Well wasn’t that an enormous waste of time? The worst Winter Meetings on record, notable only for the Battle of the Oily-Skinned Sycophants and a three-team trade in which the best player posted a .294 OBP last year.

Today is the Rule 5 draft, a baseball event of such importance that its greatest contribution to the world is people on the internet fighting over the use of roman numerals.

Which isn’t to say no deals were done yesterday and there wasn’t a whole bunch of groundwork laid down. Because there was, as you can see below!

The Trade Rumor That Will Outlive Us All

This feels like one of the baseball rumors that will live forever. The deal doesn’t sound like it will ever come to fruition (as the Yankees shot it down almost right away) but name recognition and divisive nature of Brandon Phillips will keep in front of mind for a while.

Brandon Phillips was really not good in 2013, failing to put up much in the way of offense despite gaudy RBI totals juiced up by the OBP tandem at the top of the Reds order. A few off-the-field comments and incidents and it appears Dat Dude BP’s time in Cincy is just about up.

The Yankees need a second base makes them a fit for Phillips, but his high salary and their relatively small amount of free money makes it tough for these two teams to line up for a fair trade.

So, rather than fair trades, ideas for terrible trades are quickly shot down. Brett Gardner is one season away from free agency but he is, for all intents and purposes, a better player than Phillips at a fraction of the cost.

Phillips much ballyhooed RBI totals masked a terrible offensive season, one in which the self-proclaimed clean-up hitter failed to slug even .400 – his .396 trailed the murderer’s row of Matt Domininguez, Andrelton Simmons, Gerardo Parra and a light-hitting defensive outfielder from the American League named…Brett Gardner.

Brandon Phillips is an elite defender and probably won’t be worse in 2014 than he was in 2013…but he is 32-years old and under contract until 2017 at around $12M per season – a number he was more than willing to renegotiate to waive the no-trade clause he implemented against New York (for this very reason). The Reds did not officially ask Phillips to do so, reports indicate.

If we squint, there is a way to make this trade real. The Yankees have extra outfielders and a need at second base, if a few more pieces (and a whole lot more dollars) enter the picture, this deal might make sense.

Even if it doesn’t actually happen, this is the kind of trade rumor that moves the needle (and or pings the Nana Index) so expect a lot more chatter about this move than others that eventually do go down.

The Invaluable J.J. Hardy

The Orioles floated the idea of extending J.J. Hardy a contract extension. Hardy is a fine defensive shortstop with a whole lot of pop (and a whole lot of swing-and-miss) in his bat, but there is the whole thing with the lanky kid who plays beside him.

Hardy is 31 and a free agent at the end of the year while Manny Machado is very much rehabbing a serious knee injury he is a shortstop waiting to happen. The Orioles have managed J.J. Hardy well, hanging onto him when others (read: this guy) might have traded him before his last contract extension, thus missing out on two very productive years.

Extending him again? I dunno. The easy play is trade him away for a starting pitcher, but that creates a hole at third base (with Machado moving to short, natch) and the Orioles are not wanting for future arms. Maybe extending Hardy is a good idea? Considering how well the previous contract went, Baltimore is definitely playing with house money.

Houston Feeling Morse?

The Astros are active this winter for the first time in years, showing interest in Mike Morse and signing pitcher Scott Feldman to a three-year, $30 million contract. The Feldman deal is attracting a fair amount of attention, as it seems way out of line with what other teams were willing to offer.

Michael Morse is a nice idea but I don’t see the dream of Mike Morse lining up with reality. I’m all for the Astros looking to improve their big league product and tossing a one-year deal at a player like Mike Morse certainly won’t make the team demonstrably worse, as they are free to cut him loose at just about any time.

But the idea that Morse will suddenly catch fire, hit a ton of home runs and turn himself back into a trade chip seems unlikely. A few good months won’t erase the memory of a player unable to secure a multi-year deal in the off-season. Trades like this happen far less than we realize. Reestablishing value is more than just running into fastballs for a handful of weeks.

Deals like that, deadline deals in particular, happen so rarely. The Marlon Byrd deal is a rare exception of a team, in this case the Mets, holding on to their flash in the pan long enough to extract a very reasonable prospect piece from a team determined to make the playoffs for the first time in a long time.

Bits and Bites

  • The Dodgers threw cold water on any and all Matt Kemp rumors. Not to suggest they still won’t move him but they’re certainly playing it, as there isn’t any real pressure to make a move. Not that they wouldn’t, of course…
  • Bartolo Colon signed with the New York Mets for two years and #20 million, not a bad contract for a player who put up around 9 WAR over the last three years.

    He is 40 and was suspended for PEDs in 2012 but the big man looks like a good bet from here. Interesting that Oakland essentially gave the same contract to Scott Kazmir, a player with far more injury AND performance concerns. Get in while the getting is good seems to be the lesson here. No matter how rich the game looks, the money dries up at some point.

  • Multiple teams are currently mulling over Omar Infante, some willing to go as many as four years? For Omar Infante? Omar Infante. The Yankees and Royals are two of teams courting the former Tiger/Marlin/Brave, so we can assume he has some value as an infielder. But four years? My mental calculus is still recalibrating. It might never be right again.
  • Baseball’s managers got together with the league to implement new rules to protect their players, eliminating home plate collisions with a stipulation all players must slide on plays at the plate.

    The rule is not yet baseball law as it is still subject to approval by both the players and owners groups, but it certainly is a step in the right direction if protecting players from harm is the goal.

    Which is should be. The game won’t suffer and we won’t be deprived of seeing the best players in the sport

  • Ervin Santana‘s name hasn’t popped up too often so far this week, but apparently the Tigers are sniffing around the hard-throwing right handed pitcher? That makes ZERO sense, despite love letters for the prospect Detroit received in exchange for Doug Fister.

    Fister is better and cheaper than Ervin Santana. Something stinks here, though it is probably just an overcooked rumor based on next to nothing. Here’s hoping, my worldview can’t take too many more kickings.

  • Your Pittsburgh Pirates signed Edinson Volquez, hoping to sprinkle the same pixie dust that turned Francisco Liriano back into a Cy Young contender. If it was an evangelical sermon on the benefits of strike throwing, the Pirates hope they can catch lightning in a bottle once again, provided conning Volquez into throwing strikes on a more regular basis is the Pittsburgh hustle here.

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