Winter Meetings Live Blog (Day 1)
Updated: Dec 10, 2019
SAN DIEGO -- The annual Winter Meetings are underway as Major League Baseball clubs have ascended on the Manchester Grand Hyatt. Each day, I'll keep a live blog post going of the rumors, thoughts and other buzz collected.
The Hall of Fame announcement kicked off the meetings on Sunday night, with longtime MLBPA head Marvin Miller and catcher Ted Simmons gaining election through the Modern Era committee. Obviously, it's a great honor for two deserving candidates. That aside, a ballot packed with stars of the 70s and 80s felt perhaps a bit too crowded for some of the other men to distance themselves from the field. This was a matter of both quantity and quality.
In particular, I know Braves fans are disappointed to see Dale Murphy passed over by the committee yet again. Twelve votes were needed for election, but when voting totals were released it was revealed the Murphy was among the men who garnered three or fewer. The two-time MVP with a list of other accolades will have to continue his wait. Perhaps I'll write more on this in the future.
11:45 a.m. PT -- We have our first big signing of the Winter Meetings. Stephen Strasburg is heading back to Washington according to Jon Heyman and Jeff Passan. Not only is he being rewarded for opting out of the final four years of his old deal, but Strasburg is in agreement on a record 7-year, $245 million pact. The unprecedented contract comes on the heels of the Nationals winning the World Series with Strasburg earning MVP honors.
Strasburg, 31, led the National League in victories and innings pitched in 2019, his 10th big league season. He then went a perfect 5-0 with a 1.98 ERA in the postseason. It was a fitting story line after Washington's decision to shut down Strasburg in 2012 seemed a October demon that both he and the club may never exorcise. The new deal will carry Strasburg through his age 37 season and is not believed to contain any opt-outs. However, it could very well include deferred money, a practice Washington has utilized in the past.
A San Diego native, Strasburg seemed an interesting fit for a number of clubs seeking a front of the rotation starter. In the end, it was Washington which stepped up and got the record deal done. It is the largest contract ever handed out to a pitcher, though Gerrit Cole is destined to eclipse that $245 million mark when he signs with a club this winter. Cole is two years younger and picked a fine time to have a career-best season with the Astros. Super-agent Scott Boras represents both Strasburg and Cole, so he has no doubt been laying similar framework for his other client. I am hearing it would not be surprising to see Cole make his decision before the Winter Meetings end.
1:05 p.m. PT -- The Cubs have a decision to make regarding one of their biggest stars. Kris Bryant is drawing significant trade interest and could be moved this winter. The Braves are one of several clubs that could be a fit for Bryant, especially if Josh Donaldson's contract demands include a fourth guaranteed year. Alex Anthopoulos has been making moves that will strengthen the club in 2020 but leave Atlanta open in the future, evidenced by short-term deals for Cole Hamels and Travis d'Arnaud this winter and Donaldson a year ago.
Bryant, who turns 28 years old in January, opened his career with a Rookie of the Year Award in 2015 and followed that up with the MVP an a World Series title in 2016, After a strong 2017, he's battled some shoulder issues but remained a productive player over the last two seasons. With the Braves in the market for third base and a middle of the order bat, Bryant checks all the boxes.
Ultimately, any team willing to trade for Bryant will want to know how many years of team control he has remaining. Despite a strong spring training in 2015, the Cubs optioned Bryant to the minors and then called him up in mid-April. That move was done in hopes of garnering an additional year of team control, a common practice of clubs. Bryant's agent, Scott Boras, filed a grievance against the Cubs for manipulating his client's service time (read more on that here). Though five seasons have passed, that grievance has yet to be decided upon. The outcome of which will determine whether or not Bryant will become a free agent after 2020 or 2021. There is obviously a big difference in what trade offers would look like wholly contingent on that ruling, which may still be months away.
Clubs interested in trading for Bryant would no doubt prefer to wait before making offers, but there is a possibility that a deal could be struck before that occurs. Bryant could be traded for players to be named later, the quantity and quality of which to be decided once the grievance has been heard and handled. The framework for both scenarios could be agreed upon and then the trade would be completed at a later date. If it's only one year of control, then players A and B go to Chicago. If it's two years of control, then perhaps players A, B, C and D go to Chicago. Obviously, this is just a theory and there are no specifics to offer. But if it's outside-the-box thinking that will get the deal done, then any team looking to land Bryant may want to get creative and preclude a bidding war. That is, of course, if Chicago is interested in getting a deal done sooner than later.
5:29 p.m. PT -- Wrapping up for the day after meeting with Alex Anthopoulos and getting a feel for what the Braves are looking to accomplish at the meetings. A lot can still happen this winter, but Atlanta is focused on adding a slugger to the lineup. With many of the club's other needs seemingly filled or close to it, finding a bat to put behind Freddie Freeman in the lineup is the one big item on the shopping list that has not been addressed yet.
Here are a few topics Alex Anthopoulos touched on in his daily media session:
Anthopoulos on Stephen Strasburg re-signing with Washington:
"I think we've been consistent with this; we're aware of what everyone's doing but we don't really dwell on it. It doesn't change our outlook on what we're doing or how we value guys. The Nationals lost Bryce Harper last year but they won the World Series, so they'll find a way. Whether they keep players or lose players, they're very well-run and rightfully so with a long track record of success... We expect the NL East to be tough and a grind and to be very competitive year in and year out, so we have to focus on ourselves."
On where their search for a lineup protection for Freddie Freeman may take them:
"Ideally, third base, but a middle of the order bat could come in the form of an outfielder as well. We didn't target third base a year ago at this time. [Josh Donaldson] just was a deal that made sense for us... It's fair to say we'd like to do something for the middle of the order. I can't guarantee we'll be able to accomplish that, but we'd like to obviously add a middle of the order bat if we can."
Anthopoulos added that while nothing is close as of Monday, that could change at any time. The options with both trade and free agency give the Braves and many other clubs a lot to choose from for third base and outfield.
On hopes of re-signing Josh Donaldson now vs. the end of last season:
"I won't get specific about anybody overall. I'll speak in general terms that I think Atlanta is a desirable place to play. One, geographically it's great. Great city, ballpark, all those things have been in place. Look, I think like anything, when you're trying to get players to come play with your club, winning is important. So, we've been able to do that two years in a row and that's appealing. I think the things that have been desirable about Atlanta have stayed in place and that's a good place to be. Beyond that, until you're able to get things done, you just don't know."
On why the Braves have been so active in the early going this winter:
"People have talked about we've done a lot so far. Well, part of it is I think I counted 17 players, whether that's through filing for free agency or options being declined, we had that type of turnover. We would love to be in a position that we're only filling one or two spots a year and we have a core in place. We had a lot of work to do, just with the way we were set up with expiring contracts and so on. I think it's fair that maybe it feels more active because we've had more to do, because of the nature of the roster."
Does it help to be further along from a roster-building perspective:
"It allows you to focus a little bit more. Again, if we didn't believe in the deals, we wouldn't have done them, but there was definitely value to being aggressive and being able to get things done. If you're leaving everything to December or January that would be challenging with all the things we needed to do. It helps. It streamlined things a little bit more, but we still have work to do."
Is having only one or two years of team control a deterrent when trading for a player, or is it all about considering if that acquisition could potentially put the team over the top:
"I think generally speaking, the less control you're getting back in a trade, it's going to impact what you're willing to give up. I've said this before, if you feel like it's the last piece [then] you might stretch a little bit more. Look, at the trade deadline it's like being in a ballpark and wanting to get something to drink or eat. You can't leave and go to the corner store, so it's the same thing. At the trade deadline you have needs that you've got 29 other clubs to work with. So, I think we're always engaged in the trade market and so on, but as a general rule of thumb, less control is going to impact what you're willing to give back."
Does the Braves farm system still garner significant trade interest from other clubs:
"I'd say it's consistent. I wouldn't say there's any difference. I haven't noticed any change [annually]. Whether it's trade deadline and so on, the same guys get asked about and we have a lot of depth there. So, we're still trying to maintain that depth. You need it to get through the season."
The need for a defensive-minded backup shortstop with 26-man roster now:
"We've talked about 26-man, but we haven't come to a conclusion of what we want to do. Do you have a guy you can option? Look, we've been pretty clear that we would like to get a defender at shortstop in the utility role. Defense being the number one characteristic. That's definitely on our list. The 26th man, we're not sure yet. I think there's a chance that maybe in the Rule 5 there's more bats that get selected. A position player maybe they'll be more around, because I don't know. We'll meet about it the day before, but I'm still not sure how we plan to use the 26th man yet."