Lee sweepstakes headline Winter Meetings

Bauman: Lee sweepstakes headline Meetings

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- At first glance, the scene has shifted dramatically for the Winter Meetings, all the way from Indianapolis in 2009, to Disney World in '10.

On second thought, the exterior setting for the Winter Meetings doesn't really make any difference. If there is really something happening, most people never leave the headquarters hotel anyway.

So yes this is technically a southern sojourn, four days and four nights in central Florida. But if there is actual news breaking out, it could be central Indiana again and it wouldn't matter. And news breaking out, early and often, is frankly what the vast majority of us hope will occur. It beats exchanging rumors of non-existent trades.

There is usually one lynchpin signing or acquisition that sets the whole thing in motion, or fails to set the whole thing in motion if it doesn't occur soon enough. This year, that one signing would probably be that of premium free-agent lefty starter Cliff Lee.

It's a classic matchup in the race for Lee's services. On the one hand, there are the Yankees, one franchise capable of spending immense money on any given individual. On the other hand are the Rangers, coming off their most successful postseason in franchise history, under new ownership, with a new television rights contract about to take the whole operation to a higher fiscal level.

This is particularly good for Lee; two highly motivated suitors, both with the ability to pay, both with an obvious chance to win, both with the belief that having his services could make a world of difference.

Speculation on Lee's ultimate decision has run in both directions. He really liked his time with the Rangers in 2010. He's from Arkansas, you know, a neighboring state; Arlington is almost like home. But, but, but, the Yankees have a history of overwhelming these kinds of situations with an offer so large, it cannot be refused by a mere human.

Whichever way this goes, it would be helpful if it happened soon, because that would open up the secondary, non-Cliff Lee market. The loser of the Cliff Lee Derby could be a big player here. One prominent scenario is a big package for Kansas City's Zack Greinke. Like Lee, Greinke is a former American League Cy Young Award winner. Like almost everybody else, Greinke has not had the opportunity to fashion Lee's impressive postseason credentials.

The pitching market, typically, is not at all deep. When you consider that the second-best free-agent starting pitcher is probably Carl Pavano, that kind of says it all. No question that he had a fine season in 2010 for the Twins, and no question that he'll get a lucrative deal somewhere. But he won't be getting a windfall courtesy of the Yankees, not after they spent $39.95 million on him over four years and got a grand total of 26 starts in return.

Among the position players, the biggest free-agent name is outfielder Carl Crawford, who has played his entire career with Tampa Bay. Jayson Werth did not wait for the Winter Meetings, signing a seven-year, $126 million deal with the Nationals on Sunday.

As important as Jayson Werth's contract and Carl Crawford's eventual signing are, the one commodity being sought by the majority of clubs is pitching. This just in: There isn't enough to go around. Most clubs are going to leave Disney World later in the week, feeling something less than totally fulfilled.

But at least they will try, which is the point of getting representatives of all 30 Major League clubs under the same roof, even if it's a really large roof. In this case, the roof would be over the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort. The resort is so named because the swan and the dolphin are two very positive symbols of life in and on the water. And if you're a baseball reporter here, you should remember the water, too, because it is very important to hydrate frequently while you are spending the entire day, and much of the evening, exchanging rumors in the lobby.

But that's where the action is. There should be no riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain, the Tower of Terror, or even, for the less adventuresome baseball types, It's a Small World. Ideally, this will be four days and four nights of indoor work, but still work.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.