It’s fair to say that the 2008 Winter Meetings have been anticipated for some time. After all, the family of baseball and the hordes that write and talk about the game have been traveling to Dallas, Orlando, Nashville, Anaheim, and other locales each December for years now, so four days in Las Vegas has its appeal. I would say that we’ve been joking about this year’s meetings for years, and while the amusement beats the reality-I doubt there will be any stories that open with, “Well, I was down $220 at the craps table, but then Brian Sabean walked up, bought in for $15,000, and proceeded to roll for an hour!”-the fact is, this isn’t a bad place to be, meetings-wise.

What makes it ironic is that in a year when the meetings are being held in a place where dead time can be more easily filled than in almost any other locale, we could very well have four days that leaves no one time to get their aces cracked. Yes, we say this every year, but weeks of stagnant player markets have caused pressure to build in the pipes. Free agents want to sign, owners want to make a big splash, and GMs want to get their 2009 plans put into place. Agents… well, Billy Ray Valentine probably had this one nailed.

It’s not that everything is going to happen this week. After all, Derek Lowe is waiting for CC Sabathia, who is waiting for Mark Teixeira, who for all we know doesn’t want to upstage Barack Obama’s transition process and plans to make his decision after the inauguration. Even without those stars, there are plenty of free agents, especially relievers and bats who can’t field, who need homes. There’s the Rule 5 draft, which despite being gutted in the most recent CBA, keeps producing interesting players each year. (Remember the name Pedro Strop, an infielder-turned-reliever who bounced from the Rockies to the Rangers and was surprisingly left unprotected by the latter.) There’s the trade market, which takes on importance not just for teams wary of signing free agents, but for those who have needs that simply won’t be met by the pool. There are no championship-caliber catchers, third basemen, or center fielders available via free agency, and just a couple of marginal second basemen.

The meetings’ first deal reflects that problem. The Tigers need a catcher and see nothing in the market they can invest in with confidence. The Rangers have a glut of them, thanks to some shrewd trades by Jon Daniels. Gerald Laird, pack your bags. Laird is a marginal starter himself, with so-so power, a poor contact rate, and a career K/BB over three to one. He has a good defensive reputation, and very good statistics, having thrown out 38 percent of the runners trying to steal on him in his career. Some of that may be in the pitchers he’s worked with, such as Kenny Rogers and Vicente Padilla, who hold runners well, so take that figure with a grain of salt. Laird is a stopgap, and at 29, he’s not going to change much. He’s probably better used as part of a solution than as the whole one.

The Tigers didn’t give up the store here. One of the prospects is a 25-year-old who has just 260 professional innings under his belt. Guillermo Moscoso was the Tigers’ tenth-ranked prospect according to Baseball America, and while his performance begs attention-122 strikeouts in 86 2/3 innings at two levels last season-his age and level limit his upside. The other prospect, Carlos Melo, won’t even be 18 until February 27, and is a skinny hard-throwing right-hander. Check back in 2012.

For the Rangers, it looks more and more like Taylor Teagarden is going to emerge from their group and be their starter in the long term. Teagarden is by far the best defensive catcher they have, and will be one of the best in baseball once he takes over in Arlington. While the team could find room for Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Max Ramirez, both players-who are marginal catchers with very big bats-would have more value to an organization that will put them behind the plate and live with their defense. That puts Daniels on the spot; he has a team that is emerging as one of the best collections of talent for the 2010s. His job now is to turn that into a baseball team, which means signing the right free agents-next year, in all likelihood-sorting through the gluts at some positions, and bringing along studs Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland in a way that balances their development, their health, and the team’s needs. While I’d rather have his job than, say, Neal Huntington’s, Daniels faces significant challenges in progressing from a strong organization to a championship team. Trading Saltalamacchia and Ramirez will be a critical step in that process.

That’s the kind of move I think we’ll see this week, teams making mid-range deals, not really blockbusters, in order to fill needs and position themselves for either 2009 or the future beyond that. It is my hope that we see some creativity, because that makes the game more interesting. It is also my hope that we see activity beyond what you might call “the usual suspects.” I think the Reds could be a strong sleeper in the NL, and whether they get Jermaine Dye or not, that’s the kind of move I’d like to see them make, something that positions them for success. We’ve seen the White Sox and the Tigers, legacy franchises, restore their team’s place in their cities with success; the Reds could be the next one in line for that.

Think about all the tweeners that are out there, like the Blue Jays, Indians, A’s, Braves, Astros, maybe even the Giants. There are a lot of teams that are currently projected to win 78-85 games that could make one or two moves, especially if they’re NL teams, and change the conversation about them. It’s not clear whether they should-the Blue Jays, in particular, are in a tough spot-but baseball is healthiest when most teams feel like they can progress towards a championship. The AL, so long dominated by a few franchises, is really moving back to that model, with most of its teams either contending or thinking about it. In 2009, only the Orioles, Royals, and maybe the Rangers are rebuilding. That makes for a fun game.

  • Of the 24 free agents offered arbitration by their teams, just two-middle-relievers Darren Oliver and David Weathers-accepted. This strikes me as a significant piece of evidence that teams are not taking risks by offering arbitration to their free agents as long as those players have just about any kind of market value. They almost never go back to their old teams, and Greg Maddux‘s decision to do so a few years back is the exception that doesn’t justify the fear.

  • Speaking of Maddux, he’s retiring. I haven’t felt this way about a player’s departure from the game since Don Mattingly was thrown under a bus by the Yankees. (No, I’m not over it.) Maddux was simply amazing, with a peak performance in 1994 and 1995 that sits comfortably with any two-year peak you can name, and a career that makes him one of the top five starting pitchers in baseball history. He did all of this quietly, with a professional air and an attention to his craft that made him a joy to watch. He had better stuff than he was usually given credit for, but it was what he did with that stuff that made him both entertaining and effective. I’ve never seen a pitcher who had greater command of his arsenal than Maddux did at his peak.

    There’s probably a parlor game, or maybe a senior thesis, in who your favorite pitcher is from this era. Were you a Rocket Guy, Unit Guy, Pedro Guy or Maddux Guy? Me, I was a Maddux Guy, and even though he won’t pitch, I’d like to think I’ll continue to be one.

  • Joe Gordon is now a Hall of Famer. I’m nonplussed. Nothing against Gordon, who was a fantastic and under-appreciated player in his career, but expanding the Hall of Fame to include more players from the over-represented first half of the 20th century isn’t advancing the discussion.

    When the Hall was launched, we had 60 years of baseball history under our belts, and 60 years of players to vote into the Hall. Even a reasonably well-designed system would struggle to catch everyone, and when the powers that be realized that there was a backlog of qualified candidates, they started creating committees to address the problem. This permanently screwed up the Hall’s standards, but that’s not really my point. The point is that in the early days of the system, you needed a second track to cover players who were more or less unknown to the voting pool. It was a good idea executed poorly.

    What should have happened is that after a couple of decades, you would then say that anyone who was a candidate had been considered by both the BBWAA and the various veterans’ committees, and that the second door was now closed. What happened instead was that the VC took on a life of its own, considering not just players the writers had no experience with, the Dan Brouthers of the world, but players the writers passed on 15 times. The writers have made mistakes of omission, but that’s not why you have a second committee. You have that second committee to cover issues created by a flaw in the voting structure. If it doesn’t sunset, you then have a back door with a completely different set of characteristics.

    The VC should have died off 40 or 50 years ago. Instead, it keeps finding players from a time before time to honor, and what that does is skew the Hall even more towards long-dead players at a time when the BBWAA has become as stingy as ever with its vote. It’s long past time to acknowledge that the various committees have done their job, not comment on the quality of their work, and create a one-track path to the Hall for players. (A second track can and should exist for non-players, and consist largely if not entirely of non-player evaluators.) The BBWAA is far from perfect, and their standards have failed to adjust to changes in the game, but you don’t address that with a back door that lets in Joe Gordon, you address it through education of the voting pool.

    I have nothing against Gordon, but the process by which he became a Hall of Famer is terribly flawed. The Veterans Committee should be dissolved forever.

Back with more as the day progresses, over in Unfiltered.

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Its a travesty that Ron Santo did not get in. Maybe one the the VC will get it right and hopefully while Santo is alive to enjoy the well deserved honor.
In my mind amongst rational baseball fans the veteran\'s commitee exists for one thing \"putting Ron Santo into the hall of fame\" the fact that various iterations of this committee continually fail to do this only really points out how inepet and clueless they are. I mean honestly who needs another marginal player who put up stats during a period of low competition and not a player who was one of the best EVER at his position... It reminds me of the Negro Leagues vote that put in EVERYONE who had virtually ever played in the leagues other than Buck O\'Neil who to myself and many others represented the spirit and passion of the players that played in that league more than any other. We criticise voters for voting for stories but in effect I think that gives them far too much credit. What they actually have is a an ill informed knowledge of baseball and irrational prejudices that fail to overcome even simple concepts. My solution would be is that the veterans have proven they know practically nothing about who should be in the hall of fame the sooner the hall recognises this and allows for rational and informed debate to enlighten these choices the better
I\'m a Pedro guy. Seeing him pitch in Fenway was the most electric atmosphere I ever experienced. Maddux, Clemens and Johnson were all fun to watch but I really felt the adrenaline rush when Petey was on the mound.
I\'m a Maddux guy. When he left the Cubs (the first time) it was the only time I seriously questioned my fanhood. I came back, but it\'s a scar. Might be the stupidest baseball decision the cubs ever made, and that\'s not a short list. I\'m also, thanks to my dad, a Santo guy. It\'s a shame that he was snubbed again, a shame that I think should stick to the HOF. I don\'t think there\'s any real chance the VC of former players will ever elect anybody, so why not just abolish it? I\'m tired of getting my hopes up every two years for a dose of sanity, I\'m sure Santo could do without it too. Joe\'s right there\'s no real need for the back door anymore, every player that should be considered has been considered. And the writers are much smarter now, I mean people with Santo-like bbraa stats(hr,rbi,ba) get voted in by writers now. I mean look at Jim Rice, similar numbers, no glove. Soon to be HOFer. If only Santo was more feared...if only...
I\'m a Randy guy, and not just because it produces such great double entendres. (\"Randy Johnson\", unlike Phillips McCrack, is a real name. And the beauty of all this is, when we want a nick name for him, we have \"Big Unit\".) His four years from 1998-2001 were the longest dominant stretch of any of these guys. Plus, I\'m from Seattle.
I was a Pedro guy because it seemed to me he combined the command and intelligence of Maddux with the power of Clemens and Johnson while including the entire arsenal of pitches of all of them and more. One of the most remarkable pitching performances I ever saw (actually heard) was in the 5th game of the 1999 ALDS against Cleveland. Pedro entered an 8-8 slugfest in the bottom of the 4th inning and finished the game, 6 innings, giving up no hits or runs, walking 3 and striking out 8. That in itself is outstanding, but he did it injured without a fastball. I think he topped out around 87 MPH. It was done with off-speed stuff, guile and perfect command. The walks were actually a sign of his command; they were not intentional in the technical sense, but they were clearly intended. Here is a pitcher renowned for his 95 mph fastball and his ability to work off it relying on an entirely different approach and doing it magnificently. A few years later I saw him pitch the same way for the Mets in Shea Stadium. It was thrilling sitting in the stands and watching him dominate, working so quickly you hardly realized how extraordinary his performance was.
I\'m a Unit guy, in no small part because it\'s enormous fun to watch someone succeed who\'s not only nearly as old as I am, but even uglier than I am. My wife and I make up an annual \"All-Ugly\" team of players. RJ has been team captain for ten years running. We look forward to inducting him into the Ugly Hall of Fame. As regards the VC (in)actions, I think Gordon has to be right up there with Santo, Blyleven, etc., in the why-wasn\'t-this-guy-already-in discussions. When you adjust for era, and take into account his two missing years owing to WWII, a Ryne Sandberg comparison definitely works out in his favor in all regards except longevity, and nobody\'s arguing strongly that Ryno doesn\'t belong. I think the committee actually got this one right -- or close.
I guess we here in flyover country missed the boat. I guess I\'m a Randy guy, cuz he pitched for the Mariners when Jr. was there. I\'d much rather say I was a Jose Rijo guy. If only his elbow could hold up....
As for Gordon, good for him. I\'m pretty liberal when it comes to the HoF. As far as I\'m concerned the more guys in the better, especially considering how flawed the BBRAA process is. Its not like everybody gets 15 years on the ballot. Sweet Lou Whitaker dropped off after two years (i think?). Nobody even got a chance to build a case for him. People were up in arms when Toby Perez went in. Didn\'t stop me from driving all day and night to watch him (and Carlton Fisk) go in. As far as I\'m concerned Gordon is hardly exhibit A for Vet committee foolishness.
Joe, I\'m guessing Seattle will settle into rebuilding next year as well.
If a player doesn\'t get in during the 15 years of eligibility, are they really a HOFer? Another barely above average player to make it, not to mention, I\'m sure the pinstripes of the Yankees didn\'t hurt. Blyleven gets screwed every single year!!
Right, if we have to debate a player this long, then they probably shouldnt make the cut. This is supposed to be the best of the best of the best. Why are there 2 ways t get in anyway? If the first system is broke, dont add another one, fix the first one...
If a player doesn\'t get in during the 15 years of eligibility because the voters during those 15 years were the same senile idiots, then yes -- they might really be a HOFer. Ron Santo, Bert Blyleven, Bobby Grich, and I fear someday Tim Raines, are in no way diminished because Bobby Doerr thinks RBIs are the key metric and that nobody has played the game right since 1961.
Joe: That Santo isn\'t in the HOF is a real indictment of the BBWAA. I played high school baseball against him one year in Seattle (I\'m that old!), when his slugging pct must have been .800. Pitchers were literally terrified of him- the line drives he hit were tactical nuclear missiles. Never saw him play in the majors, but he was the guy everyone in ball in Seattle know was going to The Bigs. To be that good at 17....
I\'m a Pedro guy. Here was a guy about 5\'10\" tall, 160 pounds, pitching in a hitter\'s park in the AL East in the middle of the so-called steroids era and making all the pumped up parade floats look risible as they tried to guess whether they were getting the local or the express. The feeling in Fenway, especially in his 1999 and 2000 peak years was electric. The park was alive. You just *knew* you were going to see something special. Nothing against Maddux or RJ but Pedro did it against a DH with an artistry that matched the former and occasionally power that matched the latter.
Orlando Hudson is available as a free agent - he is marginal?
I\'d like to be a Maddux guy, but the extra 9\" outside found in his personal strikezone during those peak years won\'t let me. He was the epitome of class, however. Have to tip my hat to him.
Interesting point. Would Maddux have been as \'good\' if MLB was able to monitor the strike zones of umpires in the early 90\'s as they do today?
In terms of raw ability to make the ball do uncanny things and that special \"Pedro\'s pitching ... don\'t miss it\" atmosphere, Pedro was certainly the best to watch and I feel blessed that I lived here in Boston during his prime. But ultimately I agree with Joe. I\'m a Maddux guy. He made it look so easy and had that everyman quality to him that gave a hint -- just a hint -- that with the right practice and training, you could do it, too. But my favorite part is his quote (paraphrased), \"Pitching is making the balls look like strikes and the strikes look like balls.\" That was Maddux\'s craft and nobody\'s done it longer and more consistently than him.
I was a Mike Mussina guy. Would have been more of a Maddux guy if only I was able to see him pitch more often.
Gordon is hardly the worst choice for the Hall, but if only one guy was getting in, that it wasn\'t Santo is ridiculous. (I realize that different groups of voters were involved in Gordon\'s election and Santo\'s non-election; it\'s the principle of the thing.) How much would you like to bet that if you changed nothing about the two players except the championships they won, Santo would have been in the Hall decades ago and Gordon would still be on the outside looking in? That\'s the real travesty here. I was having this discussion with someone last night and he pointed out that Santo\'s career as a broadcaster - a golly-gee, enormous homer broadcaster - may not have helped his case, which I think is possible. In addition, his degree of self-promotion, particularly in recent years (and just today he\'s calling for changes in voting, and while I think he should be in I think that a player calling for changes in voting just so he can be elected is kind of annoying), probably hasn\'t won him any friends among the people who have to vote. I mean, how else can you explain that he was *more* votes from election this time than he was last time, as if he somehow became a worse player in the intervening period?
My personal favorite Greg Maddux memory is from 2005. I was at a game ordering hot dogs on the lower level at Wrigley right behind the home clubhouse. When I got to the front of the line the door behind the cart opened and Maddux ordered 2 hot dogs (he wasn\'t pitching). He paid and took them on his way and then I bought my fill.
I\'m a Maddux guy. Not enough attention is given to the sheer numbers of innnings (and starts) the guy racked up for about a decade. Numbers that would be considered ridiculous now, and facing hitters at the peak of the PED era, but we were too impressed with his ERA to notice.