This article was written by Jason C. Long
This article was published in the Baseball’s Business: The Winter Meetings: 1958-2016
Introduction and Context
The 2006 baseball Winter Meetings were held in Orlando, Florida, at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. The size of the resort — an 87-acre facility featuring two hotels with over 80 meeting rooms and 300,000 square feet of meeting space — matched the big names on the market heading into the meetings.
Several star players were free agents, including controversial outfielder Barry Bonds, who finished the 2006 season 21 home runs shy of Hank Aaron’s career record. The dollar amounts and lengths of several contracts announced at the general managers’ meetings a few weeks earlier created anticipation that the Winter Meetings would result in more star players signing big contracts; also, the Red Sox were openly seeking to trade an “elite position player” — which was Boston’s way of referring to slugging outfielder Manny Ramirez without specifically mentioning his name.
In the end, however, all the big fish remained as stationary as the 57-foot-tall dolphin statues atop the Dolphin Hotel. A number of teams and players agreed on contracts during the meetings, but the big names did not sign until later, and there were few trades. The business at the Winter Meetings similarly involved only the players approving the new collective-bargaining agreement, a formality by the time the vote was taken, and the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voting Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn into the Hall of Fame.
On the Field
Almost as soon as the Cardinals closed out the Tigers in the 2006 World Series, the offseason looked as though it could be filled with significant player movement. The Tigers, whose offense sputtered against the Cardinals, got things started on November 10 when they traded three minor-league pitchers to the Yankees for DH-outfielder Gary Sheffield, whom the Tigers promptly signed to a $28 million extension through the 2010 season. The big deals continued at the general managers’ meetings, which began on November 13 in Naples, Florida. During those meetings, several players signed significant contracts. These included five-time All-Star outfielder Alfonso Soriano signing an eight-year, $136 million deal with the Cubs, who also re-signed third baseman Aramis Ramirez to a five-year, $75 million pact; the Astros and DH-outfielder Carlos Lee agreeing to a six-year, $100 million deal; and the Angels signing outfielder Gary Matthews Jr., coming off a career year, to a five-year, $50 million contract. In addition, the Red Sox agreed to pay the Seibu Lions of Japan’s Pacific League a $51 million posting fee just for the right to negotiate with Seibu’s star pitcher, right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka. But the biggest names — Barry Bonds and A’s starting pitcher and 2002 Cy Young winner Barry Zito — remained on the free agent market.
The “Most Intriguing” Subplot of the Winter Meetings
Bonds’ situation was the “most intriguing” subplot heading into the Winter Meetings, which began on Monday, December 4.1 The Giants had decided against offering him salary arbitration after the 2006 season, making him a free agent and creating tension between Bonds and the team. As the Winter Meetings began, Bonds, who had hit .270 with 26 home runs and 115 walks during 2006 but was surrounded by steroid rumors and the possibility of a federal indictment, was reportedly flying to Oakland to meet with the crosstown Athletics. But an A’s official responded, “Someone made that up.”2 Another rumor had the Tampa Bay Devil Rays interested in Bonds. This was so amusing to the cash-strapped Devil Rays that when general manager Andrew Friedman opened his suite at the Swan and Dolphin to reporters, they found an easel with Friedman’s handwritten message: “Welcome media and Barry Bonds.”3
Instead of flying to Oakland, Bonds flew to the Winter Meetings. This was unusual for any player, but especially for a star like Bonds; the only other player at the meetings, in fact, was backup infielder Nick Green, who had hit just .164 during 2006. When Bonds strolled through the Dolphin Hotel lobby on Tuesday afternoon, surrounded by about 10 agents and bodyguards, reporters asked whether he was close to a deal with the Giants, and whether other teams were interested in him. “No comment” was Bonds’ only response, but his agent, Jeff Borris, insisted that “Lots of teams are interested in Barry.”4 Bonds’ appearance at the Winter Meetings was panned as a “desperate” negotiating ploy, as he sought an $18 million deal for 2007 with an option for 2008, while the Giants were offering a $10 million contract for only 2007.5
Bonds’ ploy, desperate or not, did result in discussions with the Giants. At the close of the Winter Meetings on Thursday, December 7, Borris announced that the sides were making “significant progress.”6 It was only after the meetings ended, however, that Bonds and the Giants agreed to a one-year deal for $16 million with incentives that could increase the contract’s value to $20 million. The deal was not officially announced at the meetings, but there were reports that the Giants had agreed with Bonds only after failing to sign Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Lee, or trade for Manny Ramirez.
Barry Zito and Free Agent Pitchers
With Soriano and Lee signing nine-figure contracts before the meetings, there was anticipation that left-hander Barry Zito would be the next $100 million man. Zito, who had not missed a start “since Tee Ball,”7 and led the A’s to the 2006 American League Championship Series, was represented by super-agent Scott Boras. Boras was advertising that Zito wanted “a six- or seven-year contract, most likely for as much as $17 million per season.”8 The Mets, the Cubs, and the Rangers all showed interest in Zito, but he departed Orlando without a deal. Zito wound up getting his money later in December, agreeing with the Giants on a seven-year, $126 million contract.
Nevertheless, several pitchers did sign big contracts at the Winter Meetings. Despite failing to land Zito, the Cubs got a left-handed starter when they signed Ted Lilly, who had won at least 10 games in each of the previous four seasons, to a four-year, $40 million contract. The Dodgers signed former Giants starter Jason Schmidt, who had led the National League in ERA in 2003, to a three-year deal worth $47 million, and the Royals stunned the baseball world when they signed right-hander Gil Meche to a five-year, $55 million contract. In six years with the Mariners, Meche had compiled just a 55-44 record with a 4.65 ERA. Otherwise, the Rangers signed Vicente Padilla to a three-year, $32 million contract and the Padres signed four-time Cy Young Award-winning right-hander Greg Maddux to a one-year deal for $10 million, with a player option for 2008. The Cardinals meanwhile announced that they had agreed with Chris Carpenter, their ace and the 2005 Cy Young winner, on a five-year extension for $63.5 million. And though not a deal, Andy Pettitte announced during the Winter Meetings that he would play again in 2007, but only for his current team, the Astros, or his former team, the Yankees; Pettitte subsequently returned to New York.
The Tampering Red Sox?
The Red Sox attracted some negative attention at the Winter Meetings as they were looking to retool their outfield following a third-place finish in the American League East. After the 2004 season, outfielder J.D. Drew had signed a five-year contract with the Dodgers that allowed him to opt out and become a free agent following the 2006 season. Drew batted .283 with 20 home runs during the season and, on the advice of his agent, Scott Boras, who indicated there would be a “strong market” for the former Florida State star, Drew opted out.9 On December 5 Boras announced at the Winter Meetings that the Red Sox had signed Drew to a five-year contract for $70 million.
But there was a little more to the story. As the opt-out deadline was approaching, Drew was providing every indication that he would “stick to” his “commitment” to the Dodgers.10 When Drew signed with the Red Sox, rumors began to swirl that the Red Sox had let Boras know that if Drew opted out, he could get a better deal in Boston. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was “angry” over the Drew situation and had stopped taking calls from the Red Sox, while many executives at the Winter Meetings urged him to file a tampering charge.11 Indeed, MLB officials pledged to “vigorously investigate” the Drew situation if the Dodgers so requested. But as the meetings ended, the Dodgers had not “reached a decision yet” whether to file a tampering charge.
The Red Sox engaged in other business at the Winter Meetings, too. They signed shortstop Julio Lugo, who hit .278 with 12 home runs in a 2006 season split between the Devil Rays and the Dodgers, to a four-year, $36 million contract.12 Lugo represented the latest in Boston’s efforts to find a shortstop after trading away two-time batting champion Nomar Garciaparra, allowing Gold Glove winner Orlando Cabrera to leave as a free agent, and then trading away All-Star Edgar Renteria just one year after bringing him in as a free agent.
As for the Dodgers, they signed outfielder Luis Gonzalez to a one-year, $7.35 million deal in the wake of Drew’s departure. The Winter Meetings also saw the Dodgers sign catcher Mike Lieberthal to a one-year deal to back up regular catcher Russell Martin, and re-sign closer Takashi Saito.
Although there were great expectations for player movement heading into the Winter Meetings, they did not seem to involve trades. Trading activity at the meetings was light; the biggest trade in Orlando involved the White Sox sending right-handed starting pitcher Freddy Garcia to the Phillies. Garcia had won 17 games in 2006, but posted a 4.53 ERA. Chicago accepted right-handed minor-league pitcher Gavin Floyd, the fourth overall pick in the 2001 amateur draft, and a player to be named, as they sought to create room in their rotation for their own prospect, right-hander Brandon McCarthy. The trade was first announced in the Winter Meetings “workroom” at 10:30 P.M. on Tuesday, and formally announced after 11:00. At the formal announcement, Chicago general manager Kenny Williams “let slip” that the player to be named was minor-league southpaw Gio Gonzalez, whom the White Sox had traded to Philadelphia a year earlier in the Jim Thome-Aaron Rowand deal. After the “slip,” Kenny Williams remarked, “It’s 11 o’clock at night, what do you want?”13 Other trades involved swaps of relievers for starters, with the Braves sending left-handed starting pitcher Horacio Ramirez to Seattle for right-handed reliever Rafael Soriano, and the Mets sending starter Brian Bannister to Kansas City for reliever Ambiorix Burgos in an exchange of right-handers.
There were rumors of other trades at the meetings, though none came to fruition. For example, one report had the White Sox sending starting pitcher Jon Garland to the Astros in exchange for pitchers Taylor Buchholz and Jason Hirsh and outfielder Willy Taveras, but no such deal occurred. Another had the Tigers sending an outfielder — either Craig Monroe or Marcus Thames — to Baltimore, but Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski dismissed the rumors as coming from the Orioles. Notably, there seemed to be no rumors involving the Red Sox trading that “elite position player,” whoever he was.
There were a few other noteworthy signings during the meetings. The A’s signed slugging catcher Mike Piazza to a one-year deal for $8.5 million to serve as their DH. Piazza was coming off a relatively disappointing season with the Padres, and the A’s sought to catch him on the rebound. A similar deal a year earlier with DH Frank Thomas had helped the A’s reach the ALCS during 2006. Also, the Giants signed infielder Rich Aurilia to a two-year, $8 million contract, and catcher Bengie Molina to a three-year, $16 million deal. Aurilia had been a star shortstop with the Giants in the early 2000s, but had mostly scuffled since leaving San Francisco. The Giants brought him back as a first baseman and utility infielder. Molina, on the other hand, had hit .284 with 19 home runs as a Blue Jay in 2006. The Giants brought him to San Francisco because they questioned whether their backup catcher in 2006, former Michigan Wolverine Mike Matheny, would be able play again after suffering a concussion. In fact, Matheny never did play again.
The Business of Baseball
As with player movement, there were no great accomplishments in the business of baseball at the meetings. Perhaps the most important business was the Players Association approving the new five-year collective-bargaining agreement. The agreement had been announced in October, but was subject to the players’ formal vote at the Winter Meetings. The new agreement adopted a few changes to the existing system, notably leaving in place the drug testing program. Revised in November of 2005, it was designed to strengthen the program that the parties had initially adopted in their previous Basic Agreement. Other changes involved eliminating the requirement that teams must sign their own free agents by early December or wait until the following May to sign them, advancing the deadline for teams to sign amateur draft picks to August 15 following the June amateur draft, increasing the minimum player salary, and raising the luxury tax threshold.14
In addition, MLB announced the institution of a “Civil Rights Game.” Commissioner Bud Selig stated that the game was designed to commemorate the Civil Rights Movement, which he described as “one of the most critical and important eras of our social history,” and to celebrate baseball’s role in the movement beginning with Jackie Robinson breaking the “color barrier” in 1947.15 The inaugural game was scheduled for March 31, 2007, at AutoZone Park, home of the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate in Memphis. MLB chose this location because Memphis is home to the National Civil Rights Museum, built on the site where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
The Cardinals, not only Memphis’s parent club but also historically considered a team that featured many minority players, would host the game against the Indians, whose significance in this event included signing Larry Doby in 1947 to break the color barrier in the American League, and hiring Frank Robinson in 1975 as the major leagues’ first African-American manager. As part of the event, MLB would make donations to the museum, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Negro Leagues Museum, and other charities.
Hall of Fame Vote and Other Awards
The two players elected to the Hall of Fame during the 2006 Winter Meetings — Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn — hardly require introduction. Ripken, the longtime Orioles shortstop and third baseman, was perhaps best known for his consecutive-games-played streak, which broke Lou Gehrig’s long-standing record and eventually reached 2,632 games before Ripken removed himself from the lineup on September 20, 1998. Considered oversized for a shortstop, Ripken stood 6-feet-4-inches tall and weighed 225 pounds when he broke into the big leagues, but proved to be an outstanding defensive shortstop, hitting for average and power before moving to third base late in his career. The 1982 Rookie of the Year and a two-time American League MVP, Ripken played exclusively with the Orioles for 21 years, had a .276 lifetime batting average with 431 home runs, and redefined the shortstop position.
Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn won the NL batting crown eight times and hit .338 for his career. Gwynn constantly studied his swing and pioneered using video to refine his batting. Not just a great hitter, Gwynn amassed 319 stolen bases and was a five-time Gold Glove winner. His all-around play led him to 15 All-Star selections and inclusion on more than 97 percent of the Hall of Fame ballots for 2006, the seventh highest percentage in history. Like Ripken, Gwynn spent his entire career with one team.
Also, Baseball America held its awards gala at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday, December 5. The Dodgers were named the Organization of the Year, but the Tigers won four major awards, including Dave Dombrowski as Executive of the Year, Jim Leyland as Manager of the Year, Justin Verlander as Rookie of the Year, and a 2006 Tigers draftee, University of North Carolina left-hander Andrew Miller, as College Player of the Year.
The Minor-League Meetings and the Rule 5 Draft
The minor league organization, the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, held their meeting at the Swan & Dolphin too, and had an overflow crowd on hand for the events. The minors celebrated record attendance in 2006 exceeding 41 million fans, and sought to emphasize that minor-league operators should implement programs that would “make kids fans for a lifetime,” as the minors’ President Mike Moore explained.16
The Rule 5 draft was the last official business of the Winter Meetings, on Thursday, December 7, and it involved two players who went on to have big-league success. With the third pick, the Cubs selected outfielder Josh Hamilton from Tampa Bay. Hamilton had been the first overall pick in the 1999 amateur draft, and the Cubs immediately sold him to the Reds. Later in the draft, the Kansas City Royals selected right-handed starting pitcher Joakim Soria from the Padres. Hamilton played well in Cincinnati and was traded to Texas before the 2008 season; he went on to become a bona-fide superstar and the 2010 American League MVP. In Kansas City, Soria moved to the bullpen and became an All-Star closer.
The 2006 Winter Meetings followed an active early offseason, and perhaps the pre-meeting deals stole some of the meetings’ thunder. Those teams that had already completed trades or signed players to significant contracts were less likely to make further moves at the Winter Meetings; meanwhile, that flurry of early activity may have increased expectations among the remaining significant free agents, lowering the possibility of agreements at the Winter Meetings.
As for the signings that did take place, most were either not significant for the coming season, or not unexpected. For instance, there was never serious doubt that Barry Bonds would return to the Giants. But the contract that Bonds reportedly agreed to as the Winter Meetings ended was not finalized until February 2007 because the commissioner’s office refused to approve personal-appearance clauses related to Bonds’ pursuit of Hank Aaron’s home-run record.
The lack of big signings or trades led Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi to describe 2006 as “one of the more miserable Winter Meetings” he had ever attended.17 But for the teams that did sign players, including the Dodgers, the meetings were hectic. After agreeing with four players at the meetings, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said that the only thing left for him to do after the meetings was to “get some sleep.”18
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted:
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“Bonds, Giants Agree on One-Year Deal; Slugger Gets $16 Million to Stay in San Francisco,” Grand Rapids Press, December 8, 2006: D8.
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“Busy Red Sox Add Drew, Lugo; Maddux Near One-Year Deal With Padres,” Grand Rapids Press, December 6, 2006: E9.
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Footer, Alyson. “Astros Look for No. 2 Starter at Meetings,” December 1, 2006. MLB.com. mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20061129&content_id=1747466&vkey=hotstove2006&fext=.jsp. Accessed March 24, 2011.
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Robbins, Josh. “Astros, Yankees Will Vie for Pettite,” Orlando Sentinel, December 7, 2006: D8.
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1 Josh Robbins, “Bonds Remains Giant Concern,” Orlando Sentinel, December 6, 2006: C1.
2 John Shea, “On Day 1, Talk Centers on Bonds, Giants,” SFGate.com, December 5, 2006. sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/12/05/SPGAGMPH981.DTL. Accessed May 18, 2011.
4 John Shea, “Bonds Arrives at Hotel, Source Says a Deal Could Be Close,” SFGate.com, December 6, 2006. sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/12/06/SPMQMQGL43.DTL. Accessed May 18, 2011.
5 Jack Curry, “In Unemployment Line, Bonds Looks for a Job,” New York Times, December 7, 2006. nytimes.com/2006/12/07/sports/baseball/07base.html. Accessed March 25, 2011.
6 “Giants, Bonds Gain Ground on Contract,” Orlando Sentinel, December 8, 2009: D11.
7 Lee Jenkins, “Zito’s Father Played His Role to Perfection,” New York Times, December 4, 2006. nytimes.com/2006/12/04/sports/baseball/04zito.html?_r=1&ref=sports&oref=slogin. Accessed March 25, 2011.
8 Jack Curry, “Drew Agrees to Contract as the Red Sox Reload,” New York Times, December 6, 2006. nytimes.com/2006/12/06/sports/baseball/06base.html. Accessed March 25, 2011.
9 Murray Chass, “Talk of Misconduct Is Swirling Around Red Sox,” New York Times, December 8, 2006. nytimes.com/2006/12/08/sports/baseball/08chass.html. Accessed March 25, 2011.
12 “Red Sox Agree to 4-year, $36M deal with Lugo,” ESPN.com, December 6, 2006. espn.com/mlb/news/story?id=2687827. Accessed October 21, 2016.
13 “Sox Unload Garcia for Prospects; Phillies Add Right-Hander to Strengthen Rotation,” Grand Rapids Press, December 7, 2006: D10.
14 “MLB, MLBPA Reach Five-Year Labor Accord,” MLB.com, October 24, 2006. mlb.mlb.com/pa/releases/releases.jsp?content=102406. Accessed August 21, 2016. The new major-league minimum salary was set at $380,000 for 2007, $390,000 for 2008, and $400,000 for 2009, with 2010 to remain constant and a cost-of-living adjustment to apply in 2011. For the minor leagues, the minimum salary was set at $60,000 for 2007, $62,500 for 2008, and $65,000 for 2009. The new agreement set the luxury tax threshold at $148 million for 2007, $155 million for 2008, $162 million for 2009, $170 million in 2010, and $178 million in 2011. The luxury tax continued at the same levels from the prior agreement, which were 22.5 percent of the overage for clubs exceeding the threshold for the first time, 30 percent for the second time, and 40 percent afterward.
15 Barry M. Bloom, “First Civil Rights Game Set for March 31,” MLB.com, December 4, 2006. mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20061204&content_id=1750068&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb. Accessed May 18, 2011.
16 Lisa Winston, “Winter Meetings Bring Flurry of Milb Activity,” MLB.com, December 7, 2006. milb.com/gen/articles/printer_friendly/milb/y2006/m12/d07/c147901.jsp. Accessed August 21, 2016. Notably, MiLB President Mike Moore was not the same Mike Moore who pitched for the Mariners, A’s, and Tigers.
17 Corey Brock, “Mariners’ Tally: Big Bat, Starting Duo,” MLB.com, December 7, 2006. mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20061207&content_id=1753927&vkey=news_sea&fext=.jsp&c_id=sea. Accessed March 24, 2011.
18 Murray Chass, “On Baseball: Week in Review: Few Trades but Feverish Spending,” New York Times, December 10, 2006. query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9502E0DD1431F933A25751C1A9609C8B63&pagewanted=all. Accessed March 25, 2011.