LAS VEGAS - We await the winner of the showdown for Mark Teixeira among the Nationals, Red Sox, and Angels. If the Yankees and Orioles are also in it, so be it, but for the moment, those three teams will duke it out.
The Red Sox and Nationals (and Yankees) may have already met with the free agent first baseman - not here, but prior to the winter meetings. They've all communicated with him in some form. Now the question is, how many years and how many zeroes will accompany an offer?
Teixeira could command upward of $25 million per season when all is said and done. All teams have their limits, of course, but as one major league source insisted yesterday, "There's no question the excitement over Teixeira is coming from Boston, Washington, and the Angels. Another team or two could always get into it. Now it's a question of, how long does Scott Boras want to drag this one out for?"
Up to this point, Boras has been scarce simply because he hasn't had much to discuss. But that could change.
There doesn't seem to be a lot of movement on the hitters market in general, with Manny Ramírez, Bobby Abreu, Raul Ibanez, and Milton Bradley all coveted but still a ways from signing.
The closer market and the catcher market have been the most active.
Francisco Rodriguez, who set the save record (62) last season with the Angels, agreed to a three-year, $37 million deal with the Mets yesterday. Rodriguez is only 26 years old and probably got two fewer years than he was expecting.
The Mets get a premium closer to replace the injured Billy Wagner, but also one whose velocity has dipped dramatically from the 95-97 m.p.h he used to throw to the 91-93 he gets his fastball up to now. He has developed two changeups, which were effective for him until he reached the playoffs against the Red Sox.
So what are the Mets getting? A guy who can still get hitters out at a record pace or a closer who might be on the decline? Hard to tell.
For one thing, being in the National League should help Rodriguez, as he faces hitters who haven't seen him and must adjust to a delivery that's hard to pick up.
The Mets were in need of making a big splash after missing the playoffs the last two seasons, and they went for the big name.
"I was impressed with the energy he had when he came out, and obviously along with that came some confidence," said Mets manager Jerry Manuel. "He's a confident young man. An exciting guy to talk about."
One concern about Rodriguez is that he can be emotional and sensitive. If he blows a save or two, how will that play in New York?
"In New York, you have to finish it out," said Manuel. "You have to win. So I think because he's so passionate, and the fans of New York are passionate, it will play well here. I don't think Frankie will have any problem."
Kerry Wood seemed to have a deal in place with the Indians, but his agent, Joe Sambito, indicated late yesterday that it wasn't done. The Tigers were in on Wood heavily, but didn't appear to have the $10 million per year available to make a deal work. The Indians were offering two years at $20 million, but they might have had to go up on that, causing the hang-up.
Brian Fuentes could still be a target for the Mets, but there seemed to be an emerging market for him in St. Louis and possibly Milwaukee.
A day after the Rangers made a head-scratching deal with catcher Gerald Laird (receiving only two Single A pitchers from the Tigers), the Reds acquired Ramon Hernandez from the Orioles for outfielder Ryan Freel. This means another door closed for Jason Varitek.
"This deal is more about Matt Wieters, frankly," said Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, referring to the Baltimore catching prospect. "We knew that it would create a situation where we were going to have to split some playing time with Matt and Ramon, so we knew Ramon wouldn't be happy about that. Given where this franchise is, we also understood our future was with Matt."
The Sox didn't really have interest in Hernandez as a backup plan, so they weren't overly upset about the trade. The Orioles also don't like dealing within the division, so a deal to Boston likely wouldn't have come off anyway.
The Sox were also not fans of Laird. Before the meetings, the Braves offered to acquire Laird from the Rangers and then flip him to the Red Sox for Clay Buchholz. The Sox turned that down.
Cubs manager Lou Piniella continued to rant about reports that the Cubs were close to trading for Jake Peavy, indicating there haven't been talks about him for a quite a while. Piniella wants a hitter, feeling he has enough pitching with Ryan Dempster re-signed. And he knows his GM, Jim Hendry, feels the same way.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org