To casual fans, the buzz and banter of baseball's Hot Stove season must sometimes sound like jabber and gibberish. Sometimes we in the reporting world are guilty of assuming all of you are familiar with the ins and outs of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the slight and subtle word
To casual fans, the buzz and banter of baseball's Hot Stove season must sometimes sound like jabber and gibberish. Sometimes we in the reporting world are guilty of assuming all of you are familiar with the ins and outs of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the slight and subtle word choices that color coverage.
So here's a rundown of some jargon you'll hear this time of year and particularly in dispatches from the upcoming Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., broken down into a few different categories.
• Hot Stove Tracker
For more information, MLB.com has a comprehensive glossary of baseball terms and stat definitions. (We humbly recommend you bookmark it.)
"Sources": They are the anonymous backbone of the rumor mill, and sometimes that backbone is sturdier than others. A source can be a general manager, an agent, a manager, a scout -- anyone with access inside a given negotiation process. Inherently, some sources are more reputable than others, and ultimately some reporters are more reputable than others. But without sources, the Hot Stove season would be empty of so much of its intrigue.
"Kicking the tires on … ": This is a club's internal assessment of how a player might fit on the roster and/or budget. It doesn't mean a deal is alive and kicking, but it's a start.
"Checking in," "maintaining dialogue," etc.: This is the first real reported stage of a dalliance between a club and an agent in free-agent talks or two clubs in trade talks. It means almost nothing. Most teams check in on most available players, if only as a matter of due diligence and to get a sense of current market prices.
"In talks": If reported right, this is, believe it or not, a step up from "maintaining dialogue," because "in talks" implies genuine discussion, a floating of numbers or player names that could actually lead to a deal being struck.
"Closing in," "momentum toward a deal," etc.: This is the real deal. It signals that a transaction is down to the final dotting of I's and crossing of T's, and the fact that it is being reported means it's either about to become official or somebody is hoping another club swoops in at the last second with a more attractive offer.
"Luxury-tax threshold": This is sure to come up a lot at the Winter Meetings, because it influences the decision-making of a wide array of high-profile teams. Officially known as the Competitive Balance Tax, this is the amount ($197 million for 2018) that teams can spend on their player payrolls before tax penalties kick in. The tax-rate increases are based on the number of consecutive years a club exceeds the threshold. The Yankees have exceeded the threshold 15 straight years and are trying to get under it. The Dodgers have exceeded it five straight, and the Red Sox and Giants three straight.
"Arbitration": Players who have at least three years of big league service time and fewer than six go through the arbitration process to determine their salary for the upcoming season. If the team and player can't agree to a figure, they go to a hearing where a panel of arbitrators pick the number submitted by the player or the number submitted by the club. You'll hear this word mentioned a lot in conjunction with the Winter Meetings and the Hot Stove season in general, because arbitration can influence roster decisions. Sometimes teams have incentive to trade players who are getting costlier via the arbitration process, which for all intents and purposes begins in January.
"Super Two": This is a special classification for arbitration, and we'll admit it's a tricky one. Here goes: Players typically must accrue three years of Major League service time -- with one year of service time equaling 172 days on the 25-man roster or the Major League disabled list -- to become eligible for salary arbitration. Super Two is a designation that allows a select group of players to become eligible for arbitration before reaching three years of service time.
To qualify for the Super Two designation, players must rank in the top 22 percent, in terms of service time, among those who have amassed between two and three years in the Majors. Typically, this applies to players who have two years and at least 130 days of service time. The specific cutoff date varies on a year-to-year basis, but it generally applies to players who debut in the first 40 days of a season and stay in the Majors all year.
"Non-tender": There is a deadline by which all teams must tender a 2018 contract to all unsigned players on their 40-man rosters. This year, the deadline was Dec. 1. When a team decides to "non-tender" a player, that player joins the pool of available free agents. Non-tenders apply to arbitration-eligible players whose teams have: A. determined their performance will not match or exceed their projected salary; and B. determined that they are unable to trade the player for a worthwhile return.
"Surplus value": Basically, this refers to performance relative to paycheck. Teams all have their own statistical means to evaluate a player, but if, just for the sake of example, we use WAR (see below) and say one win above replacement is worth $8 million in the open market, we can multiple a player's WAR by $8 million to come up with a dollar figure that illustrates what his performance was worth. A 4-WAR player, then, would be worth $32 million. If he's making $10 million, he provided $22 million in surplus value. But a 1-WAR player making the same amount of money had negative value, at minus-$2 million. This concept is a means by which teams evaluate their trade chips and trade targets. Giancarlo Stanton, obviously, is a very valuable player, but his surplus value is affected by the fact that he'll make an average annual value of $29.5 million over the next 10 years.
"WAR": Wins Above Replacement -- a measure of a player's value in all facets of the game by deciphering how many more wins he's worth than a replacement-level player at his same position (e.g., a Minor League replacement or a readily available fill-in free agent). It's hardly infallible (and FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com, two suppliers of the WAR stat, actually use slightly different calculations to determine it), but it's the quickest way to get a general sense of what a player was worth in a given year. It comes up often in an environment like this, because saying a guy was a "5-WAR" or "5-win" player, for instance, is a pretty good way to say he had a stellar season, and essentially means that if you took this player off the team and replaced his playing time with a freely available Minor Leaguer, the team would have won five fewer games.
As noted, FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com have different formulas for WAR, so while FanGraphs had Aaron Judge leading the Majors with 8.2 WAR, Baseball-Reference.com had Jose Altuve at No. 1 at 8.3.
"Slash line": No, this is not an indication that a club has progressed from "kicking the tires" to slashing them. This is, rather, another quick and dirty way to assess a player, this time solely on the offensive side. The slash line is made up of batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. So a guy who hit .300 with a .400 OBP and a .500 SLG would have a .300/.400/.500 slash line (and would be a pretty darn good player, for the record). You'll see slash lines cited a lot with regard to free-agent hitters.
"wRC+": Weighted runs created plus. Another offense stat, and this one takes league and ballpark context into account. So a guy who plays his home games at Coors Field will have a lower wRC+ than a guy with identical stats in a more pitcher-friendly park. Here, 100 is league average, so a wRC+ of 150 is 50 percent better than league average, and 90 is 10 percent below league average. In 2017, Michael Trout led the Majors with a 181 wRC+.
"UZR" or "DRS": These are defensive valuations often cited in evaluations of an available player. UZR is Ultimate Zone Rating, which puts a run value on defense based on errors and on runs saved via throws, double plays and range. A UZR of 0 is average, while plus-15 and minus-15 would be Gold Glove-caliber and awful, respectively. DRS is Defensive Runs Saved, a metric calculated by John Dewan's "The Fielding Bible" in which players are measured in runs above or below average. A player who is plus-5 at second base is five "runs" better than the average second baseman.
"OAA": This is a new Statcast™ defensive metric (it is short for Outs Above Average) that only applies to outfielders and shows how many outs he has saved relative to his peers, accounting for not only the number of plays an outfielder makes (or doesn't), but also the difficulty of them. In 2017, Byron Buxton led the Majors with 25 OAA.
Winter Meetings mania
On to some more Winter Meetings-specific terms:
"Industry": Baseball is a game, but it is also an industry. The Winter Meetings truly are an industry gathering. Every element of an organization -- front-office executives, managers, coaches, scouts, medical trainers, clubbies, PR people, etc. -- is represented in some fashion, because all of these people gather with others from their respective groups to address that which needs to be addressed. You know … meetings. And this extends to the Minor League side, where representatives from clubs from Portland, Maine, to Fresno, Calif., are on hand to handle their business, including attendance at a mammoth Trade Show where the latest wares and promo items are peddled. In fact, the Winter Meetings are actually a Minor League event. Big league clubs just started tagging along at some point.
Beyond the teams, you have the player agents, the reporters, the television crews, the folks from the league office, the college kids in town for the Job Fair and the bewildered vacationers who had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they booked their rooms at the same hotel where this is all happening.
You'll hear the term "industry" a lot, and it can apply to all of the above. Mostly, though, in this context, it applies to the baseball-operations personnel weighing in on what they're hearing. Survey enough execs, and you'll get the "industry sense" on what's brewing on the transaction wire.
"Lobby": Yes, you know what a lobby is, but you've never seen a lobby quite like the one at the Winter Meetings. It is routinely jam-packed with scribes sharing gossip and staking out sources and with job-seekers carrying their stacks of resumes and hoping to run into some exec with an internship to offer. Stick around long enough, and you're sure to see your share of baseball celebs.
The oft-reported "buzz in the lobby" is a product of the endless baseball discussion taking place among the check-in desks and the artificial Christmas trees.
"Podium": When deals are actually consummated at the Winter Meetings, team representatives end up here -- at the podium, in the news-conference area attached to the media workroom, explaining their actions, sometimes even with the player present.
"Rule 5 Draft": This is the capper to the Winter Meetings. It takes place on the fourth and final morning (this year it's Thursday, Dec. 14) of the Meetings, and the concept of this Draft is to prevent players from being buried in a given club's Minor League system. Major League teams must protect players from the Rule 5 Draft by placing them on their 40-man rosters within three years (for those who were 18 or younger on June 5 preceding their signing) or four years (for those who were 19 and older on June 5 preceding their signing). Those left unprotected are eligible to be claimed by other clubs (drafting in reverse order of the previous season's standings, with alternating picks between AL and NL clubs), with a $50,000 price tag paid to the previous club and the stipulation that the player must spend the entirety of the following season on the active roster or disabled list. Otherwise, the player must be offered back to the original team.
The vast majority of players taken in the Rule 5 Draft are unprepared for full-time jobs in the big leagues, but there are always some who stick (the Padres took advantage of their rebuild conditions by drafting and keeping three players in 2017), and there have been monumental -- but extremely rare -- success stories like Johan Santana and Josh Hamilton that have come out of the Rule 5 Draft.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.