Major League Baseball heads to San Diego on Monday, which has Carlsbad’s Scott Miller at the ready.
“Although you wonder if the MLB winter meetings are a little bit outdated,” Miller said. “Because they used to be fueled by emotion.”
Miller, an author and a longtime, decorated baseball writer now contributing to The New York Times’ baseball coverage, adds that the event’s juice once came via a social sparkler or two.
“You usually got the real scoops around 1 in the morning after the general managers and scouts had their whiskey or a few glasses of wine,” Miller, 59, said. “That is where you got the rumor stuff going.”
Like a long fly ball, those days are going, going, gone. When baseball’s brains kick off this year’s shindig, those downing numbers will eclipse those consuming beverages.
Instead of executives and scouts populating the hotel lobby bar for a pop during a hard day’s night, they stay logged on and tune out everyone else.
Now baseball is driven by analytics and not the big personalities that sought the winter meetings spotlight, determined to make a significant move so their club could bathe in it, too.
There are countless tales of trades being consummated, late in the evening, after the teams’ general managers had quenched their thirsts.
“The meetings were more fun back in those days,” said Miller, who has also covered the San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins. “It was back when you had general managers that were like gunslingers, and I’m thinking of the late Kevin Towers and Jack McKeon.”
Both former Padres GMs didn’t shy from making a splash, bent on acquiring talent and giving the ticket office a boost, too.
But that scenario has vanished like the hit-and-run, sacrifice bunt and a pitcher tossing a complete game.
Instead of leaving their hotel rooms to network and hatch ideas for trades and signings on the back of cocktail napkins, the younger baseball brass stays put. In declining to mingle, they lay low to crunch numbers with a mind-numbing resolve.
“The game has become way more corporate and analytical so there are no longer a lot of scouts at the meetings,” Miller said.
“They were the characters, the soul of the game, and for an old-school guy like me it’s sad that they are no longer there. Now it’s all the baseball analytic guys going over things up in their suites. You don’t see as many people, like scouts, downstairs anymore.”
Miller’s time this year at the meetings marks his 25th occasion of reporting on its developments. Over that span, he’s seldom eyed the Padres as he does now after they advanced to the National League Championship Series for the first time since 1998.
“With the Padres having a pretty good core, it’s more about filling a couple of holes,” Miller said. “It used to be that they would bring a forklift, dump truck and try to rebuild.
“They can be really selective in what they need. They got a solid pitching staff, but you never have enough pitching and they could probably use a corner outfielder.”
Miller’s tips are to monitor right-handed, free-agent Japanese pitching star Kodai Senga.
Also, where the Padres envision the embattled Fernando Tatis Jr. fitting in following three surgeries (wrist and shoulder) and one suspension (use of performance-enhancing drugs).
“That is the wild card to watch,” Miller said. “They have to figure out what they are going to do at first base. Might they play Tatis at first? Or move right fielder Juan Soto to left, have Tatis in right and find someone else to play first?”
First things first and that’s baseball’s general managers batting around ideas in San Diego. While a season runs six months, its course is often set by what happens during a week in December. Miller, once again, will be there to unearth the stories.
“The winter meetings are like ‘CSI’ without the blood,” he said. “Running around gathering clues and trying to solve mysteries.”