LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When you get right down to it, when you finally make it over the ever-growing Kilimanjaro of jabber at baseball's winter meetings -- and, man, is that a climb and a half -- there are only three ways that a team can improve itself in the winter. And one of those really doesn't count.
One is to spend on free agents. For example, ripped from the curent headlines, take the $70 million for J.D. Drew. That tidy number, the bottom line on a deal that was all but dotted and crossed on Tuesday, undoubtedly will make the Red Sox a better team in 2007. For 120 games, anyway.
Two is to make a trade. Say, if you happen to be the general manager of the Dodgers or the Giants or the Angels, and you work the trade just perfectly, a swap for Boston's Manny Ramirez almost certainly would make your team better. Not that the biggest tease since the Fountain of Youth was a sprinkler is necessarily going to happen. We're talking hypotheticals here. These are the winter meetings.
The third way is to do nothing. Stand pat. Go into hibernation. Check to the next general manager. That never works, of course, which is why it really doesn't count.
This offseason, at these particularly talkative winter meetings, all sorts of major league teams are concentrating on one or the other, either free agents or trades. Many teams are trying to pull off some combination of both. And a few teams, as is always the case, seem intent on doing nothing but taking up a few hotel rooms, holding organizational "meetings" and being seen in the lobby so they look like they're playing along. We know where they'll finish.
You'd think, given the outrageous salaries that free agents are demanding this winter, that swapping players might be the more prudent way to go. You might think that trades would be more popular than ever. That's what everyone was saying before the meetings started.
But if baseball history shows us anything, it's that when teams have money to burn -- and the game, remember, never has been richer -- they'll burn it.
Which, when you think about it, explains the Drew debacle perfectly.
"I think there are more teams, more this year than the last two years, after free agents," says veteran player agent Randy Hendricks, who has a couple of notable free-agent pitchers to peddle in Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens. "But that doesn't mean they haven't always been talking trades."
No, trades are still in vogue, especially for those teams that have lived by them in the past. Here at Disneyland, just about everyone who ever slipped on a pair of sanitaries has been the subject of trade talk. The Ramirez runaround has dominated the headlines, but countless other trade scenarios have made their rounds, including a particularly intriguing one -- and seemingly far-fetched -- that had the Orioles dealing wildly popular second baseman Brian Roberts and young pitcher Hayden Penn to the Braves for second baseman Brian Giles and first baseman Adam La Roche.