Starting Monday the baseball world will descend upon the Opryland Hotel in Nashville for the annual MLB Winter Meetings. It’s a period of time where all 30 general managers are in the same place and a flurry of trades and free agent signings usually take place. 102.5 The Game will have you covered with all the latest happenings next week, as the meetings extend from Monday through Thursday.
To preview the Winter Meetings we caught up with ESPN.com writer Jerry Crasnick, who has been covering Major League Baseball since 1988 and is one of the more respected baseball writers in the country. With the MLB Hot Stove getting ready to heat up, here is a Q&A we did with Crasnick…
How would you compare the buzz surrounding these Winter Meetings to years past? To be honest I don’t think it is quite as big. Part of that is because of guys who are already with teams – like Joey Votto – have signed big, long-term contracts. The free agent market has some intriguing guys, certainly. Josh Hamilton is a guy lots of people have interest in, seeing where he ends up. Zack Greinke is another guy high on the radar. After that I think you start looking at guys like Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan, Dan Haren, Ryan Dempster and Anibal Sanchez.
I don’t get the sense that there is as much public interest as last year when we were wondering if Albert Pujols would leave St. Louis or where Prince Fielder is going to wind up. The market [this year] is a little bit thin, but on the other hand we are seeing some interesting trades. We’ve seen the huge Toronto-Miami trade, Denard Span just got traded by Minnesota – so compared to other years we may see as much interest on the trade market as the free agent market.
You mentioned Hamilton and Greinke – do you see them signing with new teams during the Winter Meetings? It’s hard to tell. Sometimes when you get there it gets slow, but when you get all these people in one place all of a sudden a big frenzy goes and momentum builds. I’ve attended a ton of these things and you could be sitting there for two days and get bored to death because not a whole lot is happening. I think the chances are decent that you see some big name guys go off the market, but I’m just not sure about Hamilton and Greinke given their price tags.
With Hamilton it comes down to length of contract. Is he going to be able to get five or six years like he wants? Or is he going to get a three- or four-year deal for a lot of money from a team that is not willing to take as much risk on the term?
From what you are hearing, who are some of the more serious suitors for Hamilton and Greinke? The Dodgers have been mentioned as a big suitor for Greinke, which is interesting because they do have a lot of bodies in that rotation – Kershaw, Billingsley, Capuano, Lilly, Harang.
They seemed to have moved to the forefront. I don’t quite understand why the Angels are considered a team that might be out of the mix. I don’t buy that. I think they are interested for more of a reasonable price. I don’t think they want to go to $140 or $150 million, especially after giving $85 million to Jered Weaver just a year ago. Texas is another team I can see in on Greinke.
As far as Hamilton goes, we’ve seen all the usual suspects thrown out there – Seattle has been mentioned; he could go back to Texas; I think Philadelphia and Boston are dark horse teams; I even heard San Francisco as a dark horse if they didn’t re-sign Angel Pagan; Baltimore has been mentioned but I think they are more of a long shot. It’s been kind of quiet. His agent is really keeping a lid on the gossip, so whatever is happening with Hamilton is happening out of the limelight.
Do you get a sense that there is any particular team that is trying to make a splash or make some moves here in the near future? A team like the Red Sox, they need to start doing some things. They got rid of a lot of salary and they have to make some moves. They already picked up Jonny Gomes and I could see them going after Cody Ross to bring him back. I think they need to do some things. The Phillies are usually a pretty active club and they have a couple outfield holes to fill with a lot of outfielders out there, so they are another team that could spring into action pretty soon.
At this time of year a lot of crazy money is spent. Is there one guy who could get overpaid that you would avoid if you were a general manager?
I think Angel Pagan is an interesting guy. He’s 31 years old and has moved around and has been considered a guy that may not be a great everyday player – maybe a 400-450 at bat kind of guy. He had a big breakout year with the Giants this year but he doesn’t have a great track
record. I can see him being overpriced.
Michael Bourn is another interesting guy. [His agent] Scott Boras is trying to sell him as a $100 million player but I don’t think most teams regard him that way. He’s a great defender and a great guy in the clubhouse. He’s not a tremendous hitter; he gets a lot of infield hits and bunt hits and strikes out a lot. He’s also a speed guy who is going to turn 30 next month, so if you give him a six- or seven-year deal, midway through that deal his main tools would really have diminished.
On the flip side of that, who is a player that you feel a team could snag for a bargain? Dan Haren. You look at him and he’s really a top 10 pitcher, but there seems to be concerns about him with his back and hip and other injuries he has had. If he goes to the right place, like San Diego with a big ballpark – the guy is still really good when he is healthy, it’s more just a question of health. Atlanta just spent upwards of $75 million for B.J. Upton on a five-year contract. What are your thoughts on the deal?
[The money] seemed a little high to some people, but I think it’s reasonable. He’s a guy that does have some issues. He does strike out a lot, he has lapses where he may not run out a [hit], but he is a 20/20 guy and probably a 30/30 guy. He’s only 28 years old and I think Atlanta is a good fit for him. That atmosphere there is maybe more conducive to bringing out the best in him, compared to if he went to a high-pressure place like Philadelphia. He’s a top 7 or 8 center fielder and that’s a tough position to fill. I thought it was a fair deal for both sides.
In your years of covering and watching baseball, is Nashville native R.A. Dickey one of more unlikely Cy Young winners you’ve ever seen? It was very unlikely. Obviously with everything he went through he was an inspirational story. It’s one thing for a guy to come back and win a Cy Young at age 37, but to do it as a knuckleballer is pretty amazing. When you look at his season – the innings and the strikeouts and carrying that team – he was definitely one of the more interesting stories in baseball this year.
There have been some reports and rumors that the Mets could trade Dickey. Do you see him staying in New York? They are going to get David Wright done here soon (7 years, $122 million), so now they can turn their attention to Dickey. I think they’d like to keep him. I think more likely than not he stays. I’m not sure who else would give him a three-year deal at his advanced years even though he is a knuckleballer. As much as the Mets’ payroll has declined, it is New York. They do need familiar faces that might bring people to the ballpark. Not only is he a great pitcher but he is a great ambassador for that team. I think the fact they signed Wright is a good sign they are willing to commit to do some things. I think they get a contract done for R.A. Dickey, but if they don’t he could be a nice chip for them to trade; the question is how much can you get in return in terms of young talent.
The AL Cy Young winner, David Price, also originally came from Nashville. Did you see any difference in his game this season? I picked him as my preseason Cy Young winner, so I thought the guy had tremendous ability. He’s got the whole package – the velocity, he’s a smart guy, good command of several pitches. There really aren’t that many left handed pitchers who have that kind of a power repertoire. I don’t think [him inning the Cy Young] was any surprise. You can look at the guy as a potential 10-time All-Star and Hall of Fame pitcher if he stays on this track. They
also have a great program down there in Tampa Bay; [Manager] Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey do a great job. They seem to be a pitching and defense model franchise and Price is certainly a huge part of that.
Regarding his future, the Rays just signed Evan Longoria to a 6-year, $100 million extension. How could that affect Price’s long-term future with them? Tampa Bay is a team that likes to do those kinds of deals; they like to get guys locked up for cost certainty. I’m sure they would like to do the same thing with David Price. If you traded him, it’s your Herschel Walker type of deal where you want three or four guys that can step
in and be impact players. James Shields’ name comes up as a guy they could trade to get offense; Jeremy Hellickson’s name comes up, too. Even a guy like Matt Moore – you’d have to ask for a huge return for him. He could be a Cy Young candidate in a year or two. I don’t think Price is going anywhere, but eventually it’s going to get to crunch time when he is within a year of being a free agent. They’ll have to make that decision [to sign or trade him] at some point.
We’ve hit on a bunch of topics concerning the Winter Meetings, but is there anyone we didn’t discuss that you’re watching for or that baseball fans should be watching for next week? Right now it’s just a question of whether Hamilton or Greinke come off the board and the other players feed off that, or if some of these peripheral players sign – Edwin Jackson or Anibal Sanchez or Bourn or Pagan. Outfield and starting pitching are probably the two deepest positions; there aren’t many great free agents in other areas. I think those are the two most interesting position groups to watch because some guys will get good deals but there are only so many spots, so when the music stops someone will not get deal they really would have wanted.