David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Last month at the general managers' meetings, which took place under one roof at a resort hotel in Indian Wells, Calif., Sandy Alderson looked bemused at the notion that what amounted to a mixer for baseball executives would hasten the deal-making process.
The Mets' general manager said it was just as easy to reach into his pocket, pull out his smartphone and dial up whomever he might need to get the dialogue going.
Alderson is right, and in this day and age, when everyone is accessible 24/7, the idea of having to walk down a hallway and knock on somebody's hotel room door seems kind of antiquated.
But when asked again about being cooped up with the same crowd at the winter meetings, which begin Monday at the sprawling Opryland hotel in Nashville, Tenn., Alderson wasn't feeling quite as claustrophobic. He almost sounded as if he was looking forward to it.
"Could be a lot of things happening there," Alderson said, smiling.
Maybe this year more than most, thanks to a couple of new factors affecting the market. A big reason is the additional $50 million coming to each club as part of MLB's recently minted TV package, a nice chunk of change that will be burning a hole in the pockets of some teams eager to do some holiday shopping.
And for those teams on a tighter budget -- think the TJ Maxx bargain-rack browsers -- the deadline for tendering contracts was moved up this year to Nov. 30 at midnight, thereby identifying all of the free agents well ahead of the Nashville feeding frenzy. In past years, the non-tender deadline took place immediately after the winter meetings, which could delay a club's plans for remaking the roster.
As for the market itself, a few parameters have been set by the November signings, but some of the biggest names remain in play. As for the crowded outfield department, B.J. Upton came off the board last week when he signed a five-year, $75.25-million deal with the Braves. Earlier in the month, Torii Hunter was first out of the gate by coming to terms with the Tigers on a two-year contract worth $26 million.
But where does that put the prices for Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Angel Pagan and Shane Victorino? At this time of year, free agency becomes like a game of musical chairs, and as soon as one club fills a need, another gets anxious to find another seat.
On the pitching front, righthander Zack Greinke is the headliner among a relatively shallow free-agent pool, and the rapidly escalating cost of starters could prompt clubs to go the trade route.
Andy Pettitte, who nailed down a one-year, $12-million deal at age 40, has to be considered an outlier because of his special relationship with the Yankees. But there's little doubt that R.A. Dickey, a Cy Young winner at 38, will invoke Pettitte's name when and if he gets the chance to sit down with Mets officials this week. Dickey is a Nashville resident, so the meetings are taking place close to his home.
In 2007, the last time MLB descended on the Opryland hotel, the Mets laid the groundwork for the Johan Santana trade with the Twins, which evolved into the completion of his six-year, $137.5-million contract nearly two months later. Leading up to these Nashville meetings, the Mets eclipsed that landmark deal by locking up David Wright with an eight-year, $138-million contract.
How that further affects the market remains to be seen, and there always are teams that try to put their stamp on a particular December. Last year, the Marlins signed Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle at a total cost of $191 million, stealing the spotlight with a series of news conferences in Dallas. None of that group is with Miami now.
Clemens, Bonds and The Boss?
The debate over this year's controversial Hall of Fame ballot, which contains a handful of players tainted by steroid suspicions, will continue long after the results are tallied in early January.
Players Association executive director Michael Weiner conjured up an interesting comparison with the example of George Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner was not elected on his first try in 2010 by the Expansion Era Committee, a special 16-member veterans panel, and won't be up again for consideration until next year. At the time, Johnny Bench, one of the panel members, said "it was too early" to induct him, but he also mentioned Steinbrenner's "combative" and "ruthless" side.
Plus, The Boss' resume is not exactly consistent with the Hall of Fame's clause, which is listed on every ballot and asks voters to take into account "integrity, sportsmanship and character."
Still, despite Steinbrenner's checkered past, Weiner believes he is a slam dunk. He suggests the same criteria for others such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
"Given the bulk, the scope of George Steinbrenner's career and his impact on Major League Baseball," Weiner said, "put aside the campaign contribution conviction, or the whole Howie Spira thing, I'm not even talking about those. George Steinbrenner was found to be one of 26 owners three times being guilty of collusion -- being guilty of trying intentionally not to win but participating in a conspiracy where they wouldn't bid the best players.
"You can say that George Steinbrenner cheated the game of baseball for a substantial section of his career and therefore the morals clause should keep him out. I don't think it should. George Steinbrenner belongs in, because when you look at everything he did, he deserves to be in. And I'd like to see voters take that kind of approach in looking at some of the admittedly historic players who are up for a vote this time."