Buyer beware of Winter Meetings' hype

By Hal Bodley | 12/05/12 12:50 AM ET

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A year ago, in true George Steinbrenner fashion, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria walked through the Winter Meetings hotel in Dallas with confidence, spending millions to build a championship team.
When the dust settled, the Marlins had spent nearly $200 million to land All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes, perfect-game pitcher Mark Buehrle and relief ace Heath Bell.
Loria even unsuccessfully tried to lure the winter's top free agent, Albert Pujols, to Miami to complete the overture for the futuristic, long-needed, new stadium which would open in April. Oh, I almost forgot. A few weeks before, flamboyant Ozzie Guillen became the Marlins' manager.
Loria, with his bold moves and recast baseball team, stole the show at the 2011 Winter Meetings.
Until Arte Moreno and the Angels closed the Meetings by giving Pujols a staggering $254 million and throwing another $77.5 million at left-handed pitcher C.J. Wilson.
The buzz these two teams created in Dallas and Miami and Anaheim was enormous. It rattled dishes throughout Major League Baseball.
"The Marlins acquired credibility, truckloads of it," colleague Richard Justice wrote, joining those applauding Loria and the Marlins.
Now, it's a year later.
The euphoria in Miami soon faded. The Marlins lost 93 games and finished dead last in the National League East while young Washington won the division with the best record in the Major Leagues. As the late Dick Young used to say, "You can look it up."
And the Angels, with all the hope and anticipation, could do no better than third place in the AL West as Oakland came out of nowhere to unseat Texas and win the division.
Ah, yes. The wonderful world of baseball's Winter Meetings.
The thought occurred to me Tuesday as hundreds roamed the sprawling lobby of the Gaylord Opryland Resort how cruel this yearly ritual can turn out to be.
This is my 45th Winter Meetings, and truthfully, most of them are forgettable. Twice we went to Honolulu, where nothing happened, and there have been years when mega-deals have been made.
Overall, my advice is: Don't order your World Series tickets based on any trade or signing made at the Meetings.
It's a long time from December to October.
For baseball fans, these Meetings have a habit of building them up just before the holidays, and often disappointing them.
In 1978, the Phillies were coming off three consecutive division titles but needed a special player to get them over the hump -- to the World Series.
So, with unbelievable media hype in Philadelphia, they signed free-agent Pete Rose to the largest contract ever given a team player -- a whopping $810,000 per season.
Rose didn't disappoint, but the Phillies failed to get to the postseason in 1979. They did turn that setback around when they won their first World Series in 1980.
When I saw Loria, trailed by a horde of media, walking through the hotel lobby last December, he reminded me of the late Steinbrenner. When George arrived at the Winter Meetings, it was an occasion -- TV crews and reporters eagerly waiting for his limo to pull up outside the hotel. He would often dominate the Meetings, make a big splash of a deal, and just as often, the Yankees didn't have the season everyone predicted.
But don't get me wrong, the Winter Meetings are a perfect fix for baseball fans, warming their love for the game and their teams' hopes in the midst of winter.
I believe it's an important time for the sport. It really is a media affair, but who cares, because whatever happens here overshadows the NFL in the midst of its season. That says much about baseball and the Winter Meetings.
I'm not going to get into the controversy of the Marlins' 12-player trade with Toronto, other than to say the players signed last winter are gone. So is Guillen.
The flip side of that is, on paper, Toronto, by obtaining Josh Johnson, Buehrle, Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck suddenly are a leading contender in the AL East.
That's the talk at these Meetings. Blue Jays executives are being congratulated.
Yes, it's a year later.
I mentioned to Blue Jays manager John Gibbons the other day that winter euphoria easily can turn to a summer of disappointment.
He agreed, adding: "With a lot of new faces everybody has to be looking for the same goal. You'd like that to always be the case, but it's not always the case. We have to make sure we get that out of them [players], but there's no substitute for talent in this business.
"You have to find a way to get the most out of your players. That's what I think the successful managers do. And they're smart enough to get out of the way and let them play."
Hope obviously is high for the teams which make significant moves at these Winter Meetings.
A sobering thought might be to remember how excited the Marlins and Angels were last year.
And then take a peek at the final 2012 standings.