This week the baseball world turns to The Winter Meetings, the annual gathering of owners, GMs, agents, players and media that often produce blockbuster free-agent signings and gargantuan trades. Itís really the best week of the off-season and you will have to tune in daily to MLB Network for breathless coverage and (sometimes) informed speculation.
Teams usually arrive with 10-20 staff members in tow (I am certain this year will be noteworthy for the ubiquity of Apple iPads) with laptops, cell phones and mountains of statistics. Staff members will be assigned locations and times (Schultz you take the lobby from 10AM-4PM and report on what youíre hearing every 20 minutes; Jones, head to the coffee shop from 6AM to noon and keep your ears open and donít forget to check in frequently; Gomez, you take the bar from 9PM-2AM and remember to NURSE THAT BEER for all five hours and no talking with the chippies unless theyíve got credentials, understand?).
Meanwhile there will be hordes of media with the major networks (ESPN, MLBN, and CSN) having on-site ďanchorsĒ very much like TV covers political conventions. In fact, MLBNís coverage will start Monday at 3PM Eastern. The sheer crush of media makes this a much higher profile event that it was, say, 20 years ago.
With labor peace (unlike the NFL) we can speculate on whether or not the highest profile free agents will come to terms this week (Iím talking about you, Clifton Phifer Lee) and whether or not there will be consequential trades, either in volume or in intensity (Iím talking about you, Adrian Gonzalez). There isnít really an easy way to predict whether more or fewer bodies will circulate, and this yearís market for free agents, while having some undeniable quality, isnít overflowing.
I certainly think that the New York Yankees have shown resolve and good sense in arriving for the meetings with the Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter negotiations resolved. Cliff Lee is undoubtedly their top priority, but I expect them to be involved in the Carl Crawford sweepstakes, too. As always, the Yankees will illustrate the principal of Everybody Move Over and Let the Big Dog Eat.
Also of note this week are the Special Committeeís votes on the Hall of Fame. Iím rooting for Pat Gillick and Marvin Miller but fear that George Steinbrenner will be enshrined to mark his passing earlier this year.
Finally Iíd like to note the passing of Ronald Edward Santo, the Chicago Cubsí great third baseman and announcer. Itís worth noting that this past week on MLBNís ďPrime 9Ē show they covered the best third basemen of all time and Santo made that list (ahead of Pie Traynor who didnít make the cut, I might add) and it is more than a little ironic that Santo was the only one (including Traynor) who was finished with his career and was NOT in the Hall of Fame. Some say that his post-playing days contributions as an announcer qualify him (much like Phil Rizzuto), but I say he should be in on his own achievements.
During the 1960ís and early 70ís Santo was the best third baseman in the National League; he was the best between the Bravesí Eddie Mathews (who made the list) and the Philliesí Mike Schmidt (who topped the list). He was the Most Valuable Player in 1966, a nine-time All-Star, and won five straight Gold Gloves from 1964-68. If they had had Silver Slugger awards then, he would have won several of those as well, at least five or six. If one of the criteria for Hall of Fame membership is sustained dominance at your position over an era, he certainly qualifies. Everyone, not just Cubs fans, will miss him.