The Winter Meetings are over.

There’s plenty more work to be done this winter for every team. The
next milestone may be the non-tender date of Dec. 20 and free-agent dominoes are starting to fall. So many teams seem intent on doing…something that they often aren’t at a stage where “Plan B” is really in sight. Many still think that everything will fall their way.

I started on Friday listing how “neat” it is to stand in a room with
Peter Gammons, a gaggle of general managers, and a hundred other
interesting people just as passionate about baseball as I am. I met
hundreds of people, shook thousands of hands, and heard millions of
rumors in a weekend that included everything but sleep.

Looking back while awaiting my flight back to the “flyover state” I
call home, I am left with one thought: Baseball is getting smarter. I’m
not sure about better yet; the smart guys still make too many mistakes,
and the short bus hasn’t picked up all its passengers yet. Teams
people think of as backwards have statistical analysts that are as
good as any I’ve seen, and I’ve met scouts as sharp as those analysts. Teams
are starting to plow towards a middle ground full of beer and tacos, scouts and stats, all seeking baseball’s ultimate prize.

From MLB’s offices to the sports sections across the country, baseball
is slowly but surely getting smarter. Bill James sauntered through the
lobby on Saturday, obliviously passing the people who ignored him for
20 years. I’m not sure if that felt good for him, but as a symbol, it was nice.

I looked around the meetings and realized that while symbols are
nice, reality is better. Joe Sheehan talked with national writers.
Jay Jaffe talked with front office personnel. streamed the
Rule 5 draft.

Me? I ran around like a rat who’s drank a pot full of
“player’s coffee,” looking for the next person to show off the
research Tom Gorman’s been working on (and you’ll see soon enough,
when BP05 comes out). When I had a moment, I’d just smile looking out
at the room. It was a good weekend, all around.

– Will Carroll, 12/14 12:15 a.m.

The winter meetings went zen on Sunday. What’s the sound of no keys typing? After two relatively action-filled days, nothing happened. The Blue Jays were the centerpiece of the day with a signing and a deal, but no one got excited about either move. Instead, most just went about their business, wandering the lobby and seemingly waiting on someone else to do something first. It became reactionary, 30 teams daring each of the others to flinch.

“Hear anything?” was the refrain, the “hey, batter” of sportswriters. Try as they might to will something into existence, the Lords of Baseball thwarted their desires. As Sunday melted into Monday, Tim Hudson was still an Athletic, Randy Johnson was still a Diamondback, and the Yankees couldn’t land any of the many three-way deals they were rumored to be working on. No one could even make up a credible rumor to pass around the lobby.

The Rule 5 draft will close out the meetings. No one seems excited there either, with many teams expected to pass. The surreal element for me popped up again and again on Sunday, stepping from insider to outsider. I talked to team after team, reporter after reporter, GM after scout, all of them wondering what I had to say, an odd position to be sure.

The Winter Meetings are…well, it’s impossible to describe them without being here. The stories are all wandering in search of homes, the rumors left out to dry as baseball moves from its big hoedown to the lonelier world in which it normally lives. Phones, rather than cocktails, become the tool of choice. The winter meetings will end, but the activity, the pursuit of the big deal, will continue.

– Will Carroll, 12/13 5 a.m.

Winter meetings coverage is only as good as the winter meetings, and I’m not getting any help from the teams. After pledging to make Sunday’s stay at the Marriott a relatively short one–today’s Rule 5 draft kicks off at a heartless 9 a.m.–I got down to Anaheim in the late afternoon anticipating movement on Tim Hudson and Edgar Renteria at the least. What I got was a trade between two of the lesser AL East teams and a Royce Clayton signing. Feh.

Barring some surprises in the next nine hours, the winter meetings will once again be something of a dud. Whether it’s the unbalanced market–pitchers, shortstops and first basemen in abundance–the imminent arb-acceptance and non-tender dates, or just industry inertia, the ratio between talk and action has remained on par with the ’02 and ’03 meetings, quite a disappointment for a weekend that opened with such promise.

Late last night, the Corey Koskie signing, an open secret since Friday, became official enough to cross the wires. It’s a step backwards for the Blue Jays, an oversized commitment in time and money to a mid-level free agent who doesn’t push them any closer to a postseason berth while blocking Eric Hinske and Aaron Hill. Koskie has been increasingly fragile since 2001, and while his ’03 performance was special, his other years have lacked the power and average to support his good plate discipline. It’s a mistake signing.

– Joe Sheehan, 12/13 3 a.m.

After a night of team parties and the Commissioner’s Gala at Angels Stadium, teams got back to work on Sunday. Deals that have been percolating over the past few days are either coming to a head or dying. It seems most teams are focused on making their “best offers” to their target free agents. Carlos Beltran, Adrian Beltre and Carlos Delgado are all receiving multiple offers; the latter two could accept one while we’re here.

There are some trade rumors making the rounds, a couple of which seem to have fact behind them. The Red Sox haven’t been much of a presence on the floor, but their offer to Edgar Renteria seems to have Theo Epstein and crew tumbling some other dominoes. Dave Roberts, Kevin Youkilis and Doug Mientkiewicz are being shopped in deals that all revolve around which way the Renteria deal goes. Sammy Sosa is back in the rumor mill with a new team as a possible suitor. Jim Bowden and his beautiful fiancée, actress Joy Browning, were on the lobby floor last night. The Nationals are looking to make as big an impression in their first season. The Cubs are looking to offload Sosa and are willing to pay most of his salary, so getting something back isn’t the top order. Brad Wilkerson, heading to arbitration, might be the return.

The Cubs took umbrage at the hits they’ve taken with their 40-man. “You don’t have all the information on some of these guys,” said one team official. True enough, but with the Rule 5 draft on Monday morning, it will be interesting to see how the Cubs come out.

Congratulations to Peter Gammons on receiving the J.G. Spink Award. There’s not a more deserving or hard-working writer and I’m proud to have him as a hero. Odd moment–as I got into line in Starbucks, ESPN overhead showed Gammons on ESPNews. After getting a cup, I turned around and Peter was standing about ten feet away. The man is everywhere.

– Will Carroll, 12/12 2 p.m.

The afternoon has been… interesting. The activity has mostly revolved around the Yankees. The team may have voided their deal with Jaret Wright after the pitcher failed a physical, then quickly moved to sign Carl Pavano. It’s one of the quickest corrections I’ve ever seen by a major league team. Many question the process; MLB physicals aren’t standardized and can be manipulated by a team that wishes to get a particular result, not that it happened in this case.

Everyone whispers about the A’s, knowing Billy Beane is in his upper-level suite waving his hypnorod in front of unsuspecting teams. The A’s are ALWAYS talking about some deal or other, so whispers and rumors mean nothing. The A’s work on their own timeframe for deals.

One of the highlights of the day has been meeting Voros McCracken. I’ve never been quite sharp enough to grasp the nuances of his work on DIPS, and as a knuckleball pitcher I have a built-in bias against the tool. I respect the heck out of the work and the questions he’s raised, so meeting him was enjoyable.

We’re in a quiet time as Baseball America gives out its awards and dinnertime pushes teams apart. The action will start up again later this evening when teams try to sort out the shortstop situation, try to find pitching at a reasonable price, and try to feed the media monster. The media workroom sounds like bacon sizzling as nearly a hundred writers peck away at their keyboards, filling column inches and Web pages.

– Will Carroll, 12/11 5:30 p.m.

Lunchtime is pretty much the starting gun for the winter meetings. The lobby is still sparse, and TV cameras try to get early footage for the east coast. The press room is having its parade of press conferences with each team’s manager. There’s very little to be learned here.

Up in the suites, there are a number of things working. Teams don’t sleep in. It looks like the big news of the day will be Pedro Martinez. After last night’s buzz about a “credible” offer from the Cardinals, it looks like the home team is also going after the top available pitcher. No details yet on the Angels offer, but expect it to be in line with the Mets four-year, $50MM offer. Boston won’t go quietly, either.

The David Wells deal drew yawns. Sources tell me that it’s as much a defensive move for the Sox as filling a slot in their rotation. The Yankees had discussions with their former pitcher, but no serious offer. Wells doesn’t mean anything to Boston’s pursuit of Martinez.

The Indians are also going to be an active team today. Their trade of Matt Lawton to the Pirates for Arthur Rhodes was expected and could lead to a couple deals with pitchers later today. Matt Clement, Esteban Loaiza, and other trades are all possibilities. Also watch for the Tigers and Orioles to get a bit more serious today.

– Will Carroll 12/11 1:30 p.m.

There’s nothing else like the winter meetings. I turn and realize I’m standing next to Brian Cashman. Across the room, I see two agents chatting up Felipe Alou. That’s Lou Piniella standing at the bar and Bill James just passed by. Disneyland is just behind our hotel, yet for a baseball fan, the real thrills are in the lobby.

Baseball’s trade show and swap meet started with rumors flying. Jetting from Indy to LAX, I knew that rumors of a long-smoldering deal involving Tim Hudson would get hotter. Instead, I landed to find that the desert heat had cooked the brains of the Diamondbacks. After crying poor for the last few seasons, the Diamondbacks dropped $80 million in questionable contracts on Troy Glaus and Russ Ortiz added to the roster.

By the time Jay Jaffe and I made it back to the media work area, Ortiz and the D’backs brass had finished their press conference, leaving the rest of us asking “why?” No one we spoke with liked the move from a baseball standpoint or a marketplace standpoint. While the Kris Benson signing had pushed the pitching market up, the Ortiz signing just stupefied most observers.

The ink was hardly dry on Ortiz before the next whispers came. The rumored trade involving Hudson and the Braves was dying on the vine while the Angels were spending big on 39-year-old Steve Finley. I had a chance to speak with him as he and his agent, Tommy Tanzer, were filtering through the crowd. “I’m excited to be in Southern California,” he said. I asked if his defense–rated as poor by BP’s defensive metrics–would be improved by having Garret Anderson and Vladimir Guerrero on either side of him. “How can it not help?” he responded. “Those are two quality guys. We’ll have to get our communication down in spring training, but I’m excited to see what we can do.”

The press conference for Finley also gave some insight into ongoing negotiations for the biggest target, Carlos Beltran. Without using so many words, Angels GM Bill Stoneman made it clear that he’d made no concerted chase for Beltran, contradicting many rumored reports. A later press gaggle with Scott Boras didn’t add much insight, although an Adrian Beltre-to-Seattle rumor worked around the room later in the evening.

Conversations with many baseball officials, media members, and even friends of BP like Alan Schwarz and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball America kept the night hopping. The crowded lobby ebbed and flowed. The media workroom had an even buzz, stories churning out of the rows of laptops and flat screens set up inside. The hotel was less than optimal with myself and most others unable to find cellular coverage inside the lobby. Chaim Bloom found that the Sidekick worked out by the pool, leaving me to wander poolside every so often to check text messages and voice mail.

David Wells to Boston? Corey Koskie to Toronto? Pedro Martinez to St. Louis? There were rumors running thick around the lobby Friday night and it sure looks like there will be more action come Saturday.

For me, a couple hours’ sleep before BP Radio goes live.

– Will Carroll, 12/11 2:30 a.m.

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