Before I left for Nashville, I got a message from a very loyal reader that asked me what the Winter Meetings are really like. He wasn't the only ones curious as I received a few other questions from readers along these lines - Is it as crazy as it looks on MLB Network? Are there just superstars walking around everywhere? How tall is Ken Rosenthal and does he ever wear a normal tie or is it all bow ties all the time?
The answers to those specific questions would all be yes, and the answer to the question of what the Winter Meetings are like is simple and only needs one word. AMAZING! And according to Rosenthal's twitter, he's 5-foot-4 and a half.
The atmosphere at the Opryland Resort and Convention Center was beyond electric. There was so much buzz going around about rumors, signings, and other breaking news. For a die hard baseball fan like myself and the overwhelming majority of our amazing readers, this experience is absolutely incredible. Where else can you be walking down a hallway and bump into Tommy Lasorda or Jim Leyland or see a childhood hero like Fred McGriff?
So what are the real reasons for the Winter Meetings? Outside of the obvious (team's getting together for trades, free agent signings, the rule 5 draft, etc.) there is also a trade show, various workshops and seminars, and the PBEO Job Fair. There were hundreds of eager job seekers littering the hotel, trying to get their foot in a door somewhere and network as much as they can. It may surprise you, but not all the job seekers were 20-somethings fresh out of university. I've spoken with folks pushing 60 years old that were here trying to get their first job in professional baseball. One job seeker I ran into is actually doing a special for MiLB.com, which I highly recommend reading.
The entrance to the Job Postings are for the PBEO Job Fair, where MiLB teams hire everyone from mascots to sales reps, concessions stand operators, and grounds crew members.
My perspective on the Winter Meetings is a bit different from the majority of the others here. While I came as a "job seeker", I'm really here to network and build my rolodex. You never know if that job seeker you just talked to will end up in a baseball ops department in a few years. On top of that, all the media members you see on MLB Network or ESPN, and write the columns you read on a daily basis are here wandering the halls like the rest of us regular folk. I've had the pleasure of speaking with a number of national writers and gotten the opportunity to pick their brains for a brief moment. Even some front office types have been gracious enough to take time out of their day to speak with me. I've also been fortunate enough to re-connect with some great folks I met in Orlando back in 2013 (I have to give a huge shout out to Lery Duran from Marucci).
Once thing I can guarantee is that by the end of the four days, you will be completely exhausted. I think I walked over 30 miles, which is no fun in dress shoes. One of the best networking opportunities here was actually in the hotel bars once the sun went down. It's another situation where you're packed in a tight crowd with a job seeker to your left, a former MLB player to your right, and a guy that works for a Minor League team standing behind you. It's truly surreal to be somewhere that you can absolutely nerd out; talking with 10-15 different people you just met about the trade that just happened or how much money someone just signed for as a free agent.
After the Shelby Miller trade was announced, this entire place went crazy as everyone's phone began buzzing with the news. As you've read elsewhere, they deal was universally seen as a coup for Atlanta. The Braves essentially traded one year of Jason Heyward for six years of control over Tyrell Jenkins, six years of Dansby Swanson, six years of Aaron Blair, and five years of the criminally underrated Ender Inciarte. Many were quick to point this out and as word spread around Opryland, more and more folks were absolutely flabbergasted at why Arizona would give up so much talent for three years of a solid, mid-rotation starter. One Diamondbacks fan said he would have rather just dealt AJ Pollock straight up for Miller, and this view was common among fans of the Snakes in attendance.
Other deals that created a stir around the meetings were the Cubs signing Ben Zobrist, the finalization of the Jeff Samardzija and John Lackey signings, as well as the Starlin Castro/Adam Warren and Neil Walker/Jon Niese trades. The Adam Lind deal with Seattle garnered more buzz than I expected, and I was also surprised that barely anyone was talking about the Wade Miley or Jedd Gyorko deals, or the free agent signings of Chase Utley and Mark Lowe.
Personally, I love the atmosphere here and the fact that you can absolutely nerd out and you don't have to feel self-conscious about it because that's exactly what everyone else is doing. I know I use the term "nerd out" a bit here, but there's really no other way to describe it. Being around hundreds of like-minded individuals that share the same passion as you is an unreal experience. For those trying to break into the industry or have been doing it for years, I cannot tell you enough how incredible the networking opportunities are.
So what are the meetings really like? It's a chance to let loose; a chance to let the baseball junkie inside off of its leash. You can be yourself and nobody will judge you for knowing the wRC+ of that 18 year old kid in the Dominican Summer League that you think will be a stud. You can go up to your idols, shake their hand, and tell them how much they had an impact on your life. I will never forget any of my Winter Meetings experiences, and I hope you have a chance to make a few of your own.