12/06/08 10:00 AM EST
Welcome to Vegas: Let the deals begin
What happens at the Winter Meetings will form shape of '09 season
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
Remember that old animated short playing before movies as you were just starting to dig past the buttered part of your popcorn? Well, it's a fitting mantra for baseball's annual Winter Meetings, which descend upon the neon-studded, oxygen-infused ground floor of the swanky Bellagio Hotel and Casino this weekend.
Yup, Major League Baseball has chosen Las Vegas for the much-anticipated four days of wheeling and dealing, and it's a fitting locale.
Players, agents, front-office executives and media members will scurry around every bit of lobby space not occupied by craps tables and buffet spreads to constantly trade information, rumors and all-around baseball buzz. Then they'll head up to their suites and hammer out the framework of deals over the phones.
By the time the jets leave McCarran Airport on Wednesday afternoon, some clubs will have rolled the dice on high-dollar free-agent signings or multiplayer trades, some will have stood pat with their 2008 hands while hoping for an injury-free upcoming season with improving young rosters and some will have flat-out folded, unloading players as though they were the deftest of blackjack dealers.
No matter what happens, one thing will be as certain as the availability of a $2.00 shrimp cocktail at 4 a.m. on the Strip: Baseball's 2009 season will begin to drastically take shape over the next four days, and the questions that have been boiling over that Hot Stove will begin to solidify into answers.
Here are the top five things to keep an eye on.
The CC Shuffle: Lefty horse CC Sabathia has been offered a huge contract from the New York Yankees (a reported six years, $140 million) and has let it sit for a while, probably waiting for just this moment to see where the market will or won't go. And guess what? He's not the only one.
It's safe to say that the entire market hinges on his contract, which will then roll into that of A.J. Burnett, Derek Lowe, Ben Sheets and the rest of the multiple available starting pitchers, including Pedro Martinez, Kenny Rogers, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Jamie Moyer, Brad Penny, Jon Garland, Paul Byrd, Braden Looper, Josh Fogg, Jon Lieber, Livan Hernandez and Mark Hendrickson.
The Scott Boras Show: At every Winter Meetings, agent Boras shows up in the hotel lobby on the first day and is greeted by a bigger-than-ever throng of reporters, TV cameras and onlookers as he extols the virtues of his free-agent clients. This year will be no different. In fact, he might have a bigger Vegas audience than Celine Dion.
Boras represents the two best -- and priciest -- bats on the market in Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez, and as always, he's been heard asking for many years to go along with their many millions.
So with Sabathia reportedly in the sights of the Yankees, Giants and Angels, and maybe others; Teixeira most likely on the radar of the Yanks, Angels and Red Sox, at the very least; and Manny's status as up in the air as ever, Boras will have plenty to do -- and say.
And with all that on his plate -- plus a solid third baseman in Joe Crede, two accomplished veteran catchers in Jason Varitek and Pudge Rodriguez, starters Lowe and Oliver Perez, reliever Eric Gagne and outfielder Garret Anderson -- it will be no Vegas vacation for Boras.
K-Rod and the closer glut: Francisco Rodriguez set the Major League single-season saves record last year, notching 62 for the Angels. He turned down a reported three-year, $34 million offer from the only team he's ever known, hoping for a few more years and up to $15 million a year.
But with cheaper options available in a flooded free-agent closer market (Brian Fuentes, Kerry Wood, Brandon Lyon and Trevor Hoffman lead the class) and a few attached names -- J.J. Putz, Huston Street, Bobby Jenks -- possibly available in trades, it figures to be an interesting and potentially disappointing week for K-Rod.
It's money that matters: Will the nationwide recession affect the salary numbers that have exploded in the last few Winter Meetings? Could be, according to the speculation of numerous GMs.
And with the sad recent passing of Blue Jays owner Ted Rogers, the uncertainty at the helm of that franchise basically turns a would-be major Winter Meetings player -- the improving Jays were expected to battle hard to keep Burnett and possibly jump in the mix for a lot more -- into a nonfactor.
Once again, we'll look to the Sabathia deal to set the barometer, but after the ink has dried on his deal and those of Teixeira and Ramirez, it wouldn't be surprising to see much smaller numbers in step with the signs of the times.
The quiet storms: Every winter, moves are made that don't seem like big deals at the time but make a major impact on the following season. And with tons of very good pieces to Major League puzzles out there, the biggest acquisitions of these Meetings might be some of the least-publicized.
So look past those slot machines and pay attention, because infielders Rafael Furcal, Orlando Cabrera, Casey Blake, Orlando Hudson and Juan Uribe are out there, as are outfielders Milton Bradley, Raul Ibanez and Juan Rivera.
Then there's the Rule 5 Draft, which in the past has produced such stars as Johan Santana, Josh Hamilton and Joakim Soria.
And if that isn't enough, consider all the top Draft picks that Type A and Type B free-agent signings will net the teams that lose those players.
Just ask the Tampa Bay Rays how useful they'll be in the coming years.
Doug Miller is a senior writer for MLB.com/Entertainment. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.