On Friday I had the privilege of speaking via phone with legendary baseball journalist Peter Gammons. Peter will be part of MLB Network's more than 25 hours of live on-site Winter Meetings coverage from Nashville starting Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. Hot Stove, Intentional Talk and MLB Tonight will air live on-site starting at 9 a.m. ET and local channel listings can be found here.
Tim Dierkes: What were the Winter Meetings like in the 70s and 80s?
Peter Gammons: Much more low-key. There were nowhere near as many media outlets. Of course there are so many different forms of media today covering, especially in the tweeting world. There were some very funny times. Bill Veeck got the White Sox back in I think the December of '75. He got a table and put it down in the middle of the lobby in Hollywood, Florida, and put a sign up over the table that said "open for business," and started trying to make trades with everybody that went by. That was hysterical. Now it's very hard for general managers to get much time, because you've got so many people wandering around the lobby, you've got so much media, and also there are so many agents that are trying to get jobs done. It's pretty helter-skelter.
Do you feel that Twitter is a positive for baseball reporting?
In the end, it reduces thought to very few characters. On the other hand, you're constantly updated on things that are going on. Bill Shaikin can report something about the Dodgers' sale, and you know it instantaneously. Everything is so sped up, it does make it interesting. The whole business of trying to be the first with the news can be a little bit sad. Tom Verducci calls it "intramurals." On the other hand, it's a great help to us. Like today, the Hanson-Walden deal took me by surprise. It was kind of interesting to have that come up out of the blue.
It shows that teams can still keep something under wraps if they really want to.
They're much more careful about giving information than they used to be. Now it pops up on Twitter right away, players can be naturally sensitive about it because their lives are involved. I find that general managers are far more cautious about the media now than they were twenty years ago.
Where can Scott Boras get a big deal for Rafael Soriano, if he is unable to sell the Tigers or Yankees on him?
I think that's going to be a very tough call, because the Angels obviously moved on and did the Madson deal. Jerry Dipoto made it very clear, he just didn't think it was very smart to be giving $14-15MM to a closer. My guess is that he'll still end up in Detroit. I don't know if it'll be for $15MM, but it's just going to be very hard to go with a kid basically out of Double-A and expect to win the AL Central. The Tigers have the best team, but at the same time, you hate to end up blowing games in the ninth inning come September and October. Soriano was really good, and all Mike Ilitch wants to do is win. That window might be two years right now when Verlander's contract is up, so it does make some sense. I think there's a pretty big split of opinion within the organization. I know there are some people who very badly want them to get an established closer.
Are fewer teams willing to pay a premium for saves on the free agent market?
Yes. I think they're more cautious. The ninth is still different, but still, relief pitchers come and go so fast and get injured so easily. A year ago at this time we all said boy, if Kansas City would just trade Joakim Soria, that would be a great deal for them. They could get a really good young starting pitcher for him. And they decided to hold onto him, understandably, and now look where they are with him.
Do you see the gap widening between the big and small market teams? It seems like with the new restrictions on amateur spending, the only weapon remaining for a small market team is ingenuity. Will this become a problem?
I think it may, if those small market teams have the kind of success the Rays had. That's what really tapped the Rays out, is the fact that starting in 2008, they were winning every year, so they were picking down at the end of the first round instead of the top of the first round. So they didn't have the access to the David Prices and Evan Longorias that helped make them so good. They're still a very well-run organization but it's just far more difficult when you've won for a while.
I don't really understand taking away the ability to spend big on the draft.
I think in the end it's going to cost them more money, because it's going to put more of a premium on free agency. Teams are going to end up spending more on free agency. So you give $75MM to B.J. Upton because you can only spend so much on the draft. I think they're going to find that by saving some pennies and having more control over the draft, which was clearly an obsession of the owners, it's going to end up costing them more money because they have to go out and sign free agents.
Do you see a power shift in baseball toward the West Coast?
Yes, oh definitely. I know I anger a lot of my East Coast friends by constantly talking about and writing that the AL West was the best division in baseball, but if you look at their record against each of the other divisions, the run differential, every sign pointed to that being the strongest division. It can be cyclical, obviously, but I don't see any team in the East that you go, "Wow, that team's going to win 100 games." And you used to have two teams every year like that. Now that there's so much money with the Dodgers, and the Angels are obviously a huge, powerful market team, the Giants are a huge market team. It is shifting out there to a degree.
Is there any reason the Dodgers can't jump up to a $300MM payroll in a couple of years?
I think it's a distinct possibility. I could see them at least going $220MM. Some of the people in the organization have said that the goal is to have an All-Star at every position. George Steinbrenner had that same goal once in the 80s. It'll be fascinating to see. They clearly understand baseball is entertainment. The competition with the Angels for the market and the Giants for the division is absolutely fascinating. It's such a high-stakes poker game, it's going to be really fun to watch.
I think there's a chance. It's going to be really interesting. It's been brought up to me a couple of times recently that, first of all, Greinke is having Casey Close and the people at Excel do a great deal of background checking on each team. Zack is a fascinating guy in a lot of ways, and he wants to know everything. I'm sure you've read the stories that Doug Melvin told about when they were preparing for the draft and Greinke would go down and look at video of high school and college pitchers and break them down and give his advice, he was really into it. It's stuff that we don't really know because Zack doesn't open up to us. Which is fine, he doesn't owe me anything. I'm told he's very detailed on where he wants to go. I'm sure catchers are going to be very much in it.
I don't know about the Angels. It's been said to me that they're not going to go over the $17.5MM that Weaver gets [annually] over the next four years. If that's the case, then they won't get him. I don't know where Texas is going to go, and I don't know if Washington could do it or not. One thing I've been told is don't underestimate Zack Greinke looking at Clayton Kershaw and saying, "There's a guy I'd really like to have for a teammate." Kershaw is one of the finest people in the game, incredible preparer, there's a lot of Chris Carpenter in him. If you're going there for five or six years, you want a pitcher that can be the number one starter and take a little pressure off. Kershaw is one of those guys that players want to play with.
I've seen the suggestion the Marlins-Blue Jays trade was sound for Miami on a baseball level; do you agree?
My first impression was that wasn't really the key. But the more I talk to people, I've seen the Marlins have a lot of really good young pitching. They got quite a bit of talent. Obviously they had to take on Escobar, which is no bargain, but at the same time if I'm a taxpayer in Dade County, I'm going, "Wait a minute, what happened to our $360MM?" If I'm Giancarlo Stanton, I'm going, "What is this?" But if, indeed, Jeffrey Loria believes, as he should, in the ability of that staff to find talent, then he should believe that they'll rebuild this thing in a couple years. Problem is, if you're losing 85 games the next couple of years, that new ballpark is not going to be bringing in any dollars to Dade County.
Does the Pirates' Russell Martin signing suggest a more aggressive offseason for the club?
I think so. I thought it was a great signing, because as all those young pitchers start to come up out of the minor leagues, they've got a veteran catcher who's been really good at handling pitching staffs in place. Also I think they'll hold onto the bullpen, because as you bring those young pitchers up, you don't want to lose games they should have won.
What do you think the Yankees will do at catcher?
I don't know. I think that they'll probably look around and see who's out there. I just don't see them spending the money on Pierzynski. As much as I think he'd be really good in New York, hitting home runs and handling that pitching staff, I think it's going to cost too much money on a two-year deal.