The industry is flush with money, so it is timely that Major League Baseball holds its winter meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. In some ways, it is also timely that just days after the release of a Hall of Fame ballot that includes Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and the like, baseball’s leading lights have gathered on this 120-acre site. Because Christmas at Opryland is Christmas on steroids.
Baseball’s done big business here in the past.
It was here in 1989 that the San Diego Padres vice-president of baseball operations, Trader Jack McKeon, made deals involving six players and $15-million in one day, including the acquisition of Joe Carter. He walked to the dais in the media workroom at 10:15 p.m. to announce he’d signed Fred Lynn, warned reporters not to go anywhere because “you said you wanted me to liven up these meetings, and I’m going to do it. I’ll be back tonight.” True to his word, he returned at 2:45 a.m., long past East Coast print deadlines, to announce the signing of Craig Lefferts to a deserted media room, leaving a note that read “I was back, Jack.”
And it was to the Opryland in 1998 that MLB executives returned after a six-year absence from the meetings, created by a concern that agents had taken over the process. Kevin Malone, the GM of the Los Angeles Dodgers, celebrated by signing Kevin Brown to the first-ever contract worth more than $100-million. “An affront to baseball,” then MLB executive Sandy Alderson raged, in one of Opryland’s three lobbies.
Opryland was where the Toronto Blue Jays plucked Kelly Gruber in the 1983 Rule 5 draft, and where, in 2007, the Detroit Tigers landed Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera in a blockbuster deal with the then-Florida Marlins.
It is doubtful that any “affronts to baseball” will be committed at these meetings. Spiralling regional television rights payments, growing Internet properties and franchise values that now routinely touch $1-billion have changed the financial landscape.
There are two primary free-agents of note – Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke – and National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, who lives near here, showed up at the Cascades Lobby on Sunday afternoon for lunch with members of the New York Mets medical staff, saying progress was made on a contract extension that would keep him off the trade market.
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos arrived later Sunday night with a relatively small administrative team in tow. The Blue Jays figure in a few odd rumours (Justin Morneau, anyone?) and sexy rumours (they’re lying in the weeds to make a surprise play for Dickey), but with his roster already overhauled Anthopoulos can be expected mostly to monitor other teams’ actions.
Still, there were signs on Sunday that pitchers such as Homer Bailey and Derek Holland are now on the market, and if the Tampa Bay Rays decide to put James Shields or David Price out there, things could get interesting. A package based around Mark Buehrle and another pitching prospect might mean Buerhle won’t have to worry about Ontario’s law banning pit bulls.
Anthopoulos and his assistants will have plenty of time to hit up agents for non-tendered pitchers and pitchers who might provide depth. Think John Lannan, whom the Blue Jays had interest in last spring and who made $5-million this year to pitch for the Washington Nationals in Triple-A as an insurance policy for Stephen Strasburg.
The Blue Jays will need left-handed relief if Darren Oliver doesn’t come back, but it’s hard to see them getting in a bidding war for the likes of Tom Gorzelanny or Mike Gonzalez. That’s not out of penuriousness as much as common sense.
The Blue Jays have moved their Triple-A affiliate to Buffalo and out of the pitching hell-hole that was Las Vegas, and coupled with the industry’s realization that injuries to Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek have left the Blue Jays with what former manager John Farrell believed was a three-year gap between their major-league staff and gilt-edged prospects such as Noah Syndergaard, Anthopoulos will find plenty of people willing to help him pass the time among the indoor waterfalls and floral displays.