Baseball's winter meetings not exactly the place to be

Commentary

December 07, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

Dallas -- There's nothing quite like Major League Baseball's winter meetings, which is probably a good thing.

Baseball executives from all 30 teams travel to some huge hotel in an exotic locale and spend a week trying to hide from the media, coming out only long enough to check with Peter Gammons to see who they are trying to trade.

Did I say exotic location? I just had another senior moment and thought I was back in Honolulu - the site of the 1982 winter meetings, where I had the rare pleasure of seeing Tommy Lasorda sunbathing before I was mercifully stricken with a rare case of hysterical blindness.

Baseball's annual winter convention used to have the added attraction of being somewhere you wanted to go in the winter, but apparently there was a change in policy sometime in the late 1980s. Now, the meetings generally take place in Nashville or Dallas or some other Southwest Airlines destination, the only stipulation being that nobody tell agent Barry Praver.

(I don't know why I said that. Barry's a nice enough guy and I miss our conversations about Sidney, who is rumored to have slimmed down and grown hair and taken the cure. I wish them both well in their future endeavors.)

This year, we're at the massive Wyndham Anatole Hotel in Dallas, waiting to see if the Orioles can throw around enough No. 2-starter money to acquire a No. 3 starter. There are also lots of trade rumors flying around involving the Orioles, though I've been told that they will only complete a really major deal if the other club agrees to give up its broadcast rights.

Somebody once said that the winter meetings are like a five-day stakeout, only the food is better. I'm not complaining, because there are people in this world who would love to sit in the lobby of a luxury hotel, nibbling fancy nachos and waiting for super-agent Scott Boras to pull out some new owner's pockets.

If anything does happen, however, The Sun reporting team of Dan Connolly, Jeff Zrebiec and myself brings a wealth of experience to winter meetings coverage. The three of us have combined to cover baseball's annual trading convention 24 times. I covered my first one in 1980. Dan and Jeff told me they remember their first winter meetings experience like it was the day before yesterday ... which, by the way, it was.

That's OK, because this also is the first for the Orioles' newly reconfigured front office management team of Mike Flanagan, Jim Duquette and Scott Proefrock, though all have been to the meetings before in other capacities. They came to Dallas hoping to sign a pitcher or make an impact deal for a run-producing outfielder, but reliever LaTroy Hawkins will have to do for now.

They got Hawkins for Steve Kline yesterday, proving that the San Francisco Giants don't have TiVo, but there's a long way to go before they can talk about a wild-card run with a straight face.

It's not that the Orioles' front office is incapable of putting together a blockbuster deal. It's that owner Peter Angelos is so capable of pulling them apart. Too bad the guy wasn't in a position to veto NAFTA or there might still be some manufacturing jobs in Ohio.

This generally isn't a very exciting week. The most interesting thing to go down so far was yesterday's anticlimactic announcement that the Toronto Blue Jays had signed free-agent starter A.J. Burnett to a five-year, $55 million contract, a deal that had been on the street so long that there are only four years left on it.

It could be worse. The Florida Marlins are dumping more payroll than General Motors. Not long after Burnett made his departure official yesterday, there was a rumor that they had put Miguel Cabrera on eBay. That's ridiculous, of course, but the Fish are more willing than Pamela Anderson with a backstage pass, and the Orioles still couldn't hook up with them. So it goes.

It's not all gloom and doom. I talked to Jim Hunter yesterday and he's optimistic, which is usually like saying that the Pope is Catholic or that Daniel Snyder is vertically challenged, but Jimmy has been pretty down since we found out in August that Jimmyville had been built on top of a toxic waste site.

There's talk of a poker game tonight, which should be interesting. Orioles public relations director Bill Stetka has asked if he can play, and I don't see why not. The last time an Orioles official played in one of our games, he said he lost $11 million, even though he charged the rest of us $30 apiece for our seats and never put any money on the table.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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