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Viva Las Vegas: Baseball winter meetings open

Monday, December 8, 2008

By RONALD BLUM

AP Baseball Writer

LAS VEGAS -- The team names are spelled in lights on a huge board at the Bellagio Race and Sports Book, above dozens of padded brown seats: The Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs are 5-1 co-favorites to win next year's World Series, followed by the Los Angeles Angels and New York Yankees at 6-1.

Twenty-six teams in all are listed. Sorry, no room for San Diego, Washington, Kansas City and Pittsburgh.

Viva Las Vegas.

Welcome to a winter meetings like no other, where the lobby bar sells not hot dogs but Tzar Imperial Transmontanous caviar and foie gras terrine.

"We're 6-1? That's crazy," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.

General managers, walking the marbled floors past peroxide blondes in revealing outfits, can head to a blackjack table and then go back to their suites to take a roll on a pitcher or two.

Joe Maddon, manager of the AL champion Rays, had lunch with free agent Milton Bradley. Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella was talking in the middle of the casino later in the day.

"In the old days, the winter meetings would not have taken place here," said Arizona's Roland Hemond, who's been attending these sessions for about a half-century, "but times change and the game grows. What's a little difficult is it's so spread out here."

With 3,933 rooms, the Bellagio can hold even more people than the Opryland (2,881) in Nashville, Tenn., where the meetings were held last year. While that hotel has restaurants that shut down each night far before baseball executives, this is a 24-hour town, perfect for all-night trade-talk sessions.

"Anybody got a motor scooter to get back?" Braves manager Bobby Cox quipped in the meeting area before heading back to the lobby. "It's a long walk."

There's a fake Eiffel Tower and Brooklyn Bridge in Vegas, but GMs were looking for the real thing.

CC Sabathia and Francisco Rodriguez were in town over the weekend, so teams wanting to make a bigger splash than the 1,200-nozzle fountains outside the hotel could get an early start on the meet-and-greet sessions. Just 12 of the 171 free agents had finalized contract agreements ahead of the four-day session.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, or so they say. But while it was hard to say how much would actually happen this week, teams were talking shop by early Monday.

After meeting with Cashman, Yankees manager Joe Girardi and adviser Reggie Jackson on Sunday, Sabathia met with the GM for the second straight day. New York made a six-year offer to Sabathia more than a month ago.

"We're not being played. We're not been manipulated. We're not being used," said Cashman, who said Sabathia was being deliberate in his decision-making.

San Diego general manager Kevin Towers indicated the Chicago Cubs were the only team currently in the running to acquire 2007 NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy.

The Padres are trying to trade Peavy to trim payroll, but Towers pointed out that the Cubs might need to move some players before a deal could be struck because they agreed to a $52 million, four-year contract with pitcher Ryan Dempster.

"At the end of this week, I'd like to know if there's enough pieces for a potential deal," Towers said. "I don't think it's fair to our fans or our ballclub to drag this thing on."

Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said he hadn't heard from representatives for free-agent slugger Manny Ramirez and pitcher Derek Lowe after extending offers.

"I sense Derek doesn't want to be here," Colletti said. "We're not spending much time to persuade him."

Colletti also is trying to fill two holes in the infield and he met with representatives for free-agent shortstop Rafael Furcal.

"If Manny Ramirez shows up at spring training in Glendale, Ariz., we'll find him a hat and find him a jersey," Colletti said. "But I can't wait until that day to pursue a third baseman, a shortstop, a starting pitcher."

Asked if the Dodgers could get in on talks to sign Sabathia, Colletti said: "It's a possibility."

Detroit and Texas completed the first trade of the session. The Tigers acquired catcher Gerald Laird from the Rangers in a deal that sent right-handed pitching prospects Guillermo Moscoso and Carlos Melo to Texas.

Also, pitcher Greg Maddux held a news conference to announce his retirement. The winter meetings are being held just minutes from his Las Vegas home.

In other news, Major League Baseball planned a Tuesday news conference with the players' association to announce changes designed to strengthen wood bats. Players still would be allowed to use maple bats, however. And former Yankees second baseman Joe Gordon was elected to the Hall of Fame by a 12-member Veterans Committee.

Also, MLB Advanced Media, the sport's Internet division, announced it was laying off 20 employees, about 4 percent of its staff.


AP Baseball Writer Mike Fitzpatrick and AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.



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