Whenever someone hears that I’m going to Las Vegas for five days, they’re excited for me. They have a night spot to recommend, a favorite restaurant, and want to know if I’m going to see a show.
Yes, I am going to see a show. It’s called baseball’s annual Winter Meetings.
Beginning Sunday, baseball’s best and brightest will gather at the Mandalay Bay to gossip and conduct some business.
It will be Mike Elias’ first Winter Meetings as Orioles executive vice president and general manager, and he has a lot to do in a short time. Besides picking a manager, he has to beef up his front office, and talk trade with his colleagues and contracts with agents.
For writers, the Winter Meetings are five days of intense work. You have to keep up with what’s going on with your team and others. This year might be a little different because the Orioles could keep away from the trade market, at least for now.
It will be my seventh Winter Meetings, and though some of my colleagues have been to many more, there’s always something new and different about them.
The Orioles usually don’t make much news. An exception was last year when Manny Machado suddenly became available—until he wasn’t.
Machado rumors were everywhere, but until Elias evaluates his new team, it’s hard to gauge if he’ll try to market anyone yet. In a message to season-ticket holders just after he was hired, Elias said the team would try to build around Dylan Bundy, Mychal Givens, Trey Mancini and Cedric Mullins, presumably putting them off-limits for now.
The fun of the Winter Meetings is seeing colleagues you may only see then, and while it’s mostly work, there are occasional laughs.
Last year in Disney World, “radio row” was outside the large media work room. Closed doors didn’t stop Chris “Mad Dog” Russo’s signature yell, “Hi, everybody” from being heard throughout the cavernous room, drawing lots of chuckles.
The room is the gathering place for writers, and it’s also a place where major announcements are made. When major trades are made, the participating teams talk about them. Major signings are also announced.
Each major league manager sits for an open session not only for local writers, but for anyone who would like to hear. It doesn’t appear there will be an Orioles manager to talk to.
Late each afternoon, writers who cover the Orioles are summoned to the team’s suite. We’ll talk with Elias, and perhaps he’ll introduce us to members of his new front office. Maybe he’ll surprise us and introduce us to the team’s new manager.
There are meetings. Managers and GMs go over rule changes. The Baseball Writers Association of America has a meeting, too. Each year, the winner of the Spink Award for outstanding writing is announced. Two years ago was a special moment when the wonderful Claire Smith heard that she had been elected. Smith was the first woman writer honored.
An outstanding broadcaster is awarded the Ford C. Frick award. The writer and broadcaster are honored in Cooperstown the day before the official Hall of Fame ceremony.
In 2014, Dick Enberg was named the Frick award winner. By a happy coincidence, he lived not far from the meetings in San Diego and came by to acknowledge his award.
Enberg spoke off-the-cuff for 15 minutes about how much the award meant to him, entertaining us with some excellent stories about his humble beginnings as a radio broadcaster before taking some questions.
The Winter Meetings are also a haven for young and not-so-young job seekers. Young people desperately trying to get in the game at any level congregate and the lucky ones snag an interview. Out-of-work scouts and executives also come to look for work.
The lobby is where the action is, and each year you can be sure you’ll see longtime major league manager Jim Leyland, who works for the Detroit Tigers and the commissioner’s office, hold court.
Another familiar sight is one-time Orioles GM Roland Hemond, who’ll happily tell you he’s been coming to the Winter Meetings since the 1940s.
There’s a large trade show, which the media isn’t invited to, and many meetings for the minor leagues, too.
There’s a luncheon on Wednesday, where each major league manager talks informally with local writers, and after that, Scott Boras will walk to a spot near the work room and begin taking questions for as long as anyone has them.
Chris Davis is one of Boras’ clients, and so is Zach Britton, and it’s always entertaining to hear his take on baseball issues. Several years ago when talking about his relationship with Dan Duquette, he added that Duquette “has great hair, too.”
The Winter Meetings conclude with the Rule 5 draft, and the Orioles have the first pick. The Rule 5 draft moves swiftly, and then there’s a mad scramble for the airport.
We’re left to make sense of what happened, and look forward to next year’s meetings in San Diego.
Jonathan Schoop, who was not tendered a contract by the Milwaukee Brewers last Friday, didn’t have to wait long for a new offer.
Schoop signed a one-year, $7.5-million deal with the Minnesota Twins, which was first reported by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.
He becomes the first of last year’s Orioles to sign with a new team. Tim Beckham, Brad Brach, Zach Britton, Adam Jones, Caleb Joseph and Manny Machado have yet to sign.