What it’s like inside the Winter Meetings


So I ran across something last night that was very interesting over on ESPN. It’s an ‘Insider’ piece, but it’s so good I’m going to post the entire thing for you here.

The post is from Jim Bowden’s blog ‘The GM’s Office’ and it’s from last year. But again, it’s really good, and really interesting. And this is right up ol’ Ralph’s alley. You can tell that the Winter Meetings were the greatest of times for him. He loves just talking trade so much he swallows his own tongue most of the time.

Here is the article, without redaction:

With baseball’s annual winter meetings heating up just outside Washington, D.C., the people who wheel and deal — general managers and executives — will check in to the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md. like everyone else … except they’ll get the sweetest suites available. (The place is huge — 2,000 rooms, with 110 of them being suites.)

This is for good reason. These suites serve as a home base for trade talks, free-agent negotiations and organizational meetings for each team during one of baseball’s busiest weeks.

Armed with his many years of experience as a major league baseball exec/GM, Jim Bowden lays out what life is like “in the big suites.”

The setup

Ah yes, the suites. They’re nice, complete with adjoining rooms or mini-suites; they’d be a great place to sleep in — though of course GMs won’t get to do much of that.

Major League Baseball provides a map of all 30 suites to make it easier to move between meetings, though it still can be confusing at an enormous hotel. Usually the traveling secretaries and their assistants will have arrived the day before to set up the suites so they’re ready for service. That’s important because once the execs arrive, it’s a 24/7 operation.

The suite

Each suite is equipped with a central table, where the team’s top three or four executives work. There is a computer bank set up in one corner for the analytic experts, a scouting table for the top evaluators and a financial and legal table for administrative personnel. And then there are the chairs — enough of them for the team’s entire entourage. Each team brings a different number of people to the meetings, but at the very least, clubs will bring their GMs, assistant GMs and special assistants, plus their farm directors, player development directors, scouting directors and scouting staff — including their top four or five scouts — PR directors, traveling secretaries, team doctors and administrative assistants.

The suite is stocked with all kinds of food and drink. Healthy, unhealthy, you name it, it’s in the room. And if it’s not in the room, a room-service menu is posted on the wall.

Also posted on the walls: all kinds of charts, rosters, graphs and lists, including organizational rosters from the MLB level all the way down to rookie ball. One wall has all of the team’s free-agent and trade targets in priority order. And the other walls may have a priority list for Thursday’s Rule 5 draft, a board listing the team’s arbitration-eligible players and the latest update on how those negotiations are going, and finally, there’s the schedule for the week.

Every time a meeting is set up with another team, the time and destination is added to the board. All of the trade discussions are held in one of the teams’ suites. If a meeting is held at a “home” suite, a club might have four or five representatives in attendance. If a meeting is set up in a “road” suite, clubs usually bring just two or three people.

The schedule

The GMs have a host of commitments during the week, including:

• Trade and free-agent meetings: General managers will spend most of their time in trade talks with other clubs or in negotiations with agents regarding free agents. These meetings never seem to end, and they’ll occur all hours of the day and night.

• Media meetings: Each day, GMs will pick a time in the late afternoon to meet with the local media and give them an update on what they’re doing. These meetings often get postponed because of trade talks, but the clubs still will try to find a time each day or night to accommodate them.

• GM business meetings: There will be a three-to-four-hour meeting for all GMs and assistant GMs to discuss the business side of the game. These meetings also turn into trade discussions, either during coffee breaks or via the passing of notes.

• Organizational dinners: Every club will have an organizational dinner, giving all of its employees who made the trip time to socialize and have fun. This is normally a stressful event for GMs because they’d much rather be in their suite working on deals. But it’s important for team morale.

• Affiliate cocktail parties or dinners: Every club needs to have a cocktail party or dinner for its minor league affiliates. The affiliates are an important part of the team’s operations, and the clubs don’t get to spend much time with them during the year. Therefore, it’s imperative that each team puts on a first-class event to show appreciation and address any concerns or problems.

• The Scouts of the Year reception: This year will mark the 33rd annual reception celebrating the industry’s scouts, and Scout of the Year winners — for the West Coast, Midwest, East Coast and international — will be named. The scouts are the backbone of every organization, and it’s a priority for all top baseball people to attend and pay tribute.

• Winter meetings banquets: There’s a lunch and a dinner, at which several other industry awards are handed out. Most GMs are too busy with trade talks to attend, but they make sure their organizations are well represented.

Also going on …

While GMs spend almost 24 hours a day in suites, negotiating with other clubs and agents in an attempt to make their teams better, scouts and other top personnel roam the lobbies discussing deals, too. When the people in the lobby see a reason to meet with another club, they call the suite upstairs to gauge interest. While GMs would love to meet all 29 other teams to discuss needs, wants and weaknesses, time is too precious and scarce. Meeting with 15 to 18 teams during the course of the week is more realistic.

The PR director and his team will spend most of their time going back and forth from the media room to the team suite. If a news conference is called or a trade is announced, they’ll call the team suite to let them know right away. If their team makes a deal, they will return to the suite and quickly work up a media release or tweet, which they’ll send out when all the players have been informed.

There are also departmental meetings during the week. There is a managers’ luncheon, traveling secretary meetings, player development meetings, scouting meetings, medical meetings and meetings for every minor league, from the South Atlantic League to the Pioneer League to the Florida State League.

About those trades …

Most teams enter the winter meetings pretty well advanced in trade and free-agent negotiations. They’re just hoping to close the deals while they’re there. But because all 30 teams are in one place, it’s always amazing to me how many new trade ideas arise at the meetings — and how many trades that hadn’t even been brought up before the week quickly come to fruition.

That also means there’s no real process or protocol for the trades to go down. Every trade is unique, like an artist’s portrait, and an idea for a trade could come from any number of places or people. Once an idea is deemed possible and reaches the level of the GM, he’ll spring into action to figure out if there are realistic ways to make it happen.

From there, of course, there are a whole series of responsibilities, from getting internal input from all the necessary people to making proposals and counter-proposals, and any hitch along the way can stall or kill a potential trade. Also keep in mind a team is considering several deals at the same time, often involving the same players, so a certain level of prioritization is necessary. Then it’s a matter of going from one offer to the next, from most favorable to least, and seeing what’s possible.

The key takeaway: At the winter meetings, trade ideas can come from just about anyone, from GMs to assistant GMs to scouts, managers or the developmental staff, or even from the Internet or the waiter at dinner. The bug is planted, the discussion begins, everyone is close by to talk with in person … and we end up with several players joining — or changing — teams.

Winter meetings week is one of the most exciting times of the year for MLB front offices. There won’t be a lot of sleep, but there sure will be a lot of eating, talking, texting, calling, meeting … and dealing. Let the action begin.

So there it is, isn’t that great? We only have two more days of this stuff, so enjoy all the coverage. And when I die and come back in my next life if I’m not a Major League GM then I don’t want to come back at all.