LAS VEGAS - Why wait until the Winter Meetings?
Baseball’s Winter Meetings will go on this week at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, even though the deals have been coming fast and furious since the offseason began, especially with teams in the National League East.
The Cardinals have traded for first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. The Red Sox have signed Nathan Eovaldi and pitcher Carlos Carrasco has signed an extension to stay in Cleveland. Former Oriole Jonathan Schoop signed with the Twins.
But nothing compares to how NL East teams are loading up.
The Nationals have added two relievers (Kyle Barraclough, Trevor Rosenthal), two catchers (Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki) and a starting pitcher (Patrick Corbin). The Braves spent $23 million on third baseman Josh Donaldson. The Phillies are promising to spend money and could end up with Manny Machado. The Mets have a new closer in Edwin Díaz and a new second baseman in Robinson Canó. The Marlins are trying to deal catcher J.T. Realmuto.
It’s safe to say the NL East teams aren’t done.
And, as executives arrive in Las Vegas, there could be a lot of baseball history made in the city.
After a 10-year absence, the meetings return this week to the desert town best known for flashy lights, slot machines, magic shows and sky-high roller coasters on hotels. For example, at the Stratosphere Hotel, the roller coaster is 866 feet high and hangs out 27 feet over the edge.
First, a little baseball history from the desert:
The last time the meetings were here in 2008, we found that the free agent world belonged to the New York Yankees and the rest of the teams just lived in it. That winter, the Yankees gave lefty pitcher CC Sabathia a $161 million jackpot.
They also spent $180 million on switch-hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira and $82.5 million on pitcher A.J. Burnett. The Yankees outbid the Nationals for Teixeira. The Nats’ offer was $160 million.
Also, at that gathering, Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux, a Las Vegas native, announced his retirement. Maddux has a son that plays baseball at Nevada-Las Vegas, so he’s helping coach the Rebels.
Las Vegas is known for binging on big-time boxing, such as Holmes-Norton, Tyson-Holyfield and Leonard-Hearns. Vegas, though, has become a hockey town, with the Golden Knights, in their first year, making a surprise run at the NHL Stanley Cup. Next fall, the NFL Raiders will move from Oakland and make Las Vegas their home. And Vegas has the Aces, the WNBA team.
The city has minor league baseball history and is the home of the hottest free agent on the market, Bryce Harper, who is looking to cash in on the largest contract in baseball history.
Two Hall of Famers - Tony Gwynn (17 games) and Robert Alomar (nine games) - played briefly in Las Vegas, while Ozzie Guillen, Matt Kemp, Sandy Alomar Jr. and Kevin McReynolds had longer stints there.
The newly named Aviators, a Triple-A team of the A’s, will open a new 10,000-seat stadium next spring playing in the Pacific Coast League. The Aviators replace the Area 51s, who were affiliated with the Mets and named for a military base northwest of the city that is believed to house UFOs and extraterrestrial life.
It was a bizarre nickname for a minor league team, but it is not the only unusual nickname in the PCL.
Who wouldn’t want to see the El Paso Chihuahuas, the Albuquerque Isotopes or the New Orleans Baby Cakes?
So that ends the history lesson.
This year, the meetings will focus on Harper, who grew up in Las Vegas, and has been waiting since he was 16 to sell his potential Hall of Fame talent on Major League Baseball’s open market.
“It is his home field,’’ Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo says.
The highest annual value for a contract is $34.4 million, belonging to Arizona pitcher Zack Greinke.
Harper wants to top that.
And when you consider that not many blue-chip free agents with Hall of Fame potential hit the market at 26, it is easy to see why Harper is in an elite position. The last time baseball had a free agent this young and with Cooperstown potential was in 2000, when Alex Rodriguez left Seattle for Texas and signed a 10-year, $252 million contract with the Rangers.
Harper was an NL MVP for the Nationals at 23. Harper has turned down $300 million from the Nationals, an offer that both the team and Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, knew was obligatory and not going to be accepted.
Speculation about Harper runs in all directions.
The Nationals aren’t expecting Harper to return to in D.C. When owner Mark Lerner made news with that statement, was he explaining reality or was it a negotiating tool?
The Dodgers are interested. The Phillies need a bat and have a low payroll. Don’t count out the Cardinals, even with Goldschmidt. Remember the Cardinals went after Giancarlo Stanton and his $325 million contract last offseason. The Yankees could fit Harper’s contract into their payroll, even with Stanton.
Some people here say the Cubs are in on Harper. Others say they don’t have a chance.
Harper isn’t the only story. Frontline rotation starters could be on the block.
The Nationals’ $140 million contract with Patrick Corbin shows there is more demand than supply on the free agent market for starters. Houston, St. Louis, Milwaukee, the Yankees, Braves and Phillies are each looking for pitching on the free agent market that includes Dallas Keuchel and J.A. Happ as the biggest-name pitchers.
That could mean that instead of money, teams would trade prospects for someone like the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, 29, who will make $12 million next year in his final season before free agency hits. The Giants are looking for an infusion of youth and athleticism, so a Bumgarner trade could help with that.
The Mets could trade Noah Syndergaard, 26, who has three years of team control on his contract, but how does that make sense if they just acquired Canó and Díaz? The Mets might trade for Realmuto.
The Indians might trade one of their best starters - Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer - to keep payroll down. The Indians need outfielders.
The Phillies lost on Corbin, so do they add lefty Keuchel to a rotation that has Jake Arrieta, Aaron Nola and three excellent pitchers - Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin - who have shown promise but not pitched a complete season.
How will Phillies ownership feel if it promises to spend and winds up with nothing?
They’ve moved Rhys Hoskins from left to first base, so they’re going to need at least one outfielder, maybe two to play alongside centerfielder Odúbel Herrera. That could be Harper.
The Dodgers, who are heavy on platoon players, are in on Harper because they need star power.
The Braves, the defending champion in the NL East, added Donaldson to play third base, making a strong defensive infield that has from third to first, Donaldson, Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman. The Braves could use another starter and bullpen help.
The rebuilding Marlins are active in their own way, trying to deal Realmuto, one of the best catchers in baseball.
What teams are interested? Answer that by asking, “How many teams are in baseball?’‘
Welcome to the Winter Meetings.