December 2010

A special Astros holiday greeting from us, to you. With our thanks.

For most of us, the holiday season means a few things: a time to celebrate with family, to take a break from work and/or school, to eat a lot, sleep too much and watch a whole lot of football.

For those of us in baseball, the holidays are sort of like Groundhog Day: We have just about six weeks left of the offseason before we head to Florida. Visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads will soon be replaced by real-life images of players practicing pickoffs, rundowns, hitting the cutoff man, infield popups and running quickly and efficiently from first to third.

But before we get too excited about pitchers fielding practice and driving 80 mph on the Florida Turnpike, we still have a few items of business to cross off the offseason check list.

Consider this holiday blog, first and foremost, a salute to the fans, intended as a hearty “thank you” for all of your support this year. Thank you for reading, emailing, tweeting, participating, responding, cheering, booing and venting. Thank you for the give and take, the back and forth, the daily interaction that is now, thanks to social media, a means of communication that is no longer an enigma — it’s simply a way of our sports-watching life.

The best part of social media is the ability to present the players and staff in a very real way — to show them as every day people who are not much different from you and me.

They have families. They have hobbies. They are funny. And smart. And opinionated. And strange.

They watch the news. They have political views. They think “The Hangover” was really, really funny. They think “Old Dogs” was really, really stupid.

They take losses by their college football teams personally. They think California is too liberal (if they’re from Texas). They think the size of the trucks people drive in Texas is absurd (if they’re from California).

They think Kenny Powers is one step below God. They feel the same way about Miley Cyrus, but won’t admit it.

They see “Maury” (as in Povich) as an acceptable way to pass the time before batting practice. They pour Advil onto their bats during losing streaks. They eat Lunchables and M&Ms on flights. They spend too much time on their hair. When they’re thinning at 30, they shave it off.

They shop at outlet malls. They eat at Whataburger. They’re addicted to their Xboxes and Wiis and Kindles. And their iPads. And their iPods. And their iPhones.

They gossip. They bicker. They debate. And when they accidentally…well, they blame it on the guy next to them.

But most importantly (at least for your friendly neighborhood blogger), they follow directions well, without requiring much explanation. Enter Little Miss Astros Sunshine, our unofficial holiday/offseason mascot, decked out in Santa’s gear with two cheerful messages protruding from her big yellow head.

She’s had quite the tour of Houston this offseason. Think of it as our special version of Where’s Waldo, with a little Flat Stanley mixed in. We carried her around with us and did what we do best — interrupted the daily lives of your Astros, all in the name of gratuitous photography. Some are posed, some are random. Hopefully, you’ll find all amusing.

For the most part, our subjects responded well to “Here. Hold this and act natural please.” For those needing a more detailed explanation: “Just do it. Bagwell did.”

From our Astros family to yours, we say, heartily, happy, happy holidays. Whatever you celebrate, however you celebrate it, we hope you enjoy this time with friends and family and good food and laughter. Enjoy!

Jeff Bagwell

Craig Biggio

Bill Hall, during an introductory tour with Ed Wade

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Drayton McLane

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Jose Cruuuuuuuuuuz

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Larry Dierker

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Brad Mills

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Mills’ office, when the skipper wasn’t looking

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Breakfast at the Buffalo Grille with Hunter Pence, Brian Bogusevic, Bud Norris

Jimmy Wynn

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Being interrogated by beat writers Brian McTaggart and Zachary Levine

Shane Reynolds

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Hanging in Brad Arnsberg’s locker (not everyone’s in town)

Working out with Brian Bogusevic…

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…and Humberto Quintero…

…and Wandy Rodriguez

holiday_wandy.JPGBeing treated by head athletic trainer Nate Lucero…

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…and taped up by assistant athletic trainer Rex Jones

At Astroline with Milo Hamilton…

…eavesdropping on Bill Brown…

holiday_brownie.JPG…getting golf tips from Jim Deshaies and Dave Raymond…

…and enjoying a cool refreshing beverage with Brett Dolan.

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Sitting in on a high-level meeting with Ed Wade and his staff…

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…and having some laughs with more front officers.

Equipment manager emeritus Dennis Liborio

Equipment manager Carl Schneider

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Visiting clubhouse manager Steve Perry (and his famous bobblehead collection)

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Junction Jack

All smiles with Bobby Meacham…

…and finally, delivering gifts at Texas Children’s Hospital with Doug Brocail.

See you in 2011!

 

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Astros caravan dates released. Autograph appearances listed here.

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The Houston Astros 2011 Caravan will begin on January 13 with three full days of visits throughout the Houston area.  In addition to numerous community visits, all three days will include free public autograph sessions at Academy Sports + Outdoors stores. 

The team will also make a two-day trip to Oklahoma City (Jan. 18-19), a three-day trip to Austin (Jan. 18-19) and San Antonio (Jan. 20), travel to Corpus Christi and Victoria (Jan. 21), and hit the road for three days in Temple (Jan. 24-26).  The team’s annual winter trek will wrap up back in Houston with a multicultural caravan that will visit fans in culturally diverse communities throughout Houston (Jan. 27-29).

More than 25 Astros players, alumni, coaches and front office staff will take part in the 2011 Caravan.  A listing of the public appearances open to fans are listed below. Additional details will be released in January, and please note that all player appearances are subject to change.

HOUSTON AREA – JANUARY 13-15

Thursday, January 13
Brian Bogusevic, Chris Johnson, Matt Lindstrom, Larry Dierker and Jim Deshaies

Academy Sports + Outdoors (Webster)
? 4:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
? OPEN TO FANS AND ALL MEDIA

Friday, January 14
Chris Johnson, Matt Lindstrom, Hunter Pence, Bobby Meacham, Jimmy Wynn and Dave Raymond

Academy Sports + Outdoors (Katy)
? 3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
? OPEN TO FANS AND ALL MEDIA

Saturday, January 15
Brian Bogusevic, Michael Bourn, Matt Lindstrom, Bud Norris, Shane Reynolds and Brett Dolan

Academy Sports + Outdoors (College Station)
? 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
? OPEN TO FANS AND ALL MEDIA

Academy Sports + Outdoors (Cypress)
? 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
? OPEN TO FANS AND ALL MEDIA

____________________________________________________________

OUTER MARKETS – JANUARY 18-21 AND JANUARY 24-26

Tuesday, January 18 – Oklahoma City
Brad Mills, Brandon Lyon, Jeff Bagwell, Milo Hamilton and Fred Nelson, Astros Director of Player Development

Academy Sports + Outdoors (Oklahoma City)
? 4:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
? OPEN TO FANS AND ALL MEDIA

Wednesday, January 19 – Austin
Clint Barmes, Brett Wallace and Bill Brown

Academy Sports + Outdoors (Austin)
? 5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
? OPEN TO FANS AND ALL MEDIA

Thursday, January 20 – San Antonio
Clint Barmes, Brett Wallace, Bill Brown

Academy Sports + Outdoors (San Antonio)
? 5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
? OPEN TO FANS AND ALL MEDIA
_____________________________________________________________

Friday, January 21 – Corpus Christi and Victoria
Brad Mills, Bud Norris, Doug Brocail, Milo Hamilton and Fred Nelson, Astros Director of Player Development

Academy Sports + Outdoors (Victoria)
? 5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
? OPEN TO FANS AND ALL MEDIA
_____________________________________________________________

Tuesday, January 25 – Temple
Brad Mills, Humberto Quintero and Milo Hamilton

Academy Sports + Outdoors
? 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
? OPEN TO FANS AND ALL MEDIA

Temple Mall
? 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
? OPEN TO FANS AND ALL MEDIA
______________________________________________________________

MULTICULTURAL CARAVAN HOUSTON AREA – JANUARY 27-29

Thursday, January 27
Brian Bogusevic, Alex Trevino and Francisco Romero

Fiesta Mart
? 4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
? Free, public autograph session
? OPEN TO ALL FANS AND MEDIA

Saturday, January 29
Jason Bourgeois, Michael Bourn, Alex Trevino and Francisco Romero

Astros/MLB Urban Youth Academy Clinic
? 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
? OPEN TO ALL FANS AND MEDIA

Why Bill Hall over Jeff Keppinger?

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Wade and Hall toured the field shortly after Hall’s signing was officially announced on Monday.  

Ed Wade set out this offseason to upgrade at second base or shortstop or both, hoping to find more run production from two spots that produced, combined, exactly nine home runs in 2010.

You might have looked at Jeff Keppinger’s numbers last year — .288, 34 doubles, 59 RBIs, and wondered why they would want to swap him out with Hall, who hit for a lower average — .247 — and had fewer RBIs (46). It comes down to power — the Astros need more pop in their lineup, and they feel Clint Barmes and Hall have more to offer than Tommy Manzella and Keppinger. Hall slugged .456 last year, as compared with Keppinger’s .393, and that, ultimately, is what prompted Wade to make this move.

“Bill brings some additional offensive punch to our lineup,” Wade said. “He hit 18 home runs in limited at-bats last year with Boston and we think our offense is enhanced with the run-producing potential that both he and Clint Barmes can provide. Bill’s defensive versatility allows us to consider using him a number of different ways, but our plan is to have him play second base regularly. Jeff Keppinger has done a very solid job for us over the past two seasons and with his versatility, we believe there will be plenty of at-bats to go around.”

Meanwhile, Hall, who has played everywhere in the infield (minus first base) and all three outfield positions during his nine-year career, is happy to be targeted for just one position in 2011 and said that opportunity gave the Astros an edge over his other suitors.

“I’ve been blessed with a lot of ability to play other positions and I do take pride in my defense,” Hall said. “I don’t consider myself a utility player. I consider myself a baseball player. I am happy with the opportunity to play one position. I always said, I’m really good at lots of positions, but if I concentrate on one, hopefully I can be great.”

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On another note, we’re only a couple weeks away from finding out if Jeff Bagwell will be voted into the Hall of Fame. I’m sticking to my earlier prediction that he’ll need more than one time on the ballot to be elected, but it’s been interesting to read about how voters feel about Bagwell and some of the other players eligible for election this year.

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I ran across one particularly interesting one by Jeff Fletcher, Sr. MLB writer for Fanhouse. As I read it, it kind of cemented my earlier argument that the voting system is somewhat flawed. This is not remotely a criticism of Mr. Fletcher, who, by the way, feels Bagwell is Hall of Fame worthy. But one paragraph, meant to illustrate Mr. Fletcher’s initial pursuit to figure out whether Bagwell indeed was a Hall of Famer, stood out to me:

Did anyone ever go to the ballpark just because he wanted to see Bagwell play? Did you ever read the phrase “future Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell” when he was playing?

The answer to question one: Yes. The answer to question two: Yes.

Yes, yes, yes.

But if you didn’t live in Houston, and weren’t surrounded by Astros baseball, and had only minimal exposure to this team, how could you possibly know that?

Mr. Fletcher looked at Bagwell’s raw stats and saw where Bagwell stacked up among the greatest players in history, and that was enough to put the first baseman on his Hall of Fame ballot. Not every voter will feel the same way when they look at Bagwell’s stats — at least not this year — but considering where the Astros fit into the national scope during Bagwell’s 15 years in the big leagues, I wonder how much that lack of exposure hurts him now.

In other words, the Astros were a really good team, for a really long time, and were largely ignored elsewhere in the country. If Bagwell had played in New York or Boston, would we even be discussing this? Or would he be considered a Hall of Fame no-doubter?

Winter Meetings, media-style. (Somewhere in this mess of cameras sits a big league manager.)

Once you’ve attended a few Winter Meetings, you get used to the hordes of media, the long days and the overflowing crowds of reporters that spill out of every nook and cranny of the hotel. From the lobby scene, to the gigantic media workroom that houses hundreds of reporters and serves as a stage for press conferences, to the hallways packed with dozens of regional and national television outlets, everywhere you look, there’s a reporter or 10 lurking, talking amongst themselves, talking with scouts, talking with GMs…all trying to find out the scoop. And tweeting, of course.

Add to that a couple of hundred job seekers, and it becomes unfailingly clear that if you have anything to do with the baseball industry (or are trying like heck to get someone to hire you), you’re at the Winter Meetings.

Throughout the experience, I carried my handy flip camera everywhere I went, hoping to capture some of the atmosphere, from a behind-the-scenes standpoint. It’s easy to take get used to the frenzied pace of the meetings when you’ve been to a dozen or so of them, but it’s important to not lose sight of what a scene it truly is: organized craziness.

We attempted to capture some of it here. Hope you like it.

Some of what you’ll see in the video:

Brad Mills chatting up the media.

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Terry Francona and Peter Gammons on Boston-based NESN.

A very relaxed, retired Lou Piniella talks with reporters after press conference honoring four outgoing managers.

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Yankees skipper Joe Girardi waiting for his media session…

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…set to begin as soon as Tony La Russa was finished with his.

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Winter Meetings Day 3: To sign or not sign (an outfielder)? That is the question

Competition for jobs between teammates during Spring Training is always welcomed by managers, which is why you often hear them say that too many good players at one position is “a good problem to have.”

Brett Wallace will compete with Carlos Lee for the first base job during Spring Training next year, and to hear Ed Wade talk, he fully believes Wallace, and his ability, gives him the edge. The worst-case scenario puts Lee at first and Wallace at Triple-A, which still isn’t a terrible set-up.

But there’s only one issue — not knowing how this is all going to end is making the here-and-now a little difficult.

Wade has a little bit of a conundrum to work through: if he signs or trades for an outfielder of some significance — meaning an everyday type player who might cost some bucks, then that pretty much pushes Lee to first and Wallace out of the picture for the start of 2011.

But what if they don’t sign that outfielder, and then Wallace doesn’t make the team out of Spring Training? That still pushes Lee to first, but leaves a hole in the outfield. Wade has internal candidates — Jason Michaels, Brian Bogusevic, for example — who can also step into starting roles if need be, but that puts a lot of responsibility on two players who either haven’t played everyday in many years (Michaels) or have almost no big league experience (Bogusevic).

At this point, Wade appears to be leaning toward not signing an outfielder and giving Wallace every chance to succeed. I agree with him — if the team is indeed going to get younger, and Wallace hit well at every level before getting to the big leagues — then it’s time to give him a real opportunity. Even if it means sending Lee back to left field.
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On another front, the annual managers’ luncheon, hosted by the Major League Baseball Public Relations department, took place on Wednesday at the Dolphin Hotel. The purpose of the lunch is to gather managers and the media who cover them for an informal, interview-free couple of hours. Each team has a table, but because the Astros’ media contingent is so small, we usually are joined by a few reporters who were frozen out of the bigger media markets, such as Boston, New York or Chicago.

I like this event, from the standpoint of watching the managers interact with each other during the half-hour “reception” leading up to the luncheon. There’s a lot of camaraderie in baseball, and most managers genuinely like each other and enjoy catching up. I managed to sneak in a few photos before and after:
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Bruce Bochy, Kirk Gibson

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Terry Francona, Bud Black

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Mike Scioscia, Dusty Baker

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Later in the afternoon, I snuck in to a networking session hosted by an organization called “Working Women in Baseball.” The group consists of female front office staffers in both Major League and Minor League baseball (most of the participants were from Minor League teams). The group has gathered at the Winter Meetings for three years in a row, and this year’s attendance — 110 — was the highest yet.

1208_women_baseball.JPGThe two-hour session is not a seminar, although they’ve had guest speakers in the past. Rather, this is a time for networking, for exchanging ideas and business cards as women in the baseball industry get face time with at least 27 other executives in their industry.

There were three speed networking topics from which to choose: Communication Skills for Women; Advancing in your Career; Recognizing and/or Increasing your value. The participants sat at a table of 10 of their choosing, and when the bell rang, they were instructed to state who they were and what club they were with, their title, and any insight they could share about the table’s topic.

Each table had 20 minutes to meet and greet. When the bell rang again, participants would have one minute to move to the next table and topic.

As I watched from the back of the room, I wished there was something like this in my day, back in the stone ages of the mid-1990s. Of course, back then, you’d be hard-pressed to find even 40 women who had full-time jobs in Minor League Baseball. I’m pleased with how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time.

 

Honoring managerial greats during a somewhat quiet Winter Meetings.

1207_four.JPGMajor League Baseball has received its share of criticism over the years, but one thing I think we can all agree on is how well it honors the people who have made significant contributions to the game.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Selig recognized the long and fruitful careers of four retiring managers — Joe Torre, Lou Piniella, Cito Gaston and Bobby Cox, all of whom called the 2010 season their last.

Three of the four managers were front and center before a huge media contingent, with one — Cox — unable to attend because of a family matter. Braves president John Schuerholz sat on the panel to represent his longtime colleague.

Their managerial successes speak volumes, of course, but it was fun to see the group together, in a relaxed atmosphere, reflecting on their careers with both humor and candor. Joe Torre recalled one particular trip of his dozens to Boston over the years: “Someone said to me, “If I had to choose between capturing Sadaam Hussein and beating the Yankees, I’m picking beating the Yankees.”

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Torre, Piniella, Selig

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Gaston, Schuerholz

Speaking of honoring our own, congratulations are in order for Greeneville Astros general manager David Lane, who received his second consecutive  Appalacian League Executive of the Year honor following the 2010 season. The award is based on categories such as marketing, operation, community relations and facility management.

The Corpus Christi Hooks were also recently recognized as the 2010 Bob Freitas “Organization of the Year” for Double-A Baseball. The Freitas Award is named for long-time Minor League ambassador Bob Freitas and conferred on franchises “on a path of long-term excellence and true parts of their communities.”

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Lane, left, with Greeneville assistant GM Hunter Reed. 

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Corpus Christi Hooks front office

It’s been a pretty slow Winter Meetings so far, and not just for the Astros. The feeling before the meetings started was that this could be an active week, considering the non-tender deadline, for the first time, expired before the meetings, not after. That means that every free agent who will be available this offseason is already out there and ripe for the taking.

Instead, there seems to be a stall as everyone waits for the big guns Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, etc. — to sign, at which time we’ll watch the dominos fall at a pretty rapid rate. Teams that thought they had a chance at one of the top prizes will then look to the next tier of pitchers/outfielders, and on and on.

But first, those top-tier free agents must sign, and the odds of that happening before the meetings end on Thursday are slim to none. I sense we’ll see a lot more movement in the next few weeks than we did over this four-day convention.

On the Lee front, I’ve received a lot of inquiries from you asking if the Astros are indeed “quietly” in on the coveted starting pitcher, as indicated a few days ago in a national report. That’s an easy one to answer — they’re not.

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Day One of Winter Meetings: gathering the troops, sizing up the market, and catching up with Brad Mills.

Ed Wade gathered his staff of about 15 in his suite at 2 p.m. ET on Monday to go over the very basic items every GM discusses this time of year: club needs, free agents that might be a fit, and teams that might work well as a potential trade partner.

A dry erase board sits in the middle of the room, with lists: of teams, of players that might interest them, of Astros players that might be considered trade bait. You’d be surprised how many names float out there. One thing I learned 10 years ago when I sat in on one of Gerry Hunsicker’s meetings with his scouts: few, if any, players on the roster get through the week without being mentioned at least once.

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(Dry erase board in Ed’s suite – the safe-for-public-consumption model)

The Winter Meetings are certainly a time to wheel and deal, but it’s also a time for evaluation and exploration. It also should be noted that 95 percent — and sometimes 99 or 100 percent — of things discussed never come to fruition. It’s how the business of baseball works. When you narrow the field down to two categories: a) free agents you can afford and b) teams that have someone you want, and you in turn have someone they want, well, it should come as no surprise that most of the time, nothing happens.

Obviously, I can’t get into specifics as to who and what was discussed during Wade’s meeting with his staff. But one thing did stand out to me: the Astros truly do not know who will get the majority of the playing time at first base in 2011. They hope Brett Wallace flat-out wins the job during Spring Training, but they also realize Carlos Lee may end up over there for much of the season. It will probably be the most interesting story line when we get to Kissimmee in February.

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Each member of Wade’s staff is assigned a few teams, with the directive to communicate with those front offices to see if there is a match. Most of that information-gathering takes place in the hotel lobby, where they talk with their counterparts, feel out the situation and bring back to the suite for more discussions with Wade.

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Although they garner the most attention, trades and free agent signings are not the only activities at the Winter Meetings. Athletic trainers from all 30 clubs gather for their own meetings, as do public relations staffs and traveling secretaries. Every manager also attends the Winter Meetings and meets with the media for 30 minute sessions, scattered over the first two days.

Brad Mills, walking well after undergoing knee replacement surgery in early November (and becoming a grandfather for the second time), met with reporters in the middle of the afternoon on Monday. It’s not that we need a reminder of how respected he is in baseball, but walking through the hotel with him was sort of like walking with a rock star. He was stopped every five minutes by managers, GMs, reporters…all wanting to shake his hand, wish him well, and most significantly, congratulate him on the Astros’ second-half turnaround in 2010. Even though Mills was a “rookie” manager this year, events like the Winter Meetings serve as a nice reminder that he’s been around the game a long, long time — three decades, in fact.

Here are some tidbits from his back-and-forth with reporters:

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Q. How do you view the first base situation between Carlos and Brett?  Seems like it’s Brett’s job but Carlos will be there in the ready if he can’t do it.

MILLS:  Yeah, that’s probably a pretty good way to say it, but at the same time, here in December, to say that this guy is going to be at this position and this guy is going to be at that position, where we might have a few question marks, might be a little bit difficult.  And whether we are going to say, Carlos is going to play first base or Brett is going to play base or whatever; let’s let these guys go play a little bit, and let’s continue to work both places for Carlos and Brett to be ready.

Q. What do you think the biggest challenge will be for (Jason) Castro?  Probably be your Opening Day catcher, but he struggled offensively last year.  What would you like to see him doing to stay in the lineup?

MILLS:  I mentioned Brett Wallace, the at bats he was able to get and I think they were crucial, and the same thing with Jason, the at bats that he was able to get last year can do nothing but help him moving forward to get better. He knows he has to make some adjustments.  He worked on making some adjustments last year. Some adjustments worked. Some didn’t. And so that experience moving forward are going to be a situation to where now he has something to fall back and some reference as well.

(Mills also said Jordan Lyles will be in the mix for the fifth starter job, but he’ll have to win it outright. They like his demeanor and makeup and they want to see how he fares against Major League hitters during Spring Training.)

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Brian McTaggart has the full rundown of the first day of the Winter Meetings here. The story also includes video from Mills’ visit with MLB Network. 

And enjoy the rest of the images…

Across the room from Mills, World Series champ Giants manager Bruce Bochy conducted his media session. Understandably, Bochy is a popular interview target this week.  

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Mills on the set with the MLB Network crew.

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Kevin Millar, now a member of the MLB Network staff, and Mills were together with the Red Sox when Boston won the World Series in 2004. So this interview was also a reunion of sorts.

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The media workroom includes a stage and a seating area in case teams have major announcements to make. Here we have the Padres announcing the Adrian Gonzalez trade.

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GMs meet with the media at the end of each business day of the Winter Meetings. Here Wade sits with the mighty Houston media contingent (Zachary Levine and Brian McTaggart).

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Totally unrelated, but other than the one by Rockefeller Center, this is the largest Christmas tree I’ve ever seen. It’s located in the lobby of the Dophin Hotel at the Walt Disney Resort.

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Winter Meetings: some wheeling, some dealing, and a whole lot of lobby trolling.

Fortunately, there’s a giant Christmas tree in the hotel lobby here at the Dolphin Hotel in Orlando, or I might think it was already Spring Training time again. After all, there was a very familiar feel to the ride from the airport — a long drive on Beeline Expressway (including two tolls), an even longer drive in I-4, and at long last, a full view of chain restaurants, t-shirts shops and outlet stores as far as the eye can see.

Orlando. It’s never met a convention it wasn’t willing to host, which is probably why the Winter Meetings end up here every few years. The weather is decent, it’s a convenient plane ride from most East coast cities, and it has first-rate facilities for any size convention known to mankind. We were reminded of this on the cab ride over when dispatch sent out an APB to all drivers: “WE HAVE SEVEN THOUSAND PEOPLE COMING OUT OF THE CONVENTION CENTER RIGHT NOW! WE NEED ALL HANDS ON DECK! YES, I SAID SEVEN THOUSAND! AND THEY ALL WANT TO GO TO DINNER. NOW!!!!”

I was happy that we were instead headed to the Dolphin hotel at the Walt Disney Resort and NOT the Convention Center, although this hotel isn’t exactly barren either. Welcome to the 2010 Winter Meetings, where nearly every member of every front office of every team, plus hundreds of reporters and dozens of agents are sandwiched into one confined area for a four-day baseball free-for-all. Participants fall into three categories: front offices who are looking to wheel, deal, or stand pat; media, searching for trade and free agent rumors, true (sometimes) or not true (most of the time); and agents, who are often the providers of the tidbits that eventually make their way through the information highway of the Winter Meetings — a.k.a. the hotel lobby.

The lobby is where most rumors start. They circulate around, and when valid, make it to the web. The addition of Twitter to the process has added an entirely new element to lobby trolling at the Winter Meetings, because now reporters don’t have to run back to their computers to break a story. Heck, no one even has to talk to each other anymore. They can just take out their handheld device of choice and within a few minutes send the competition into a tizzy. It’s truly a fascinating scene, especially when a high-powered agent or high-profile general manager just happens to be strolling through the lobby. (This is, of course, not the way it actually works. No one just randomly strolls to where a couple hundred reporters are hanging out unless they want to be seen and/or have something to say).

Ed Wade’s entire front office staff is here, along with manager Brad Mills. Wade will address the media at the end of each business day, so be sure to check back for updates on that front. We’ll also be tweeting throughout the Winter Meetings and hopefully bring you a little closer to what goes on at this four-day offseason convention.

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On another note, Hunter Pence and Cincinnati pitcher Mike Leake are engaged in a hash tag war, all for the sake of charity. Fans are encouraged to tweet either #GoAstros or #GoReds, depending on your allegiance. If #GoAstros wins, Leake will donate $1,000 to the Sunshine Kids, and if #GoReds wins, Pence will donate $1,000 to the SPCA in Cincinnati.

The contest goes until midnight Monday and if you follow Pence on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed he’s pretty fired up about this contest. So if you have a moment, please tweet #GoAstros and make the day of your friendly right fielder.

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