This article was written by Darren Munk
This article was published in Baseball’s Business: The Winter Meetings: 1958-2016
The 2012 Winter Meetings returned to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville for the sixth time, starting on Sunday, December 2, and concluding on Thursday, December 6. While the 2012 edition of the meetings lacked a headline-worthy trade or signing like the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim picking up Albert Pujols in 2011, the Nashville meetings still resulted in a number of deals that had a significant impact on the 2013 season and beyond.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2012 meetings was that a number of top-tier free agents remained available at the conclusion of the gathering, including Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke.
The Los Angeles Dodgers came into the meetings flush with cash (after their $2 billion sale to a group headed by Magic Johnson)1 and needing to compete with a division rival, the San Francisco Giants, who had just won their second World Series title in three years, yet left Nashville without signing a single free agent. Although seen by some pundits as a leading candidate to land Greinke, the 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner,2 the Dodgers were considering pulling out of the Greinke bidding and moving on to other pitchers to upgrade their rotation by the conclusion of the meetings.3 However, on December 11 (five days after the meetings ended), the Dodgers inked Greinke to a six-year, $147 million contract.4
A deal for Hamilton failed to materialize at the meetings owing to several factors, most notably that the outfielder planned to allow his team, the Texas Rangers, a chance to match any offer he received.5 Further complicating matters, the Rangers were vying for Greinke, meaning that the market for Hamilton was somewhat dependent upon Greinke’s decision.6 There were rumors that the Seattle Mariners were a fallback option for Hamilton in the event that he didn’t re-sign with Texas,7 but his eventual destination was very much up in the air at the conclusion of the meetings. Hamilton eventually signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, getting a five-year deal worth $125 million on December 14.8
Although neither Hamilton nor Greinke was signed during the meetings, a number of important deals were completed in Nashville. Catcher-first baseman Mike Napoli, outfielder Angel Pagan, right-handed reliever Joakim Soria, right-handed starter Dan Haren, outfielder Shane Victorino, infielder Marco Scutaro, and righty Joe Blanton all signed new contracts, while outfielder Ben Revere was traded from the Minnesota Twins to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Napoli’s deal with the Boston Red Sox, while agreed upon at the meetings (on December 4), ended up being a particularly drawn-out affair.9 As in a number of delayed or canceled trades and free-agent signings, the phrase “pending a physical” turned out to be more than a mere formality. After his physical revealed a hip issue (avascular necrosis) that concerned Boston’s medical staff, Napoli’s reported three-year, $39 million contract became a one-year, $5 million deal with an additional $8 million in incentives (which wasn’t finalized until January 23, 2013, nearly two months after the initial agreement).10 In spite of his hip problems, Napoli would go on to post a career-high 578 plate appearances with a 128 OPS+, proving to be a key member on the 2013 World Series champions.
The other impact acquisition for the Red Sox was Shane Victorino, who received virtually the same deal as Napoli’s initial agreement, a three-year deal worth $37.5 million, and, fortunately for both parties, Victorino’s physical passed muster and the deal was quickly made official.11 Like Napoli, Victorino was a big factor in the third Red Sox championship since 2004, as he posted a 118 OPS+ at the plate and won a Gold Glove for his outfield defense.
The biggest off-field news of the 2012 meetings involved the minor-league clubs. Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Conner announced a new initiative called Project Brand, a marketing program focused on unifying the promotional efforts of all 160 minor-league teams. As Baseball America reported, “The change O’Conner envisions is a program that sells minor-league baseball as an entity and promotes the model of affordable, family-friendly entertainment to major companies.”12
The Project Brand initiative, developed by O’Conner in conjunction with Minor League Baseball’s marketing committee, was created with the goal of attracting national sponsors rather than the local and regional sponsors traditionally associated with the minors. This change in focus was driven by the idea that national sponsors could generate more marketing revenue for minor-league clubs, while allowing sponsors to reach fans in 160 markets across the country. Tom Dickson, owner of the Lansing Lugnuts and Montgomery Biscuits, declared, “We need to think big. We will be leveraging our wonderful demographics and product and put them together. We can monetize those efforts with significant sponsorship sales.”13
Other news announced at the meetings included the election of two new members of the National Association board of trustees: Ken Schnacke of the Columbus Clippers and Marv Goldklang of the Hudson Valley Renegades, representing the International League and New York-Penn League, respectively.
George McGonagle was named the 2012 “King of Baseball,” an honor given to one executive at each year’s Winter Meetings. He was awarded the title as recognition for helping to run the Bluefield team in the Appalachian League, for more than 50 years, and also for transitioning to a Blue Jays affiliation in 2011 after having been aligned with the Orioles since 1958.
Although the 2012 Winter Meetings didn’t have a nine-figure contract signing or a blockbuster trade, the player movement that happened there was important to the outcome of the 2013 season and beyond. Of particular importance were the Napoli and Victorino signings by the Red Sox, as both players were key pieces of the 2013 World Series champion squad. Similarly, the reigning 2012 champion Giants retained Pagan, their center fielder and leadoff hitter, who would be a key contributor again in 2014 as San Francisco won its third title in five seasons.
Similarly, while the league business conducted at the meetings lacked the drama of a contraction threat or drastic rules changes, the introduction of the Project Brand initiative sought to create a more effective (and lucrative) marketing relationship between the 160 minor-league clubs, helping to sustain the health of the sport by ensuring that fans all over the country have games to attend and teams to support.
1 “Sale of Dodgers Finalized,” espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/7877983/los-angeles-dodgers-sale-guggenheim-group-finalized, accessed December 2, 2015.
2 Jayson Stark, “Grand Ole Winter Meetings Preview,” espn.go.com/mlb/hotstove12/story/_/id/8697372/previewing-baseball-grand-ole-winter-meetings, accessed December 2, 2015.
3 Steve Adams, “Zack Greinke Rumors: Wednesday,” mlbtraderumors.com/2012/12/zack-greinke-rumors-wednesday.html, accessed December 1, 2015.
5 Tim Dierkes, “Josh Hamilton Rumors: Tuesday,” mlbtraderumors.com/2012/12/rangers-josh-hamilton-making-progress.html, accessed December 3, 2015.
6 Steve Adams, “Mariners Making Serious Run at Josh Hamilton,” mlbtraderumors.com/2012/12/josh-hamilton-rumors-wednesday.html, accessed December 3, 2015.
9 Peter Abraham, “Adding Mike Napoli Was Goal for Red Sox,” bostonglobe.com/sports/2012/12/04/red-sox-get-their-man-mike-napoli/Qw4RaLVG3JOImTKI8BRbFJ/story.html, accessed December 10, 2015.
10 Nick Cafardo, “Red Sox Complete Mike Napoli Deal, Despite Hip Ailment,” bostonglobe.com/sports/2013/01/23/mike-napoli-despite-avascular-necrosis-hip-signs-with-red-sox/ObbFyAGEJSPLmUfwZvd8lO/story.html, accessed December 10, 2015.
11 Nick Cafardo, “Shane Victorino Agrees to 3-Year Deal With Red Sox,” bostonglobe.com/sports/2012/12/04/red-sox-offer-shane-victorino-three-year-deal/G1pHkmHKfelU2yw9BhG8UJ/story.html, accessed December 12, 2015.
12 Josh Leventhal, “Winter Meetings Wrapup,” baseballamerica.com/minors/winter-meetings-wrapup-14487/, accessed January 10, 2016.