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Winter Meetings Over, But Stay Tuned


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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- They came, they saw, they considered. But after three-and-a-half days of Winter Meetings, baseball's executives departed without having set off any of the anticipated trade fireworks, instead leaving the pyrotechnics in the hands of the Disney World experts. However, plenty of money, but few players, exchanged hands. Seven deals were engineered -- three of them spun off Thursday morning's Rule 5 Draft -- without involving any bandied-about marquee names such as Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Andruw Jones and Miguel Tejada. The biggest player under contract to change teams was Freddy Garcia, who went from the White Sox to the Phillies' rotation for a pair of prospects.


The pen was mightier than the swap. Major contracts were signed, or were pending, with J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo (Red Sox), Jason Schmidt (Dodgers), Greg Maddux (Padres), Mike Piazza (A's), Ted Lilly (Cubs) and Vicente Padilla (Rangers).


In all, 17 free agents signed for an aggregate bankroll of $417,200,000 -- excluding the two Barry big names who remained on the open market: Bonds and Zito. And several of the headline signings are still in "preliminary purgatory," pending physicals.


Those include the two agreements that came down on Thursday. Gil Meche, 55-44 in six seasons with the Mariners, went above the radar with a five-year, $55 million deal from the Kansas City Royals, and former Arizona icon Luis Gonzalez stayed in the NL West with a $7.3 million contract with the Dodgers.


Perhaps future Winter Meetings will operate like a military induction center, with players passing through three stations: From negotiating table to physical ward (plenty of doctors, no waiting) to press conference.


In the reality of the 2006 Meetings, business wasn't quite as expedient. Bouncing between agents and potential trade partners like pinballs, many general managers went "Tilt!"


"It's one of the more miserable Winter Meetings I've ever been to," said Seattle GM Bill Bavasi, alluding to the overall lack of trades.


And Bavasi got more than most, certainly on the final morning, when he pulled off two deals. In only one of the Meetings' three deals to involve Major League talent on both sides, the Mariners sent right-handed reliever Rafael Soriano to Atlanta for lefty starter Horacio Ramirez. Bavasi also picked up right-hander Sean White for cash from the Pirates.


The Bucs, who earlier in the morning had selected White off Atlanta's Triple-A roster, weren't the only ones to use the Rule 5 Draft as a stepping stone to subsequent deals.


The most recognizable name in that shuffle was Josh Hamilton, drafted out of the Tampa Bay organization by the Cubs, who then dealt him to the Reds for cash. Hamilton is the trouble-beset 25-year-old who since the Devil Rays made him the overall No. 1 pick in the 1999 First-Year Player Draft has appeared in a total of 266 Minor League games -- and fewer than 100 in the past six years.



Also, the Brewers chose lefty Edward Campusano from the Cubs, then dealt him to Detroit, also for cash considerations. And the A's and Devil Rays went all out, swapping their Rule 5 picks; Oakland dealt lefty Jay Marshall (whom it had drafted from the White Sox) for outfielder Ryan Goleski (Tampa Bay's pick from the Indians).


With the paucity of bigger deals, these usually-agate transactions received more attention than usual. But baseball insiders have little doubt that the headliners will reclaim the stage in the four months remaining to Opening Day.


Of course, the Winter Meetings present merely an artificial deadline for buying and bartering -- with the possible exception of the Boston Red Sox, whose GM, Theo Epstein, sounded serious when saying Ramirez would come off the market once the Dolphin Hotel cleared out.


Plenty of action, and suspense, remains for the weeks ahead. Let's face it, in a market where the Gil Meche going rate is $11 million annually into the next decade, anything is possible and fans everywhere have a lot to anticipate and relish. Only maybe not as much as does Barry Zito.


The six starting pitchers signing new contracts during the 84 hours of the Winter Meetings did so for a total of $256 million, leaving Zito, who entered the offseason as the consensus cream of the free-agent crop, in a nice cleanup position.


His agent, Scott Boras, will receive ample face time, too, as he also negotiates with Boston on behalf of Daisuke Matsuzaka.


Then, there is Andy Pettitte, fresh off his declaration that, yes, he will continue pitching in 2007, as a 34-year-old left-hander who hasn't had a losing season in his 12-year career (think about that one). Even more intriguing than Pettitte's possible return to the Yankees is the thought of pal Roger Clemens, the Goodbye Guy who himself hasn't decided about 2007, following him back to the Bronx.


As for Manny ... it remains true that the only thing more inconceivable than him not being in Boston is, him being in Boston. Unless everyone in The Nation gets amnesia about his sit-down for the final month of the 2006 season.


Those are the coming attractions. Looking best in the rearview mirror are the Cubs, who also furnished the only episode of these meetings certain to grow into legend.


That, of course, would be general manager Jim Hendry winding up in the hospital in the middle of negotiating Ted Lilly's $40 million contract.


A Cub spokesman passed along word Thursday morning that "Hendry is resting comfortably and is in good spirits."


Why shouldn't he be? Reflecting the state of the market thus far, he has beefed up the Cubs' outfield (Alfonso Soriano), infield (Aramis Ramirez, Mark DeRosa) and rotation (Lilly), and it hasn't cost him any players -- only bucks, 262 million of them.

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