Winter meetings update

Winter meetings update
By Yahoo! Sports Staff
December 6, 2006

Yahoo! Sports' Tim Brown, Jeff Passan and Mark Pesavento are in Orlando, Fla., to bring you all the latest news and juciest rumors from Major League Baseball's winter meetings.


Meche signs with Royals
December 7, 2006 | 1:21 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Kansas City Royals have signed free-agent right-hander Gil Meche to a five-year, $55 million contract. All five years of the deal are guaranteed.

The 28-year-old Meche was 11-8 with a 4.48 ERA in 2006 with the Seattle Mariners.

Meche's signing with the Royals is a setback for the Toronto Blue Jays, who also lost out on re-signing left-hander Ted Lilly, who went to the Chicago Cubs.

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Cardinals emerge as Bonds' 'mystery' suitor
December 7, 2006 | 11:46 a.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – After his fleeting appearance Wednesday, Barry Bonds did not return to baseball's winter meetings here, but his free agency continued to preside over them.

Bonds and his representatives left without a contract, but with word Bonds had met in person with a St. Louis Cardinals official the day before. They continue to negotiate with the San Francisco Giants, who appear to be Bonds' preferred organization.

The Cardinals' interest was difficult to define. Their general manager, Walt Jocketty, said Thursday morning he had not met with Bonds and added, "I don't know where that's coming from."

Asked if the club had any interest in the tainted slugger, Jocketty said, "No."

But, it appears that another Cardinals employee did, allowing Jocketty to maintain distance from the conversation and any possible fallout.

Bonds' agent, Jeff Borris, described his client as being healthy and comfortable with the process of finding a lineup in which to continue his advance on Hank Aaron.

"There's no reason for him not to be comfortable," Borris said. "He could snap his fingers and make a decision tomorrow if he wanted to.

"I've always felt Barry's market is strong and have never had any indications otherwise."

Bonds made the highly unusual decision to attend the meetings, Borris said, because "There were some things that needed to be accomplished face to face."

• The game's general managers and their staffs rolled their luggage and their various roster concerns through the lobby Thursday morning, headed for home and perhaps solutions, one among them having been left behind.

Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry was expected to rest another day in an area hospital after falling ill in the midst of the most dramatic spending spree in franchise history. He underwent an angioplasty and remains under observation.

"He's going to be fine," assistant GM Gary Hughes said.

The Cubs, who lost 96 games and finished in last place in the NL Central, have set the mid-winter agenda. They have added nearly $300 million in contracts, almost half of that to outfielder Alfonso Soriano.

"Obviously we've stepped it up and shown that we're serious," Hughes said, adding, "and disgusted in the season we had. And we're not through yet."

With the Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals, the Cubs were awaiting a decision from right-hander Gil Meche, hours after coming to terms with free-agent left-hander Ted Lilly.

The Cubs made the most dynamic moves of the winter, in a division the Cardinals took with 83 wins.

"I respect the Cubs' organization a lot," Cincinnati Reds GM Wayne Krivsky said. "Everybody has their own set of parameters and marching orders. They've obviously been very aggressive signing players. But, we're confident we'll be able to compete. Everybody knows it's not always the largest payroll that wins. And everybody's going to show up on Opening Day and play it out."

Behind the New York Yankees, who have had a quiet off-season, the Cubs should have one of the higher payrolls in the game.

"It's changed," Hughes said. "Hopefully, for the better. The problem is, you still gotta play the darn season."

• After some consideration of a new, flush marketplace, the Toronto Blue Jays are believed to be more willing to take offers for center fielder Vernon Wells, who has one season left on his contract.

There have been some conversations with the Los Angeles Dodgers, among others, but the price for Wells will be steep in pitchers, preferably young ones.

• The Los Angeles Angels were close to acquiring Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton late Wednesday night before backing out of a deal that would have sent Chone Figgins, Casey Kotchman and Erick Aybar to Colorado.

• A late-morning rumor that has cooled had the Chicago White Sox about to trade either Jon Garland or Javier Vazquez to the Houston Astros for Taylor Buchholz. Other players were also believed to be involved, but the deal has fallen through.

The White Sox traded Freddy Garcia to the Philadelphia Phillies for Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez late Wednesday night.

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Dodgers finalize Schmidt deal, add Gonzalez
December 7, 2006 | 2:48 a.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Los Angeles Dodgers have beaten out the Seattle Mariners and St. Louis Cardinals for free-agent right-hander Jason Schmidt with a three-year, $47 million contract.

The Dodgers also edged the Cardinals for 39-year-old free-agent outfielder Luis Gonzalez, who agreed to a one-year, $7.5 million deal. St. Louis and the Baltimore Orioles were also bidding for the left-handed hitting veteran, who will see plenty of playing time in left field in Chavez Ravine with Andre Ethier likely shifting to right field.

Schmidt was said to be eager to rejoin Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and newly-hired trainer Stan Conte, both of whom were in San Francisco for most of Schmidt's 5½ years there.

Schmidt, who will be 34 in January, joins Derek Lowe, Brad Penny and fellow newcomer Randy Wolf in the Dodgers' rotation. He won 23 games over the last two seasons for the Giants.

The Mariners, who had been rumored to have increased their offer to Schmidt to four years, and Cardinals also had offered contracts over three years.

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White Sox trade Garcia to Phillies
December 6, 2006 | 10:32 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Chicago White Sox dealt away a part of their 2005 World Series rotation late Wednesday night, trading veteran workhorse Freddy Garcia to the Philadelphia Phillies for Gavin Floyd, a former first-rounder who has had little success in parts of three major-league seasons, and Double-A left-hander Gio Gonzalez.

The Phillies, who last week signed free agent Adam Eaton to a three-year contract, expect Garcia to help stabilize a rotation that was among the worst in baseball last season. A 17-game winner for the White Sox in 2006, Garcia has thrown at least 200 innings in six consecutive seasons. Phillies starters ranked 13th in the National League in innings pitched in 2006.

As Garcia enters the final year of his contract, the White Sox sought young arms in a marketplace that has seen several mid-level pitchers receive top-end contracts. The trade allows them to move right-hander Brandon McCarthy from the bullpen to the rotation, alongside Mark Buehrle, Javier Vazquez, Jon Garland and Jose Contreras.

The Phillies, who finished 12 games behind the New York Mets in the NL East and three games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the wild card, appear to have six starters, and could make another trade to help their bullpen. Of Brett Myers, Cole Hamels, Jon Lieber, Jamie Moyer, Eaton and Garcia, Lieber would seem most likely to go.

Gonzalez, who had a 4.66 ERA in 27 starts at Reading last season, was the 38th overall pick by the White Sox in 2004. He was traded to the Phillies with Aaron Rowand and another minor leaguer last winter for Jim Thome. He was the player to be named later in that deal, and was again in Wednesday night's, except White Sox general manager Kenny Williams inadvertently divulged his identity.

Realizing his gaffe, and as Phillies officials held their foreheads in amused disbelief, Williams laughed and said, "Unbelievable. It's 11 o'clock at night. What do you want?"

The Phillies were especially drawn to Garcia's durability, along with his postseason experience. He is 5-2 with a 3.11 ERA in nine postseason starts, including 3-0 in 2005.

"He's been there," Phillies assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle said. "He's had to pitch when it's on the line. He's shown he has the ability to do that and handle it."

Though Floyd has struggled, there remains little doubt he has a big-league arm. He is 23.

"I think Gavin's going to be a little bit of a late bloomer," Arbuckle said, comparing him Chris Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals and the White Sox' Garland.

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Progress seen in Bonds' negotiations with Giants
December 6, 2006 | 10:19 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Barry Bonds' agent left a three-hour meeting with San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean on Wednesday night and said there had been progress in the negotiations for a contract.

Jeff Borris said little as he strolled from Sabean's suite to his own, but confirmed that Bonds had come to the hotel because of a scheduled meeting earlier in the day, had since departed to return home, and that the agency had just conducted its longest meeting with the Giants.

Sources close to the negotiations have said there is a second, as yet unidentified, team interested in the 42-year-old slugger, who could break Hank Aaron's all-time home-run record next season while carrying accusations he used steroids for several years late in his career.

"I won't comment on that," Borris said of the existence of a suitor other than the Giants.

Earlier, in the most dramatic moment yet of baseball's winter meetings, Bonds arrived at the Swan and Dolphin Resort amid the perception his market had dwindled to the Giants.

Just before 1 p.m., Bonds and his team of representatives from Beverly Hills Sports Council appeared briefly in the hotel lobby, disappearing into an elevator. Bonds did not slow, and his representatives closed quickly around him in a well-dressed flying wedge. Bonds answered questions regarding his free agency and negotiations with the Giants by saying, "No comments, guys."

Borris, would not comment on the teams – or how many teams – with whom Bonds had met. The meetings conclude Thursday.

Sabean said Tuesday that the sides were still far apart in negotiations for a 2007 contract, but the sides apparently covered some ground Wednesday. Asked if Bonds' highly unusual appearance here suggested desperation on his client's part, Borris said, "The only thing Barry is desperate for is a World Series ring."

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Cubs GM Hendry hospitalized
December 6, 2006 | 10:00 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry was admitted to an Orlando hospital during baseball's winter meetings Wednesday night after telling a team doctor he felt ill, according to a team official. Media relations manager Jason Carr said Hendry spoke briefly with team physician Dr. Stephen Adams, who recommended he check himself into the hospital.

Hendry was hooked up to an EKG machine while he finished negotiating a four-year, $40 million deal with Ted Lilly.

Carr said he had little information regarding a diagnosis or how long Hendry might remain under physicians' care.

One baseball executive said Hendry, 51, had complained of a sore throat earlier in the day.

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Angels dangling Donnelly, Molina
December 6, 2006 | 9:07 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Los Angeles Angels are focused on seeing what reliever Brendan Donnelly and catcher Jose Molina can bring in a trade.

The Angels are looking for a corner infielder, but know they won't get one for Donnelly or Molina. They would settle for a left-handed relief pitcher to replace the departed J.C. Romero, to whom the club did not offer arbitration.

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Cubs land Lilly
December 6, 2006 | 8:19 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Left-hander Ted Lilly agreed Wednesday night to a four-year, $40 million contract with the Chicago Cubs, adding to an off-season makeover that includes outfielder Alfonso Soriano and second baseman Mark DeRosa, the re-signing of third baseman Aramis Ramirez and the hiring of manager Lou Piniella, at a cost approaching $300 million.

Among the only options in a market that falls off after Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt, Lilly, 30, was 15-13 with a 4.31 ERA in 32 starts for the Blue Jays last season, his third in Toronto.

The Blue Jays declared they were out of the Lilly negotiations earlier Wednesday. And when the New York Yankees told Lilly's agent, Larry O'Brien, that they probably wouldn't be ready to move quickly, Lilly accepted the Cubs' offer. Lilly, who made 49 appearances for the Yankees from 2000-02, had hoped for more interest from them.

"He's a Cub and wants to be part of getting them back to the World Series," O'Brien said.

Gil Meche also is considering the Cubs, whose last-place finish in the NL Central precipitated their spending over the past month. Meche also has interest from the Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals.

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Piazza chooses Oakland over Texas
December 6, 2006 | 5:47 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Mike Piazza, among the most accomplished offensive catchers in baseball history, agreed Wednesday night to become a full-time designated hitter, at least for a year.

Piazza agreed to a one-year, $8.5-million contract with the Oakland A's, according to baseball sources, choosing the A's over the Texas Rangers and one year with the A's over two.

While Piazza's agent, Dan Lozano, refused comment, a source said the deal awaited only a physical examination.

Piazza arrives in Oakland with 419 home runs and a .309 batting average in a 15-year career that will see its fifth organization, its first in the American League. He had 22 home runs and 68 RBI last season for the Padres.

Presumably, Piazza will fill the hole left by Frank Thomas, who batted cleanup for the A's AL West winner. Thomas, who is three months younger than Piazza, revived his career in Oakland and turned it into a two-year, $18-million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Piazza had the option of a one- or two-year contract with the A's. Heeding the possibility he might like to return to the National League, he chose the former.

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and agent Scott Boras raised eyebrows when they left the hotel together Wednesday night, driving off in a white SUV. The Yankees are not believed to be interested in Barry Zito, Boras' top free agent.

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Would Dodgers move Penny?
December 6, 2006 | 5:45 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Los Angeles Dodgers' ability to land two free agent pitchers – Randy Wolf is signed, Jason Schmidt appears close – has made them one of the few teams with depth in their starting rotation, meaning Brad Penny could become available.

Penny, 28, started the All-Star Game in July and won 16 games, but had a rocky second half and the Dodgers could fill their rotation with Chad Billingsley and Hong-Chih Kuo, with prospect Scott Elbert coming.

Penny is owed $18 million over the next two seasons, including a $2 million buyout on his 2009 option, a manageable contract by today's prices.

He could be a valuable bargaining chip to help the Dodgers bolster their lineup. They had very little power last season and lost 20 home runs when J.D. Drew opted out of his contract.

• Giants general manager Brian Sabean was evasive when Bay Area reporters questioned him about Barry Bonds' presence here, at one point saying, "I don't know anything. I'm Sgt. Schultz."

Sabean would not say whether he'd spoken to Bonds or his agent, Jeff Borris, though baseball sources said Sabean and Borris spoke often during the day.

"Silence is golden," he said. "This is about [Bengie] Molina. I'm staying away from left field completely."

The Giants announced their signing of Molina to a three-year contract.

Sabean did appear resigned to losing Schmidt to the rival Dodgers.

"It probably had sailed," he said, meaning the SS Schmidt. "He got his payday. It just wasn't going to be with us."

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Bonds meets with Giants
December 6, 2006 | 4:45 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean met with representatives of outfielder Barry Bonds for most of this afternoon here at the Swan and Dolphin Resort.

Bonds' agent, Jeff Borris, would not comment on which teams – or how many – Bonds would meet with, but the market for Bonds was believed to be down to the Giants and one unidentified team.

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Yankees make a run at Lilly
December 6, 2006 | 3:53 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The otherwise quiet New York Yankees are making a run at left-hander Ted Lilly. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman will meet tonight with the pitcher's agent, Larry O'Brien.

O'Brien said that the Toronto Blue Jays are no longer in the running for Lilly, leaving the Yankees and Chicago Cubs as his primary suitors for the time being.

Elsewhere:

• Pending the decisions by starting pitchers Lilly and Gil Meche, the Cubs remain in the market for a center fielder, with $20 million to spend.

• The Baltimore Orioles are hoping to add a left-handed bat, but haven't yet found a team willing to take one of their pitchers in return.

• The Seattle Mariners are not planning to part with third baseman Adrian Beltre or first baseman Richie Sexson, but that hasn't stopped many teams from asking.

• The Boston Red Sox are still working the Manny Ramirez angle, having asked the Mariners for closer J.J. Putz, top prospect Adam Jones and another player in return. The Red Sox also were unwilling to lighten any of Ramirez's salary in return.

• The San Francisco Giants are among the teams vying for Barry Zito.

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Dodgers close to signing Schmidt
December 6, 2006 | 2:54 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – By mid-afternoon Wednesday, the Los Angeles Dodgers appeared to have beaten out the Seattle Mariners and St. Louis Cardinals for free-agent right-hander Jason Schmidt, who would join Derek Lowe, Brad Penny and fellow newcomer Randy Wolf in the rotation.

The Dodgers were believed to have a three-year, $47-million offer on the table for Schmidt, who won 23 games over the last two seasons for the Giants. He will turn 34 in January.

The Mariners, who had been rumored to have increased their offer to four years, and Cardinals also had offered contracts over three years.

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With market dwindling, Bonds arrives at winter meetings
December 6, 2006 | 1:25 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – In a dramatic turn in baseball's winter meetings, Barry Bonds arrived here at the Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort on Wednesday morning amid the perception his market had dwindled to the San Francisco Giants and another, as yet unidentified, team.

Just before 1 p.m., Bonds and his representatives from Beverly Hills Sports Council appeared briefly in the hotel lobby, disappearing into an elevator. Bonds did not slow. He answered questions regarding his free agency and negotiations with the Giants by saying, "No comments, guys."

Bonds' agent, Jeff Borris, would not comment on which teams – or how many – Bonds would meet with. The meetings conclude Thursday.

Giants general manager Brian Sabean said Tuesday that the sides were still far apart in negotiations for a 2007 contract, which would allow Bonds an opportunity to break baseball's all-time record for home runs in a Giants uniform.

Asked Wednesday morning if Bonds' highly unusual appearance here suggested desperation on his client's part, Borris said, "The only thing Barry is desperate for is a World Series ring."

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Piazza between A's and Rangers
December 6, 2006 | 1:02 a.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Mike Piazza likely will take his bat to the American League, as of late Tuesday night leaning toward accepting a one-year contract with the Oakland A's over a similar offer from the Texas Rangers. With the A's, he would take Frank Thomas' place between Milton Bradley and Eric Chavez.

Thomas revived his career with 39 home runs and 114 RBI in his only season with the A's, but priced himself out of Oakland, signing three weeks ago for $18 million over two years in Toronto.

Piazza, at 37, would serve almost exclusively as the A's designated hitter, and behind Jason Kendall and Adam Melhuse at catcher.

He has resisted the move to DH in the past, a year ago signing with the Padres for $2 million (including an option-year buyout) over offers from the American League. He caught 99 games for the Padres and in 399 at-bats hit .283 with 22 homers and 68 RBI.

Piazza's offers are believed to include second-year options, Piazza's preference over a two-year contract. It is evidence Piazza still hasn't abandoned the notion of returning to the National League and ending his career in a part-time catching job.

A sure Hall of Famer, Piazza has 419 home runs and a .309 average in 15 seasons.

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Market still cool on Bonds
December 6, 2006 | 12:14 a.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Barry Bonds and the Giants were not close to agreement Tuesday night on a contract that would allow Bonds another season in San Francisco, where he would chase the all-time home-run record in the uniform he has worn since 1993.

Another team, so far unidentified, has come forth with what Bonds' camp believes to be legitimate interest, as one possible alternative for Bonds – Oakland – disappeared as the A's neared a deal for free-agent Mike Piazza.

Bonds' agent, Jeff Borris, and Giants General Manager Brian Sabean spoke twice Tuesday and planned to speak again Wednesday, but negotiations have progressed little in recent days.

Speaking broadly, Borris said, "His situation is as a healthy 42-year-old unemployed baseball player, looking for work on a team that has a legitimate shot to make it to the postseason, either as a left fielder, DH or a combination of both."

Borris appeared frustrated by the lack of advancement, yet unwilling to dismiss the Giants as Bonds' next – and probably final – destination. Bonds, who is 22 home runs short of Hank Aaron's all-time record, has expressed a desire to overtake Aaron and finish his career in San Francisco.

"Barry's only instructions have been to put him on a team that has a chance of making it to the postseason," Borris said. "Barry has many options."

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Blue Jays, Cubs fight over Meche and Lilly
December 5, 2006 | 10:50 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Free-agent right-hander Gil Meche narrowed his choices Tuesday night to the Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Royals, with a decision expected by Wednesday at the latest.

The Blue Jays and Cubs also went into the night bidding on left-hander Ted Lilly, and it's not impossible both end up in the same city with similar four-year, $40-million contracts.

Also, industry insiders were predicting Jeff Suppan, who won 12 games for the St. Louis Cardinals in the regular season and pitched well in the NLCS and World Series, would receive a contract similar to the one the Texas Rangers gave Vicente Padilla, at three years and $34 million.

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Padres add Cruz to bolster bench
December 5, 2006 | 10:46 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Looking for a little more power in a lineup that won't produce a lot of home runs, the San Diego Padres agreed to terms with outfielder Jose Cruz Jr. on a one-year, $650,000 contract. Cruz, released by the Los Angeles Dodgers in August, during a season in which he was paid $2.9 million, is much more effective against left-handed pitching.

The Padres are waiting on Todd Walker's decision on their offer of salary arbitration before going forward with plans at second base. Mark Loretta has told the team he would like to return.

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Red Sox, Drew agree in principle
December 5, 2006 | 8:26 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – J.D. Drew, who left the Los Angeles Dodgers and $33 million for a flush market, agreed to terms with the Boston Red Sox on a five-year, $70-million contract.

The term of the contract is guaranteed, but not all $70 million. According to team officials, Drew will be paid $14 million in the fifth year of the deal if he plays a minimum number of games in 2010, which would be the fourth year of the contract. If not, he'd be paid slightly less.

Drew is slotted in right field for the Red Sox, who did not offer arbitration to Trot Nixon. He might eventually play center field, as the Red Sox are said to be offering outfielders Coco Crisp and Wily Mo Pena in potential trades for pitching.

Boras said it was he who broached the possibility of walking away from the final three years of his contract with the Dodgers.

"Without knowing," he said he told Drew, "I think there's going to be a lot of clubs interested in you. He was a bit surprised."

According to those close to Drew, however, the decision was made in part because he believed Dodgers management had lost faith in him. The Red Sox, who place a higher value on Drew's strengths – on-base percentage, for one – figure to hit Drew second, in front of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, or fifth, behind them.

The contract is pending a physical.

Notes:

• The primary interest in free-agent right-hander Jeff Weaver, who rediscovered his game in St. Louis and particularly in the postseason, is coming from the Cardinals and the Seattle Mariners.

• Boras, the former minor-league infielder, to a reporter who fumbled his notepad during an interview in the lobby Tuesday night: "I made 42 of those one year. Sent me to law school quick."

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Maddux goes to Padres
December 5, 2006 | 5:22 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The San Diego Padres and Greg Maddux have agreed in principle to a one-year contract, according to sources, with a second-year player option.

Maddux, the 333-game winner, will be 41 in April. He joins Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Clay Hensley and Tim Stauffer in a Padres rotation that lost Woody Williams and David Wells to free agency.

Wells, meantime, ended his season with the Padres seemingly intent on retiring. However, he's already gotten a call from former Padres manager Bruce Bochy, who would like Wells to join him in San Francisco, and those close to Wells aren't counting out one more season. Wells will be 44 in May.

Also:

• The Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers have become the primary suitors for Eric Gagne, who, like free-agent catcher Mike Piazza, is mulling the benefits of one guaranteed year over two. If Gagne returns to anything close to his form of 2004, his last healthy season, he'd be very valuable next winter.

• Veteran outfielder Luis Gonzalez, cast aside by the Arizona Diamondbacks after eight seasons, will decide soon between the Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals, his agent, Gregg Clifton, said Tuesday afternoon. The Dodgers appear to be Gonzalez's first choice, as he would remain in the NL West and have ample opportunity to haunt the Diamondbacks. Gonzalez would prefer two years guaranteed, but might not receive more than one guaranteed with an option.

• Another Clifton client, left-hander Mark Mulder, a 21-game winner five years ago and a regular winner until shoulder surgery, is receiving interest from many corners. Clifton said he had "a nice meeting" with the New York Mets on Tuesday and was headed to a meeting with the Texas Rangers. The Diamondbacks also have expressed interest in Mulder.

"We're still in the very preliminary stages," Clifton said of the Mulder talks.

• Unsure of Pedro Martinez's return and wary of the rising cost of Barry Zito, the Mets on Tuesday talked to the Chicago White Sox about Freddy Garcia and Javier Vazquez and the Orioles about Rodrigo Lopez.

• Right-hander Ted Lilly, who won 15 games for the Toronto Blue Jays last season, remains close on a four-year contract with the Chicago Cubs, who've already sunk $222 million into Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and Mark DeRosa. Meantime, Lilly's representative, Larry O'Brien, is keeping an ear open to the Blue Jays and, on Tuesday, the New York Yankees.

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Ripken sidesteps McGwire issue
December 5, 2006 | 1:21 p.m. ET
By Jeff Passan

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – They never break the code. Of all the lessons the steroid era has taught us, among the most puzzling is that the players who claim they did not take performance-enhancing drugs refuse to condemn those who did.

Instead, they belittle the action itself, pawning blame toward the sum rather than the parts. Protecting their brethren is something baseball players are taught from the moment they enter the major leagues, and Cal Ripken Jr., a man with enough credibility – and reason – to shake the foundation, nonetheless adheres to the credo.

"We're all disappointed that steroids became a part of the game," Ripken said Tuesday at baseball's winter meetings.

Ripken's election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame next year is as certain as his inclusion in Baltimore's lineup card during his 21 seasons with the Orioles. At the same time, just above his name on the ballot is Mark McGwire's, and should McGwire be elected in the same class as Ripken and Tony Gwynn, it would be akin to chasing two glasses of Opus One with snifter of gasoline.

"I guess that's the debate that's going on," Ripken said. "I personally don't want to be drawn into it. I don't feel comfortable."

The game of denunciation is a tricky one. Ripken attaches his name to so many entities – 12-and-under baseball leagues he was here to support, the minor-league teams he owns, books, radio shows and everything else promoting "The Ripken Way" – it compromises his ability to speak freely.

Ripken and McGwire will forever find themselves lumped together because of their parts in reviving the game from the 1994 strike. Ripken's celebratory lap around Camden Yards after he broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games-played record in 1995 is one of the lasting images in the sport's history. McGwire and Sammy Sosa's home-run chase three years later might be even more iconic.

Only after they retired did their paths diverge. Ripken continued his work as an emissary for the game. McGwire slinked out of the spotlight and into seclusion, emerging only to cower in front of Congress when questions of his performance-enhancing-drug use elicited the meek response: "I'm not here to talk about the past."

Turns out Ripken isn't, either, though that was to be expected. Until July's Hall of Fame inductions, he's going to hear the same questions about McGwire, about steroids, about the effect of both on his legacy and that of his peers. And unless something changes, he'll dance around it.

"The Hall of Fame run should be a celebration of a person's whole career," Ripken said. "I'm not upset about it. It is what it is. It's going to play out how it plays out. …

"I know it's going to be an issue. We're trying to figure out how long it's going to be an issue."

For a long time. Too long, unfortunately.

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Boras is gatekeeper, again
December 5, 2006 | 12:57 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Scott Boras ended Monday at baseball's winter meetings well into Tuesday morning, taking a telephone call from "a client on the West Coast" three hours after midnight, returning various phone calls after that, sounding surprisingly energetic, all things considered.

He had Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Japanese right-hander whose negotiating rights were acquired by the Boston Red Sox for $51.1 million three weeks before, on his mind, along with Barry Zito, the prize of the free-agent pitching class, Greg Maddux, not yet in San Diego, and Eric Gagne, perhaps the most intriguing pitcher on the market.

It's a pitchers' world.

Gagne, who saved 152 games from 2002-04 and nine (over 15 1/3 innings) since, had back surgery in July, elbow surgery before that, and only recently began a throwing program he assumes will have him on a mound and competitive again come spring training.

The plan from Gagne's camp as of a few weeks ago was to rehabilitate him through December and, sometime in early to mid-January, have him pitch for all interested teams, probably on a field at UC Irvine.

That's been scrapped, because a handful of general managers remember what a healthy and upright Gagne once looked like, probably rendering the audition unnecessary.

"The market's pretty aggressive for him," Boras said.

Boras (and, presumably, Gagne) believes the two elbow surgeries, the back surgery and what has become two years' rest will revive Gagne's fastball, which had become merely average. And if it remains so, even that won't be all bad, considering many believe Gagne's changeup is the best in the game – better than Trevor Hoffman's, better than Johan Santana's, better than Fernando Rodney's.

"I told my guys," said one American League scout, "that he could become the next Trevor Hoffman."

The Los Angeles Dodgers are in. So are the Red Sox, who have put Jonathan Papelbon int7614o their rotation and have tried to pry Chad Cordero from the Washington Nationals. The Toronto Blue Jays, flying the maple leaf, have sniffed around. The San Francisco Giants should be in.

Some wariness remains, of course. At every door of the room here, the morning newspaper might well have been replaced by Gagne's medical records. But, it's moving fast, faster than even Boras might have predicted.

"The real test for the guy is as the season goes on," he said of Gagne. "Teams know he's going to be there and be fine."

Gagne's probably looking at a one-year contract, heavy with incentives, with an option year.

At the other end, the Matsuzaka market is only as deep as the Red Sox – and their posting bid – made it. With eight days left in the negotiating period, there appears to be more than a little work left there. Matsuzaka arrives a front-end pitcher in his prime, baseball's precious commodity, so established by the Red Sox in their small way, and the game in its large way.

"There is definitely a relationship between revenue in the game," Boras said, "and salaries in relation to those revenues."

That fits for Matsuzaka, Boras said, just as it will for Zito and others.

"This is an interesting process for a franchise player, for the Red Sox to pay for a chance to unilaterally talk. You know how unique his value is [because of the posting price]."

Philosophically, Boras added, "Whenever any player wears the same uniform, you've got to look at him, who he's playing with and who he's playing against. The players want to know when they go out there every day where they are in relationship to other players."

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Rays willing to move young OFs
December 4, 2006 | 10:07 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The recent contracts for outfielders Gary Matthews Jr. (five years, $50 million from the Los Angeles Angels) and Juan Pierre (five years, $44 million from the Los Angeles Dodgers) have convinced the Tampa Bay Devil Rays that their two young outfielders – Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli – might bring dramatic help for their starting rotation. Second baseman Jorge Cantu could also be had.

Since losing J.D. Drew, the Dodgers have been searching for corner-outfield help.

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Mid-level pitchers draw interest
December 4, 2006 | 10:05 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Gil Meche, a serviceable right-hander who has won 21 games over the last two seasons, is getting serious interest from five teams. The Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles and San Francisco Giants all appear willing to offer four years.

Some of those clubs also are in on Ted Lilly, who appears closest with the Cubs. Chicago general manager Jim Hendry said rumors they'd reached an agreement on a four-year deal with Lilly were premature.

The Texas Rangers, who remain serious suitors for Barry Zito, are close to re-signing 15-game winner Vicente Padilla to a three-year, $34-million contract, according to several sources.

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Manny trade talks heat up
December 4, 2006 | 8:41 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Manny Ramirez holds a special place at these winter meetings, both everywhere and nowhere, in left field in Boston and left field in L.A., Anaheim, San Francisco and San Diego, eager again to leave Boston and ardently possessive of his no-trade rights.

Ramirez and the Boston Red Sox have gone this route before, dragging themselves through wintertime lobbies of general managers, pressing the allure of his thunderous bat, soothing the threat of his multi-colored personality, counting on middle-of-the-order desperation from other franchises.

Through the first 24 hours here, there is wide conviction that this time the Red Sox are serious, that they'll find a deal out there somewhere – perhaps in San Diego, perhaps in Anaheim, perhaps in Los Angeles, where there are enough talented and young big-leaguers to douse the predictable Boston backlash.

The latest dusting had the Red Sox, San Francisco Giants and the Washington Nationals sorting through a three-way trade that would send Ramirez to the Giants, with the Nationals helping to provide players to the Red Sox. If so, the Giants continue to act as though Barry Bonds is a distant priority, and even have had thoughts of moving Dave Roberts to left field and signing another center fielder, perhaps Kenny Lofton.

Red Sox management appears unlikely to have the Ramirez saga extend too far into the off-season, and might have a decision – trade or no trade – by the time it leaves Orlando on Thursday.

Ever protective of their bargaining positions, few organizations have gone headlong into the Ramirez talks, and those that have are playing down their curiosity.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, for example, had the same discussion on Sunday night with Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein they did last year, and left with the same impression: Ramirez is too expensive on the player end, and would again be too expensive on the contract end, particularly with the added cost of having Ramirez waive his 10-and-5 rights. Ramirez is due $38 million over the next two seasons. Two options would pay him $40 million over the two seasons after that, at the conclusion of which he'd be 38 years old.

But, the rumors percolate, so much so that any team meeting with the Red Sox is automatically and formally wed to Ramirez. Consider the Seattle Mariners, hour-long visitors with the Red Sox on Monday night, official members of that group, which includes:

• The San Diego Padres, who made a run at the Red Sox until, apparently, they discovered there would be no deal without ace Jake Peavy.

• The Dodgers, who left feeling they'd have to relocate their entire minor-league system to a kiosk on Yawkey Way.

• The Los Angeles Angels, whose general manager, Bill Stoneman, generally lacks the stomach for the blockbuster and in the meantime has seen well-regarded prospects come and wash out.

At the same time, officials from those organizations and others – the Chicago White Sox, for one – warn that all Ramirez talks, like the man himself, are fluid. What is gone today could be here tomorrow and then gone again, the Manny negotiations being Manny negotiations.

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Maier looking for a helping hand
December 4, 2006 | 5:17 p.m. ET
By Jeff Passan

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – All of the recent college graduates trolling the lobby at baseball's winter meetings in search of employment must engage complete strangers in games of meet and greet, and if that weren't awkward enough, picture having to drop this doozy.

"Hi. I'm Jeffrey Maier."

Actually, it's Jeff now, and he's no longer the kid who stole Derek Jeter's fly ball over the right-field wall in Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series. He graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, left as the school's all-time hits leader and dreams of running a major-league team someday.

For now, he's happy to toil as an intern in any baseball-operations department, so he will spend the next three days meeting as many people as he can. On Monday morning, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman spoke with Maier. In the afternoon, he was introduced to Brian Ebel, the assistant trainer with the Baltimore Orioles, who 10 years later can't seem to forgive Maier.

"You got in my wallet, man," Ebel said.

Whether it's costing someone a bigger playoff share or becoming the bane of every Baltimorean, Maier long ago got used to the look when meeting people. It's the initial stunned silence, followed by the raised eyebrows, punctuated by some sort of exclamation – sometimes laudatory, others of the seven-dirty-words variety.

Time has healed the wound enough for Pat Gillick, then the Orioles general manager, to have his assistant with Philadelphia, Ruben Amaro Jr., meet with Maier. He's got a sit-down with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday, and Peter Gammons is trying to get him face-to-faces with a few other teams, too.

After not getting drafted this year, Maier spent the summer scouting the Cape Cod League for Gammons. Here were kids he played with and against for years, and now he was on the flip side.

"I was nervous about how that would be," Maier said. "It turned out to be a lot easier than I thought. It gave me a sense of closure that I was looking for."

Now 23, Maier turned his nights on the Cape into a spiral-bound report he's handing out to prospective employers. He did some advance scouting for the independent New Haven Cutters and recently played the stunt double for the Graig Nettles' character in the movie adaptation of the book "Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx Is Burning."

All of that was to tide him over until this week. He's in the right spot to land a job. He's talking with the right people. And in a room full of baseball people, he's got the name everybody recognizes.

"This is what I want to do," Maier said. "I want to work in baseball."

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Giants sign Bengie Molina
December 4, 2006 | 4:49 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Catcher Bengie Molina has signed a three-year deal with the San Francisco Giants, pending a physical.

The Toronto Blue Jays declined their $7.5 million option on Molina, leaving Gregg Zaun and Jason Phillips as their catchers entering next season after Rod Barajas backed out of an apparent deal at the last minute.

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Giants re-sign Feliz, Aurilia
December 4, 2006 | 4:18 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The San Francisco Giants have re-signed third baseman Pedro Feliz, who led the team with 98 RBIs in 2006, to a one-year contract.

The Giants also announced the signing of Rich Aurilia, who played with the team from 1995-2003, to a two-year contract. Aurilia will likely play first base, with newly re-signed Ray Durham at second, Omar Vizquel at shortstop and Feliz at third.

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Pitching takes center stage
December 4, 2006 | 1:55 p.m. ET
By Tim Brown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – In the temporary center of the baseball cosmos, near a cafe whose servers pushed lattes across the same counter that had delivered spirits deep into the night before, a delegation from the Philadelphia Phillies holed up around a small round table Monday morning.

On Day 1 of baseball's winter meetings at the Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort, in a lobby splattered in peach and azure and guarded expectations, general manager Pat Gillick, assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., field manager Charlie Manuel and his new bench coach, Jimy Williams, pushed around a few more ideas before the earnestness began.

These will be the meetings of pitching expeditions, of the Boston Red Sox, of Manny Ramirez and the Barrys – Zito and Bonds, of Jason Schmidt and of a fresh, vibrant market for Gil Meche, Ted Lilly, Jeff Suppan, Jeff Weaver and the rest.

The Phillies already have made their contribution there, having signed Adam Eaton for more than $8 million a year even though he's never won more than 11 games in a season. He's upright, reasonably healthy some of the time and not yet 30, all of which accounts for the Phillies' early-strike tactic and one less option for the rest of the pitching poor.

It also helped explain why the Phillies were one of the few teams in view Monday morning, the rest having disappeared into the elevators hours before.

In that regard, the suites that hold the Los Angeles Angels and Chicago White Sox will be well-attended. Both organizations are viewed as having pitching surpluses and position-player needs, so the names of L.A.'s Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders and Chicago's Freddy Garcia, Mark Buehrle and Javier Vazquez already have been raised here.

In the meantime, Scott Boras arrived with his familiar stacks of persuasion, bound and glossy. If Zito does not set the market for Daisuke Matsuzaka, then perhaps Matsuzaka – in the coming nine days – will set it for Zito. The meetings will run in part around his clients, turning on J.D. Drew, Greg Maddux and Weaver, along with his top-end guys.

By late morning, the Phillies delegation had moved on. The roster of Zito suitors had swelled beyond the New York Mets and Texas Rangers. The San Francisco Giants appeared closer to their dutiful re-signing of Bonds. Jose Guillen, freshly of the Seattle Mariners, shuffled past the lobby Christmas tree with his agent, Adam Katz. The Arizona Diamondbacks, their eyes on another starter, wondered if the Angels might not consider Chad Tracy to play third base.

And four days beneath swans and dolphins had begun.

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Updated on Thursday, Dec 7, 2006 11:58 pm, EST

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