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A Winter Meetings for the ages results in Cole, Strasburg, Rendon signings

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks during the 2019 Major League Baseball Winter

(Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Baseball hasn’t had a blockbuster Winter Meetings like this one in a long time.

Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Anthony Rendon were the big winners.

Superagent Scott Boras, too.

It all happened so fast, a welcome development for baseball fans who just last year saw the big free agent derbies drag deep into spring training.

The industry’s top players — general managers, managers, agents — had barely set up shop in San Diego’s sprawling Grand Hyatt when news broke that Strasburg, the World Series MVP, had agreed to a seven-year, $245 million deal to stay with the Washington Nationals.

Late on the second night, the big sweepstakes ended. The New York Yankees, as expected, had agreed to a record nine-year, $324 million deal with Cole.

On the night of the third day, the Los Angeles Angels, who had been suiting Cole, agreed to a deal with third baseman Rendon for seven years and $245 million.

Whew.

Boras went 3-for-3 for a whopping $814 million in three days.

It doesn’t get bigger than that. 

There were other developments, including some specifics on MLB’s investigation into allegations that the Houston Astros stole signs on their way to the 2017 World Series title, and MLB’s fight with Minor League Baseball.

There’s a growing sense within the industry that there will be discipline in the Astros case, although commissioner Rob Manfred refused to get ahead of the investigation.

While those controversies will drag on, there was an instant buzz after the Winter Meetings produced huge signings well before Christmas.

That’s a welcome change in a sport where free agent signings had been dragging later and later into the new year. Last year was a prime example, when the Manny Machado and Bryce Harper sweepstakes went deep into spring training. Machado agreed to a 10-year, $300 million deal with the San Diego Padres on Feb. 22. It took six days more for Harper to agree to a $330 million, 13-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. 

Those two superstars were represented by rival agents — Machado by Dan Lozano, and Harper by Boras. Each wanted to be the last to sign, and the process dragged on.

Maybe it’s more than coincidence that Boras represented this year’s Big Three, and the market moved quickly.

It’s interesting to note that Cole and Rendon chose not to sign with their “home” teams, disappointing fans in those areas. Cole, who grew up in Newport Beach, California, and pitched at UCLA, spurned the Angels and went with the Yankees. Rendon, who grew up in Texas, chose the Angels over the Rangers. 

Strasburg chose his “baseball home,” as Boras put it, while his hometown team, the San Diego Padres, had no chance to sign the big right-hander. Strasburg grew up in a San Diego suburb and pitched for the late, great Tony Gwynn at San Diego State. But the Padres apparently didn’t even engage with Strasburg, perhaps scared off by the big price tag after they’d signed big-money free agents Machado and Eric Hosmer the previous two years.

“I think some of the greatest players in the game, they have the origins of where they’re raised and their home that they’ll never forget,” Boras said while discussing the Strasburg deal. “Then they also have their baseball home.”

Strasburg will get the chance to help the Nationals try to win consecutive World Series titles.

Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals speaks during a parade to celebrate the Washington Nationals World Series victory

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Cole will try to help the Yankees get to the proverbial next level. The Bronx Bombers lost in the AL Championship Series twice in the last three years.  The Yankees haven’t won the World Series since 2009, which is why general manager Brian Cashman had to land Cole. The signing completes the circle for Cole. He was a first-round pick of the Yankees out of high school in 2008 before deciding to go to UCLA.

The Angels hope the addition of Rendon will give them the playoff success that has eluded three-time MVP Mike Trout. Trout has appeared in just one playoff series. In 2014, the Angels were swept by the Kansas City Royals in the division series. The Angels also hope that two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani is back at full health.

A week before the Winter Meetings, Boras negotiated a four-year, $64 million deal with Cincinnati for infielder Mike Moustakas.

Combined with the megadeals for his Big Three, that’s a whopping $878 million in just four contracts.

With Boras’ Big Three signed, there will still be plenty of free-agent signings and trades in the coming days and weeks. Still looking for landing spots are third baseman Josh Donaldson and starting pitchers Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Dallas Keuchel, and outfielders Yasiel Puig and Nicholas Castellanos.

There are rumors of a trade that would send Francisco Lindor from the Cleveland Indians to the Los Angeles Dodgers. There was a report that the Colorado Rockies are open to trading perennial All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado.

The Hot Stove never gets cold.

In another development, Manfred said there is still a lot of work to do in the Astros investigation. The commissioner is looking into whether Houston used a television to steal signs during its 2017 World Series title season

“I think that this is probably the most thorough investigation that the commissioner’s office has ever undertaken,” Manfred said. “I think we’ve interviewed already nearly 60 witnesses, 76,000 emails, a whole additional trove of instant messages.”

“That review has caused us to conclude that we have to do some follow-up interviewing. It is my hope to conclude the investigation just as promptly as possible, but it’s really hard to predict how long something like that is going to take.”

The commissioner said it would be “wholly inappropriate for me to speculate about what types of discipline might be in play. I’m going to get all the facts in front of me and make a decision as promptly as possible on discipline.”

Manager Alex Cora of the Boston Red Sox speaks with the media during the 2019 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings

(Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

All 30 MLB managers held news conferences during the Winter Meetings. A.J. Hinch of the Astros and Alex Cora of the Red Sox said they have cooperated in MLB’s investigation. Carlos Beltrán, who was a player with Houston in 2017, wouldn’t say if he’d been interviewed by investigators.

“This is a very complicated and very involved process,” Hinch said. “I have a lot of respect for the process. If I told you how much time I spent with MLB and the investigation, I know we’re not going to wrap this up in a 20-minute news conference here. So I will decline comment. I’ve been asked not to talk about it until the investigation is complete.”

Asked if he’s worried he’ll be suspended, he said: “It’s part of the investigation.”

Hinch was asked if the investigation throws all he’s accomplished with the Astros into doubt.

“You said ‘investigation,’ so I can’t answer it,” he said to laughter. 

“We have a really good team. We have a lot of good things going. We’re trying to build the 2020 team. Our energy’s been spent on that. Obviously, it’s been a different offseason for us.”

“So, again, moving forward, I hope there’s going to be a day when we get past this and we can move forward. But until they’re done with the investigation, everything that it encompasses, I just can’t talk about.”

On another major issue, Manfred said Minor League Baseball should “move off the take-it-or-leave-it status quo approach” to ongoing negotiations. 

MLB and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues are negotiating a contract to replace one expiring after 2020 season. MLB has proposed cutting 42 of its 160 affiliates. It is concerned about the quality of facilities, travel, and player salaries.

“This has been portrayed as a decision that has been made,” Manfred said. “The fact of the matter is at the point in time this became public, we had precisely three negotiating sessions. It is by no means a fait accompli as to what the agreement is going to look like.”