The Winter Meetings were held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, a huge domed complex in Nashville that includes a water park, a skating rink, and artificial rivers wide enough for boats.
Guests are literally handed a fold-out map to get their room, and it’s a slow walk as you dodge tourists gawking at the Christmas decorations and taking selfies.
It’s a strange place to talk baseball, and there wasn’t much big news beyond the Yankees trading for Juan Soto as everything was breaking up.
A few thoughts on some of what went down:
▪ Alex Verdugo is a good gamble for the Yankees. He’s definitely a player motivated by money and will be determined to perform well heading into free agency. There also won’t be much pressure. For the moment, Verdugo is likely to hit seventh in New York’s lineup.
It’s also not a huge loss for the Red Sox. Verdugo has been roughly a league-average hitter the last three seasons and hopeless (.238/.301/.314) against lefthanders. He’s also a player with, shall we say, wavering professionalism at times. There was very little chance the Sox were going to sign him to an extension.
But the Yankees feel he’ll fall into line in their clubhouse. If not, it’s a one-year deal, and the three pitchers they sent to the Sox aren’t considered good prospects.
There is a danger for the Yankees, though. The plan is to play Aaron Judge in center field with Verdugo in right and Soto in left. Judge is a good center fielder but has never played more than 78 games there.
For a 282-pound player with injury issues in the past, more running is asking for trouble.
▪ Scott Boras reached peak Scott Boras on Wednesday when he suggested the Phillies should sign Bryce Harper to a contract extension. Harper is already signed through the 2031 season, at which point he will be 39.
Harper has said he wants to play into his 40s. Boras believes an extension would benefit the Phillies because it would help attract free agents who want to play with his client.
Maybe so, but giving an extension to a player with eight years remaining on his contract would be unprecedented. Even Dave Dombrowski wouldn’t see that as a need.
▪ At 25, Soto will be playing for his third team in three years when he suits up for the Yankees. Unless New York blows him away with an extension offer during the season, Boras is sure to take him to free agency and it could be four teams in four years.
That’s stunning for a player who has hit .284 with a .949 OPS and 160 home runs over six seasons.
Soto has played only three games in Fenway Park, going 4 for 15 with a home run from Aug. 28-30, 2020, in front of empty seats during the pandemic. He homered off Martín Pérez, a blast to right field, in the first game.
▪ The Diamondbacks are set to have a team-record payroll of more than $131 million after signing Eduardo Rodriguez to a four-year, $80 million contract with a vesting option for 2028 worth at least $17 million.
Arizona general manager Mike Hazen, manager Torey Lovullo, and assistant GM Amiel Sawdaye know Rodriguez well from their time with the Red Sox. They see the lefty being a major addition to a team that needed to have bullpen games during the World Series.
For the ultra-competitive Hazen, the World Series loss still stings. He appreciates the accomplishment of getting there. But falling short has added more urgency.
“A lot,” he said. “The two times we went to the Series with the Sox [during his tenure] we won. So I didn’t really experience that feeling. It was difficult.”
Hazen said the playoff run sparked renewed interest in baseball in Phoenix.
“You can see it,” he said. “The connection to our players is that much more significant.”
Justin Turner could be next for Arizona. Hazen was after him last season before the Red Sox made a deal.
▪ Former Boston College pitcher Michael King was one of the five players sent to the Padres for Soto. The 28-year-old righthander has always envisioned himself as a starter, and he’ll get that opportunity in San Diego.
King had a 1.88 ERA over eight starts to finish last season and struck out 48 over 38⅓ innings. This trade presents a big opportunity for him.
▪ Had a chance to ask New Hampshire native Sam Fuld why he turned down the opportunity to interview with the Red Sox for the job that Craig Breslow eventually landed.
“It speaks to the situation that I’m in,” said Fuld, who is the GM of the Phillies under Dave Dombrowski. “With the Phillies organization and the roots that I’ve laid down in the Philadelphia community, it’s a personal decision, and a lot that goes into the calculus.
“It’s almost always a combination of a personal and professional decision. Between the enjoyment that I get out of being part of the Phillies organization and the great opportunities that I’ve had and the roots we’ve laid down with my wife and four children, I’m really, really happy with where we are.”
opinions to himself
Craig Breslow sounded like Chaim Bloom 2.0 at times during the Winter Meetings. That’s not a good thing.
Breslow would not acknowledge interest in any players, even such obvious fits as Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Breslow spoke only in general terms and used the usual industry jargon about casting a wide net and looking for good value.
Meanwhile, the Yankees were upfront about their interest in trading for Juan Soto before they closed the deal, and Dave Roberts acknowledged the Dodgers viewed Shohei Ohtani as their top priority.
Rangers GM Chris Young even happily broke down what he liked about Yamamoto.
“Unique fastball profile: great command, competitiveness, it’s explosive,” Young said. “It bodes well to translate to Major League Baseball very well.
“He’s still very young. There’s a lot for him to learn and improve. He has a really bright future ahead of him.”
Breslow is new to the job and dealing with the media in a different way then he did when he played. Hopefully he opens up a bit as time goes on. In the end, baseball is an entertainment business. Be a little entertaining.
After finishing in last place in three of the last four seasons, Red Sox fans would like to hear more than the same old general platitudes.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ It’s shameful the team did not acknowledge Joe Castiglione winning the Hall of Fame’s prestigious Ford C. Frick Award beyond posting a graphic on social media.
Castiglione has worked for the team for 41 years and reached the pinnacle of his profession. How long could it have taken to put together a press release with a few words of praise from John Henry, Tom Werner, and/or Sam Kennedy?
It’s what the Cubs did for Pat Hughes last year, what the White Sox did for Ken Harrelson when he won, and so on.
Nobody represents the Red Sox better than Castiglione and he deserved to be celebrated by the team.
▪ After six seasons in the Red Sox organization, Ryan Fitzgerald is now with the Royals after being taken in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft.
“Fitzy” was a fan favorite at Polar Park, going out of his way to interact with kids who came to the ballpark and take part in charitable events. He was awarded a key to the city from Mayor Joseph Petty in August, and the WooSox gave away bobbleheads that included his impressive mullet.
Fitzgerald, 29, is a utility player who was signed out of an independent league in 2018. He made it to Triple A in 2021 and had a .765 OPS over 235 games in Worcester. Fitzgerald started games at every position except pitcher and catcher.
▪ The Red Sox picked up catcher Mickey Gasper in the minor league Rule 5 Draft. A New Hampshire native who played at Bryant, Gasper has an .801 OPS over five minor league seasons with the Yankees and has defensive versatility.
▪ Congrats to Hunter Broadbent, who landed a position with the Mets as a player development associate.
Broadbent is the son of longtime Red Sox employee Billy Broadbent. The Dedham native attended UConn and worked his way up from manager to director of analytics for the program.
▪ Ryan Lavarnway, who retired from playing after 16 seasons as a well-traveled catcher, attended the Winter Meetings. At 36, he’s pondering what comes next in baseball.
It could be most anything. Lavarnway has worked as a broadcaster and coached young players. He’s even written a children’s book on baseball and completed two triathlons.
“I’m open to suggestions,” said Lavarnway, who has a long-term goal of managing.
For now, he’ll be one of the coaches at Red Sox fantasy camp and is busy raising a 1-year-old daughter, Blake, with his wife, Jamie.
Something to keep in mind: Lavarnway and Breslow were teammates with the 2012 Red Sox and both played for John Stuper at Yale. There could be a fit with the Sox at some point down the road.
The one decision
that haunts Leyland
New Hall of Famer Jim Leyland doesn’t have many regrets when it comes to his career. But there is one decision that still eats at him, and it involves the Red Sox.
In Game 2 of the 2013 American League Championship Series, David Ortiz came to the plate in the eighth inning with the bases loaded and the Red Sox trailing the Tigers, 5-1.
Leyland pulled Al Alburquerque and went to righthander Joaquin Benoit instead of lefthander Phil Coke. Ortiz drove a first-pitch changeup into the home bullpen for a grand slam as Torii Hunter tumbled over the wall giving chase.
“That’s on me,” Leyland said. “I’m not sure today if I made the right decision or not. I think I did because it was my best relief pitcher and the guy I felt could make the best pitch.”
Instead of a 2-0 series lead for the Tigers going back to Detroit, the Sox won that game in the ninth inning on Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s walkoff single and went on to win the pennant.
“That [Red Sox] team found a way to win,” Leyland said. “A lot of people said we should have beat them and we probably should have. But I never take anything away from the team that wins. I don’t like that. You respect somebody when they beat you.
“That was probably our best team in Detroit. But the Red Sox did go on to win the World Series. So it wasn’t like we were playing somebody who wasn’t any good.”
Leyland said the other turning point of that ALCS was Mike Napoli’s home run off Justin Verlander in the seventh inning of Game 3. The Sox held on for a 1-0 win.
“A lot of people talk about that. We blew the second game and I don’t disagree with that,” Leyland said. “But Game 3 was the game that killed us. That crushed us. That hurt bad.
“Oh, man, Verlander was good that night. But Napoli got him.”
Leyland was unfailingly honest over 22 seasons as a manager, telling players the truth whether they wanted to hear it or not. It earned him respect from stars such as Barry Bonds to the last player on the bench.
“If you mislead a player, you lose them forever,” Leyland said. “If you tell them the truth, you lose them for about 24 hours.”
Leyland is a character. He was in his 60s when he managed the Tigers and still wore spikes with his uniform. He smoked in the dugout, chewed out umpires, and had firm opinions.
Such as: Larry Walker was a better all-around player than Bonds.
“Walker had the most tools because he threw better than Barry,” Leyland said. “Walker was a great player. Run, throw, hit, hit for power, play defense. Yes, terrific.
“Bonds was an unbelievable left fielder even though his arm wasn’t the greatest. I’m not going to get into controversy on Barry. Personally, I think everybody thinks Barry Bonds is a Hall of Famer. But that’s left up to somebody else.”
Bonds called Leyland after the Hall of Fame announcement, and it was emotional.
“He said, ‘You’re going to make me cry,’ ” Leyland said.
Mookie Betts was a second baseman when the Red Sox drafted him in 2011 and played on the dirt as a minor leaguer from 2011-13 before shifting to the outfield. Now he’s going back. The Dodgers are planning to use Betts as their regular second baseman after he played 70 games there last season. “He’s a Gold Glover out in right field,” manager Dave Roberts said. “But I think when you’re talking about putting together a roster and someone who can be so offensive at second base, you can get more games out of him if he is playing second base.” Betts had a .987 OPS last season. The average second baseman was .724. What a huge advantage for the Dodgers, who will play Jason Heyward in right field. It’s also what Betts wants to do and the Dodgers feel it’ll cause less wear and tear on his legs. “A happy Mookie Betts, a guy that can post and play 160 games, it makes the Dodgers much better,” Roberts said. “So it’s pretty much a no-brainer.” . . . The Hall of Fame will host the East-West Classic at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown on May 25. As a tribute to the Negro Leagues All-Star Games years ago, more than a dozen former big leaguers are scheduled to participate, including Ken Griffey Jr. and Ozzie Smith as coaches. The game will coincide with a new exhibit at the museum honoring Black baseball. Former Yankees lefty CC Sabathia, who now works for Major League Baseball, is helping to organize the teams. As a father with baseball-playing sons, it’s important to him. “That’s the reason I want to be a part of it,” he said. “I went to Cooperstown two years ago when my son played in a 12-year-old tournament. I wish I had gone when I was playing. It was so inspiring. The museum gives me goosebumps. We need to build the next generation of kids who love baseball.” Other players committed to the game include former Red Sox David Price and Chris Young, along with Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Adam Jones, and Dontrelle Willis. Go to baseballhall.org/east-west for tickets and more information . . . Congrats to Rob Butcher, who is retiring after 35 years in professional baseball. Butcher worked in media relations with the Yankees and Reds and was a pro at helping reporters do their jobs . . . Happy birthday to Steve Renko, who is 79. The righthander was 134-146 with a 3.99 ERA from 1969-83. That included going 20-18 with a 4.15 ERA with the Red Sox from 1979-80. Renko took a no-hitter into the ninth inning at Oakland on July 13, 1979, that rookie Rickey Henderson broke up with a one-out bloop single. The Sox held on for a 2-0 victory. Renko and Fred Lynn were traded to the Angels before the 1981 season.