Winter Wonderland -- Day One
I drove to the Anaheim Marriott, the host site of major league baseball's winter meetings, on Friday afternoon. I met All-Baseball.com colleagues Alex Ciepley and Peter White at their hotel down the street, and we walked to the Marriott.
Ciepley and Jay Jaffe came out on the same flight from Newark to Los Angeles International Airport earlier that day, arriving at LAX about the same time as White (Kentucky), Will Carroll (Indianapolis), and Ken Arneson (Oakland). The fivesome took a bus from the airport to the hotel and had a late lunch prior to my arrival at a one-star Chinese fast food restaurant located in a nearby strip center.
After getting a bite to eat, Ciepley, White, Jaffe, Carroll, and Arneson checked into their hotel rooms. The latter three then headed over to where the action was while Ciepley and White opted to wait for my arrival before making the five-minute walk to the Marriott.
Upon arrival, we learn that Will and Jay are attending an Angels press conference announcing the signing of Steve Finley. Two years, $14 million? That sounds like a pretty good deal for the hometown Angels to me. Makes me wonder why the Dodgers didn't try to ink Finley to a similar contract ($6 million in 2005, $7 million in 2006, and a $7 million option for 2007 with a $1 million buyout). At a minimum, I would have expected them to offer arbitration, knowing that he was in demand but looking for more than a one-year deal -- meaning that they would have received a first-round draft pick as compensation.
Has the price of first-round draftees gone up so much that they are now considered liabilities? I don't know but you might want to check with the Giants front office for an answer to that question. We chat about that very subject with former Dodgers General Manager Fred Claire, who now writes and does radio for MLB.com.
Finley emerges from the press conference, carrying an Angels hat and looking every bit as good as he did when he signed with the Diamondbacks as a free agent as a 33-year-old in December 1998. Finley, a resident of Del Mar (a San Diego suburb), is excited about staying "close to home" and playing for "a great team...with a chance to win." He expressed disappointment that the Dodgers didn't try to sign him, saying conversations with the team "never materialized."
In the spirit of Alex Belth's wonderful essay on last year's winter meetings, I look around the lobby and there's Peter Gammons within footsteps chatting with friends; Tom Verducci leaning up against the bar; and Tracy Ringolsby, decked out in his cowboy hat, making the rounds. There's the youngish J.P. Ricciardi and Brian Cashman circling the room. Ahh, I recognize Terry Ryan. . .and Omar Minaya. The fit and trim Terry Collins is standing near the registration. Oh, there goes Lou Piniella and Lee Mazzilli, not together mind you.
We meet up with Joe Sheehan and Jonah Keri from Baseball Prospectus shortly thereafter. Joe, Jonah, and I attended a Dodgers-Angels game last summer, along with Brian Gunn, the writer extraordinaire who recently retired his highly popular and entertaining Redbird Nation blog. Joe kiddingly asks if I was there to meet Bill Conlin. Jonah mentions the Abstracts From The Abstracts ("What a great idea") and admires my tenacity in taking Bert Blyleven's case for the Hall of Fame to the baseball public.
Looking at the BP triumvirate of Carroll, Sheehan, and Keri makes me think that these are a bunch of normal guys who, thanks to Jonah, average about five-foot-ten. Like most of the All-Baseball.com writers, they are also thirty-something. Gosh, one more year and I guess I'll be known as a fifty-something. Will, Joe, and Jonah could star in a TV sit-com "Married With No Children."
More than anything, it is the love for the game of baseball that is the common thread among us. We kibitz about the Yankees signing Jaret Wright and Tony Womack. Jaffe, who Belth described as "Robin Ventura with black-rimmed glasses," is in favor of the Wright acquisition while the rest of us seem a bit more perplexed by it. Nobody, on the other hand, had anything positive to say about the Womack deal.
Speaking of the Jaffe-Ventura resemblance, Jay makes up for the three or four inches in height in the length of his sideburns. As a result, I gotta call it a wash. Peter, on winter break from seminary school, said Jay looked like Elvis Costello. Whether compared to the baseball star or the rock-n-roller, there is no doubt about one thing: Jaffe is one helluva nice guy, an outstanding analyst/writer, and someone I would like to spend more than just one weekend kicking it around.
Alex C., who is also affectionately known as Ciepster, went back to the hotel across the street because he was in need of a "30-minute nap" that actually turned into about a one-hour snooze. If there is a more passionate Cubs fan than Alex, I've yet to meet him. Everybody should be so lucky as to have a friend like Alex. He is simply a joy to be around.
In the meantime, "Scoop" Carroll is working the room. "Something's going down with the A's." Ken, a devoted A's fan, and I speculate whether it involves his favorite player Tim Hudson going to the Braves in the rumored trade for Marcus Giles and Dan Meyer. "I'm not sure. Only Beane knows at this point."
I look across the lobby and see a crowd gathered. I think to myself, "There must be something going on." Not one to sit back, I walk over and notice Scott Boras in the midst of several reporters -- most of whom had MLB.com press credentials. I sneak in there and ask Boras if the Finley signing now takes the Angels out of the running for Carlos Beltran.
I don't think the Angels ever had an interest in signing him. They have invested $12 million per year in (Garret) Anderson and another $14 million in (Vladimir) Guerrero. They already have a lot of money tied up in their outfield.
Boras said that he didn't expect to consummate a deal for Beltran before the holidays. In response to a question from a reporter, the super agent tells us that he and the Red Sox have agreed to the money on the first four years of a five-year deal for Jason Varitek. He indicated that the terms of the fifth year were still being negotiated.
I asked Boras about the status of Jered Weaver, and he turned to me and said "Is that a question?" I rephrased it, suggesting that it was the Angels and not Weaver who had the leverage at this point. Boy, did I strike a nerve! Boras said it was "disingenuous" of the Angels to draft Weaver and not negotiate with him in good faith. He made it clear that "our demands were fully known before the draft," that "11 teams had passed on him," and the fact that the whole process was "unfair to Jered."
I told Boras that I was sympathetic to their situation but mentioned that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to make up the lost money should Weaver choose to wait and go back into the draft next June.
Jered is a special talent, a premier pitcher. He's about as close as you can be from pitching in the major leagues. J.D. Drew decided that he didn't want to play for a team that wasn't going to treat him fairly. We'll see what happens.
That's about as good as it gets, folks. I joined up with Ken, Jay, and Peter, sharing my Boras experience as we walked back to the hotel to wake up Alex on our way to dinner at an El Torrito restaurant not more than a five-minute drive away. We piled into my car and the conversation turned to where Jay and the two Alexes (Alexii?) live in New York. When we were at a stoplight, Jay said, "There's no place in all of New York that looks like this."
At dinner, we swapped baseball stories. What else would you expect from a bunch of baseball nerds?
Afterwards, I drop off Alex, Ken, and Peter at the hotel. Jay and I decide to make the rounds one more time at the Marriott. It's after 10:00 p.m., and I'm skeptical as to whether anyone will still be there. Oops. There's Jack McKeon smoking his cigar out in front of the hotel. There's Stan Williams sitting on a bench, smoking a cigarette. We walk inside and can't help but notice Tommy Lasorda holding court with a few admirers. Felipe Alou, looking taller than I would have expected, and Dusty Baker enter the lobby.
Man, this is good stuff. But, wait, it's now 11:30 and I gotta get home before I turn into a pumpkin. Besides, I'm going back tomorrow. I wonder if everyone will still be standing in their same places? I don't know, but I can't wait to find out.