SAN DIEGO — As Day 2 of the 2022 Winter Meetings was winding down Tuesday, Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins had already prepared himself for another long night of negotiations.
“I’m not sure how the circles under my eyes are looking, but you guys can be the judge of that,” Hawkins told the media cohort in front of him at about 5 p.m. PT on Tuesday. “It’s certainly been full bore here over the last couple of days, and I would expect that to be the same tonight.”
Yes, Cubs officials who’d made the trip were going to be back in negotiations for most of the night, at least until news broke a few hours later that they had signed Jameson Taillon to a four-year, $68 million deal (after they’d reportedly agreed to a one-year, $17.5 million deal with Cody Bellinger earlier in the day). But they certainly weren’t the only ones working into the late hours.
Front office personnel, managers and coaches from all 30 Major League Baseball teams, agents and their players, media members, fans and so many others converged on the Manchester Grand Hyatt to attend the first in-person Winter Meetings since 2019, which were also held in San Diego.
The 2020 Winter Meetings, set to be held in Dallas, were instead held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And a year ago, the Winter Meetings were supposed to be held in Orlando, Fla., but were cancelled due to the MLB-imposed lockout that stretched nearly two weeks into March.
So, this week was three years in the making. The Winter Meetings was one of those events that made the baseball offseason feel like a baseball offseason again, for everyone involved.
“I think it’s a return to normalcy,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “Obviously, the last couple years have been a little jacked up in terms of the offseason, and this has been much more, frankly, what it was like last time we had a Winter Meetings.”
At the same time, it truly seemed like a reunion of sorts (but not like your awkward 10-year high school reunion). Not since three years ago had everyone involved — GMs, agents, reporters, etc. — all been under the same roof for a multi-day excursion like this. It felt like old friends getting together for the first time in a long time and hitting it off like they’d never been apart.
And considering how much the business of baseball and the way it’s conducted felt the effects of the pandemic and the lockout, a feeling persisted that everyone was just glad to be back.
“I love it,” Padres general manager AJ Preller said. “I think it’s good for the game. It’s exciting. I think it’s like a celebration of baseball, in terms of everybody enjoys the industry. Sometimes, you hear people complain about the lobby time or the nature of the meetings. You’re talking about baseball. Honestly almost 24 hours a day if you want to. And to have people that work in the game that love it, coaches, scouts, media. I mean, everybody coming together and celebrating baseball and talking about it I think is a really positive thing, for sure.”
But it wasn’t just the ability to be in the same building to conduct negotiations that made this the event of the offseason.
On Sunday, before the festivities truly got underway, the 16-member Contemporary Baseball Era Players Committee unanimously voted Fred McGriff into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. After being denied entry through the writers’ vote, this special committee came together and gave McGriff his flowers. None of the other seven players on the ballot received the 75 percent vote needed for election, but the “Crime Dog” will finally get to have his day in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 23.
“Personally, this is a dream right now,” McGriff said Monday. “When I first played that one day in the big leagues, that was my goal. … I just want to thank the committee and everyone. This is just an awesome, beautiful day.”
Tuesday marked the debut of the MLB Draft Lottery, adding a bit of a wrinkle to what had otherwise been a simple, standardized process.
The bottom three teams in MLB in 2022 (Nationals, A’s and Pirates) each had the highest odds at landing the top pick in the draft, and the odds for the other 15 non-playoff teams declined based on reverse order of their records. In some ways, it disincentivized tanking. Oakland, Cincinnati and Kansas City all fell multiple spots in the draft order (four, three and three, respectively), while Minnesota jumped from No. 13 to No. 5. Still, it’s not the sure-fire solution to eliminating tanking, considering Pittsburgh won the lottery and will pick first for the second time in three years.
“We’re incredibly excited [and] honored to be in this position with the first Draft Lottery,” Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said. “Young players are such an important part of our future, and we’re excited to make the first selection next year.
“Every once in a while in this game, as we all know, it helps to get a little bounce and we got one tonight. That’s exciting.”
Other notable events included the World Baseball Classic Media Day featuring representatives from a number of countries participating in the international tournament in March; the Rule 5 Draft, where the ballroom that held the draft was so packed that the fire marshal had them stop letting in more people, including team officials; and the various manager availabilities that featured some first-year skippers in their Winter Meetings debuts — as well as another who missed the game so much three years removed from the end his 25-season managerial career that he signed on to be the new Rangers manager in October.
“You do realize how much you miss it and how much fun so many different parts of the game bring to you,” Bochy said. “[Missing] the game itself is obvious, but I mean, this part of it, even the Winter Meetings, talking about players and getting players signed, things like that, just putting the team together, the staff together. This is part of what you miss as far as being in the game managing, so it’s good to be back.”
But of course, it all comes back down to the free agent frenzy that always seems to happen at the Winter Meetings.
The first big domino actually fell over the weekend when Jacob deGrom left the Mets to sign with the Rangers, but then New York turned right around and signed reigning American League Cy Young Justin Verlander on Monday morning.
From there, it was pandemonium as superstars such as Trea Turner (Phillies) and Aaron Judge (Yankees) came off the board. That adrenaline rush led all the way up to news breaking Wednesday night regarding the 11-year, $280 million contract agreement between Xander Bogaerts and the Padres — well after many teams had already left San Diego.
“I do think it adds some urgency at times to some of the decisions that get made,” Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen said. “I think there’s a reason you see some deals getting struck here. I don’t know the rhyme or reason behind that. But I think we’ve seen over the years a number of huge deals get made at the Winter Meetings. I’m not sure that’s a coincidence.”
The days spent at the Manchester Grand Hyatt felt like weeks at times with so much going on, but that’s what makes the Winter Meetings so special. And because three years had passed between in-person Winter Meetings, it felt that much better to be back.
“It is nice to be back in person, and hopefully, we can continue that,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said.
“And if they want to have them out here every year, I’m in.”