GMs look ahead as meetings wrap up
Teams discuss ways to make gatherings, game better
CHICAGO -- Major League Baseball's general managers are so enthralled with having their annual meetings, they may go to biannual conferences, adding another in June between the First-Year Player Draft and the All-Star Game."One thing we talked about is our responsibility to the game," said Josh Byrnes, who is going into his sixth season as GM of the D-backs. "We'd like to spend more time during the year determining what works and what doesn't work. Obviously, we have our own self-interest in our clubs, but at some point you have to look at a broader view of what's good for the game."
This year's abbreviated two-day meetings concluded at mid-day on Wednesday. Immediately ahead for the collective GMs is the end of the free-agent exclusivity period at midnight on Nov. 19, the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis from Dec. 7-10, and the date to tender contracts to all Major League players on Dec. 12.With the World Series having ended this year on Nov. 4, the entire schedule is compressed. There are about 90 shopping days before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training camps, so the time period is short to make trades or sign free agents. The meetings here this year were more austere than usual because of budgetary concerns. In the past, this confab was staged at a resort hotel that included golf and bowling excursions sandwiched around the meetings. That may now be a relic of the past. "We are constantly trying to find ways to make this a better meeting," said Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, who presided over the sessions. "We discussed various ways of meeting, including more than one time a year, including in smaller groups. We're going to continue to work with the GMs about making these meetings more forthcoming, more fruitful in discussions. "When you get such a large group together in one room, sometimes the issues we talk about in a side [group] so easily are not as readily discussed." For example, though many of the GMs expressed their opinions to the media about expanding the instant replay system to include other close calls aside from home runs, the matter was never brought to discussion at either of the meetings on Tuesday or Wednesday. Considering the controversy that emerged about the issue as umpires missed calls during the first two rounds of the postseason, an open discussion certainly would have been warranted. "Since I've been a GM we've debated instant replay," said Billy Beane the long-time A's vice president and GM. "Quite frankly, I don't think 13 or 14 years ago we would've been at the point we're at now. The technology wasn't there. It's a slippery slope, so you've got to be careful it's not a slippery slope." The matter of how the Dec. 12 non-tender date affects the market was also never broached. Under the economic climate of the last two offseasons, players who are unable to get a contract create a second wave of free agents, adding more players to an already crowded pool. According to the Basic Agreement, when teams tender contracts, they can't attempt to cut any more than 20 percent of what a player made last season in salary and performance bonuses or 30 percent of those figures during the past two seasons. This is true of renewing contracts under any circumstances. "Sometimes people will think, 'We like a guy with a club, but he might be non-tendered, so we'll just wait and see what happens [before trying to make a trade or sign another free agent],'" said Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers' president and GM. "And I think it pushes forward some things and makes clubs talk with one another." Teams also have the right not to give contracts and now are doing so if they think arbitration-eligible players aren't going to be worth the money they can garner through a hearing. Three trades were made before these meetings: Tampa Bay sent second baseman Akinori Iwamura to Pittsburgh for reliever Jesse Chavez, the Marlins traded outfielder Jeremy Hermida to Boston for left-hander Hunter Jones and lefty Jose Alvarez, and the Royals shipped infielder-outfielder Mark Teahen to the White Sox for second baseman Chris Getz and third baseman Josh Fields. There may have been a method to this madness. "The non-tender date has already had an early effect," Byrnes said. "Some of those guys traded could have been non-tendered so a team gets a body instead of nothing. The potential for those kinds of trades exists and then you get to Dec. 12 and presumably there are going to be more free agents out there." With a relatively underwhelming first wave free-agent class headed by right-hander John Lackey, outfielders Matt Holliday and Jason Bay, and third baseman Chone Figgins, it could very well be that more Hot Stove activity will be in the trade market. "The big names are always going to get their money," said Brian Sabean, whose 14-year tenure as Giants GM is now the longest with any one MLB team. "But the second wave of free agents is really an aside to the fact that some teams are force-feeding their young players. All of a sudden there's a risk-reward to keeping some of your older players. "There are more and more clubs deciding that their backup catcher, their middle-inning reliever, their utility infielder or their No. 5 starting pitcher is going to be a young guy. Whether that's done to balance the books or to keep a nest-egg of young players is up to the individual club." Certainly these are topics of pertinent discussion among GMs either inside or outside the meeting room. Whether the GMs meet again this June is a matter of further deliberation, Solomon said. But the format of these November meetings will continue to evolve. "There's no doubt about that," he said.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.