At calm Meetings, activity bubbled under surface

Groundwork laid for signings of free agents Greinke, Hamilton, as well as future trades

By Paul Hagen / 12/06/12 12:44 PM ET

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When the Winter Meetings began this week, the top free agents available were outfielder Josh Hamilton and pitcher Zack Greinke.
When the annual baseball conclave ended Thursday at the Opryland Hotel -- after the morning Rule 5 draft most team officials headed for the airport -- Hamilton and Greinke remained the top free agents on the market.

There was plenty of activity in the sprawling complex, but few announcements. The Rockies got Wilton Lopez from the Astros. The Rays acquired shortstop Yunel Escobar form the Marlins. The Tigers picked up catcher Ramon Cabrera from the Pirates. The Phillies addressed their need for a center fielder by getting Ben Revere from the Twins for right-handers Vance Worley and Trevor May.
There were several lesser free-agent signings that were widely reported, but won't become official until physicals are completed, such as right-handers Dan Haren to the Nationals, Joakim Soria to the Ranger and Joe Blanton to the Angels. Third baseman Eric Chavez agreed to terms with the D-backs, catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Shane Victorino reached deals with the Red Sox, catcher Russell Martin with the Pirates, first baseman James Loney went to the Rays and outfielder Jason Bay agreed to terms with the Mariners.
But the fact that Hamilton and Greinke still haven't landed are the major reasons why the big podium set up for breaking news was empty most of the week, executives say.
"The timing of these things, sometimes everything falls quickly and you get a lot of deals done," said Orioles general manager Dan Duquette. "This year it seems like the deals are a little slow in coming. Once some of the top guys sign, you'll see a lot more deals go down.
"When those first-tier free agents fall into place, that determines where the other free agents will sign. And a lot of the trade options don't become real until the free agents are in place. I think between now and Christmas, you'll see a lot of those deals fall into place."
One of the reasons the market has developed slowly is that teams have money to spend after agreeing to lucrative new television deals.
"It looks like there's more liquidity in the market, more money in the market this year," Duquette said. "Some teams jumped out there but there have been a number of teams that have been judicious and slow in their free agent signs."
The Red Sox were one of the teams to jump out there, signing both Napoli and Victorino to deals reported to be worth $39 million over three years. That came after giving outfielder Jonny Gomes a two-year, $10 million contract. Those numbers may have helped raise the expectations of the remaining free-agent market.
"I think the indications of what some of the signings were means it's a very healthy industry," said Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock. "I was maybe a little surprised there weren't more trades but, again, when you get in these situations, it's sort of a percolator for ideas. A lot of discussions go on at all levels in the organization. A lot of those get flushed out and then the ones that have some legs to them, those get pursued over the course of the next couple weeks. I think you'll see a lot of stuff that will come to fruition because of the groundwork that was laid here."
While the Winter Meetings provide a focal point for attention on baseball in the offseason, the reality is that many of the discussions and negotiations that took place this week won't result in actual moves until later.
"The Winter Meetings are always a great opportunity," said Twins general manager Terry Ryan. "You get a chance to see everybody. You get together, you have discussions. People are waiting for a lot of trades, but a lot of these things actually happen once you get home. And the Winter Meetings are cyclical. Some years, you have all kinds of activity. This year, it seems like everybody is waiting for the bigger free agents to sign, so the trickle-down effect can take place."
Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski also pointed out that each year is different.
"I never really get surprised by anything that happens at the Winter Meetings," he said. "I've been here when a lot of moves were made and I've been here when it's relatively quiet.
"But a lot of talks took place. I think the groundwork has been set for a lot of different things. But any time you have those big-name guys out there, there's so much that spins off of that. After they sign or make commitments, other things can take place.
Dombrowski noted the number of players who are in holding patterns until the biggest free agents sign.
"Look at how many starting pitchers [Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, Ryan Dempster] are still available," he said. "There are a lot of them. But until Greinke goes ... nowadays, when I come here, I really don't have a feeling one way or the other. What I'm prepared for is that we're going to be busy and talk to people."