SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. − They came to the resort full of energy, elated by the perfect weather, mesmerized by the views and palm trees swaying in the breeze.
Three days later, they departed dehydrated, nauseous, pale, and warning visitors not to come anywhere near them.
The annual Major League Baseball GM meetings were cut a half-day short when more than 10% of the executives became ill with what originally believed to food poisoning, but was likely a stomach virus going around.
There wasn’t a single team that didn’t have at least one executive spending at least 24 hours battling diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea and vomiting.
It even prompted the Players Association’s annual meeting to be conducted over Zoom instead of gathering at their Scottsdale office, leaving several agents traveling into town only to conduct business without leaving the airport.
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But, at least for a few days, GMs were able to share their agenda, agents were able to tell 30 teams that their free-agent clients will turn them into World Series champions, and reporters were able to stand around and ask what’s the latest they heard on Shohei Ohtani.
There was precious little news, outside four managerial hirings, but certainly enough entertainment to provide awards for their performances while juggling emergency bathroom visits.
≻ Craig Counsell, Chicago Cubs new manager
Counsell was never, ever going to take the New York Mets’ job. He would have rather sat out a year than move 1,000 miles away from his family in Wisconsin.
But he used the Mets’ lucrative offer to get a historic five-year, $40 million deal with the Cubs where he can sleep at home most nights, working just 90 miles away.
And never again will he have to worry about budgetary cuts or having his clubhouse go ballistic by trading away a beloved All-Star closer.
The hardest move was telephoning Cubs manager David Ross and explaining why he took his job.
≻ Nez Balelo, agent for Shohei Ohtani.
Balelo stayed at a different hotel from the GM Meetings resort, avoiding not only about 150 credentialed media who would have hounded him, but still allowed him to meet with teams off site.
The meetings ended without a team ever admitting to even talking with Balelo.
Most honest assessment
≻ Chris Getz, Chicago White Sox GM
“I don’t like my team,” Getz said. “We have a talented group, there is no question, but it’s not a well-rounded club right now.”
The rest of the White Sox fanbase will readily concur.
This is why the White Sox cut ties with shortstop Tim Anderson and are making everyone available in trades except center fielder Luis Robert – including ace Dylan Cease – as they lower their payroll.
Most reflective executive
≻ John Mozeliak, St. Louis Cardinals president of baseball operations
“We know we have to find guys who can give us some innings,” Mozeliak said. “We like our everyday position player club. From that standpoint, when you look back at what happened in 2023, for us we know there are areas that we have to get better at. For a team that always focused on doing the little things, I think we got away from that a little bit.
“Those little things ended up being big things, and those big things ended up creating the disaster.”
Most productive meal
≻ Perry Minasian, Los Angeles Angels GM
Minasian took Ron Washington to Steak 44 for dinner on Tuesday evening with no reservation, stood outside and kept talking after Washington’s two-hour meeting with owner Arte Moreno.
Before they finished their steaks, Washington was the clear-cut choice to be manager, which was approved by Moreno the next morning.
Most colorful exchange
≻ Brian Cashman, Yankees GM with New York beat writers
Cashman has listened to the criticism of his team and their analytics department all year as the Yankees sat home in October, and at the first chance to confront his local writers in the offseason, unloaded.
“There’s a lot of stuff that’s not accurate that’s floating around about [how] analytics took us offline,” Cashman said. “Last year, obviously is the first year in a long time we took a dip, and it happens, but the same people that were responsible for us having a lot of success are somehow being focused as the blame game for the reason the 2023 season went south.
“There’s a lot of narratives that got carried away in my opinion, and a lot of people that have been unfairly portrayed in my opinion. … No one’s doing their deep dives. They’re just throwing ammunition and bull (expletive), and accusing us of being run analytically. Analytics is an important spoke in our wheel, but it should be in everybody’s wheel, and it really is. It’s an important spoke in every operation that’s having success. There’s not one team that’s not using it. We’re no different. But to say we are guided by analytics as a driver, it’s a lie.”
Cashman said Yankees have the smallest analytics department in the American League East and the largest pro scouting department in the majors, only to have veteran Newsday beat writer Erik Boland point out two days later that the Yankees have the second-largest analytics department in baseball – behind only the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I think we have good people,” Cashman said. “I’m getting permission requests all over the place. We just lost our bench coach [Carlos Mendoza] to the Mets as a manager. I’ve got analytics guys trying to be poached to other clubs right now.
“I’m proud of our people and I’m proud of our process. It doesn’t mean we’re firing on all cylinders. It doesn’t mean we’re the best in class. I think we’re pretty [expletive] good, personally, and I’m proud of our people.”
Cashman spent an hour firing away on those criticizing the Yankees, whether it was reporters, disgruntled employees or former prospects like Ben Ruta, who was called “Bitter Boy’’ by Cashman for his criticism of the organization’s use of analytics.
“You guys gave him a platform, this organizational player that’s in all the papers ripping away on what’s wrong with our player development department as he flushed out with us and wound up in another organization,” Cashman said. “He’s getting a platform and everybody sings about what ails the Yankees, and it’s like, ‘How is this even happening?’ It’s embarrassing to have stuff like that play out.”
≻ David Stearns, Mets baseball president, addressing the New York media a day after Cashman:
“I don’t think I have the tenure in this to start dropping F-bombs in press conferences,” Stearns said. “But I appreciate Cash’s enthusiasm for his team and his operation.”
Most compelling news
≻ Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies slugger
Phillies boss Dave Dombrowski announced that Harper will be their everyday first baseman, which almost certainly means cutting ties with veteran first baseman Rhys Hoskins, their longest-tenured player.
“We think he’ll develop into a Gold Glove first baseman,” Dombrowski said. “He’s committed to doing that. He’d be glad to go to the outfield, but he’s committed to being that type of guy over there at first base. We like the way it sets our infield up. We think it makes us more athletic. It opens up one of the outfield spots. It really puts us in a position for the future that we’re in a good spot.”
NEW POSITION:Harper to be full-time first baseman
And no, just because Harper has been everything the Phillies have envisioned when they signed him to a 13-year, $330 million contract, it doesn’t mean they’ll agree to agent Scott Boras’ hopes that Harper is granted an extension taking Harper into his 40s.
Best homecoming possibility
≻ Joey Votto, free agent first baseman
With his contract over with the Cincinnati Reds, Votto could sign with the Toronto Blue Jays.
“Incredible player, remarkable career, just a massive impact in the community if he were to be a Toronto Blue Jay,” GM Ross Atkins said. “So it’s definitely something that we would have to consider if that was something he wanted to pursue.”
Votto would likely replace Brandon Belt in the lineup.
“In today’s game with the DH being available to all teams, he has a really compelling track record I would imagine all contending teams would have some interest in,” Atkins said. “He’s a Torontonian, too. It’s not just Canadian. He has an incredible reputation, really dynamic personality, he’s really bright, (qualities) I know our team would embrace.”
≻ Remembering the 2016 GM Meetings and Kevin Towers.
It was at this same spot, seven years ago at the GM Meetings, when Towers revealed to close friends that he was not feeling well, and planned to undergo testing.
He was diagnosed with cancer a couple of weeks later.
He died in 2018.
“We’ve all been thinking about that,” Yankees advisor Brian Sabean. “How can you not? He was loved by everyone. God, I miss him. We all do.”
Towers was the one who gave Sabean the tip that Bochy, who was managing the Padres, could be available because of a conflict with president Sandy Alderson.
They wound up winning three World Series together in San Francisco.
Around the basepaths
≻ If Ohtani does not sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers or Angels, some executives predict that he’ll end up signing with either the Chicago Cubs or Texas Rangers, while the San Francisco Giants will offer the most money.
≻ The New York Yankees, Giants and Cubs are the favorites for free-agent center fielder Cody Bellinger.
≻ The New York Mets have their eyes on Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto, believing they have no realistic chance to land Ohtani.
≻ The Houston Astros are expected to promote Joe Espada to be their manager on Monday.
≻ The Milwaukee Brewers, who are strongly considering promoting bench coach Pat Murphy, also have their eyes on Mike Shildt if he’s not hired by the San Diego Padres.
≻ The Angels are expressing strong interest in shortstop Tim Anderson, who was cut loose by the White Sox, and could convert him to second base.
≻ Free agent starter Blake Snell would love to sign with his hometown team, the Seattle Mariners, but they don’t have a need for starting pitching. The Philadelphia Phillies are the favorite to sign him while letting Aaron Nola walk away.
≻ Yankees GM Brian Cashman on the close relationship owner Hal Steinbrenner has with stars Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole.
“I don’t think that it’s a problem at all,” Cashman said. “And when you partner with somebody for that kind of money, he’s going to have some seat at the table, as he should. But this is a player’s game, no doubt about it, and they’ve got some good information that they can provide. We’re not going to ignore it.”
≻ Padres GM AJ Preller is trying to persuade ownership to keep Juan Soto until at least the trade deadline, but teams continue to inquire, believing he will be moved this winter.
≻ The Cincinnati Reds are expected to non-tender Nick Senzel and trade Jonathan India this winter while strongly pursuing a veteran starter like Michael Wacha or Wade Miley.
≻ New Cleveland Guardians manager Stephen Vogt talked about his nervousness while awaiting a call to see if he would get the job and decided to go clean the barn with his wife, Alyssa. They loaded the trailer, and were headed to the barn in Olympia, Wash., when he got the news.
“After I accepted the job I proceeded to move a big pile of horse manure,” Vogt said. “I’ll never forget that day and that moment. What a beautiful, beautiful thing to go do right after you find out you’re going to be (the Guardians’ manager).”
≻ The Kansas City Royals are attempting to sign All-Star shortstop Bobby Witt to a long-term extension after his 30-30 season.
≻ Texas Rangers GM Chris Young said that rebuilding their bullpen is their biggest priority after yielding a 4.77 ERA and blowing 33 save opportunities.
So, yes, free agent closer Josh Hader is the ideal fit.
– Mets owner Steve Cohen on his $8 billion plans to build an entertainment complex and casino around Citi Field:
“It’s time the world’s greatest city got the sports and entertainment park it deserves,” Cohen said in a release. “When I bought this team, fans and the community kept saying we needed to do better. Metropolitan Park delivers on the promise of a shared space that people will not only want to come to and enjoy, but can be truly proud of.”
So why does he believe an entertainment complex is needed?
“There’s nothing going on at Citi Field,” he said at Sportico’s conference. “The only thing you can do at Citi Field is get your hubcap changed or maybe get back your catalytic converter… It’s 50 acres of cement.”
≻ While agent Scott Boras says that the Astros have yet to approach him about contract extensions for All-Star infielders Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, who are free agents after the 2024 season, a high-ranking Astros executive said their intention is to keep Altuve for the duration of his career but are highly skeptical they can also retain Bregman.
≻ Fabulous move by Giants manager Bob Melvin hiring Pat Burrell, who was on the Giants’ 2010 World Series team, as his hitting coach. Melvin was also allowed to bring in Matt Williams and Ryan Christenson from his coaching staff in San Diego.
≻ Early congratulations to MVP winners Ronald Acuña Jr. and Shohei Ohtani; Cy Young winners Blake Snell and Gerrit Cole; and Rookie of the Year winners Corbin Carroll and Gunnar Henderson.
Their prestigious BBWAA awards will be officially announced this week.
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