New rules speed up offseason frenzy

Scott Boras, whose two dozen free-agent clients ranging from Adrian Beltre(notes) to Jayson Werth(notes) to Rafael Soriano(notes) should make Newport Beach, Calif., a popular destination for wintering general mangers and owners, declined Wednesday to reveal the identities of his most recent guests.

But, with a laugh, he said, "There's been a lot of private jets coming into John Wayne Airport."

Take that as you will, but baseball's new rules governing free agents and how quickly clubs can move on them has served its purpose: to push traffic. The decision to shorten the exclusive window that teams had to negotiate with their own free agents (within 10 days) and move up the deadlines for offering arbitration and tendering contracts has, according to agents and general managers, stirred the early goings, brought new aggressiveness from smaller-market teams and should lessen the number of unsigned players come January and February. That's the plan, anyway.

"I'm fielding offers now," Boras said, "where I wasn't before."

Other agents said they were getting a surprising number of hits on high-end players from teams that normally bottom-feed this time of year, and while making a phone call isn't the same as pulling the trigger or bidding with the big boys, there's something to be said for participation.

As for Boras, he said a good number of his clients are working out at his sports-training institute not far from his offices in Newport. Beltre, for one, lives in Southern California. Boras wouldn't say if Werth, who has a home in Illinois, was in town to greet those incoming jets in Orange County, but hinted, "Everybody likes fall in California."

Manny Ramirez(notes) is rehabilitating from hernia surgery in Florida and intends to play next season, very likely in the American League. Boras explained Ramirez's injury contributed to his power decline, though the timing coincides closer with Ramirez's suspension the summer before.

Yankees pay Lee a visit

John Wayne isn't the only airport receiving MLB VIPs. The Yankees flew to Arkansas on Tuesday night to meet with Cliff Lee(notes), a strategy that worked with CC Sabathia(notes) two winters ago. That's perfect, because Lee, though two years older than his former teammate, likely seeks the same kind of contract: seven years, $161 million.

The Texas Rangers will have their chance at Lee, too, after a postseason in which members of their ownership team promised a hard run at Lee.

The Washington Nationals have been upfront about their desire for Lee as well, though GM Mike Rizzo told MLB Network/Sirius XM radio, "I'm certainly not going to delude myself to the fact that we have a great chance of landing Cliff Lee."

The Nats' Mark Teixeira(notes) experience – they outbid the Yankees and still lost – was a hard dose of reality. Until Stephen Strasburg(notes) returns and Bryce Harper matures, the Nats are playing catch-up in the East.

The Yankees are the favorites here. But, then, when they're serious about signing a superstar – and a flight to Arkansas in the middle of November removes all doubt about that – they're always the favorites. That said, the Rangers aren't close to dead yet. The Angels, meantime, have bigger holes to fill in left field (think Carl Crawford(notes)), third base (Beltre) and closer (Soriano), so they likely aren't in the market for a front-end starter.

Escobar cleared to throw

Right-hander Kelvim Escobar(notes), recovering from a similar type of shoulder surgery Johan Santana(notes) underwent in September, was cleared last week to begin a throwing program and is rehabilitating in Miami.

The free agent expects to be ready to pitch when the season begins in April. Escobar, 34, had his surgery in June. Dr. David Altchek, who performed the procedure, examined Escobar in New York last week and was satisfied with his progress. Altchek advised Escobar, who has thrown five major league innings since 2007, that his shoulder would be better served were he to pitch out of the bullpen.

Around the horn

Geoff Blum(notes) appears close to re-signing with the Houston Astros. … Before they get too involved with top-end free agents, the Boston Red Sox will determine how available Adrian Gonzalez(notes) and Prince Fielder(notes) are. … The Arizona Diamondbacks are shopping Mark Reynolds(notes) and looking for contact hitters and bullpen help. Though Juan Gutierrez(notes) had a decent run as the Diamondbacks' closer, they'd be deeper with him in the eighth and using an established closer in the ninth. Might Kevin Towers take a shot on his old pal Trevor Hoffman(notes)?Russell Martin(notes) (hip injury) has been told he can start a running program in about a month and can resume baseball activities in eight weeks. … Opposing clubs expect the White Sox to take offers for second baseman Gordon Beckham(notes).Kevin Millwood(notes) makes a lot of sense for the Dodgers, who believe they're set at Nos. 1-3 with Clayton Kershaw(notes), Chad Billingsley(notes) and Ted Lilly(notes). They're talking to the representatives for Vicente Padilla(notes), as well. … There's a chance Cesar Izturis(notes) returns to Baltimore. Buck Showalter loves his baseball IQ. … Victor Martinez(notes) is always going to hit. But a team that signs him for five years – his target contract – had better have room at first base and DH. … Word from Gary Matthews Jr.(notes) is he's already two months into his offseason workouts and hopes to continue playing.