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Gillick reflects on historic 2000 Winter Meetings

Ex-Seattle GM regrouped, built 116-win team after Texas signed A-Rod to megadeal
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

SEATTLE -- While some in attendance at the 2000 Winter Meetings in Dallas remember it as the year of the ice storm, nearly everyone in the world of sports better recalls the bombshell deal that shook baseball and the Mariners' contingent at the Loews Anatole Hotel where Major League executives were hunkered down riding out their own concerns about skyrocketing salaries.

It was the third day of those Meetings, on Dec. 10, when Alex Rodriguez, Seattle's rising young star, announced he was signing a 10-year, $252 million blockbuster with the Rangers that far eclipsed the largest deal ever handed out in the Majors at the time.

SEATTLE -- While some in attendance at the 2000 Winter Meetings in Dallas remember it as the year of the ice storm, nearly everyone in the world of sports better recalls the bombshell deal that shook baseball and the Mariners' contingent at the Loews Anatole Hotel where Major League executives were hunkered down riding out their own concerns about skyrocketing salaries.

It was the third day of those Meetings, on Dec. 10, when Alex Rodriguez, Seattle's rising young star, announced he was signing a 10-year, $252 million blockbuster with the Rangers that far eclipsed the largest deal ever handed out in the Majors at the time.

These Meetings about more than just Ohtani

But Mariners general manager Pat Gillick, who had been forced to trade Ken Griffey Jr. the previous winter in his first months on the job, wasn't among those who remained frozen by the ice or blown away by A-Rod's departure.

Instead, Gillick kept doing what he did best, as the future Hall of Fame GM continued working and talking and lining up deals for what turned into perfect pieces for a Mariners club that shook off the loss of its two superstars and went on to win a regular-season-record 116 games that season.

Video: TEX@SEA: Mariners celebrate 2001 season before game

"I'll say this, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good," Gillick said this week from his home in Birmingham, Mich. "Sometimes it looks like it's not going to work out, and for one reason or another, it does. But even these days, putting so much money into one guy, a guy like [the Marlins' Giancarlo] Stanton, that's a big commitment and it's difficult to get out of it later.

"I still don't think we've learned that [as an industry]."

Hot Stove Tracker

The Mariners went into those Meetings fully bent on re-signing their prize free-agent shortstop, who already was a four-time American League All-Star and coming off a spectacular season where he hit .316 with 41 homers and 132 RBIs. But things don't always go as planned, and Gillick didn't miss a beat going to his Plan B.

"We certainly wanted to bring Alex back," Gillick said. "We made him an offer, as I recall something like $19 million a year for five years, so $95 million, and we were prepared to go a little higher. But his rep indicated we weren't even in the ballpark. When he said, 'You're not even in the territory,' we knew he was probably going somewhere else.

"We couldn't allocate that much payroll to one player. We felt we needed to spread payroll over our entire roster, maybe 25 guys at $4-5 million, as opposed to one guy making a lot of money at that time."

Instead of a megadeal for Rodriguez, Gillick struck gold on a one-year, $3.25 million pact for second baseman Bret Boone on a signing that was finalized a few days before Christmas.

Boone wound up posting a .331/.372/.578 line with 37 homers with 141 RBIs, finishing third in the AL Most Valuable Player Award voting that year.

The guy who won the AL MVP Award? That would be Ichiro Suzuki, who also was named AL Rookie of the Year, having signed with Seattle just before the start of those Winter Meetings.

Gillick credits Jim Colborn, the Mariners' scout in the Pacific Rim at the time, with being the driving force behind acquiring Ichiro. Seattle's Japanese-based ownership group was willing to pay a $13 million posting fee to land the 27-year-old, and it didn't take long for Gillick to see they'd found someone special.

"The day after we got him, he came out [to Safeco Field], and Dave Myers, our third-base coach who lived in Gig Harbor, came up to throw BP," Gillick said. "Ichiro got in the box and took 150 swings and never stepped out, never said, 'I need a blow,' or 'Give me a couple minutes.'

"He swung 150 times off Myers, and I said to myself, 'This guy is different. This guy is a bit of a freak,' just from the standpoint of how you could do something like that in the winter time, not even in the season. He was a good player. It worked out well."

Gillick also brought back a pair of former Mariners relievers shortly after the Meetings, signing Jeff Nelson and a 38-year-old Norm Charlton, two veterans who played key bullpen roles on the 116-win team.

And all that just continued the string of amazingly productive free-agent signings Gillick had begun in his first winter in Seattle in 1999, when he brought in first baseman John Olerud, closer Kazuhiro Sasaki, starter Aaron Sele, setup man Arthur Rhodes and veteran leaders Stan Javier and Mark McLemore to set the stage for a club that thrived even after losing two of the game's all-time greats.

"We had a pretty well-balanced club," Gillick said. "Good pitching, solid defense, great hitting and probably the best DH in the business in Edgar [Martinez]. And staying healthy was a big part of 2001. I thought it was going to be difficult with A-Rod gone, but when Ichiro started playing, I knew he'd pick up some of the offense we'd lost in Alex.

"And Boone was kind of down at the end in free agency, and we got him late at a pretty reasonable price. A lot of fortunate things happened for us."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

Seattle Mariners