LAS VEGAS -- Here's one problem with baseball's winter meetings: It's not even winter.
Besides that, every year there is much anticipation heading into the annual gathering, as the media assembles in numbers that dwarf the World Series. There is a lot of wandering the massive hotel and convention center complexes, and front offices conduct meetings behind closed doors with other executives and agents, but little happens.
The only significant free-agent signings during the three days in Vegas were the Philadelphia Phillies with Andrew McCutchen, the Tampa Bay Rays with Charlie Morton and the Texas Rangers with Lance Lynn -- and none of those deals is official until the players pass their physicals. The two biggest trades were Tanner Roark going from the Washington Nationals to the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates trading Ivan Nova to the Chicago White Sox.
None of this is necessarily a problem except in the context that the meetings are billed as a newsmaking event. Important stuff is going to happen. That's why everyone is here. It's supposed to be baseball's time to lead the sports news cycle.
The winter meetings used to be a place of action instead of a place of text messages, like the epic 1992 meetings in Louisville when there were more than 30 free agents signed, including Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux. At the 2000 meetings, Manny Ramirez signed an eight-year, $160 million deal with the Red Sox, only to see that topped by Alex Rodriguez's audacious 10-year, $252 million deal with the Rangers. One of the biggest challenge trades in MLB history occurred during the 1990 meetings, when the Blue Jays traded Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez to the Padres for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter in a monumental exchange of four All-Stars that would help the Blue Jays win two World Series. In 1984, the Oakland A's traded Rickey Henderson to the Yankees, and the Expos traded Gary Carter to the Mets. Even as recently as 2011, the Angels signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson after the Marlins had a temporary moment of insanity and signed Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell.
Now the name of the game is caution. There are numbers to crunch and options to explore.
"They used to be old school back in the day," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told MLB Network, recalling his days as a baseball operations assistant in the late '80s. "We'd all be down at the local bar doing stuff on napkins, and I remember, late night, waking up in the morning, [Lou] Piniella might be on the couch and Kevin Towers, one of my best friends in the game who's no longer with us. Just GMs, managers and scouts all staying out all night trying to figure stuff out. Now you're sequestered in a suite and you hardly see anybody, maybe a text until they drag us out here to the media circuit."
Technology has changed the offseason, of course. Texting is a 24/7 operation, and face-to-face meetings are unnecessary. Mostly, however, front offices don't feel any urgency to make deals. Nobody wants to make that mistake that haunts a franchise. Here's an example of what I mean. There were 40 players in 2018 who made at least $20 million. The worst 20 players on the list combined for just 5.4 WAR and over $470 million in salary. That's a lot of money flushed down the toilet.
That leads to the long waiting game in free agency, and the slowness in the free-agent market can affect the trade market. Chris Sale was traded in 2016, but there was a similar lack of big moves last year as well.
"I'm not sure that's the new normal," Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "I'm not sure, but I think the purpose of these meetings is great in terms of putting baseball in the forefront of everyone's mind in December. And when there's less activity it's not as ideal. But I think with the MLB Network, and just how actively people follow the hot stove, I'm not sure that it doesn't generate nearly as much interest a week from now if a big thing happened as it would if it happened today."
Maybe. But it still feels like baseball is missing a golden opportunity. Imagine three days of nonstop signings and trades to report. The sport could own the sports news cycle in the middle of December, following all the buzz leading up to the meetings.
How do you make the winter meetings great again? Some ideas:
• Set a moratorium on announcing any deals the week before the meetings begin. The only player news conference that occurred in Las Vegas was the official announcement of Nathan Eovaldi re-signing with the Boston Red Sox, but we knew that last week. Imagine the meetings beginning with Paul Goldschmidt getting traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, with Goldschmidt in attendance and talking about how he was born to be a Cardinal or whatever. The Patrick Corbin signing and Jean Segura trade happened last week as well. The announcement of those deals could have waited until the winter meetings to create an ongoing sizzle of activity.
• Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told reporters the rules should be changed to include an offseason deadline. He said people naturally work toward deadlines. I like this idea, as it would force teams into a more accelerated timeline.
• Bring in some star players. A little offseason attention for Mike Trout or Alex Bregman or Javier Baez would be good publicity for the sport. Promoting some of the up-and-coming stars like Ronald Acuna Jr., Matt Chapman and Blake Snell would be positive exposure as well. You could televise a panel discussion with the players.
• General manager/front office availability in the media room. GMs will meet with the local beat writers, but MLB should run them through the same 30-minute media sessions as the managers. Or hack into their phones and publish all trade discussion texts with other GMs. No, we will not give you Cody Bellinger and Walker Buehler for J.T. Realmuto. LOL. Do you want Matt Kemp?
• Make the Hall of Fame announcement on Thursday morning. The meetings currently end with the Rule 5 draft, not exactly the most exciting news event of the year. Take the Hall of Fame announcement -- not just the Today's Game Committee event that just elected Lee Smith and Harold Baines, but the big one that comes in January -- and finish the week with a bang. Right now, that announcement comes in the middle of the NFL playoffs.
• Improve cellphone reception. Sports Illustrated's Stephanie Apstein reported that many GMs were having issues. "I've got one bar right now," Los Angeles Angels GM Billy Eppler told her. It's hard to make trades these days if your phone isn't working!
• Mascots! There are big empty spaces at these convention centers. I recommend a mascot skills competition and baseball owns social media for a day. Plus, kids love mascots, and we keep hearing only old people like baseball.
Until then ... we wait. Let's just hope Bryce Harper and Manny Machado sign before Opening Day.