LAS VEGAS — The image of a modern major league general manager is of a man attached to his iPhone, barking offers on a call and negotiating trades by emoji-laden text message. Front offices have become so dependent on technology to communicate that a common joke around the winter meetings is that they have become largely obsolete: Why do all these people need to be physically close when they’re all holed up in their hotel suites, talking to each other on the phone, anyway?
At least, that was the narrative until they all got here and tried to place their first calls. The high floors of the Delano Hotel are temporarily the home of the biggest power brokers in the sport, during the most communication-crazed period in the baseball calendar. They are also, it seems, the hardest place in Las Vegas to find cell service.
“I’ve got one bar right now,” laments Angels GM Billy Eppler, ensconced in an otherwise luxurious suite, complete with sofa, leather armchair and view of the Spring Mountains. “I’m on Verizon.”
At first, Padres GM A.J. Preller blamed the “piece of junk phone” he’s had for eight years, he says. But his first conversation with another executive revealed that he was not alone. No one has reception.
A hotel spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment, but one Delano employee speculated that the technology the casino uses to catch cheaters is causing interference.
All this has put a real knot in the threads of transactions the front offices are weaving. One tongue-in-cheek conspiracy theory is that the difficulties have caused the slow-moving market: Deals are falling through because no one can get through.
No one will admit to having lost a pact because a call dropped, but many conversations are taking longer than expected as a GM unexpectedly finds himself talking to air. “Where was I?” he asks when he finally reconnects. “What did you say? Hold on a second. Ugh, let me just text you.” CALL FAILED and NO SERVICE have become sights as common here as that of special assistants sneaking off to the craps tables.
Room phones are too low-tech for front-office purposes. Some discussions have moved to WhatsApp and iMessage—wifi-based services that do not rely on reception—but those can rob the deliberations of their nuance. The Yankees have taken to using FaceTime Audio, which also uses WiFi but works on a slight delay. The Angels had to splurge for premium WiFi in attempt to patch over the reception holes. Several teams have created their own hotspots. (And not always made them private; look at your wifi options in the Delano and you will see how many clubs are trying to fill the gap.) In some cases lieutenants with different carriers—T-Mobile is said to work well—have been deputized as points of contact. People whose phones do work occasionally take the opportunity to gloat: “I’ve got four bars!” San Diego assistant GM Fred Uhlman Jr. likes to announce.
Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has found one spot that does work. That’s right: The man who built the most recent world champions is now conducting trade talks standing up, pressed against his bedroom window.
Even that doesn’t always pan out for Preller, who sighs as he considers the workarounds he has tried.
“I’m peeled on the window, then out in the hallway, trying to find a place that works,” he says. “It’s been a little bit of everywhere. There are times you’re on the window and you’re like, This is the spot! And then that goes out.”
It’s not really so bad, though. The major result of all the failing technology has been a more faithful hewing to the original purpose of the winter meetings. “Honestly,” Preller continues, “There’s been a few times when we’re like, Let’s just get together and make it easier.”