It's been six years since the last time the meetings were held in the spacious Texas digs. Ironically, it was also at that get-together that Ben Cherington served as a Red Sox general manager -- albeit as one sharing the title with Jed Hoyer. Like each of these things, that '05 winter meetings will be remembered for its own special set of circumstances.
What did that four-day stay in Dallas result in? Well …
-- The Red Sox traded for Andy Marte. Then-special assistant Bill Lajoie proceeded to tell the media at the press conference that Marte would find his way into the middle of the Sox' lineup, even it meant potentially playing left field.
-- The Sox almost had a deal for shortstop Julio Lugo, in which Edgar Renteria would go to Atlanta and Marte was slated to join Tampa Bay. After the then-Devil Rays kept trying to expand the trade, the Sox and Braves decided to simply trade Renteria and Marte for one another.
-- Red Sox principal owner John Henry -- in the midst of the Theo Epstein hiatus -- said two days before the meetings that he would have preferred to sign A.J. Burnett rather than trade for Josh Beckett.
-- The combination of Cherington, Hoyer, Lajoie and Craig Shipley somewhat awkwardly teamed to offer daily updates in the Red Sox' suite. (Usually such daily media sessions at the winter meetings are conducted by the team's general manager.)
-- Old friend John Burkett (who lived nearby) held court for the Boston media until Scott Boras strolled through the lobby at 2 a.m., leading some to chase the agent for a Johnny Damon update.
-- The Blue Jays gave Burnett a five-year deal just days after doing the same for closer B.J. Ryan.
What you should know about the winter meetings is that while every year certainly carves its own identity, there is plenty of consistencies, not matter what the venue. The following is what one can expect when visiting the epicenter for baseball's hot stove:
THERE IS A LOT OF STANDING AROUND
The first thing that is asked by any member of the media when determining where the winter meetings will be held is the layout of the lobby. This is where the majority of the time is spent not only for reporters, but for many executives and agents. In Orlando, for instance, there is an enormous Christmas tree in the middle of the circular room, limiting visibility for those hoping to monitor the entire scene from one location.
(At the Anatole, the lobby does present a fairly open setting, although it extends a bit further than some other locations, allowing some discussions to go undetected by the lobby-dwellars.)
It isn't exaggeration to suggest some media members spend 10 hours a day milling about in this area.
The one bit of exercise the press will get is the walks back and forth to the media room. In Dallas, it is a fairly good distance from the lobby to the workroom, although not quite measuring up to the grand-daddy of them all -- Nashville. The distance between room to room at the Gaylord Hotel in Tennessee is so great that it prompted one reporter to affix a pedometer on his shoe for the week. The result -- 16 miles of walking.
It should be noted that the lobby scene can legitimately last until the middle of the night. In Nashville in '07, the agent for Ryan Kalish could be found debunking rumors regarding his client being involved in a Johan Santana trade as late as 2 a.m. Two years ago, in Indianapolis, Sam Levinson, one of the agents for Mike Lowell, could be found talking to Rangers general manager Jon Daniels about a potential trade involving the third baseman for more than an hour, all the way up until 2:30 a.m.
Then there was last year, when, on the last night of the meetings, news of Carl Crawford agreeing to a contract with the Red Sox was broken just after 11 a.m., leading reporters to scurry through the lobby to talk to GMs such as Brian Cashman well after midnight.
THE ART OF THE AGENT
The agents are much more prevalent in the lobby than many team executives, although the ones with the highest profile unsigned free agents can be somewhat elusive due to a bit of information control and a lot of meetings.
There is typically only one agent, however, that has his own press conference each and every winter meetings (albeit unofficial). That is Boras.
Word usually starts to trickle throughout the media ranks by Tuesday when and where Boras is going to make himself available. Reporters are forced to put everything on hold to make themselves available during these sessions, often having to be trampled in the the group forming around the agent.
In Las Vegas for the '08 meetings, Boras was asked to move his get-together, leading throng of reporters down a hallway, into the media room, where the agent stepped up onto a platform to shower his information upon the eager media. That was the year Boras spread the word regarding the interest in then-free agent Jason Varitek.
The next year, in Indianapolis, Boras parked himself in front of banquet room door where he sang the praises of Adrian Beltre while relaying the shortcomings of Lowell.
Last year, it was explaining what happened to Manny Ramirez while suggesting Beltre returning to the Red Sox wasn't out of the question despite the team already having a first and third baseman. He also built up a couple of outfielders rumored to be headed to the Sox, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Beltran, all while being pinned against a wall just outside the media workroom.
For Red Sox followers, this year the importance of the Boras get-together figures to center around updates on closer Ryan Madson, Beltran, and even the future of J.D. Drew.
WHERE ARE ALL THE GENERAL MANAGERS?
At the GM meetings -- which is typically held three-or-so weeks before the winter meetings -- general managers are often out and about in the hotel lobby. They are encouraged to only bring one other member of their front office, leading to a room full of agents, GMs, assistant GMs and media.
At the winter meetings, GM sightings are few and far between. They, along with most of the baseball operations folks high up on the food chain, are usually holed up in the team's suite, relying on other members of the organization to go and get the pulse down in the hotel lobby. The best chance for the surfacing of the general managers are Sunday night (just before the meetings officially start) and the last night (Wednesday).
Managers are, however, another story.
Every manager is allocated a half-hour at some point during the meetings to meet the media, one of the most useful exercises of the week for the reporters. Last year, for instance, then-Red Sox manager Terry Francona explained his intention of using Jed Lowrie as a sort of 'super utility' player, while surmising that he was going to play Varitek more than a typical back-up catcher.
The managers are also out and about, often times mingling in the lobby. They are sometimes summoned up to the team suite during decision-making time, but the mundane nature of team-building often times don't require their presence. They also join their respective collection of media members in partaking in a formal lunch on Wednesday, leading to a bevy of empty chairs for those tables of smaller market clubs, and a shortage of place-setting for the big-market teams.
WHAT TO EXPECT THIS TIME AROUND
For the Red Sox, the rhythm of the winter meetings may center around what happens with David Ortiz. The club clearly wants to identify what is going to happen with the free agent designated hitter before committing their resources to other big-ticket players.
Many general managers are surmising that the meetings will be flush with trade talk this year considering the hesitancy to meet the free agents' asking prices.
While Cherington will continue conversations with agents such as Bob Garber (C.J. Wilson, Roy Oswalt), Boras (Madson), Casey Close (Michael Cuddyer) and Steve Hilliard (Hiroki Kuroda), the glut of suitors for the high-end free agents make predicting the Sox' activity in Dallas difficult. There will be talk, but after that is anybody's guess.
But, last year's late-night Crawford news reminded us, it's usually impossible to surmise what exactly is going to be taking place in and around the Gossip Bar.
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