LAS VEGAS — So what actually happens at baseball’s annual winter meetings?
Well, there were meetings, naturally, for the league’s 30 managers, and 30 general managers, and equipment managers, and public relations managers and, if you manage something even remotely related to baseball, you were probably in Las Vegas this past week, sitting in a meeting, looking at the clock, living and (sort of) breathing inside the smoky haze of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. There was also some moving. And a little shaking.
If you too stumbled into a World Series of Rodeo watch party, there was even some moving and shaking at the same time. Since that does little to explain what really occurred when the entire baseball world gathered in Las Vegas for five days, it may be best to offer a sampling of sound bites from my notebook.
“I’ll be (expletive) if Bryce Harper signs with the Angels.” This was not said by someone who works for the Los Angeles Angels. It was said by a 32-year-old vacationer, sitting in the Mandalay Bay Race & Sports Book on Monday afternoon, who declined to share his first name because he was sitting in the Mandalay Bay Race & Sports Book on a Monday afternoon. Bryce Harper, and where he will land in free agency, was the most talked-about topic of the winter meetings. Casinos don’t offer betting odds on such things, since those in the know could game the system, so anyone interested in gambling on Harper’s destination had to get creative.
That brings us back to the Sports Book, where the 32-year-old vacationer scrolled through Canadian offshore odds for Harper’s destination on his iPhone. The highest odds went to Harper signing with the Philadelphia Phillies, then the Los Angeles Dodgers, then the Washington Nationals, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros and, finally, the Angels, in that order. So why the Angels? “Because I have a hunch,” he said, grinning. “And a kid to put through college.”
“Between you and me.” This was said into a phone by a middle-aged man, hair stiff with gel, leaning against a wall, looking ready to audition for a “Jerry Maguire” sequel. But it could have been said by any number of people throughout the week. “Between you and me” may be the four most common words at the winter meetings — if you don’t count, “20 on red, please” — within the never-ending exchange of information that consumes the offseason. Those four words are passed between general managers and agents, and agents and reporters, and general managers and reporters, and so on. And they are interpreted in many different ways.
“How did we all decide we were going to say his name?” This was said by an older man standing in a group of fellow reporters. Teams are acquiring a lot of new players this time of year, and that means there are a lot of new names flying around. Names can be hard. Even so, I had a pretty good idea of how to solve this problem: Learn how to say the name correctly and, well, yeah, just try that.
“I haven’t been outside since Sunday night.” This was said by me on Wednesday morning.
“I think they’ll hire me because no one else wants to move to Iowa.” This was said by a college-aged kid, hustling past a row of slot machines, moving as if he were late to his own wedding (or an interview that could decide his future). He was a fitting illustration of The Job Seeker, one of the hundreds of 20-some-year-olds who came to Las Vegas, resumes in hand, ties crooked, hope still kicking, looking to get a job in marketing or broadcasting or analytics, or anything, with a minor or major league team. Many even wore badges with “JOB SEEKER” stripped across them, just to make sure they were not mistaken for anything else.
“Is that Jason Varitek? I love Jason Varitek.” This was said in the middle of the day in the middle of the casino. It was not Jason Varitek. It was Mike Lowell. Jason Varitek walked by a few minutes later, so you can see how this could get confusing.
Varitek captured two World Series titles as a catcher for the Boston Red Sox. Lowell was his teammate when the Red Sox won it all in 2007. The winter meetings gathering is a great spot for big baseball fans, as you could have glimpsed Mike Lowell (looking nothing like Jason Varitek), or Jason Varitek (looking sort of like Jason Varitek), or Marlins Man or Pete Rose hawking autographs at some point during the week. You may have even walked by your favorite player without knowing it.
If you happened to walk past the events center Wednesday afternoon, you may have overheard Scott Boras, standing on a raised platform by a giant Christmas tree, selling Bryce Harper to the dozens of reporters at his feet. Boras, Harper’s agent and baseball’s most dogged negotiator, gives a theatrical news conference each winter meetings.
He laces them with odd metaphors, and this year that included: “This is not a race where every car is labeled” (to indicate that many teams are vying for Harper’s services); “When the nurse walks in the room with a thermometer, the issue is not what the thermometer says that day” (to indicate the New York Yankees are still in the mix even though they have said they are not); and the phrase “very graphic pictures” (which seems odd when taken out of context, but was odd when taken in context, too).
“Who is that?” asked a woman as she squinted at the crowd.
“Scott Boras,” I told her.
“Who?” she asked, crinkling her nose.
“Scott Boras, he’s a famous baseball agent,” I responded, and she shrugged, took a sip from her Corona Light and kept walking, through a Las Vegas casino, at 12:30 p.m. on what many would consider a work day.
It was maybe the most sane thing that happened all week.