Agent Scott Boras, right, talks with reporters at the baseball winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Last year, as baseball executives left the winter meetings in Dallas, the landscape of their game had just changed. The Miami Marlins, strutting like big-market bullies, had snapped up three major free agents, and the Los Angeles Angels had just signed Albert Pujols away from the St. Louis Cardinals, the reigning World Series champions.
As those same officials left the Opryland hotel here on Thursday, not much had changed from four days ago. Only two teams trotted up to the podium in the interview room, and neither to add a player. The New York Yankees spoke about Alex Rodriguez’s latest hip injury, and the New York Mets finally announced their contract extension for David Wright.
“There hasn’t been a lot of trade activity,” Mets general manager Sandy Alderson conceded after the Rule 5 draft, “other than Wilton Lopez.”
When the major deal of the meetings is a relief pitcher going from Houston to Colorado, then, yes, it has been a slow news week. The Philadelphia Phillies soon made a trade on their way out the door, acquiring center fielder Ben Revere from the Minnesota Twins for pitcher Vance Worley and a prospect. Revere has speed and plays strong defense, but he has no career homers in more than 1,000 trips to the plate.
The high-impact moves, alas, will come after the teams head home. Outfielder Josh Hamilton and starter Zack Greinke did not find new contracts in Nashville. Neither did Michael Bourn, Kyle Lohse, Anibal Sanchez, Rafael Soriano or Nick Swisher. Popular trade targets like the Mets’ R.A. Dickey, Arizona’s Justin Upton, Tampa Bay’s James Shields and Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera stayed put.
Some of the stalled market seems to revolve around the Texas Rangers, Hamilton’s team for the last five seasons. Hamilton has been linked to the Boston Red Sox and the Seattle Mariners, and the Rangers appear poised to make a major move if they lose him. They have been interested in Upton and Greinke, and also could trade Michael Young, their longtime infielder, to Philadelphia, where he would play third base.
“We’re a very creative group, so we’re exploring all the different options we can,” said Thad Levine, the Rangers’ assistant general manager. “Our goal is to stay very competitive, stay at a very high level for a long period of time. We’ve been able to accomplish that for three years, but our goal is to keep that window open.”
Levine added: “In years past we were more targeted because we had not as many holes to fill. We lost Cliff Lee and we signed Adrian Beltre. We lost C.J. Wilson and we signed Yu Darvish. We’ve always been in the market for impact players, but we’ve done it in different ways each off-season. I would expect that we’re thoroughly versed in all the different ways we can do it this off-season. We haven’t engaged in a path yet, but we hope to soon.”
The notion of Hamilton defecting to Seattle is intriguing. The Mariners have finished last in the AL West in seven of the last nine years, and attendance plunged last season to 21,258 per game, its lowest point in 20 years. Signing Jason Bay, who was a bust as a Met for three seasons, will not entice new customers.
Desperation tends to fuel major free-agent signings, and the Mariners would seem eager to be relevant again in a city once so enthusiastic for baseball. The team has ranked last in the league in runs in each of the last four seasons and has already moved in the fences at Safeco Field.
“I don’t know if it’ll help attract them; I think it’s gotten their attention,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said, referring to free-agent hitters. “It’s a question that comes up a lot when you talk to agents, they’ll bring it up: ‘My guy’s an offensive player. I see you’re moving the fences in.’ They like to look at it, and we show them what it’s going to look like. We have some renderings, just to give them the complete picture and the reasons we decided to do it.
“As we said all along, we want to be a fair ballpark, that’s the biggest thing. We have been an outlier in terms of the difficulty hitting in our ballpark. What we really want to be is a fair ballpark for pitchers and hitters.”
The Los Angeles Dodgers should have less problem attracting players, whose agents have understandably flocked to them as team revenues explode from an influx of cable money. Ned Colletti, the Dodgers’ general manager, has a Sunday deadline for signing the Korean left-hander Ryu Hyun-jin, and has been strongly linked to Greinke.
Greinke is believed to be holding up the rest of the pitching market, which has been sluggish. Colletti tried to play down reports of his team’s aggressiveness.
“We’ve signed one player this winter — we signed Brandon League, our own guy,” Colletti said. “There’s a perception that we’re in on a couple thousand starting pitchers, three dozen outfielders and infielders, 17, 18 catchers. People like to have us in. I guess it doesn’t hurt to have us in, even though we’re not in.”
Once Greinke signs, whether in Los Angeles or elsewhere, the rest of the industry can proceed to other options. A Hamilton decision would have similar ripple effects. For now, the industry is stalled.
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