THE BIG HIT | Winners and Losers of the Winter Meetings

by Ken Napzok

Whelp. The Winter Meetings have come and gone. Another General Manager’s Prom is in the books and there were some big… giant… epic moves that really turned heads and inspired think pieces and lil’ think Tweets while getting many fans excited for the new season while causing a little balls of stress to form in the chests of others.

So, you know, like any other Winter Meeting.

HOWEVER… it’s absolutely important that we determine the winners and losers of these Winter Meetings and the offseason thus far. But, like, the REAL winners and losers. Without further adieu here are…

The Actual Winners and Losers from the Winter Meetings


Anthony Rendon and his family

So, the Angels’ new prize bat choose them over the Dodgers because he didn’t want to be part of the Hollywood Glitz and Glamour lifestyle that comes with playing in Los Angeles. This is a perfectly acceptable answer. Not even being snarky. Family first is an honorable approach. 

It should be noted that clearly Anthony Rendon has never been to Los Angeles outside of a Nationals’ team hotel. I’ve lived in this great city for over twenty years now and can confirm that unless you’re an early twenties, cocaine addled, club rat the only glitz and glamour found here is when someone listens to your podcast and slips you an extra taco in the drive thru. But we digress…

Anthony wants to raise his family in Orange County (I was born in the city of Orange) with his wife Amanda. They currently have one very young daughter named Emma and it would seem like more children might be in their future — at least over the next seven seasons. And those are the winners. Amanda and Emma. Emma will get to grow up as an annual pass holder to Disneyland where, outside of key blackout dates, she’ll get to stroll into the Happiest Place on Earth to spin around a tea cup or soar with Dumbo while Dad avoids all the paparazzi that stop at the Orange Curtain that is the Orange County line like some kind of Wildings stopping at the Wall in Game of Thrones. Meanwhile, Amanda and Anthony will find a plethora of fine chain restaurant dining options at their disposal. It is Bubba Gump Shrimp tonight? How ‘bout Chilis or Lazy Dog Cafe? Or maybe they can meet up with the Trouts for a fun night of meat and video games at Dave and Buster’s at The Outlets in Orange. So many options, so many wins for the Rendon family. 

Meanwhile Clayton Kershaw is going to have to wake up in a pile of his own sick while tip toeing over members of Motley Crue while politely asking the strippers to leave before tonight’s game. 


Gerrit Cole’s beard

Look, he’s been a Yankee fan since he was a kid. Before he could grow a nice, sexy rough n tumble beard. But he knows the rules! Now that Cole will be locked inside the Bronx Zoo for the next nine years, the right-hander will have to shave off those sinful whiskers and play with the same face that made him a Little League star. And trim those sideburns while you’re at it, hippie. 

Is this the fatal flaw in Gerrit Cole’s armor? Is this what curses him to a life of being compared to big name flops like Mike Hampton, Mark Davis, or Jeremy Renner’s App? Does the beard contain magic? We’re going to find out. The previous best-case study of Beard to Beardless Yankee is Johnny Damon. He played four seasons as a bearded mountain man heart throb in Boston and four seasons as a smooth faced boy scout in New York… and it’s pretty much a push. 

Damon had one all-star appearance and two top twenty MVP seasons in Boston and New York. He set his career RBI high in Boston and his career home run total in New York. He was a World Series once for each club. So, there you have it Yankee fans, if Gerrit Cole can at least be Johnny Damon you’ll be alright. 


Luke Voit

New York Yankee first basemen Luke Voit had to be just a little bit conflicted when Gerrit Cole signed with the Bronx Bombers. On one hand, Cole is potentially the final (big) piece to help get back to the World Series for the first time since 1978. (For Yankee fans it feels that long.) On the other hand, Cole has famously only worn one number his entire career, no. 45, and that number proudly sits on the back of Voit. 

You know THAT means! 

Time for a good ole’ fashion clubhouse trade. Money, goods, and services goes from one player to the other in exchange for the digits that represent the superstitious belief that everything will be alright. Cole and Voit didn’t waste any time. A deal was struck. Cole was introduced in a number 45 jersey and Voit announced he was switching numbers and doing it with heart.

But what was the deal?

Cole has a little more allowance money to play with now, so was it a big financial transaction? Does Voit now own a new car, speed boat, or helicopter courtesy of Cole? Did Cole promise to name his next child Voit Cole? What was it?!?!!

Well, so far, we don’t know as both parties are keeping their deal as secret as a conclave choosing a new religious leader, but, suffice to say, Voit is probably in a much better spot in life because of it. 

As told to the YES Network, Cole admitted that Voit wasn’t just going to hand over the number. He probably had his own emotional connection to it. So, Cole had to step it up and said that they “exchanged maybe a gift or something” and that the conversation was “really nice.” 

Or something? 

I do NOT want to fuel any rumor and innuendo but it’s pretty clear that Voit held out for more with the passion of Koufax and Drysdale in 1966. Talk about the art of the deal. This just might be the juiciest trade of this offseason. 


Madison Bumgarner’s reputation

Age is a funny thing in baseball. It’s an ever-shifting landing zone for the freefalling conversation around it. Being a 28-year-old pitcher means you’re the future of whatever club you sign with and you can pull in previously unheard of zeroes on your contract. Being a 30-year-old pitcher who opts out of your contract makes you a must sign anchor for the very foundation and security of your franchise — even with some injuries in your past. And, then, for some reason, being a 29-year-old lefty who started young and dominated for nearly a decade makes you seem like Steve Carlton signing with the Twins for one more try at making money playing baseball. It’s confusing. 

This is not to say that Madison Bumgarner is the pitcher he was when was helping Bruce Bochy smile at the end of October. He did start young, making his debut at 19, and had two injury-plagued seasons in 2017 and 2018. But last season he made it out there for 34 starts — tying a career high — and became a coveted name around the trade deadline. So why did it seem like the Tale of Madison Bumgarner was one legend and not the present? 

Oh, he was in the conversations around this off-season’s super-sized free agent pitchers market, but after Cole and Strasburg, it always seemed like his name was under the “I guess you can sign him” tab. Well the Diamondbacks clicked that tab and now seem primed to reap the benefits. They don’t that young ace from years gone by, they need that steady arm to lead them into the future. At 5 years, 85 million, they just might get more. 

Bumgarner might have been a little put out by some lower than hoped for extension numbers from the Giants a couple seasons ago and having to watch the franchise slip around him. Now he’ll be riding his horses on the plains of Arizona and pitching against his former team. I’m sure it’s not an action movie-like vendetta, but it could just be the right combination of motivations to make this deal a bigger steal than first realized. 


Your witty Scott Boras joke

Without a doubt the real winner of this — and any — offseason is Scott Boras. He’s the poster child for the term Super-Agent. That’s like a superhero but it means your cape is made up of other people’s money. Boras has been on fire this offseason with his clients on pace to pass one million in contracts. Cancel the list. He won.

But what is losing as much as Boras winning is all of the Winner and Losers lists naming Scott Boras a winner like literally every other site I’ve been to. (And, yes, I was checking other sites to see if anyone stole my Luke Voit bit.) I’m not shaming any writer for using the Boras joke. It’s too true of a statement to ignore, but I think the important thing to learn here is that we need more sports journalists to go take an improv class and get another angle. 


The term “betting on yourself.”

Thanks in large part of last year’s — shall we say — weird offseason in which suddenly, definitely for no reason, many of the players found themselves without decent contract offers, a phrase emerged to the top of the charts. 

“He bet on himself.” 

Last season the bets were made and this offseason many players won those bets. Yasmani Grandal and Dallas Keuchel are just some of the players that come to mind. They and others have cashed in. Josh Donaldson is right on the cusp. Not since Pete Rose have so many players bet on themselves and won. (I… I… apologize for that hack joke, but, yeah, I’m going to stand by it.) 

The phrase has been around for a bit, of course. It’s not a new concept, but this offseason, with more long-term deals replacing the headlines of the absence of long term deals, betting on yourself has never had such a nice ring and powerful ringto it. 

We’ll see you at the next Winter Meetings, Transaction Nerds! 

This week in baseball history…

Christmas Day, 1989. I was in my room waiting for the call to come down for the holiday dinner. I don’t exactly remember what I was doing at the time, but most likely I was studying baseball history and stats like any other normal, very uncool 13-year-olds. My Dad walked into my room (Hey, knock first Dad! I could be looking at the baseball card prices in a Beckett monthly!!) and delivered me the sad news… Billy Martin had died. 

Billy Martin was a complicated presence in baseball and in life. Let’s be clear. He is both one of the game’s most important and colorful characters and a case study in obsession, paranoia, and ego undercutting one’s self at every step. He was a tremendously successful manager. He was tremendously raging monster. As a player he was a passionate sparkplug who helped the New York Yankees of the early 1950s win and win a lot. He also, if you’re being a bit rough, almost single handedly sunk Mickey Mantle’s career. I didn’t fully understand all of that on that sad Christmas day in 1989. I just knew that the fiery life of Billy Martin had ended such a wasteful way. 

The exact details of the single vehicle crash that killed Martin seem to shift depending on whatever report, interview, or story you’re reading. But what is clear is that he and his friend Bill Reedy had been drinking at a local bar weeks after Billy had been told by King George that his return to the Yankee dugout was on the horizon. Too much alcohol was consumed by someone — the driver of the vehicle is still disputed — and tragedy followed. 

Even then, my young mind just sensed that this death was wrapped in an extra layer of sadness. A vibrant and, yes, often violent, man who was once so full of life that the Yankees had to ship him away, was now dead at the bottom of drainage ditch. It didn’t seem right, but yet the tumultuous journey before this moment seemed to lead to some darkness like this. It shook my young mind on that day, and it speaks to me now. 

This game will build you up and tear you down. It will make you a legend and it will throw you out on your ass. But one thing it won’t do is chase away your demons. Billy Martin was haunted, but as a baseball fan — a Yankee fan — I missed him and wished he could have kept them at bay.

Billy Martin was 61. 

Remember when…

… The holidays meant you’d get a great baseball-related present?!?!? 

The memories start pouring out when I think about it. One holiday is was that now famous Jose Canseco 40/40 poster. The next it was a Don Mattingly poster. MATTINGLY. On my wall! It was almost like I was helping him push on toward finally making the postseason. Then, of course, there was the usual collection of baseball related clothes, duffle bags, and hats. What do you get your kid for Christmas when they love baseball?! Apparently just dress them head to toe with the logo of the team they love! Ah, the sports gifts of Christmas past have such a special place in my heart.

However, all of those things are gone. I don’t own them anymore. Some lasted longer than others. I think that Mattingly poster ALMOST made it with me when I finally moved out of my parents’ house at a frightened twenty-two. (I’m scared — let me take Donnie Baseball with me!) Yet, for the most part, despite meaning so much to me at the time, all of those sports memorabilia gifts are gone like the way of the stolen base. 

Except for one. 

My 1988 Gary Carter Starting Line-up figure. 

There it is. Sitting on my shelf like a beacon to my youthful love of the sport and the eternal flame of this sport’s inspiration and influence on me. Despite now crossing into its third decade of existence, the figure is not as faded or damaged as you’d think. Though, out of the package all these years, it’s sitting on my bookshelf right this very moment not that far different from when I ripped it out of the cheap cardboard and plastic packaging that was in my hands so long ago. 

The Kid was my guy and still is, but beyond that when I look at this now, I am immediately transported back to the beginning of my love of baseball, constantly. And that’s a powerful reminder because the game doesn’t always make it easy for you to love it. And that can be labor disputes that you understand but loathe. Or complicated headlines and decisions by teams and players. Or the league itself. (Wait… we aren’t going to have the minor leagues anymore?) It can be one of so many reasons that the game falls off of your radar screen, blipping away like a jet zooming through your childhood sky. 

But whenever I catch a quick glance at that little piece of molded plastic that vaguely looks like Gary Carter catching a pop fly, I smile and remember that at the bottom of it all is the same joy I had when I unwrapped that gift so many years ago. 

Happy Holidays, my fellow fans.

Walk Off Quote

“I’m getting smarter, I finally punched something that couldn’t sue me.” –  Billy Martin, 1982, player, manager, amateur hotel lobby bar fighter. 


Ken Napzok once caught an entire inning with his eyes closed in fear , but is the author of Why We Love Star Wars and host of The Napzok Files podcast feed. 

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