12/07/08 7:57 PM EST
Spotlight on Vegas as Meetings begin
Top free agents, trade talks lead to much-anticipated four days
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
And for four days this week in Sin City, Major League Baseball's annual Winter Meetings will be held in the same spirit of fearless progress.
With teams trying to win the 2009 World Series and planning for championships in 2010 and well beyond, the Bellagio Hotel and Casino is the first real stop on the way to defining what we'll see on the field beginning next April.
Fans will find out what took place inside the Bellagio and over cell phones every minute starting Sunday night and continuing through Thursday thanks to MLB.com and every other Web site, blog, newspaper and organization on hand to deliver the news as soon as it happens.
But that excitement often isn't felt as the hours whittle away in the lobby of the hotel, which will be the center of activity for the throng of agents, front-office executives, players, media, vendors, job-seekers and, yes, unaffiliated and often bewildered hotel guests.
This year's Meetings will be about hellos, one big goodbye, and, as always, a lot of conversations to be continued.
"The Winter Meetings are a good opportunity to try to make your club better," says former Angels general manager and current team adviser Bill Stoneman. "But it's very important to remember that it's not the only opportunity."
Still, even in the quietest of Winter Meetings, things get done.
This year, one of the hellos will take shape in the form of a possible new home for ace lefty CC Sabathia, who is expected to set the entire free-agent market, and is reported to have a six-year, $140 million offer on the table from the Yankees.
Sluggers Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez also could land in new cities with monster contracts. They will attract bidding from some of the game's biggest-payroll clubs battling to get back to where the Philadelphia Phillies just landed in October for the first time in 28 years.
The goodbye will come from Hall of Fame shoo-in right-hander Greg Maddux, the Las Vegas resident who is expected to put away his Gold Glove and 355 victories, probably making the press conference short and sweet so he can get in 18 or even 36 holes before the sun sets.
In between, the names will fly as deals are struck, because plenty of other big-name players are free to sign with whomever they choose, and the list is long.
A deep starting-pitching market is buoyed by Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Ben Sheets, Derek Lowe, Ben Sheets and veterans Pedro Martinez, Kenny Rogers, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Jamie Moyer, Brad Penny, Oliver Perez, Jon Garland, Paul Byrd, Braden Looper, Josh Fogg, Jon Lieber, Livan Hernandez and Mark Hendrickson.
Francisco Rodriguez heads a strong group of available closers that includes Brian Fuentes, Kerry Wood, Brandon Lyon and Trevor Hoffman.
Talented infielders up for grabs include Rafael Furcal, Orlando Cabrera, Casey Blake, Orlando Hudson and Juan Uribe, and the list of outfielders has the names of Milton Bradley, Raul Ibanez and Pat Burrell on it.
Trades will be made, and it's possible we'll see Bobby Jenks following Jermaine Dye out of Chicago, J.J. Putz and Adrian Beltre departing from Seattle, and one or two surprises we never imagined.
Then there's the Rule 5 Draft, which in the past has produced stars such as Johan Santana, Josh Hamilton, Shane Victorino and Joakim Soria.
And one can't ignore the realities of the current economic state of the country and wonder how it might affect the wheeling and dealing.
Still, even in a recession, opportunity abounds everywhere you look during the Winter Meetings.
Agents can pick up clients, kids fresh out of college can pick up jobs, merchants can sell products to teams, and media members can do their best to get the stories before their rivals.
The Phillies could try to add pieces or stand pat with the roster that won it all.
The Rays could continue to astutely tweak the young, talented roster that won an American League championship by adding role players and possibly more bullpen help.
The Yankees, as always, are under pressure to deliver big names to their clubhouse, especially after a non-playoff-making blip in their recent radar.
The Red Sox and Angels will try to spend the money for that extra superstar to get them back to a World Series parade.
The Mariners have a new general manager, a new manager and a new approach. We'll see how they handle their first Winter Meetings together.
The White Sox and their bold general manager, Kenny Williams, could shake things up in a major way. They're always a team to keep an eye on.
In other words, as quiet as the lobby of the Bellagio might get aside from the occasional huge slot machine payout, there's always something worth paying attention to at baseball's Winter Meetings.
And while that old line about things happening in Vegas might be worn out, what takes place this week will stay on the minds of baseball fans throughout 2009.
Doug Miller is a Senior Writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.