 2006. Soriano hit 412 home runs and had almost 2,100 hits, in a career that concluded in 2014. Showing long-term value, Soriano had more than 30 home runs and 100 RBIs as late as 2013 (divided between the Cubs and Yankees). On the other side of the deal, Galarraga won just 26 games in the majors and is best known as the pitcher who lost a perfect game to an umpire’s missed call while pitching for Detroit. Sledge was shipped to the Padres a month later in a deal that also included first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and 6-foot-10 righty Chris Young, and made only token appearances in the majors after the trade. Wilkerson, the key from the Rangers perspective, had hit 32 home runs for Montreal in 2004, but he barely topped that in his two seasons as a Ranger, and he closed out his career with Seattle and Toronto in 2008. Finances certainly played a role in the trade. Soriano was pending free agency, and would have a high veteran’s salary. In addition, the Rangers had an excellent second baseman, Ian Kinsler, ready to play at the major-league level in 2006. Kinsler would earn the major-league minimum salary as a rookie. Nevertheless, the return for Soriano was disappointing.
RULE 5 DRAFT
Fifteen players were selected in the Rule 5 draft. Two turned out to be significant acquisitions. The Texas Rangers picked right-handed pitcher Alexi Ogando from the Oakland A’s. Ogando was a successful pitcher for several seasons before he suffered arm injuries. As a starting pitcher, he won 13 games in 2011 for a Rangers team that went to the World Series, but he was primarily an effective setup reliever. In one of the all-time Rule 5 bargains, the Florida Marlins took Dan Uggla from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Uggla, a three-time All-Star second baseman, hit at least 30 home runs in every season from 2007 to 2011.
BUSINESS SIDE OF THE MEETING
Owners at the meeting took a harsher stance toward the use of steroids. By unanimous vote, they instituted a 50-game suspension for the first positive test for steroids, a 100-game suspension for a second positive test, and a lifetime suspension for a third positive (the previous penalties were lighter). The players union, meeting at the same time in Henderson, Nevada, ratified the owners’ decision. This was thought to be a good sign for the coming negotiations on a new contract. (The current contract was to expire after the 2006 season.) The players opened up a previously negotiated issue (the penalties for steroid use) under pressure from the owners, Congress, and the public.2
Major League Baseball also made a major announcement at the meeting about the World Baseball Classic. Some 177 players, including such stars as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Eric Gagne, Vladimir Guerrero, and Derek Jeter, agreed to play in the WBC. This 16-team international tournament was to be played during spring training in March 2006. A player could play for a country’s team if one of his parents was born in the country. Thus, future Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza and longtime major-league reliever Jason Grilli were on the Italian roster.3
Discussions continued about the definitive ownership of the Washington Nationals. In February of 2002, Major League Baseball had taken ownership of the Montreal Expos, and eventually moved them to Washington for the 2005 season. This, however, was considered to be a temporary solution, and the other 29 club owners were eager to find someone to take permanent possession of the Nationals. Four ownership groups under consideration. A group headed by Tennessee developer Franklin Haney may never have received serious consideration. Two of the groups had major Washington connections: One was headed by real-estate developer Ted Lerner, the other by Fred Malek, an investor and former White House aide. A fourth group, headed by Jeff Smulyan, a communications executive and former owner of the Seattle Mariners, was well-funded but lacked local ties.4 Ultimately, in 2006, the Lerner group received the franchise.
The minor-league meetings, held in conjunction with the major-league meetings, presented a mixed picture of the state of minor-league baseball. The Trenton Thunder of the Double-A Eastern League won the outstanding franchise award. The Brevard County Manatees of the Class-A Florida State League won the Larry MacPhail award for best promotions. In some respects, there was a darker tone. Mike Moore, president of the National Association, the minor leagues’ umbrella group, told a sportswriter that half of the 176 affiliated teams in minor-league baseball in 2005 would lose money. Only a few years previously, two-thirds of the franchises had been profitable. Sixteen successful teams made 60 percent of the profits. The fiscal crisis in the minor leagues was said to be caused by owners having to bear more of the costs of ballparks, and to soaring franchise prices.5
The 2005 Winter Meetings left owners, players, the media, and fans with optimistic feelings. While labor negotiations loomed in 2006, the players’ acceptance of the stiffer drug penalties imposed by ownership was viewed as a good sign. Moreover, all of the player movement reflected competitive balance. With almost every team involved in free agency, trades, and the Rule 5 draft, a bright offseason outlook was possible for most teams, and their fans.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted Baseball-Reference.com and:
Baseball Information Solutions, The Bill James Handbook 2016 (Chicago: ACTA Sports, 2015).
Zimbalist, Andrew. Baseball and Billions (New York: Basic Books, 1992).
1 Andrew Zimbalist, In the Best Interests of Baseball (Hoboken, New .Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2006), 168-169.
3 Tim Brown, “Major League Stars Sign Up for World Baseball Classic,” Los Angeles Times, December 6, 2005.