This article was written by Paul D. Brown
This article was published in Baseball’s Business: The Winter Meetings: 1958-2016
In general, the baseball Winter Meetings can be viewed as a watershed event, marking both the end of one season and the beginning of the next. Even before the 2007 Winter Meetings got under way in Nashville, however, the offseason had been launched with a major new initiative.
Major-league general managers held their annual meetings from November 5 through 7 at the Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando, Florida, and in a 25-to-5 vote, approved studying the use of instant replay. Their recommendation to the commissioner was to examine the use of replay only in the case of disputed home run calls — whether the ball was fair or foul, or over the fence or not. They also recommended that a replay review ought to take place in one central location, instead of at each individual ballpark. In addition, the unions for both the players and umpires would have a say in whether and/or how replay would be implemented.1
The general managers also discussed ways to increase the tempo of the game by enforcing such existing procedures as the 12-second rule for a pitcher to receive the ball, get the sign, and deliver the pitch. In addition, batters would be limited in the number of times they could ask for a timeout.2
The Boston Red Sox swept the Colorado Rockies in the 2007 World Series after having beaten the Cleveland Indians in an exciting seven-game ALCS. Nevertheless, during the GM meetings, The Sporting News presented the Major League Baseball Executive of the Year award to Mark Shapiro, general manager of the Cleveland Indians.3
During the meetings, the general managers experimented with a new concept introduced by Theo Epstein of the Red Sox and Larry Beinfest of the Marlins. One by one, each GM stood up and announced to the group what their goals and needs were and what kind of trade each might consider. No one was permitted to speak for more than two minutes and so all were aware of the environment in around an hour.4 However, the Players Association had a different take:
“Any such activity with respect to free agents is clearly improper,” Don Fehr, executive director of the Players Association, said. “We expect to look into the situation and are prepared to take the appropriate action to respond to any collusive behavior, and to make sure that the rights of free-agent players under the Basic Agreement are fully protected.5
“Over the past few days, press reports coming out of the general managers’ meetings relating to the sharing of information between clubs as to their plans regarding players potentially raise serious questions concerning the fairness and integrity of the free-agent market. Such questions are amplified by reports stating that the Commissioner is attempting to influence the market for at least one player.”6
The Associated Press reported that the player in question was Alex Rodriguez, the former Yankees third baseman who had recently opted out of the last three years of his 10-year, $252 million contract.
Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of labor relations and human resources, told the AP that he was surprised by the union’s comments.7
With this as a backdrop, the 2007 Winter Meetings were held from December 3 to 6 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee, the 106th time that baseball executives gathered toward the end of the calendar year to begin preparing for a new season.8
There are several events held during the Winter Meetings: Major League Baseball meetings, Minor League Baseball meetings, a baseball trade show, and a baseball job fair. But for most of the media and fans, the focus of the Winter Meetings is on the major leagues: trades, Hot Stove League rumors, and possible free-agent signings. The 2007 Winter Meetings provided one blockbuster deal, as well as seven other trades.9 In addition, there were two player-for-cash deals and five free-agent signings, while two more free agents signed shortly after the meetings ended.
The primary attention-getter was the eight-player trade between the Florida Marlins and the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers received third baseman Miguel Cabrera and southpaw Dontrelle Willis (the 2003 National League Rookie of the Year) in exchange for outfielder Cameron Maybin, catcher Mike Rabelo, left-handed pitcher Andrew Miller, right-handed pitcher Eulogio de la Cruz and two minor-league right-handers, Dallas Trahern and Burke Badenhop.10 In hindsight, this can be viewed as one of the more one-sided trades in major-league history, with Detroit receiving a likely Hall of Fame hitter in Cabrera (who would win the Triple Crown in 2012) while giving up no more than two decent players (Miller and Maybin). It may be argued that Florida had to trade Cabrera because of impending salary issues, but the prospects the Marlins received did not have much impact.
On the first day of the meetings, December 3, the Chicago White Sox acquired outfielder Carlos Quentin from Arizona for first-base prospect Chris Carter.11 That same day, the Tampa Bay Rays traded outfielder Elijah Dukes to the Nationals for left-handed pitcher Glenn Gibson. The Rays were willing to trade the talented Dukes to the Nationals for a pitching prospect because of Dukes’ off-the-field issues, which included domestic and anger-management problems.12 And the Orioles completed the player movement for the day by signing free agent Guillermo Quiroz to be a backup catcher.13
There were three trades, in addition to the Cabrera blockbuster, on the second day, December 4. The first was between the Nationals and the Yankees, with Washington sending right-handed pitcher Jonathan Albaladejo to the Yankees for right-handed pitcher Tyler Clippard. The second trade also included right-handed pitchers; Detroit’s Jose Capellan to Colorado for Denny Bautista.
The third was a three-player deal between the Cubs and the Braves. The Cubs acquired right-handed pitcher Jose Ascanio for infielder Omar Infante and left-handed pitcher Will Ohman. This was the second time Infante had been dealt in less than a month — on November 12, he had been traded by the Tigers to the Cubs for outfielder Jacque Jones. And completing the day’s player carousel, the Royals signed free-agent outfielder Jose Guillen to a three-year contract.14
There were two trades and a free-agent signing on December 5. First, the Reds acquired right-handed pitcher Justin James from Toronto for outfielder Buck Coats. Then the Texas Rangers received first baseman Chris Shelton from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for outfielder Freddy Guzman. Finally, the Milwaukee Brewers signed free-agent right-handed pitcher David Riske to a three-year contract.
On December 6, the Dodgers signed free-agent outfielder Andruw Jones, and the Nationals signed free-agent infielder Aaron Boone.
December 6 was also the day that both the major-league and minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft was held, with the most significant player selected being right-handed pitcher R.A. Dickey, chosen by Seattle with the 12th pick of the day. Dickey had had an interesting journey over the previous several weeks. He had spent the entire 2007 season with Milwaukee’s Triple-A farm club in Nashville, but was granted free agency at the end of October by the Brewers despite having won 13 games for the Sounds. One month later he was signed by the Minnesota Twins, who did not place him on their 40-man roster, thus making him eligible for the Rule 5 draft. And his long, strange trip would continue, as he was returned to the Twins on March 29, 2008, and traded back to the Mariners on the same day!
Of all the players selected in the minor-league draft, only right-hander Adalberto Mendez pitched in the major leagues. He appeared in five games for the Marlins in 2010. It is not a big surprise that only three players made the majors from the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft, as it is used primarily to fill holes on minor-league rosters.15
Major League Baseball also uses the Winter Meetings to make announcements of some importance. On Monday, December 3, MLB declared that the White Sox and the Mets would play in the second Civil Rights game on March 29, 2008.16 According to baseball-almanac.com, “The intent of the Civil Rights Game was to ‘embrace baseball’s history of African-American players,’ (Bud Selig) as well as to generate interest for future black players. A demographics survey revealed that the percentage of black players in the major leagues has dwindled in the previous twelve years to just 8.4 percent.”17
Baseball America held its Seventh Annual Baseball America Awards Gala on December 4, at which time the following awards were announced:18
- MLB Organization of the Year: Colorado Rockies
- MLB Player of the Year: Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
- MLB Rookie of the Year: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee
- MLB Executive of the Year: Jack Zduriencik, Milwaukee
- MLB Manager of the Year: Terry Francona, Boston
- MiLB Player of the Year: Jay Bruce, Louisville (Cincinnati)
- MiLB Executive of the Year: Mike Moore, National Association
- MiLB Manager of the Year: Matt Walbeck, Toledo (Detroit)
- Team of the Year: San Antonio (Texas), San Diego
- Bob Freitas Award: AAA-Albuquerque Isotopes, Pacific Coast League; AA-Frisco Roughriders, Texas League; A-Lake Elsinore Storm, California League; Short-A-Missoula Osprey, Pioneer League19
- Roland Hemond Award: Art Stewart, Kansas City20
Baseball America also presented Lifetime Achievement Awards to former and current Braves pitchers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, and to Gary Hughes, special assistant to the Cubs’ general manager.21
While the major leagues always garner most of the headlines during the Winter Meetings, the minor leagues are not idle and they also gather under one roof. At their 2007 convention, also held at Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, they also gave out a series of awards (in addition to the Baseball America minor-league awards listed above):
John H. Johnson President’s Award22 Midland (Texas)
Larry MacPhail Trophy West Michigan Whitecaps (Midwest)
Warren Giles Award John Henry Moss, South Atlantic League
Joe Bauman Round-Tripper Award Craig Brazzell, Omaha & Chattanooga
Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year Shari Massengill, Kinston (Carolina)
King of Baseball Dave Walker, Burlington Baseball Assoc.
The most important item for Minor League Baseball, however, was the retirement of longtime President Mike Moore and the election of Pat O’Conner, Minor League Baseball’s chief operating officer and vice president of administration, as the organization’s 11th president. Moore had been president for 16 years.23
During the Baseball Trade Show, attendees were asked to vote for the best new product, and for 2007, the winner was PitchTrack, which follows a pitched ball and gives its velocity, location and movement. Second place went to KoolGator, which is a cooler that can be tied around a person’s neck or head in order to keep them cool. Third place went to SweetSpots, which helps players improve the accuracy of their throws.24
Shortly after the Winter Meetings, on December 13, Major League Baseball released the Mitchell Report, formally known as the “Report to the Commissioner of Baseball of an Independent Investigation into the Illegal Use of Steroids and Other Performance Enhancing Substances by Players in Major League Baseball.”25 The 409-page report described the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, in particular anabolic steroids and human growth hormone. The report states that with the advent of random drug testing in 2004, players switched from detectable steroids to undetectable human growth hormone.26 In addition to describing the problem and the environment, the report named 89 players who allegedly used steroids or other drugs, including Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Rafael Palmeiro.27 The report made several recommendations to baseball which in Mitchell’s view would help bring the “steroid era” to a close.28
Not everything of import happens at the Winter Meetings, but the groundwork is laid for much of the future. With the advent of the general managers meeting and the increasing use of advanced media, the impact of the Winter Meetings may have waned over the years. However, as in other human endeavors, face-to-face interaction becomes the grease that allows advanced media to work. The Winter Meetings may never again be what they once were, but they will remain very important for the overall business of baseball.
8 Lisa Winston, “Spirited Winter Meetings Come to a Close,” December 6, 2007, milb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20071206&content_id=328213&vkey=news_milb&fext=.jsp accessed October 5, 2015.
11 Ibid. Quentin played for the White Sox for four years and was released by the Mariners on May 1, 2015. He was a two-time All-Star with the White Sox. Carter was subsequently traded (December 14, 2007), along with five other prospects (outfielders Carlos Gonzales and Aaron Cunningham; left-handed pitchers Brett Anderson, Dana Eveland, and Greg Smith) to the Athletics for right-handed pitchers Dan Haren and Connor Robertson.
12 Matt Eddy and Ben Badler, “Embattled Dukes on the Move,” December 3, 2007, Baseball America, baseballamerica.com/today/majors/trade-central/2007/265298.html accessed October 6, 2015. Gibson never made it to the majors while Dukes lasted two years with the Nationals before being released.
14 Dick Kaegel, “Guillen Deal Spanned Winter Meetings,” mlb.mlb.com/news/print.jsp?ymd=20071206&content_id=2320278&vkey=hotstove2007&fext=.jsp, accessed October 19, 2015.
16 Scott Merkin, “White Sox, Mets Get Civil Rights Game Nod,” milb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20071203&content_id=327397&vkey=news_milb&fext=.jsp accessed September 15, 2015.
17 Baseball Almanac, “Civil Rights Game,” baseball-almanac.com/legendary/Civil_Rights_Game.shtml accessed October 14, 2015.
18 MLB.com, brewers.com, “Jack Zduriencik named Baseball America Executive of the Year,” December 4, 2007, milwaukee.brewers.mlb.com/content/printer_friendly/mil/y2007/m12/d04/c2316966.jsp accessed October 14, 2015.
19 Ballpark Business, “Tribe Named Triple-A Freitas Winners,” ballparkbiz.wordpress.com/tag/bob-freitas-award/ Award given to “…organization with best overall operations at each level of minor league baseball.” Accessed October 14, 2015.
20 Baseball Almanac, “Roland Hemond Award,” baseball-almanac.com/awards/roland_hemond_award.shtml “The Roland Hemond award is presented annually to recognize baseball executives who have provided at least fifteen years of outstanding service to professional baseball and served the Arizona Fall League in a key leadership capacity.” Accessed October 14, 2015.
21 Baseball America, baseballamerica.com/majors/t/lifetime-achievement-award accessed October 14, 2015.
22 Minor League Baseball, “Major Award Winners,” milb.com/milb/history/awards.jsp accessed November 5, 2015. President’s Award given annually to honor “complete baseball franchise — based on franchise stability, contributions to league stability, contributions to baseball in the community, and promotion of the baseball industry.”
23 “Minors Baseball: O’Connor New MILB President,” Sports Network, December 5, 2007.
24 Minor League Baseball, “PitchTrack wins New Product Showcase,” December 12, 2007, milb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20071212&content_id=328949&vkey=pr_milb&fext=.jsp accessed October 19, 2015.
26 George J. Mitchell, Report to the Commissioner of Baseball of an Independent Investigation into the Illegal Use of Steroids and Other Performance Enhancing Substances by Players in Major League Baseball, Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, 2007, SR-2.
27 Baseball Almanac, baseball-almanac.com/legendary/Mitchell_Report.shtml, accessed November 9, 2015.
28 Ibid., SR-29-SR-35.