Big Apple clubs steal show at Meetings
Sabathia, K-Rod signings set tone; Putz deal caps wild day
There have been very few Winter Meetings in the past that could boast something in the order of the top free-agent closer signing with a new club, much less the top free-agent starter signing the next day.Other annual conventions of baseball's decision-makers have had big trades. Not a lot of them have cooked up three-way deals involving 12 players. But this is Las Vegas, baby.
Everything's bigger and brighter, and the 2008 Winter Meetings have fit right in with the setting, becoming one of the most glittering gatherings yet with Wednesday's winter flurry of activity in the desert.Of this, there was no doubt: Day 3 belonged to CC. The big man on the Strip this week was, is and remains CC Sabathia. The Ruthian lefty agreed to a reported seven-year deal worth about $161 million Wednesday, shortly after GM Brian Cashman flew to the San Francisco Bay Area to close the deal -- successfully -- in a meeting with CC and his wife, Amber. "I told them I would be more than willing to fly from Vegas to continue our efforts by meeting in California," Cashman said. "They welcomed that idea, so I took advantage of it and bolted." By the time Cashman bolted back to Las Vegas, the word had spread and CC was on the way to the Bronx. The Sabathia news came on the heels of top closer Francisco Rodriguez finalizing his deal with the crosstown Mets, and preceded an evening trade that jolted through the lobby Wednesday night -- and that involved the Mets as well. The Mets received closer J.J. Putz from the Mariners in a 12-player deal also involving the Indians, the upshot being that Putz will become K-Rod's setup man. Leave it to the New York teams to feel so comfortable making things happen in a city that doesn't sleep. Oh, and there is one more sleepless session of Las Vegas nightlife to go. Brace yourself for a final flurry when the fourth and final day comes on Thursday, a "getaway day" that will begin with the Rule 5 Draft in the morning -- not exactly something to snooze through, since Josh Hamilton and Johan Santana are among the players who have been selected in the past. After that, no one knows what kind of chaos could reign as the GMs and agents start making their way to McCarran International Airport. Perhaps the biggest question at that time: Do the Cubs and Padres have a Jake Peavy deal? Or have the Friars, with outside help or not, at least gotten to the point where they know they can trade the 2007 Cy Young Award winner? "Before we check out of this hotel ... we'll know if we have a deal," Padres GM Towers said late Wednesday. Of course, there will be plenty of other questions GMs and agents will be taking home with them from Las Vegas. And they'll probably have more answers than they had when they came, but the vast majority of the business from these Meetings no doubt will come in the days and weeks ahead. But one word so far fits the first Winter Meetings held in Las Vegas: Cha-ching. Even if it doesn't set an all-time mark for deals done, there has been no shortage of activity. And that's all anybody asks out of the Winter Meetings. The Sabathia signing set off a flurry of news, if not a flurry of actual announcements. It certainly made things happen in the market for starting pitching, and the Yankees are clearly not done. They were widely reported to be trying to best the Braves with a five-year offer to A.J. Burnett, and it became apparent as the day went along that they were approaching the $91 million mark hit by the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano over the same term. The Yankees were also said to be offering four years to Derek Lowe, and could be interested in Ben Sheets for a clean sweep of the top starters. But there are others out there. John Smoltz and Randy Johnson led the veteran charge of free agents, with both drawing interest from several teams. Jeremy Hermida joined Peavy as a hot trade topic, drawing reported interest from the Rangers and Mariners. And with the Sabathia signing, the first of this year's trio of megastars looking for megacontracts was off the market, leaving sluggers Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez to fend for themselves. The Nationals, near Teixeira's Maryland roots, burst into the fray by offering him eight years and $160 million for an average of $20 million a year. Agent Scott Boras, who represents both, held court for 50 minutes, emerging into the lobby for the first time in these meetings, drawing a throng of reporters so thick that hotel security had to move it away from the elevators. And to which Boras delivered at the outset: "I'm not going to comment on specifics. I'm not here to talk about specific teams. You'll need to talk to the clubs when it comes to free agency." There were items that did get finalized -- or moved toward it, at least. Kerry Wood headed to Cleveland for the physical that would nail down his deal with the Indians. The Phillies and Pirates completed a swap of catchers, with Ronny Paulino going to the Phillies in exchange for Jason Jaramillo. And the Tigers late in the day acquired right-hander Edwin Jackson for outfielder Matt Joyce. Also, a press conference was held concerning the World Baseball Classic, which will return in March 2009. This time, there will be more preparation for teams in advance of the event, with mandatory early Spring Training reporting dates for Major League players participating. "Any time you can get going a little bit earlier, I think it's only going to help," said Derek Jeter, the Yankees shortstop and captain who will help anchor Team USA as he did in 2006. There was a little media news as well. Nick Peters, who has covered each of the Giants' 50 Opening Day games in San Francisco, was announced as the winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, and will be recognized during the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum induction ceremony July 27 at Cooperstown, N.Y. And former MLB Radio broadcaster Victor Rojas joined the MLB Network, which hits the air on Jan. 1, 2009. One thing's for sure after the first three days of these Winter Meetings: There's already been plenty of action in Vegas, and there will be plenty of business that doesn't stay there.
There's one more late night in the desert to go.
John Schlegel is an executive editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.