The Major League Baseball Winter Meetings kicked off this week with a three team trade that nobody liked that included a lumbering, positionless slugger being swapped for a pitching prospect everyone has soured on, and it wrapped up this morning with a Marlins/Cubs trade that saw Brian Bogusevic head to Miami in exchange for Justin Ruggiano and a Rule 5 draft featuring the fewest players selected in 15 years.
OK, OK, I'll get some coffee going. I don't blame you for yawning.
This iteration of the Winter Meeting was every bit as predictable as the week prior was unpredictable, as the early flurry of big name signings reduced the flow of potential movement down to a mere drizzle. The signings of Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Mike Napoli, and Jhonny Peralta put a rather large dent into an already thin Free Agent market, and early trades of Doug Fister and Prince Fielder/Ian Kinsler set the bar for dealings so high than any follow up was destined to be underwhelming. Given the parameters, baseball GMs merely followed the script in front of them in Orlando this week, and from a results perspective, Walt Jocketty was no different.
The Cincinnati Reds contingent descended upon Disney on Sunday with a healthy buffet to feast on and a lot of hungry stomachs. So far, the offseason had seen them lose Shin-Soo Choo and Bronson Arroyo to free agency, Ryan Hanigan to a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, and Dusty Baker as persona non grata, while the only additions had been adding Brayan Pena to fill Hanigan's shoes, Skip Schumaker to (there's a shoe joke in here somewhere) help cobble together a more imposing bench (there we go), a AAA pitcher we hopefully won't need to see for a year, and bringing back Manny Parra for two more years in the bullpen. Admittedly, the Reds were looking at a need for a leadoff hitter to replace Choo, a potential OF who could spell/delay depending on Billy Hamilton, and possibly a corner OF bat as an upgrade over incumbent half-shouldered Ryan Ludwick.
And then, there's Brandon Phillips. There has been Brandon Phillips, there is Brandon Phillips, and depending upon whom you cite and which day of the week it is, there will or will not be Brandon Phillips. The self-inflicted embattlement worn on the sleeves of the Reds' 2B and front office reached a farcical level this week, thanks in large part to the dearth of other mid-profile players currently on the block and the heightened expectations placed upon a Cincinnati team coming off a 3rd place finish in the NL Central. Walt Jocketty knows that he's got very little wiggle room in his already team record budget and that he's got more holes to fill than available dollars, other teams know this, too, and, as we found out last night, Phillips has a no-trade clause nearly as big as his ego.
What we've been told through various media outlets (read: Joel Sherman, Ken Rosenthal, and Jon Heyman, primarily) is that there were discussions at some point between the New York Yankees front office and Jocketty about the potential swap of OF Brett Gardner and Phillips. What we don't know - thanks to double talk, baseball speak, buzz, traction, tire-kicking, and speculation - is who, what, and when these talks initiated. Jocketty claims he was approached about Gardner, while Brian Cashman has said fervently that he does not want to trade Gardner but will listen to other teams' offers. Right.
Well, regardless of scenario and circumstance, nothing materialized, though some still are reporting that the talks that were never initiated or confirmed by either side may still be in the works. As it became increasingly apparent that the Reds would have trouble getting any team to take Phillips and his salary while giving up anything of value in return, new speculation also emerged that teams were eager to ask about last-year-of-his-contract-SP Homer Bailey, too, with the Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, and other teams interested in hearing what Walt desired in return for his budding ace. Again, nothing concrete materialized, but this speculation was at least semi-corroborated by the buzz that the Reds had been kicking the tires on Arroyo, signaling that there was traction between a team that, on paper, was flush with starting pitching and a free agent starting pitcher.
Buzz. Traction. Tire kicking.
Double talk. No interest. Speculation.
The evaluation of the post-meetings Reds is really twofold. On the one hand, it was a disappointment, as a deal that would open up a world of possibilities very publicly fell on its face from one of the few teams that's a conceivable fit. Brandon Phillips is not only still a Red, but the richest team in baseball (who is in need of a 2B) just said no to a swap of their lowest profile player for him, a pretty solid indictment of the current predicament. On the other hand, however, the Reds didn't truly fall behind any other team, as nobody else did much, at all, to bolster their squad. The Reds lost Theo Bowe to the Rule 5 draft, the Cardinals added nobody, and all the Pittsburgh Pirates did was give an extension to Charlie Morton and sign the Human Walk Machine.
There's likely nothing that happened this week that really surprised Walt, and that's encouraging. We know his track record, and we know he's got a solid legacy of doing good survey work at the Winter Meetings before pulling off big trades in the following weeks. That's how Mat Latos, Shin-Soo Choo, and Sean Marshall all arrived, and they're a big reason why the team's been good, which, in turn, is why you've read the first 900 words of this here article.
Consider it a Christmas present, if you will. Walt's done his window shopping, and he's probably already signed the check on the present we all want to unwrap. It's under your bed, behind the shower curtain, or in the trunk of the car you're driving right now, sitting right under your nose just waiting to be revealed at the right time.