"I thought the GMs did something that was really well conceived and very helpful and that is in their meeting the 30 of them stood up individually and identified what their goals and their targets were and what kind of deals they would consider," Astros president of baseball operations Tal Smith said. "The same kind of conversation you used to be sending people around the convention floor, you'd send your scout to talk to a scout from that club to find out 'What are you guys looking for?' and 'What do you intend to do?' and so on and so forth, and that was sort of a cumbersome process.
"To my knowledge, this has not been done before. This just saves some time. You see people in the lobby at midnight, generally pro scouts and assistant GMs trying to get [the information] from their counterparts. Why not get it from the GMs themselves?"
Right off the bat, the GMs got a clearer picture of where each club stood and which clubs might make the best fit for potential trades. Each GM talked for less than two minutes. In less than an hour each GM had a clearer picture of who was available and what teams' needs are.
"Typically, what you normally do is run around trying to gauge each club about what they want, and one thing Larry and Theo thought that would be beneficial was get all 30 GMs in a room together and each stand up and say what are you looking for and what are you trying to move," Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. "Sometimes I'd leave a meeting and there were still three or four clubs I hadn't gotten to yet."
Angels GM Tony Reagins called the new system "outstanding."
"This being my first General Managers Meeting in this role, I thought it was great because you get an idea of who the players are, what they're looking for, what's available to you and what you might be able to give," Reagins said. "I think the openness and forthrightness was impressive to me because I wasn't expecting it."
Cashman and Reagins weren't sure if the new process would add kindling to the Hot Stove market, but they said it wouldn't surprise them if that proved to be the case.
Some were surprised at some of the information heard during the session.
"A couple of things caught me off guard that I wasn't expecting," Reagins said. "It was good to be able to dialogue about them."
"Getting the information from the horse's mouth, to me, it was one of those 'Why didn't we think of this sooner?' ideas."
-- Astros GM Ed Wade
Cubs GM Jim Hendry also had to change some of his pre-meeting perceptions as a result of what was revealed during the GM session.
"I know, myself, I sat there and made a few notes about some clubs coming out of our org[anization] meetings we might not have thought we had some potential trade talks and a few that you eliminated," Hendry said. "Nobody got overly specific, I don't think, but you can cut some corners on walking across hotels in Nashville, [site of this year's Winter Meetings]."
Hendry said most of the information he received was "pretty much right on with what our scouts thought teams' needs are" and that he believed the GMs were being candid.
"I thought Theo and Larry Beinfest had some real new good concepts, whatever information you feel comfortable sharing can only help," Hendry said. "There's no sense not telling the truth, the facts always come out in the end anyhow. They weren't tipping all their hands, but I thought it was a good ice breaker."
Epstein said he and Beinfest came up with the idea after considering recent gatherings.
"We were looking for ways to help return these meetings to their original purpose which is to give GMs a chance to talk about trades in a relaxed setting and catch their breath from the long season before the frenzy of Hot Stove really heats up," Epstein said. "Seems like in recent years there's been an increased agent and media presence, which is great on one hand. On the other hand, it does take away from the original intent of these meetings.
"We figured if we could get all 30 GMs together in the same room in an informal relaxed setting, it might increase trade activity. We also designed a lounge for GMs and baseball operations personnel only to continue that theme."
Though there haven't been any trades yet, more groundwork has been laid in less time than typically seen at these gatherings, according to several GMs.
But will it lead to more trades?
"Maybe," Epstein said. "I think there are larger dynamics at play. The free-agent market is fairly weak this year, teams are going to be forced into the trade market so that might lead to increased activity. While the meetings were helpful, I'm not sure they're going to drive too many trades in and of themselves."
Smith believes there could be more trades before the Winter Meetings than usual because of the new setup.
"Everybody's got their own style, and it was a long time ago when I was a GM, but I wanted to talk to another GM," Smith said. "You've got your own staff there for counsel and advice and their assessment and evaluation, but as far as doing a deal, it's a lot easier to go head to head with the other guy that's got the authority or responsibility for doing it instead of trying to work it through a system. Obviously, you can say whatever you want, but I think, for the most part, they were pretty candid. That helps move the process along, you don't have to do as much exploring. You have a GM standing up and telling the other 29 clubs, 'This is what I'm looking for and what I might be able to consider.'
"Obviously, you don't lay all your cards out there, but at least you get the same kind of indication that people used to scurry around trying to ascertain from other emissaries of that club. I think that's helpful. My point is I think the process from the standpoint of potential trades is probably further along than what it normally is because everybody's got pretty much an idea as to what the other clubs are looking for or what their competition may be."
Indians GM Mark Shapiro was cool to the idea at first, but he now calls it a great addition. Shapiro isn't shopping players, but he has let GMs know that no one is untouchable.
"Always unusual to announce you're trading guys," Shapiro said. "One way we used to have to do it is to flush out exactly who is interested. This was a very efficient way to find out what needs are out there. It was a great thing. I was reluctant at first, but it's a great idea."
White Sox GM Ken Williams is another who likes the new system because it creates more conversations without creating more rumors.
"I guess I've long since stopped worrying about the rumor mill and accepted the fact that by the sheer nature kind of how we conduct business and the aggressiveness that we exhibit that people are going to lump us in with certain situations regardless of who they see us talking to or not talking to, that's who we are," Williams said. "In terms of the ability to mingle freely and be kind of more isolated, it's certainly good for bonding."
Astros GM Ed Wade called the new method "a very efficient way of doing things."
"Getting the information from the horse's mouth, to me, it was one of those 'Why didn't we think of this sooner?' ideas," Wade said.
The GMs will go around the room again on the first day of the Winter Meetings on Dec. 3.