In the lobby of the Manchester Grand Hyatt, I surveyed the situation. With crowds marching by in every direction, mapping out the best route to cross paths with someone you spot on the move across the hallway is tougher than a quarterback reading a slant route over the middle in thick zone coverage.
It’s Day Two of the Winter Meetings in San Diego and I’m making eye contact with Mark Feinsand of MLB.com, reaching out my hand to introduce myself.
We chat about my stint with his publication -- as an intern in 2018 covering the Miami Marlins -- before I quickly attempt to pick his brain about the industry. The clock is already ticking before he gets a text or tweet about another free-agent signing.
Of all the sage advice, some similar to that of other introductory conversations I had throughout the week, Feinsand advised that above all else, take the time to observe.
Easier said than done, I thought. I’ve got articles to write, standups to record and connections to make. After we said our goodbyes, I realized how deeply that one word had resonated with me. There’s so much to learn -- what better place to watch and listen than during a week where close to the entire baseball world converges upon one spot.
So, I observed...
Sometimes, no matter the expense, purchases are a necessity. At the 2019 Winter Meetings in San Diego, those are words to live by.
It’s recent college graduates dropping everything to fly to San Diego in hopes of securing work in baseball at the Winter Meetings Job Fair, collecting business cards in hotel lobbies as if life depends on it.
It’s striving to continue to grow baseball’s presence overseas and make memories that’ll last a lifetime, even if it means forfeiting financial stability.
It’s spending $324 million dollars to put Cole in an entire fanbase’s stockings this holiday season.
In my case, it’s buying a brand new laptop when my four-year-old computer decided December 9 -- an hour after Stephen Strasburg agreed to re-sign with the Washington Nationals on a record seven-year, $245 million deal -- was a good time to crash and die.
At the Winter Meetings, you spend now and think later. That’s because in the midst of baseball’s biggest juncture of the offseason -- where content creators, job seekers, front office executives and ballplayers all intersect in one hotel lobby -- the results of a single conversation can be life changing.
This week-long gathering of some of the most recognizable and renowned faces in the game of baseball was a flawless blend of the old and the new, leading to some pretty special moments.
You know, like spotting Peter Gammons using AirPods.
Jomboy and Talkin' Jake were situated just feet away from YES Network’s Hot Stove set all week long, as several reporters stopped by to say hello throughout the week. Following an interview on YES, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman took a moment to congratulate Jomboy, the podcaster and breakdown aficionado, on his recent success.
Zack Raab got a notification on his phone during the week reminding him of his nine-year Twitter anniversary. He recalled creating an account almost a decade ago solely to keep up with rumors and breaking news from the Winter Meetings, all the way from his home in Israel. Now, he’s seeking job offers while meeting the likes of Jayson Stark and Jeff Passan -- who told him he recognized Raab from Twitter. How’s that for full circle?
Industry vets like ESPN’s Pedro Gomez and Jack Curry of YES Network jockeyed for position alongside young reporters who have yet to make a name for themselves -- hundreds all striving for a soundbite as Scott Boras held his annual Winter Meetings press conference on Tuesday in the biggest scrum I’ve ever been a part of.
Or me, a wide-eyed industry newcomer, having an opportunity to meet a role model, Matt Vasgersian, and learn from one of the best broadcasters in the business.
After years where free-agency negotiations typically lingered past this point in the offseason, the scalding-hot stove had monumental deals breaking each day this time around -- as the top-three available free agents all signed in a span of about 56 hours. Those three deals alone amounted to a staggering $814 million -- almost $1 billion worth of contracts were agreed upon over the course of the week as over 10 free agents inked new deals.
Between Ken Rosenthal, Jon Heyman, Joel Sherman, Gammons, Passan and all the writers and reporters who were in attendance, it felt like the only number that could rival the money spent was how many cumulative followers were on the cellphones of those walking around the hotel.
The Nationals, set to defend their World Series title, needed to bring back their WS MVP -- even as the price skyrocketed. The Yankees were desperate for an ace and reeled in the most sought-after free agent on the market -- the contract for Gerrit Cole featured more average annual value ($36M) than any other free-agent signing in baseball history, but with their needs, it was worth the price. Then the Angels, who missed out on the high-end starter, brought in the best bat on the market in Anthony Rendon, a signing that felt mandatory in order for them to compete in one of the best divisions in the game.
The Dodgers and Rangers, who didn’t get the job done in securing the best available on the free-agent market, will now be forced to deal with the consequences -- spend elsewhere or risk an unfulfilling season in 2020.
For the Winter Meetings attendees, that’s like electing not to attend the celebratory gala to cap off the week in San Diego. Sure, it was on the pricey side, but the folks that chose not to go missed out on some outstanding food and views from atop the Western Metal Supply Co. Building.
Could the most active and hectic Winter Meetings in recent history be a sign of what’s to come for Major League Baseball? A spark over the winter to showcase the game and build excitement for the pending regular season, still three months away?
Perhaps this year’s version of the Winter Meetings was distinct in its own way, never to be replicated again. From awkward moments in A.J. Hinch’s press conference as the investigation on the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal forges onward, to announcing the MLB Draft will move to Omaha (the site of the NCAA Men’s College World Series), revealing the inaugural All-MLB Team roster as well as new rules on pitching changes and the usage of opioids, specifically marijuana.
Even the induction of Marvin Miller and Ted Simmons into the Hall of Fame on Monday, which sparked a collective sigh of relief from the baseball world … finally they’re in!
All that, combined with several historic deals, sets San Diego apart.
It doesn’t take an industry vet -- who’s been to enough of these offseason events that they’ve lost count -- to understand that this edition of the Winter Meetings was in a class of its own.
Even my Lyft driver -- a man originally from Kazakhstan who has zero knowledge of MLB or the Winter Meetings -- made baseball memories this week. When I mentioned I was from New York and why I was in town, he told me about the “two tall guys” he drove around the night before. He had no idea who they were but he recalled they were in San Diego for “recruiting.”
I’d say several members of the Yankees’ organization are pretty tall and they were in fact in town for recruitment as well ... I’ll let your imagination decide who sat in the backseat of his four-door before I did.
Lyft rides, $5 all-you-can-eat tacos, a $324-million contract and, of course, don’t forget that new computer. All necessary purchases.
Which brings us to my first memory of the trip. A man in a gray MiLB t-shirt, waiting impatiently at baggage claim upon our arrival, asked the lady standing next to him, “are you here for baseball?”
The answer may seem like an easy yes at the start, but this week, for many, means far more than just baseball’s offseason and it’s certainly worth the price of admission.
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