Winter Meetings Behind The Scenes: Days 2 & 3

SAN DIEGO - Kimberly Contreras' insider look at days two and three at the MLB Winter Meetings.

TUESDAY

Damn you, Billy Beane!

That pretty much sums up my day at the meetings.

When the Jeff Samardzija trade was announced, there were many who reminded me that it was like trading Marcus Semien, Chris Bassitt, Rangel Ravelo and Josh Phegley for Addison Russell, Billy McKinney and Dan Straily. It’s funny when people imply that Billy Beane and I are the same person. You know, when they say, “YOU traded Semien for Russell” in conversation with me. Of course, I understand why. But when that happens, I find myself defending Billy’s moves, using reasons that, once I think about them – long after I said them – make sense to me. But my heart hasn’t been in the hands of the big league club. Just lucky I guess. However, I make no secret of the fact I love the Baby A’s, the minor leaguers, any of them in green and gold, and my heart took a beating last year.

I learned a powerful lesson after the July 4th trade that sent my sweet Addison Russell & Billy McKinney, along with Dan Straily to the Cubs, once I calmed down. I learned that Oakland’s farm system is unbelievably underrated by almost everyone in baseball. A belief reinforced by the selection of the Mets Number 16 prospect, Matt Reynolds starting the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game over Oakland’s NUMBER 1 prospect Daniel Robertson. At the time, Daniel was leading the league in OBP and was in the top 5 of all other categories. I have not been as bothered (and that’s not the right word) as I was by the slighting of both Daniel’s status and production. I took that case to every person, including Andy Haines, the manager who made the line-up for the game.

That is one example of many, and I’m tired of it. I’m firing back when pressed.

In the past few days, I’ve somehow taken that same approach to Oakland’s GM, as well. During one point in my defense of Billy’s moves yesterday, the other person said they envisioned me standing in front of Billy with my hands on my hips defending him. He certainly doesn’t need me, because the opinions don’t matter, the results will show one way or another, but I realized that I’m not as unaffected as I thought.

Damn. He got to me. Billy Beane (not Brad Pitt, not the movie version) is added to my cocoon of protection. It’s not popular, it’s not fun, it’s not warm-and-fuzzy baseball, but that’s not the goal, you don’t get a ring and a trophy and a parade for having the best attendance or selling the most jerseys. The numbers and formulas are part of it, but when you think about how much faith he has to have in his scouting department – both pro and amateur – to find pearls in the desert, which they repeatedly do… how do you criticize that? Damn you, Billy.

I, a passionate baseball fan, will never negate the feelings of passionate A’s fans: I have too much respect for their love and passion for their team. They are the only ones I won’t counter; too much respect for them.

That being said: fast forward to 6:30-7PM. In an effort to speak to each of Oakland’s affiliates at the evening reception, where no media was allowed, I spent my time in the foyer near the elevators. I saw many people I know, and chatted with many I didn’t, Including the Godfather of Sabermetrics, Bill James, the Angels brass including former Dodger Mike Scioscia, and GM Jerry DePoto; as well as Indians pitching coach Mickey Calloway (who really appreciated the fact that my son Austin is a HUGE Indians fan, I was impressed by Mickey’s response).

Then, in two groups, it was time for the Oakland contingent to leave the reception. In one group was one of my favorite people on earth, and hands-down best dresser of the night, Grady Fuson, and…nobody else I knew. The second group included everyone named Billy, Bob, Dan, and Lew. Jon Lester Watch was in full effect. From the beginning, I felt Lester would go to the Cubs with the deciding factor being the Theo connection. I saw Lester as Theo’s pitching equivalent to Anthony Rizzo.

Billy (both Beane and Owens) stated they believed Lester would end up with the Cubs, and though they were talking amongst themselves and didn’t ask for or include my opinion, I said I agreed, and nodded. In my mind, the exchange will be more of a conversation with the three of us…but the truth is out there.

Loved meeting some of the staff of the Texas League Champions, Midland RockHounds, as well as those from the Vermont Lake Monsters!

Other events of the day/ night: In addition to the Freitas Workshop Break Out sessions, the activity log consisted of a lengthy list of league meetings; none of which were open to the public…or to the media. (I learned that the hard way.)

Baseball America hosted its awards ceremony at the Hilton. Honorees included:

• Tony Gwynn’s Lifetime Achievement Award, his family accepted on his behalf. Not a dry eye in the room.

Alex Jackson, San Diego native and Seattle Mariners top pick in June, was awarded High School Player of the Year

Kris Bryant, former University of San Diego Torero and Chicago Cubs prospect, named Minor League player of the year

Joe Maddon had his press conference room so packed, midgets like yours truly couldn’t see anything. But I heard some of the wisdom shared. Including his prediction that everyone would know when Lester made his choice; there would be white smoke, just as they do at the Vatican when choosing a Pope.

I had the pleasure to finally meet Northern California native, Gregg Van Meter from California Sports Management. He understands the value of the A’s farm system, and includes the Kelliher family as one of his favorites of all time.

Gregg and I talked with a young man, just a little older than A’s rookie pitcher, Branden Kelliher, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo. The UNC freshman is as impressive in real life as I imagined. The native Northeasterner LOVES UNC, loves the south, and loves the experience. He’s in San Diego covering the meetings in between taking final exams. He returns to UNC for his last this week.

Chris is a journalism major (of course) but I had to ask his perspective on integrity based challenges facing today’s true journalists. The kid’s got it together, that’s all I can say. Love him.

Wednesday is the last full day, with the Rule 5 draft on Thursday.

Let’s see if anything happens to make me say, “Damn you, Billy Beane.”


MONDAY

Catching up:

Monday was the official opening day of the Winter Meetings: The morning started with the week-long Bob Freitas workshop series, and PBEO Job Fair, and a handful of league committee meetings. The midday Opening Session and Awards Luncheon were flanked by the start of league/ committee meetings, and the day ended with a 5 o’clock Opening Night at the Trade Show!

The Bob Freitas Workshop Series has been a fixture at these meetings for more than 20 years. Break-out sessions in various selected fields specifically designed for the business of minor league baseball and presented by those who live what they teach.

The important thing to keep in mind is that even though these meetings are viewed by the more interested baseball fans for the glitz and glamour, it is first and foremost about the business of operating minor league baseball teams. The major league component is, of course, an important component focused on player acquisitions, as well as on the relationships with their minor league affiliates down-the-line. After a post-season of changes, the connection of the parent clubs to the newly joined affiliates is more important than ever.

As in all industries, businesses that supply (or would like to provide) goods and services to the baseball industry take advantage of the Trade Show, where the latest ideas in everything from personalized seat cushions, to furniture made of the same material used to make baseball gloves, to the familiar wood-bat creators, to new scorekeeping software and such. All the ideas in one place for all teams to see, touch, and ponder. It’s also a good place to charge your cell phone at the entrance.

Those who attend these meetings, and who are not currently employed by a minor league team, etc., are those who want to return next year as employees: those looking for a job. PBEO (Professional Baseball Employment Opportunities) was once the only way most minor league job openings were made public. The annual job fair is where all teams are represented and where on-the-spot interviews are standard practice. It’s easy to tell who the job seekers are: the smart ones come dressed for it. And, if you’re going to travel to wherever the meetings are, because you have to be registered at the meetings in order to have the opportunity to attend the Job Fair, you are already more serious than most, and you know that if you dress like a schlub, you’re not getting anywhere… and you’ve just blown a good deal of money.

All of the activity takes place at either the Convention Center or at the Hilton, the MiLB headquarters. Meanwhile, about a mile down the road is the Manchester Grand Hyatt, that’s where the major league staffs are held-up for the week.

There’s more security than usual because aside from the other non-baseball overnight guests, there’s no reason for the general public to wander the halls. There is a privacy factor that remains priority number one. However, the lobby is available to any and all: from those who wish to make contact with decision-makers in hopes of getting a job, to the autograph hunters who increasingly show disrespect for the privacy of individuals and their families at these events. And when I point out a situation to a “hunter”, they will always agree with me and then add, “Yeah, I’m not like that.” The truth is: 95% of them are, they just don’t see it the same way.

The increasing non-productive lobby crowds are the reason more and more “suits” (front office personnel) avoid the area at great costs.

As the host of the meetings, Minor League Baseball President, and all around WONDERFUL man, Pat O’Conner is the resident master of ceremonies. The explosive popularity at all levels of minor league baseball are greatly due to his leadership. He is one of the best.

Because I’m attending these meetings as member of the media and not as a registered attendee, I prefer to explore rather than follow the implied path. You could say I take the road (to a conference room) less-traveled, or, in keeping with the new descriptions, I prefer to ZIG, when others ZAG. This stems from my great discomfort in crowds, but I also see more and experience more this way.

However, it also means I miss some things I wouldn’t have, if I’d followed the plans for the masses. Such as news about trades, etc. I was probably the last person on earth to learn about the Brandon Moss trade; with weak (or no) public wi-fi at each facility, the conservation of power and data becomes important. This is even true for someone who carries two additional batteries for my Galaxy, as those of you who follow me through the Arizona League know.

One thing I missed today was the launch of the auction benefiting the LUNGevity Foundation, in memory of former Orioles PR director Monica Barlow who was a non-smoker all her life, yet lost her battle with lung cancer at the far, far too-young-age of 36. Giving back. Helping others. That’s what matters.

I missed the press conference because I didn’t know about it: I was at the Job Fair area. Not job hunting, but counselling several candidates. Not my intention. At all. But there’s no mistaking the fact that there are exponentially more candidate-hopefuls than there are positions available. By my own unscientific observation, the average age of an applicant is 24…at the most. I found myself talking to these dynamic young kids, who were so stressed that their resume, experience, interview skills wouldn’t be good enough for them to land a job that will likely (very like) pay maybe $25,000 a year, and where they’ll work 15 -18 hours a day, six days a week, and where no matter what job they have, they’ll be required to bring in sponsorship and ticket sales equal to double their annual salary, AND in some organizations, will learn to do a tarp-pull in the event of a last minute rain storm.

And to so many job seekers, this sounds like heaven. Just a chance. That’s all they want. I completely understand. Talking to these kids is like talking to myself at that age. But the talking I did was limited. I spent most of my time listening to them express their anxiety, stress, nerves about all the what-ifs. What if I don’t get this job as a mascot assistant? How am I supposed to prove myself? Etc. etc. Bless their hearts.

Once I learned of the Moss trade, I made my way to the Hyatt. The first person I encounter in the lobby is Tommy Lasorda surrounded by a group of fans. I’ve had the pleasure to talk with Tommy quite a bit over the years, and I know that he loves the fans probably more than they love him. And when Tommy is holding court with his fans, you aren’t getting past them. No seriously. I turned around and had to take another route into the hotel.

Then… back down to the Convention Center for the Opening Night of the Baseball Trade Show!

I’m so glad I listened to Susan Slusser who said the most important thing for me to bring is comfortable shoes.


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