Even though baseball is on the back burner for many sports fans this time of year, the next couple of weeks are extremely important for major league executives. The 2012 Baseball Winter Meetings will begin December 5 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, TN. This is one of the game’s more gala events, where VIP-types make creative clothing statements, smoke cigars, tell stories and kick a few tires. Small market teams, I should mention, tend to be a bit more serious.
The most significant date to ponder, however, is November 30, the deadline for arbitration-eligible players with expired contracts to be tendered or not-tendered a new pact. Players who are cut loose are deleted from the 40-man roster and become free agents, although many often negotiate new agreements with their old team. Then again, other guys decide that a change in scenery could mean a better future for them and their families. As you might guess, many Latino professionals are often affected by this annual day of determination.
It’s a pretty sure bet the World Series champion San Francisco Giants will seek status quo with their quartet of pending players, which include infielder Joaquin Arias, outfielder Gregor Blanco, and pitchers Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo. With the great Chipper Jones now retired, the Atlanta Braves need Martin Prado more than ever. And there’s no reason to think the marriage between the San Diego Padres and Edinson Volquez shouldn’t continue, although the flamboyant Dominican may not be overjoyed with the new, cozier PETCO Park.
In the American League, the fresh-faced Houston Astros are expected to tender Wilton Lopez, and possibly make the Nicaraguan their closer. The Chicago White Sox would be ill-advised to snub their leadoff hitter, Alejandro De Aza, and so would the Texas Rangers if they didn’t attempt to settle on a fair sum with Neftali Feliz. But my crystal ball is a bit more fuzzy concerning a few other players in limbo.
Back to the National League West, do the Padres really want their shortstop, Everth Cabrera, to hang around, even though he led the league in stolen bases (including a theft of home plate, Ricky Henderson-style)? There are some among the Padres brass who feel the club has other options. And what does it take for the Arizona Diamondbacks to appreciate Gerardo Parra, their Gold Glove left fielder? General Manager Kevin Towers must know that there are teams drooling to get Parra, so it will be interesting to see if the Mexican speedster is on the move.
It’s decision time for the Philadelphia Phillies and their southpaw reliever, Antonio Bastardo. The Dominican was lousy last year, but so were the Phillies, and the guy’s making peanuts. Hell, Mitch Williams was erratic too, and he raked in more money than Bastardo has, and that was 20 years ago. In my humble opinion, you don’t let a lefty go who throws gas. But that’s up to Ruben Amaro Jr.
Then there’s the case of Andres Torres, whose days with the New York Mets are probably over. The Giants swapped Torres nearly straight up for Angel Pagan last winter, and we all know the results of this tale involving a pair of Puerto Ricans. Pagan is a six-year free agent who will likely ink a fat deal to continue patrolling center field at AT&T Park. Torres is arbitration-eligible again, but his long list of injuries over the last two seasons will make it difficult to find employment.
If you’re unsure about the status of your favorite Hispanic player, let me know, and I’ll try to fill you in on the latest news. The clock is ticking, though, and the next few days should be wild.
Before I sign off, I’d like to offer my sincere congratulations to Yan Gomes and Team Brazil for their upset victory over Panama in the final World Baseball Classic qualifier event. Playing on the road before a loud, partisan crowd in Panama City, the South Americans edged Carlos Ruiz, Carlos “El Caballo” Lee and company in a slick, 1-0 battle.
Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, who has worked with the young Brazilians for the past couple of years with little fanfare, managed the team and was like a dad watching his kids accomplishing something special.
“If you have a plan, a mentality and you execute,” explained Larkin, “you always have a chance to win.”
Brazil joins Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela as the Latino contestants in the tournament, which will begin next March.