LAS VEGAS - The symbol for this year’s Winter Meetings is the strikingly empty scene at the far end of the media work room at the Madalay Bay Resort and Casino: There’s a stage with a backdrop, podium and microphone, risers for TV cameras and a couple of hundred chairs lined neatly into rows.
The tableau is baseball’s version of a ghost town.
Except for a charity auction event, the announcement of Nathan Eovaldi’s deal with the Red Sox and the Hall of Fame press conference introducing new inductees Lee Smith and Harold Baines, the podium wasn’t used to announce one major trade or free agent signing during the three days of the desert meetings.
That’s unlike a typical Winter Meetings where the workroom has a frenetic, adrenaline rush of tired reporters trying to keep up and make sense of a steady stream of transactions and news.
There were a few deals, but none that merited an event where dozens of reporters drop everything and explode Twitter.
Outfielder Andrew McCutchen agreed to terms with the Phillies and pitcher Charlie Morton did the same with Tampa Bay. When the Reds acquired Nationals starter Tanner Roark in a trade late Wednesday afternoon, the team called their beat reporters to a table off to one side so they could ask Roark questions on a conference call, a quiet event without TV lights.
Given that deals were going down left and right as the meetings approached, there was reason to assume the dominos would fall in Las Vegas.
But the logjam remains.
General managers and other executives aren’t sure why the pace slowed, except to say that the big stakes, financial and otherwise, can make the process deliberate. And, with constant analytics analysis can slow things as well.
But there was plenty of ideas for deals thrown out among teams. So, in that way, there was a lot of action, says Jeff Luhnow, the general manager of the Astros.
“We had a lot of conversations at these meetings and when we leave here, we will continue to talk with a lot of teams,’’ Luhnow says.
So as teams leave, the questions that opened the meetings are the same: Will the Giants trade Madison Bumgarner? Did Cleveland get enough information on the market to make a trade of one of their top pitchers, Trevor Bauer or Corey Kluber? Are the Cardinals going to land closer Zach Britton?
Now that they’ve traded Roark, the Nationals must have a deal for a big-time pitcher to back up Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin in the rotation? The answer to that question is obvious.
Can the waiting-to-spend-big Phillies find a way to get Manny Machado to move back to third base? Will Miami trade catcher J.T. Realmuto to a team within the NL East? Who signs first, Machado or Bryce Harper, and for how much?
The Braves, defending NL East champions, are in the market for pitching help, bullpen and rotation. It’s the same story for the Phillies, who lost out on Corbin when he signed with the Nationals.
The Phillies are also looking at closer Craig Kimbrel.
The Mets have plenty of pitching, but they need offense and a catcher, so that’s why they’ve been mentioned as a landing spot for Realmuto.
In the AL East, the Rays, with a payroll in the $30 million range and coming off a 90-win season in 2018, are in the market for a hitter. The Blue Jays need to beef up their rotation behind Marcus Stroman.
The Red Sox signed Nathan Eovaldi, their postseason pitcher hero, but they still don’t have a closer to help defend their World Series championship.
Harper, who won the NL MVP at age 23, has met with all the teams that are interested in signing him. Those individual meetings lasted anywhere from an hour to four hours.
The Yankees apparently have interest in signing Machado as a shortstop, but general manager Brian Cashman told reporters that the team has no interest in signing Harper because they have too many outfielders already.
When asked for a response to Cashman, Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, laughed. “That’s what he’s going to tell you guys.’‘
In Washington, Nationals ownership says it expects Harper to sign elsewhere. GM Mike Rizzo says the door is open for Harper to return, although they didn’t meet with Harper in Vegas. “We know him better than anyone in the building,’’ Rizzo says.
And Boras says the Nationals know their position.
So how close is Harper to deciding?
“Could be soon, could take a while,’’ Boras said.
In a nutshell, that defines this offseason.