For the 113th time, smartly dressed men and women will gather in one of America's sparkling metropolises to shake hands and manipulate each other.
It's the MLB Winter Meetings, this year in San Diego, and they have come a long way since the first ones in 1876, when the Philadelphia Athletics were kicked out of the league.
It's the offseason party of the year, and you are most certainly not invited. This is the epicenter of baseball's swirling rumor maelstrom, and general managers don't want your grubby ears listening in on their awesome secret plans. The best you can do is sit there, like you have all offseason, and digest information as it is relayed back to you by those with enough respect in the industry and/or money to stay at the San Diego Bay Hilton Resort, an oceanfront paradise suffering from a debilitating palm tree infestation.
Just check out the brochure, where you can find out pertinent information such as attire ("A presentable and professional appearance is recommended at all times"), weather ("Average temperatures in December range from a low of 48 to a high of 65 degrees"), and how many tennis courts are in the city of San Diego ("1,200"). The last page is a picture of a Yankees hat.
The meetings also feature the coronation of the "King of Baseball," a position with an extremely dangerous amount of power. The committees behind the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting and the J.C. Spink Award for baseball writing will also gather in the shadows to recite their ghostly, secretive chants and select a nominee to join their society, to be awarded at the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction ceremony in the summer after months of intense, aggressive hazing.
Yes, it will be an orgy of workshops, trade shows, and back-room dealings, all in the rays of the glowing SoCal sun. We wait on the other side of the country for some morsel of news that will give us hope to survive the winter, without realizing that the sun has made its choice, and it did not choose us.
Thus far, the offseason has fired off a few trades and deals to feed our terrible hunger.
The Cardinals and Braves worked out a two-for-two deal in mid-November that sent elite defensive outfielder Jason Heyward and pitcher Jordan Walden to St. Louis in exchange for starting pitcher Shelby Miller and a minor league pitcher most people had never heard of (Tyrell Jenkins). In November, the Red Sox briefly satiated their endless desire for attention by snaring Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval from the west coast.
Victor Martinez signed a four-year extension with the Tigers, Billy Butler got three years with the A's, and Giancarlo Stanton signed an unprecedented 13-year deal worth two industrial supercomputers. The Blue Jays are the early activists, signing Russell Martin for five years and making a blockbuster trade that sent Brett Lawrie to Oakland and got them the Athletics' best player in Josh Donaldson, shattering an adorable young girl's heart in the process. Also, Jayson Werth is going to prison.
Torii Hunter is a Twin again, Nelson Cruz is a Mariner, Michael Cuddyer is a Met, Adam LaRoche is a White Sock (?) as meanwhile, the Yankees are up to something. Will Didi Gregorious be the next Derek Jeter? This is the kind of stupid question that can saturate the offseason as the many rumors, cons, and betrayals take place.
But none of it has (yet) involved the Phillies.
Outside of being spurned by A.J. Burnett for the Pirates and pulling back their interest in Cuban prospect Yasmany Tomas, the Phillies have kept out of the headlines, except when they interrupted the World Series to announce the extensions of Jerome Williams and Grady Sizemore. Some people will tell you that this is a good reason to post passive aggressive emoji on the team's Facebook page. Other people will tell you it's early, and the team is better off not doing anything rash. In truth, losing Burnett – a deteriorating elder statesman with a numbing walk total – isn't bad news and Cuban prospects like Tomas, whose defense is not highly touted, are a complete gamble.
The Phillies appear to be in lockdown mode, shuttering themselves in their bunker to sort out just what in the hell is going on and leaving those outside to wonder exactly that. Who is in charge? Will Cole Hamels be traded? Does Ruben Amaro overvalue his players, or is he using a careful hand when analyzing trades? It's easy to simply call the GM a boob and move onto another comment section, but there's not a lot of right moves he could make now anyway. Nobody wants Hamels traded for thin air; if Amaro is weighing his options, the Winter Meetings are a good place to enter with all his assets.
An acceptable return for Cole Hamels, should he be traded, is one thing, but moving Ryan Howard is, obviously, another. His most recent scouting report did not stir a lot of confidence.
"His lower half has quit on him," a longtime evaluator said Monday. "He just can't move."
The widely-made assumption is that Howard doesn't have enough appeal for other teams to want him, per se - frantic whispers that had placed Howard in the reticule of the Royals' front office were deemed false - but should the Phillies offer to choke down enough of his owed $50 million, some AL team may be able to find a place for the aging former slugger who, again, "can't move," according to one source.
It would do a lot for Amaro to move Howard in some capacity and trade Hamels for an entire infield, but there are a lot of moving parts. Plenty of Howard-types without the once-destroyed ACL were and are available, and the market for Hamels is yet to be set by Jon Lester and Max Scherzer signings. Amaro's got the one big chip, and it's heartening to see him not throwing Hamels out there as if the goal is any deal.