Lake Buena Vista, Florida; a Disney-controlled Florida hamlet with, according to the 2000 census, 16 full-time residents. Only the most intrepid and potentially drunken explorers venture inside, as four men did a week ago when trying to climb the Tree of Life, a central icon of Disney World’s Animal Kingdom park. They eventually met the same fate of most of their predecessors, and were hauled away by Mouse troopers to “an undisclosed location.”
It will be a new breed of adventurer who descends upon the Orlando area this week as executives from 30 Major League Baseball teams hit the Swan and Dolphin Resort for some pool time, some cocktails hours, and in between, a deal or two involving players we’ve heard of.
The wheels are already in motion, with Shohei Otani picking the Angels and Giancarlo Stanton forcing himself to be traded to the Yankees. Finally, baseball’s off-season has been pushed into action, giving us more to discuss than the inherent sexiness of labor laws and Hall of Fame debates. Ever since the sport’s two current biggest dominoes fell, it’s been a frenzy of relief pitcher-dealings, bench coach-hirings, and Brandon Morrow. But none of these subplots have involved the Phillies too heavily, which has given everyone plenty of time to roll ideas around in their heads.
Let’s put the Phillies’ intentions at the Winter Meetings into a single sentence: If they do something, it’s likely to involve a starting pitcher who is acquired through the means of a Freddy Galvis or Cesar Hernandez trade. Everything else—what if they still want Christian Yelich, what’s this stuff with Carlos Santana, does a grizzled veteran fit into this somewhere, Manny Machado???—is spiraling out of that central issue. And you better believe Matt Klentak, the chief Phillies envoy packing his socks for the Sunshine State on Friday, is being as open and forthcoming with his plans as one would expect:
"My expectation is that the market in general -- not so much the Phillies -- is going to open up over the next couple days or certainly next week... Hopefully we'll be able to push something over the goal line this week.”
You heard it here first, folks: The Phillies will be aggressively pursuing Bryce Harper.
No, not yet anyway. But we’ve all got a little pent-up emotion from the stutter-step of the winter’s proceedings, and columnists stand at the ready to capitalize on that with only the most dynamic of headlines.
That’s right, Sandy Alderson held a press conference to announce that Derek Jeter had purchased an ownership stake in the Mets, as well, and had plans to turn them and the Marlins into his literal playthings through a deranged game of human chess to be played in Central Park while he sat in a tree above them and cackled with all the glee of a pompous boy-king. He also said this will count as spring training.
Emotions, hyperbole, and vitriol can run pretty high this time of year; if the Phillies are out on anyone, they’ve blown it; if they have to give up anything, they’ve blown it. If they do nothing, they’ve really blown it. But going into the Winter Meetings, even Matt Klentak is winking at the camera. Making a move seems likely, though Klentak has done nothing but establish a reputation of a GM who listens until he hears what he wants to hear. That being said, the Phillies aren’t facing a closing window or a desperate need to unload contracts or a new owner making deals with his old team from his bubble bath. They are able to be patient, methodical, and strategic, for now; the way Andy MacPhail’s front office has operated to this point. It is not the most erotic way to run a baseball team, but the Phillies have advanced their agenda to the point that a few pieces are in place, and some deft moves, including a boost to the rotation, could make this team all the more attractive to a member of the 2018 free agent class.
So things could always be worse. Meanwhile, the Mets are looking for relief help and second base depth, but their GM recently announced the team’s plans to wait for everyone’s prices to drop (including Klentak’s on Cesar Hernandez, we can assume), that the team didn’t have any prospects, and that they were never really trying to get Giancarlo Stanton (while their crosstown rivals brought Stanton to the city through sheer force of will).
This was all announced by Sandy Alderson as he held a follow-up “worst fears” press conference to announce that the glass vial teetering on the edge of his podium contains a deadly plague, but not to worry, the Mets employ only the finest in podium edge-installers and vial thickness engineers, so there’s no need to—oh, there it goes, shattering as it hits the floor; everyone put on the gas masks we distributed earlier. What’s that? We sold the gas masks to pay Brendan Nimmo? You know, personally, I’ve always wanted to be exposed to a deadly plague, just to see if I’m invincible.
This is somehow not as bad as what’s going on in Miami: a gutting of the franchise through Stanton’s trade for Starlin Castro and two minor leaguers, which Sports Illustrated called “a humiliation,” as well as the firings of organizational mainstays Jack McKeon, Jeff Conine, Andre Dawson, and a scout waiting for a kidney transplant, some of whom were reportedly informed of their dismissal by team president David Samson, who was then also dismissed. And don’t forget the Braves, a team that had to give a bunch of their prospects back following some sanctions induced by the international signing infractions of former GM John Coppolella.
While we are all at risk for high emotions—these are meetings, after all—the Phillies enter the MLB Winter Meetings with some distinct advantages: There’s not a former Yankee dissecting their franchise with a buzzsaw, and their GM isn’t Pennywise the clown, forcing fans to see their “worst fears” come to life. As a team interested in getting better, with the trade chips and money bags to do so, the Phillies will be about baseball talent acquisition in Lake Buena Vista, which many would agree is refreshing, compared to what their division rivals seem currently about.