Wild Winter Meetings in store with thin market

By Anthony Castrovince 12/02/12 8:00 PM ET

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- What can make the Winter Meetings such a productive environment is the simple logistical arrangement of having every general manager, every manager, every front-office decision-maker, every trusted scout and evaluator, every prominent agent under one roof.
But then you get to the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, where this year's Winter Meetings are taking place from Monday through Thursday, and, man, what a roof.
In the Opryland, "under one roof" takes on a different connotation. Because the truth of the matter is that you could fit a small country under this particular roof. "Sprawling" does not begin to describe a hotel with nearly 3,000 rooms and 600,000 square feet of meeting and convention space. The place has its own river, for crying out loud.
The logistics, then, aren't exactly what you'd consider streamlined. But we still have plenty of reason to believe this could be an active week in Music City.
For one, we've already seen a good bit of action on the free-agent and trade front. With teams having to make qualifying offers to their free agents near the end of the General Managers Meetings in November, and with the non-tender situations taken care of this past week, every team has a pretty decent grasp on its wants, its needs, its roster alignment and payroll capability, as well as the wants and needs of the others in the league.
"Everything's right in front of you," said an NL executive. "You've targeted potential trade teams, and you've probably had enough dialogue to know where the market's going to be."
And already, we know that the market for free agents -- a thin market if ever there was one -- is an exorbitant one, even by free-agency standards. The influx of new national television money was predicted to have an impact on prices this winter, and that certainly seems to have come to fruition.
A few examples: Three relievers (Brandon League, Jonathon Broxton and Jeremy Affeldt) have already received three-year contracts, with League and Broxton passing the $20 million threshold. A 37-year-old outfielder (Torii Hunter) and 37-year-old DH (David Ortiz) each got $26 million over two years. A 28-year-old outfielder whose on-base percentage has dropped nearly 100 points over the last five years (B.J. Upton) got $75.25 million over five. A right-hander with a career 55-75 record and 4.28 ERA (Jeremy Guthrie) got $25 million over three. And a catcher who hit .211 last year (Russell Martin) got $17 million over two.
This is not to knock any of those players. Good on them for making the market work to their advantage.
But it just goes to show how lucrative the free-agent market can be when the pickings are slim.
That's why the feeling around the industry is that we could see some increased creativity in the coming days. And here, too, we've already had a fair amount of movement for this particular point in the calendar.
Whether it's the Royals trying to amp up their rotation with Ervin Santana and the Angels doing likewise with Tommy Hanson, the D-backs taking a chance on Heath Bell, the A's and Nats upping their outfield outlook with Chris Young and Denard Span, respectively, or the Blue Jays completely reinventing themselves with the Marlins blockbuster, it's been no-holds-barred on the bartering front.
Well, the dealing's not done, of course. The starting pitching and shortstop markets, especially, are so depleted in free agency that teams are going to get an itchy trigger finger on the trade front. The question is whether they'll be willing to part with the inventory -- in terms of top prospects or Major League-ready talent -- it'll take to push those talks over the goal line.
"A lot of the conversations begin in earnest in the GM Meetings," said an AL exec. "And with all the time leading up to [the Winter Meetings], a lot get completed."
We'll see if we get any clarity on the complicated market for Josh Hamilton and the blossoming market for Zack Greinke.
We'll see what the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Orioles do to respond to the Blue Jays supposedly upping the ante in the AL East, and, for that matter, we'll see if the Blue Jays have any other surprises up their sleeves.
We'll see what the Dodgers, the newly christened Yankees of the West, do with all that local television revenue that's going to start rolling in by the billions.
We'll hopefully get a better sense of the degree to which the Rangers revamp, the Phillies regroup, the Angels reload, the Indians rebuild, etc., etc., etc.
We'll see if any surprise big buyers -- like the Marlins a year ago -- emerge in what can quickly become a competitive environment.
We'll see all this and more.
And hopefully we'll be able to find our hotel room.