1. WINNER: San Diego Chamber of Commerce
I went to the Winter Meetings in 2012, my only attendance of that annual carnival. (Fact: the Winter Meetings are organized by Minor League Baseball, not Major League Baseball. Did you know?) The event was held “in” Nashville. I use quotation marks because the actual city of Nashville might as well have been a thousand miles from the outlying and probably radioactive marshland complex we all invaded, a terrifying monstrosity called something like the Gaylord Perry Spitballroom and Last Resort. A sprawling but flimsy gewgaw-filled monument to kitsch—very like many modern ballparks, come to think of it—the Gaylord offered not only end-of-civilization bad taste, ripe for Baudrillardian picking, but also pre-civilization bad internet and wildly expensive uncivilized bad food. If like me you couldn’t afford to eat it, your options were a handful of grease merchants about a 15-minute walk from the Meetings, which included crossing a perilous eight-lane boulevard like the protagonist of Frogger. I had the worst Thai food this side of Siam. When I got on the airport shuttle on Thursday, or whatever day it was—the Gaylord is the kind of place designed to make you lose all sense of time—I was never gladder to get away from a baseball-related environment in all my born days.
The reports from San Diego last week were delighted and delightful: great weather, great waterfront location, beer of many kinds. Plus, when you wake up in the morning, the I-95 intelligentsia corridor has already clogged itself into a three-hour traffic jam while waiting in a choked riot of horn-tooting for news of deals: advantage, west coast. Why would the Winter Meetings ever happen anywhere else? was a typical sort of comment, no gaslamping at all. Even though San Diego is too far for me to go, I second its no-term-limit nomination out of sheer love of the game. Ah, I see the 2015 Winter Meetings are scheduled for Nashville again. —Adam Sobsey
2. WINNER: The Qualifying Offer
Last offseason, the Qualifying Offer (QO) was promoted from Boring Nerd-Stuff to Mainstream Scandal. Three of the thirteen QO-receivers ended up signing for less than the QO itself. Nelson Cruz, who wanted four years and $75 million, got one year and $8 million (then finished seventh in AL MVP voting). Some players held out into the regular season, with Stephen Drew signing in May for $10.1 million, and Kendrys Morales signing in June for $7.5 million. Perhaps the most egregious departure, though, was Ervin Santana, who signed for $14.1 million—the amount of the QO—after reportedly seeking a nine-figure deal.
Pretty bad, right? Lots of people have said so. Like, a lot of people. So many people. But this offseason has been a different story. To date, 10 of the 12 QO-receivers have signed, and the two who remain—Max Scherzer and James Shields—are not borderline players. They’ll get hefty contracts before Opening Day. Surprise QO-guy Michael Cuddyer seemed like he might get screwed over, but instead he signed with the Mets almost as rapidly as Andrew Heaney gets traded. So this offseason will be devoid of last year’s QO shenanigans.
What does this mean? Unfair deals are just one complaint surrounding the QO system, but it’s the complaint that upsets the MLBPA, and therefore it’s the complaint with the most disruptive power. However, without a situation like Nelson Cruz or Ervin Santana, the MLBPA doesn’t really have cause to get riled up this year. That means that QOs are less likely to be overhauled in the 2016 CBA negotiations. Of course, this could all change if next year’s offseason sees a return of the 2013-2014 craziness, but for now, the pin’s back in the grenade. —Andrew Hopen
3. LOSER: The Hall of Fame
It’s not too early to call the Hall of Fame one of the losers of the offseason. The annual hand-wringing over the BBWAA’s snubs may not have begun in earnest yet but we’ve already seen quack ballots, fed-up voter abstention, and plenty of retread conversations about performance enhancing drugs. But if you want a real reminder of how little fun the Hall of Fame has become, all you have to do is look at the voting done by the Golden Era Committee, the body charged with examining ten players who played the bulk of their career from 1947-1972. Forget for a second how nauseating it is that the museum itself tries to distance baseball of yore—the “Golden Era”—from today’s game: the Hall of Fame has never done PR well and will likely continue to play their part in alienating young generations of fans by marginalizing the players they grew up loving.
This year though, the Hall of Fame couldn’t even get the Golden Era part right. Constricted by a mathematical box, the Golden Era Committee did what the BBWAA will also inevitably do next month: fail to elect worthy ballplayers into the Hall of Fame. Despite a number of qualified candidates, the committee fell short of electing a single player, with aging Tony Oliva and Dick Allen falling one agonizing vote short of enshrinement. With luck, those two—along with 88-year-old Minnie Minoso—will have their day before they become part of the Hall’s long tradition of electing players soon after their death. Regardless, it was a bad moment for the Hall of Fame and an early reminder to fans that despite a flood of deserving legends awaiting enshrinement, many of their favorite players will also be told “no” this coming January. —Brendan Gawlowski
4. LOSER: Minor-League Players
While various teams and cities and major leaguers are being declared the “winners” of the offseason, the minor-league ballplayers who often toil away in obscurity for those teams are definite losers.
Take this quote from Stan Brand, the executive director of Minor League Baseball: “Just as we did in the 1990s to save the antitrust exemption, we will need your help to explain to our legislators the importance of this issue to the future of minor-league baseball and their communities’ investments in stadia and infrastructure.”
Just a couple of things I want to point out here: Minor league baseball will continue to exist even if teams are forced to pay their farm systems a living wage. Communities’ investments in stadia and infrastructure have little or nothing to do with what minor leaguers are paid. To my (admittedly biased and untrained) eye, it sure looks like MiLB would like people to forget who actually pays minor leaguers: Their parent clubs. “The value of grassroots baseball and our stewardship of the game needs to be protected against the onslaught of these suits.” The cities of Frisco, Tulsa, Montgomery, Wilmington, Greensboro etc. and their support of the teams and ballparks have nothing to do with the team put on the field. “Grassroots baseball?” There’s nothing grassroots about organized professional minor league ball.
Couching this in language more suited to a pre-fight speech than sports—I mean, “heed the clarion call, man the battle stations and carry the message to Congress loudly and clearly” really—is an easy way to continue the inherent dichotomy of minor league baseball. Take away the fancy language and run it through a PR-to-human translator: “We want you to give us everything you've got, but we won’t give you even a visible fraction of the billions we're rolling in. You have to put in the thousands of hours of sweat to earn a spot, but, heavens help us, if we pay you even minimum wage, it cheapens the ageless game of baseball.” —Kate Morrison
5. WINNER: Cuban "Travel Agents"
Well, if we know one thing, it's that the market for Cuban defectors is still strong. Yasmany Tomas joined Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes, and Jose Abreu as high-dollar free-agent signings off the island this winter and 19-year-old Yoan Moncada is going to be in someone's Valentine's Day card (are we allowed to do V-Day yet?). Unfortunately, with eight-figure contracts being handed out, it means that the draw to come to the United States to play in MLB is strong. Maybe it's too strong. Teams can't really spend to market demand in several other international markets, so money is somewhat artificially flowing toward Cuba. But of course, with the tensions between the US and Cuba, getting from one country to the other is more difficult than just hopping on an airplane. There's an underground—and shady—industry of getting people to the United States, and we're beginning to understand that it has some elements to it that are not pretty. I don't know if the "travel agents" are winners, but they certainly aren't going away as long as this set of circumstances are in place. —Russell A. Carleton
6. WINNER: The City of Chicago
Over the last four years, in a combined eight seasons, Chicago baseball has managed one season over .500. Outside of a surprise playoff chase by the White Sox in 2012 that was scuttled by an 11-17 September, Chicago teams finished no closer than 16 games out of first place during that span. It's been a horrid run for followers of Chicago baseball, having to focus on individual success stories like Chris Sale, Anthony Rizzo, and Jose Abreu, rather than the standings. Even all the strong personalities that once dominated the city's baseball scene, primarily Lou Piniella and Ozzie Guillen, have left town, so there has been little in terms of headline-making comments to help distract the media and fans from all the losing. The Blackhawks are currently a special organization and the Bulls are certainly entertaining, especially when Derrick Rose in healthy and playing up to his capabilities. But Chicago is a Bears town, and the team is presently in utter disarray, meaning Second City sports' fans are in desperate need of pick me up. Enter Rick Hahn and Theo Epstein, both opening up their wallets and stealing the thunder from the rest of the league as far as offseason acquisitions go. Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, David Roberston, Miguel Montero, Melky Cabrera, Jason Hammel; all just of the names added to Chicago rosters over the last week-plus. There's still work to be done, but Chicago baseball fans on both sides of town can finally enter the spring with legit playoff dreams while media members may have to actually push vacation plans to November. —Sahadev Sharma
7. WINNER: Twitter Addicts
Because the flurry of Winter Meetings transactions wouldn't be the same without the 140-character reports, fake accounts getting SportsCenter cred, teenagers breaking news (real or otherwise), and instant reactions the site uniquely enables and provides. —Daniel Rathman