There is one event every offseason that serves as the unofficial launchpad for the season to come: the MLB winter meetings. While the hot stove has been on for more than a month now, the stewpot full of MLB players and teams isn’t close to boiling yet. But the heat gets turned way up at the Winter Meetings, and typically, that’s when things start to happen.
The winter meetings generally take place annually in early December, but the location changes from year to year. This year, the event is being held Dec. 3-6 in Nashville, Tennessee.
With the winter meetings — and possibly some big signings — right around the corner, here’s everything you need to know about the biggest event in baseball until pitchers and catchers report in February.
What are the winter meetings?
The winter meetings are an industry gathering at which baseball people (team executives, scouts, agents, league officials, media, etc.) come together in one city (and one hotel) for three days. There are workshops, strategy sessions, a job fair (with plenty of job interviews), a trade show and tons of networking. Also, over the course of the event, teams meet with the representatives of players they’re interested in signing.
Who will be at the winter meetings?
The top executives for all 30 MLB teams will definitely be there. Every team organizes its front office differently, so that could mean general managers, presidents and/or vice presidents of baseball operations and maybe even some pro scouting managers and player personnel directors. But no matter who gets sent to Nashville, all 30 teams will be represented. Team owners sometimes hop on their jets and make appearances as well.
Player agents will attend, sometimes with players themselves, typically those who are currently free agents. Agents for Shohei Ohtani and Blake Snell, two of the biggest names on the free-agent market, will likely be in Nashville, along with others. Agents for recently posted Japanese players such as Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Shota Imanaga are also likely to be there, as their clients have a limited window (45 days from posting) to sign with an MLB team.
The media will also be there. Writers, TV personalities, content creators and more will be swapping stories and breaking news in the lobbies, hallways and meeting rooms of the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Hotel. If social media posts from previous winter meetings are any indication, they will also be sampling some of Nashville’s best food and libations.
What happens at the winter meetings?
The short answer? Just about everything baseball-related.
The longer answer? Free agents are signed, trades are made, and the groundwork is laid for future trades and signings. Recent and soon-to-be college graduates, as well as interns and other lower-level baseball staffers, meet with teams and outside baseball companies to find job opportunities. People who communicate virtually for the vast majority of the year get to see one another in person. Players get to meet their possible future bosses and sometimes their future teammates.
While texting and email have taken over as the primary modes of communication for executives, agents and reporters, nothing can replace the chemistry of putting several hundred baseball decision-makers and journalists in one hotel for three days. It’s like a petri dish, with all the tiny organisms reacting to one another in close proximity and nothing happening in isolation.
That said, there have also been years when no big news comes out of the winter meetings. Hopefully 2023 won’t be one of those years.
Which free agents could be signed at the winter meetings?
With so many high-level free agents still on the board, this could be an action-packed winter meetings.
The name on everyone’s lips is still Shohei Ohtani. While the two-way player won’t pitch in 2024 due to elbow surgery, he’s a prolific hitter who would significantly improve any MLB lineup the moment he arrives. It’s not known when he might sign with a team, but there’s no reason it couldn’t happen next week.
Starting pitcher Blake Snell, the 2023 NL Cy Young Award winner, is still on the market. And with Aaron Nola and Sonny Gray already signed (Nola returned to the Philadelphia Phillies on a seven-year contract, Gray signed a three-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals), he’s by far the best free-agent starter available.
Center fielder and first baseman Cody Bellinger, starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery and third baseman Matt Chapman are also unsigned free agents who could land with new teams during the meetings. Japanese pitchers Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Shota Imanaga and Korean center fielder Jung-hoo Lee have been posted and are free to sign with MLB teams.
What other topics might be discussed at the winter meetings?
The winter meetings are distinct from the MLB owners meetings, at which commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB owners meet to discuss high-level business, and the meetings of the competition committee, which is when rule changes are proposed and approved. The major changes that come from these meetings will be the results of trades and signings.
But a lot has happened in MLB over the past year, and more changes are in store for 2024. If Manfred makes an appearance at these meetings, he will almost certainly hold a news conference. These are a few of the topics he might discuss.
World Series ratings: An average of 9.1 million people watched the 2023 World Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers, the lowest number on record.
Attendance: In contrast to the World Series ratings, live baseball games were more popular than ever in 2023. For the first time since 2017, more than 70 million people attended MLB games, a 9.6% increase over 2022.
New rules: MLB implemented a pitch clock in 2023, which shaved an average of 24 minutes off games, as games averaged under 2 hours, 40 minutes — the shortest game length in almost 40 years. The MLB competition committee has already reportedly proposed another rule change for 2024, which would shorten the pitch clock from 20 to 18 seconds when runners are on base.
Oakland Athletics’ move to Las Vegas: MLB owners approved the move last month, though it has not been well received among fans, especially not those in Oakland and even in Nevada.
Realignment/expansion: Manfred has said he wouldn’t consider adding any new teams (which would require divisional realignment in both leagues) until the A’s and the Tampa Bay Rays settled their stadium problems. With those matters now resolved, is it time to add new teams to MLB?
What else happens at the winter meetings?
While we expect the signings and trades to be the most prominent news producers at the event, there are a few other things that happen as well.
MLB draft lottery: The 2024 MLB Draft order will be determined — yes, with ping-pong balls — via baseball’s second draft lottery. All of the past season’s non-playoff teams are entered into a lottery for the top six picks in the draft, with the odds weighted in reverse order of the standings. That means that this year, the A’s, Royals and Rockies all have the highest odds of earning the top pick in the draft, at 18.3%.
After the first six picks are determined by the lottery, the remaining non-playoff teams will be assigned picks based on their 2023 records. The draft lottery drawing will take place at 3:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, with the results broadcast at 5:30 p.m. ET.
Rule 5 draft: This draft is for players who are already on a team but aren’t on the 40-man roster. Teams without a full 40-man roster are able to choose certain players from other teams, and this requires every team to make tough decisions about whom to protect. In the Rule 5 draft, teams draft in reverse order of the standings from the previous season. If they choose a player, they must send $100,000 to that player’s team and keep the player on their 26-man roster for the entire season; otherwise, the player has to be offered back to his original team.
Not every player left off a 40-man roster can be selected in this draft. To be eligible, they must fall into one of two categories:
Signed at age 19 or older and played in professional baseball for at least four years
Signed at 18 or younger and played for at least five yearsThe Rule 5 draft will take place Thursday.
Hall of Fame contemporary era committee announcement: The Baseball Hall of Fame Contemporary Era Committee, which in October announced its eight-person ballot of managers, executives and umpires for Class of 2024 enshrinement, will meet Sunday. The members of the committee will cast their final ballots, and the results will be announced that evening at 7:30 p.m. ET on MLB Network’s “MLB Live.” Here are the eight candidates:
Cito Gaston (manager)
Davey Johnson (manager)
Jim Leyland (manager)
Ed Montague (umpire)
Hank Peters (executive)
Lou Piniella (manager)
Joe West (umpire)
Bill White (executive)