Behind the Scenes at GM Meetings, Where Smoke Doesn’t Mean Fire

The General Manager Meetings, which are taking place this week in Carlsbad, California, are generating this offseason’s first free-agent rumors, but here’s a little advice for you: Don’t read too much into this, at least not yet. I’m coming to you from a position of experience, as I used to attend these meetings when I worked for the Astros, with the specific task of organizing, scheduling and frequently conducting tête-à-têtes with agents, and they mean very little.

I’ve spent numerous November days and nights at various bougie resorts in Arizona and California, and while I’d love to tell you exactly what happens at the GM Meetings, I’m not in a position to do that. There are a number of actual meetings that occur, discussing arbitration, overall finances of the game, and the labor situation, but other than various social events with open bars and yummy snacks, along with the occasional informal roundtable to brainstorm on rules and processes, I never attended any of them. I had a very different assignment, but quite frankly, meeting with agents is a hell of a lot more fun than sitting in a ballroom staring at Power Point slides presented by the commissioner’s office.

The process begins in the weeks leading up to the meetings, as teams spend their Septembers and Octobers preparing for the off-season, sometimes in parallel with the work that is involved for a team that’s in the playoffs. Free agents, both real and potential (based on non-obvious option/opt-out decisions), are lined up and prioritized. Player agents are frequently just known, and if not, are accessed via MLB’s internal eBIS system. The week before is spent drawing up a schedule for your team during the meetings themselves. Texts are sent and times are set throughout the week for what will be the first sit-downs of the offseason.

The resorts that host the GM Meetings are nice. Really nice. Take the set from The White Lotus and drop it into Southern California or the deserts of Arizona, and you get the picture. When I first arrived, my first task was to scope the place out for good meeting spots. Coffee shops are ideal, especially if they have a quiet corner or outdoor seating, and the resorts always have pools and nice tables or couches, hopefully well-separated from others around them. The larger agencies have their own suites to allow for the necessary privacy of the discussions.

The meetings themselves are for the most part just feelers, designed to let the agent know that a player is of interest. Sometimes the GM or team president attends, especially for larger agents and higher priority players, but they’re often unavailable due to all of the actual, more official meetings that are hosted by MLB. Years and exact salaries are rarely if ever discussed. The most frequent questions from the team begin with something like, “Can you offer any guidance on….” The agents reply with something generic in terms of whether their client is looking for a major league deal or multiple years, depending on the quality of the player, and occasionally comparing their clients to free agents of years past in order to give teams some semblance of what they are looking for without getting into specifics. Non-salary issues are often discussed. Some players are trying to rebuild free-agent value and want assurances that they will get full-time plate appearances or innings. Some pitchers want guarantees that they will be used as starters. Some have defensive positions they want to play (or not play, in some cases).

Agents will also try to sell teams on players that are not on a target list; don’t forget about this name or that. The polite response is something in the neighborhood of, “The player isn’t a priority for us, but keep us in the loop.” Agents often prepare materials for their clients, ranging from a single sheet of paper with baseball card statistics to multi-page presentations with more advanced metrics to the now famous Yoenis Céspedes book, which included a video player that required a USB charge.

The primary purpose of the meeting is simply to connect your team to the agent. For example: By meeting with the agents for Carlos Correa (Williams Morris/Endeavor) and Corey Seager (Boras Corp.), the Yankees have made it clear that they have specific interest in them. Once the bidding begins, they will be kept in the loop on both players and can expect to get a heads up if a deal is getting close elsewhere so they can react or defer. But while Brian Cashman made the existence of his meetings with their agents public, they very likely met with many teams about Correa and Seager and received the same assurances. None of it means anything until later in the offseason, when teams start getting down to the real business of deal lengths and AAVs.

Meeting with agents at the GM Meetings falls outside of MLB’s jurisdiction, but it’s an essential part of the event. But while it serves as necessary grist for the rumor mill, there really is nothing more to it than that. It’s a time for introductions and to establish the loosest of expectations on both sides, not a place where deals are made. Understand that for every team and agent meeting that you read about, 20 more happen that you are unaware of, and getting down to the real business of signing free agents for the most part doesn’t start happening until the coming weeks, and that’s disregarding (for now) an anticipated labor dispute.

From introductions to agreeing on a deal, the free-agent process can be a waltz of varying lengths. But what happens at the GM Meetings tends to amount to little more than just adding one’s name to a player’s dance card.

Kevin Goldstein is a National Writer at FanGraphs.

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Mike NMN
1 year ago

Interesting and useful post. Thanks.