LAS VEGAS -- Late Wednesday morning, as baseball's winter meetings slogged to their grim and quiet conclusion, Scott Boras stood on a raised platform in front of a 25-foot fake Christmas tree steps away from a casino in the middle of the desert. Marlins Man -- accessorizing his orange MARLINS MAN jersey with a backward visor -- rummaged around the pack of reporters to get just the right angle for his photos. The reporters, arranged in a semicircle 10 deep, leaned this way and that in a futile attempt to hear whatever it was the super-est of baseball's super-agents was saying. Baseball, the holidays -- it was the perfect Norman Rockwell tableau, if Norman Rockwell dropped acid.
The Boras media conference has long been a high holy ritual of the winter meetings. He opines on the state of the game, and the state of his guys, and the Venn confluence that exists therein. Every year the predictions become a little more dire, the calls for a more inclusive playoff format a little more plaintive, the mystery teams a little more mysterious. It's great and harmless theater, and it serves a purpose for all involved.
It was the ideal pseudo-event to close out an uneventful event. Aside from Andrew McCutchen signing with the Philadelphia Phillies and Charlie Morton with the Tampa Bay Rays, not much happened at the winter meetings. Teams had productive meetings and traveling secretaries got hip to all the new hotel points programs and a million desperate guys from all over the country got to come together and stand in a trade-show convention center to hawk the latest training gadget that needs just the slightest push to vault its inventors three or four tax brackets.
This was supposed to be more than that. It was supposed to be a major event, a holiday headline spasm that baseball anticipated from the day Bryce Harper debuted with the Washington Nationals at 19. The winter meetings in Harper's hometown just as he hit free agency at the pre-prime age of 26 -- that couldn't have been random, right? The problem: reality. When less than half the teams devote themselves to competing, and fewer still show enough interest to commit something like 10 years and $300 million to one of the game's signature players, the chances for a storybook hometown coronation disappear.
Even the rumor market crashed. Nobody even had the energy or the information to float many good half-cooked ideas. Manny Machado, the other signature free agent, wasn't even in town and apparently won't meet with teams until next week. The three-team blockbuster that included the Mets' Noah Syndergaard and the Marlins' J.T. Realmuto wafted through the Mandalay Bay ventilation system and quickly evaporated. Yasiel Puig ended Wednesday night as a Dodger, Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer are still Indians. Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, Zach Britton -- still unsigned. Mostly everyone walked around and stood around and waited around for something to either happen or be rumored to be happening. Nobody was especially picky.
What did happen? The White Sox traded for Ivan Nova. The Reds traded for Tanner Roark. The A's signed a left-handed hitting catcher named Chris Herrmann. The Dodgers made a late move for reliever Joe Kelly. The Angels signed first baseman Justin Bour in a lower-case move that might have upper-case consequences if it turns Albert Pujols into a part-time player.
There were media conferences, of course. The Rays ownership held a sparsely attended one that seemed designed for them to both express and swallow their anger at the evident dissolution of a three-year agreement to explore new stadium sites. Owner Stuart Sternberg said he was "wildly disappointed" Hillsborough County will not be building him a $900 million stadium in Ybor City. The team spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars and had nothing to show for it, and it pains Sternberg because "Major League Baseball is a big part of what defines the Tampa Bay region." If you haven't been following this saga, though, you might be interested to learn the Rays' lease at less-than ideal Tropicana Field runs through 2027. The number of people concerned about where the Rays will play in 2028 might be limited to the people sitting on the stage.
Perhaps the strangest event of the week was the media conference announcing Harold Baines and Lee Smith as the newest Hall of Famers. It's hard to imagine feeling sorry for a Hall of Famer, but the weird circumstances surrounding Baines' election left me feeling a little bad for the guy. The mellifluously named Today's Game Era Committee, which includes Baines' former manager, Tony La Russa, and former owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, overturned the consistent failure of Baines' previous candidacy -- a high-water mark of 6.1 percent of the needed 75 percent of the writers' vote. As Baines talked about his career and cried when discussing the influence of his late father, I couldn't help but wonder what Dave Parker and Dale Murphy, sitting at home staring at Baseball Reference pages littered with bold-faced numbers, thought about the induction of a guy whose best MVP finish was ninth.
The way the winter meetings work, every general manager invites the media that covers his team into his massive suite on the top floors of the Delano Hotel every evening to discuss the day's events. Since most general managers don't directly address trade or free-agent targets by name, the gatherings take the form of a clumsy verbal kabuki in which questioners attempt to discern a team's interest in a real player by crafting a question that creates a fictional player -- "Suppose there was a defensively challenged first baseman who hit 22 homers in an injury-riddled season ..." -- and then requests the GM to express his interest or non-interest in such a player if such a player existed in real life. This gambit -- shockingly! -- rarely works to anybody's satisfaction, but if the GM answers by saying, "Acquiring power is definitely a priority for us moving forward," then that's pretty much a go.
Both the A's and the Giants suggested they would be stupid not to have interest in a hypothetical former perennial All-Star infielder who grew up in the area, was recently waived, has expressed an interest in playing near his hometown and will cost just the major-league minimum this season. "Good minimum-salary players are always worth a phone call," Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said, without suggesting he might be referencing Troy Tulowitzki. Told that A's general manager David Forst answered the same question by saying, "I like good players who make the minimum," Zaidi said, "Well, I feel I gave you more than he did, didn't I?"
Over the course of the week, every manager takes a 30-minute turn at the microphone to address whatever might be on anybody's mind. By about the third or fourth media conference I absorbed (there are two going on at once, thereby depriving an intrepid reporter the opportunity to hear both Ron Gardenhire and Andy Green), I began to think of them as the We've Got Some Guys discussions. Invariably, talk would turn to a team's particular problem area, and the manager would tilt his head like a skeptical schoolteacher and say, "We've got some guys" who can either start games or finish games or play a competent outfield. These conversations were necessary because nobody was signing anybody or making trades, so the managers had to face the grim specter of beginning the season with the same guys who failed the year before, minus whoever might be leaving through free agency.
Bud Black's Rockies have got some guys who can close in place of noted Babe Ruth slayer and current free agent Adam Ottavino. Rocco Baldelli's Twins have some guys who can step in and do the job in the starting rotation. Sometimes there were layers atop layers. Bruce Bochy's Giants have got some guys who can open if they don't have five guys they can confidently start, but Bochy believes they've got some guys who can start, too. Baldelli believes in collaboration with the front office and the Cubs' Joe Maddon is interested in finding ways to improve his relationship with millennials. There were two stenographers sitting off to the side for every one of these media conferences, providing transcription, and I began to wonder just how confusing and repetitive and stultifyingly boring it was for these women -- their hands tapping elegantly and furiously -- to listen to this for hours on end.
Cardinals manager Mike Shildt, the owner of a voice that makes him a prohibitive favorite among managers to be the lead singer for an Oak Ridge Boys cover band, drew a decent crowd, probably because his team made the biggest offseason news by acquiring Paul Goldschmidt. After going through some esoteric lineup machinations -- best I can figure, Yadier Molina figures to move down with Goldschmidt in there -- Shildt acknowledged the reality of "compensation factors" when it comes to how relief pitchers view bullpen usage in a time when roles are becoming increasingly blurry. Those compensation factors, of course, are based on saves being the primary (still) statistic that separates guys making seven figures a year and those making eight. Nevertheless, while the depth of the bullpen might be a concern, Shildt wanted everyone to be assured by one fact: He's got some guys.
There are so many guys. Guys everywhere. Everybody's got guys, but nobody's got the guys everyone came to see.