What to expect from Harper, Boras, Phillies at Vegas Winter Meetings

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Washington Nationals right-fielder Bryce Harper. (Susan Walsh/AP)

The baseball off-season’s at once slower and busier than ever.

Slower, because the off-season activity inevitably lasts long after the Winter Meetings with many prominent players remaining unsigned until January or February.

And busier because players and front offices alike use the off-season to prepare for the grind that awaits. Many players take just a week or two off before starting their training regimens anew. Coaches scatter across the U.S. and beyond, helping those players train. As for front office staff, they’re constantly planning deals even when they aren’t making them. Plus, it’s their chance to develop new ideas or approaches while removed from the rigors of the 162-game season. Even when the games stop, everything else continues behind the scenes.

For at least five days every winter that off-field action enters the spotlight. Considering the setting (Las Vegas) and the stakes (Bryce Harper, Manny Machado), this year’s Winter Meetings have the potential to be particularly memorable.

Starting Sunday night we’ll find out whether baseball’s marquee winter event lives up to that potential. Either way, we should have answers to some of these questions by this time next week…

Will Harper and Machado sign?

Harper. Machado. Vegas. Baseball people have been looking forward to this combination for years.

But even as the Winter Meetings arrive in Harper’s hometown, there’s no guarantee that a deal will happen in Vegas. Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, has a history of signing precedent-setting deals and he has a chance for another one with Harper. In that context, Boras might prefer to let Machado sign first before using that deal as a benchmark for his own client.

Harper will get paid all right, but it might not happen until January. In the meantime, we can certainly count on Boras at the centre of a scrum using elaborate metaphors to talk up his clients.

What’s the Phillies’ next move?

Even before owner John Middleton spoke about spending ‘stupid’ money, it was clear that the Phillies would be aggressive in their attempts to acquire talent this winter. Middleton’s comments further reinforced the impression that GM Matt Klentak can spend big while also raising expectations for the Philadelphia fan base.

Harper and Machado are clear fits, but the Phillies’ search for talent will extend well beyond those two marquee free agents. They still need pitching after missing out on Patrick Corbin, so expect to see the Phillies pursue top relievers and starters even if it means spending more extravagantly than usual.

What happens in Vegas?

The Winter Meetings are the product of another era, a time when executives weren’t constantly connected via email and cell phones. Back in the 1960s or ‘70s these meetings allowed for conversations that wouldn’t otherwise happen.

Even as recently as the 2000s teams used landlines and media guides to make trades instead of iPhones and databases. When Alex Anthopoulos began his career with the Montreal Expos, someone had to stay in the team suite at all times to ensure no calls went unanswered.

Now, teams are in touch constantly, able to make deals whenever they please. The Winter Meetings accelerate those talks, since everyone’s in one place, but these meetings are by no means necessary in the way they were decades ago. Now, their main purpose is arguably putting baseball in the spotlight in the middle of December.

Teams generally set up a home base in a hotel suite stocked with snacks and waters. They can host agents in these suites while other front office members disperse to interview potential hires, compare notes with other teams or meet with industry experts.

Meanwhile, the lobby’s always a scene in itself, full of job seekers, baseball lifers and everyone in between. TV sets line the hotel hallways, while hundreds of writers set their laptops up in a giant ballroom that becomes a temporary office.

Teams’ scheduled meetings typically last into the early evening, at which point club executives break for dinner and compare notes on the day. By the late evening, some head for the lobby bar while others prefer to avoid the chaos by resting up for another round of meetings the following day.

When will the relief market get started?

If last year offers any indication, the relief market should pick up next week. Here are the 11 biggest free-agent deals signed at the 2017 Winter Meetings:

Jake McGee: three years, $27 million
Bryan Shaw: three years, $27 million
Brandon Morrow: two years, $21 million
Tommy Hunter: two years, $18 million
Juan Nicasio: two years, $17 million
Pat Neshek: two years, $16.25 million
Joe Smith: two years, $15. million
Anthony Swarzak: two years, $14 million
Steve Cishek: two years, $13 million
Luke Gregerson: two years, $11 million
Brandon Kintzler: two years, $10 million

Yep, all relief pitchers. The market’s deep in relievers again this year with Craig Kimbrel, Adam Ottavino, David Robertson, Jeurys Familia, Joakim Soria, Kelvin Herrera, Brad Brach, Zach Britton and Andrew Miller among those available. Chances are some of them sign within the week.

Will the Hall of Fame call?

The Hall of Fame could gain a future member Monday, when the Today’s Game Era Committee announces its verdict on candidates Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, Lou Piniella, Lee Smith and George Steinbrenner.

At last year’s Winter Meetings, former Tigers Jack Morris and Alan Trammell were honoured by the Modern Baseball Era Committee.

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