Final day starts with questions unanswered

Final day starts with questions unanswered

It's Getaway Day, but it's really Get Started Day.

After one last, long night of face-to-face discussions and a lobby teeming with whispered rumors and word of one big deal on the horizon, it's time for the frenzied day of departure at the Winter Meetings with the Thursday finale to a week of baseball wheeling and dealing in December.

And with so much business remaining to be done before Spring Training no matter what goes down Thursday, getting away really means getting started.

The Rule 5 Draft is on the final-day docket as usual, set to begin at 9 a.m. ET with live coverage on MLB.com, and that bit of baseball's inner workings has brought Josh Hamilton and Joakim Sora to the Major Leagues in recent years.

But the focus will remain on the 2010-11 free-agent market and trade discussions that have kept the lobby at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort hopping these last several days -- and brought everybody there in the first place.

The Red Sox threw another big log on the Hot Stove fire with their reported seven-year, $142 million deal with outfielder Carl Crawford -- a fitting bookend to the Adrian Gonzalez acquisition.

With Thursday's arrival comes departure -- and a return. A return, that is, to mobile devices and landlines, as conversations get back on the phone and via e-communication with general managers and agents flying home to all points around the nation.

There's a lot to get done, and it's not all getting done Thursday. Some already have left, some more dramatically than others.

Case in point: Agent Darek Braunecker took the offers he collected in Florida for Cliff Lee, aka Mr. Free Agency 2010, on a trip to Arkansas, where he and Lee's family will huddle, presumably starting Thursday if not sooner. Together, they will mull over which team will guarantee the left-hander's professional future for another six or seven years, at $20 million-plus per season.

Even if he's not represented there, Lee will remain the biggest name of these Winter Meetings, right down to the last day -- don't assume the rumors will die down because his agent isn't in the house.

Now that he has an offer in hand from the Yankees -- reported to be six years for $140 million -- plus one or two rumored seven-year offers and interest from the Rangers, Nationals and reportedly the Angels, there's a lot for Team Lee to think about.

"He's somebody worth waiting for," Yankees GM Brian Cashman said.

Said Jon Daniels, GM of the incumbent Rangers: "I think we know more than when we got here. We haven't made any secret of our interest in the player."

With the decision process apparently under way in neighboring Arkansas, the defending American League champion Rangers will arrive home in Texas mulling other options as well -- though that apparently won't include Crawford, also sought by the Angels, the Tigers and perhaps the Yankees.

If one thing's evident heading into the final day of the Winter Meetings, it's that this will be more part of the start of the process than part of the conclusion, especially when it comes to the free-agent market.

Exhibit A: The Angels have been said to be interested in all the top available free agents: Crawford, Adrian Beltre, Rafael Soriano and Lee. But it's not likely they're going to haul any of them all back to the West Coast on Thursday.

"This is one of those things where in this environment, a lot of those things get tossed around," Angels GM Tony Reagins said Wednesday. "It's pretty obvious we're linked to every high-profile free agent out there. Sometimes it's accurate, and sometimes it's inaccurate."

With the free-agent market still clogged despite the apparent removal of Crawford, a significant number of signings on the way out the door Thursday is unlikely.

Trades could be a different story, since those could be discussions between two parties that both are finally ready to pull the trigger on something they've been working on for a few days.

That said, there doesn't seem to be a pre-departure deal in the offing for the Royals as teams ask for Zack Greinke, being seen by some as Plan B to Lee. The 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner still has two years to go on his contract, so the Royals aren't in any hurry.

"We're in a win-win situation here," Moore said. "We've got Zack Greinke or we've got some type of deal that makes great sense."

The one thing everyone knows will happen Thursday is the Rule 5 Draft, in which a player left unprotected from his club's 40-man roster can be selected by another team for $50,000. The player will have to be kept on the receiving team's 25-man Major League roster, or offered back to the original team for $25,000.

The Pirates will have the first selection in the Major League portion of the annual draft, which also includes a Minor League round.

And with the end of that Draft, baseball folks will be scurrying for the exits, heading every direction, getting away to get started.

John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.