Winter Meetings Whispers: Day 3

Winter Meetings Whispers: Day 3

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Starting pitching was the hot topic at the Winter Meetings on Wednesday, as Jason Schmidt apparently accepted a three-year, $47 million offer from the Dodgers, Ted Lilly and the Cubs had agreed to a four-year contract worth $40 million and the Barry Zito sweepstakes began to heat up.

Here are the latest whispers from the Dolphin Hotel as of 1:30 a.m. ET:

The Dodgers appeared to be the winners for Schmidt, a free-agent right-hander who attracted a number of suitors, especially the Mariners, Cubs and Cardinals.

The three-time All-Star would head a rotation that includes Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, Chad Billingsley and Randy Wolf. In addition, the Dodgers have starters Mark Hendrickson, Hong-Chih Kuo and Brett Tomko on their roster, although speculation is bound to include Penny and/or Hendrickson in future talks for a hitter now that Schmidt is aboard.

Dodgers strike late: The Dodgers and outfielder Luis Gonzalez agreed to terms late Wednesday night on a one-year, $7 million contract.

The deal is expected to be officially announced Thursday, the final day of the Winter Meetings.

Lilly a Cub: Another free agent starter, Lilly, is heading to the Cubs after agreeing to terms Wednesday night.

Lilly's agent, Larry O'Brien, said he expected the deal to be finalized next week after the pitcher returns from Sacramento and Cubs GM Jim Hendry gets out of the hospital. Hendry was hospitalized in Orlando on Wednesday after experiencing non-life threatening symptoms.

"With Jim unavailable, we weren't able to get it completed tonight, but I expect we will soon and have the press conference then," O'Brien said. "We have to work out the signing bonus. [The money] will be smaller in '07 but of equal value in 2008, 2009 and 2010."

Zito-sized market: Left-hander Zito, the marquee starter remaining on the market, is drawing interest from the Rangers, Mets, Giants and Mariners. With Schmidt and Lilly out of the picture, the number of teams pursuing the former Oakland ace could expand.

Zito's agent Scott Boras would not identify which teams or even how many teams have contacted him regarding the pitcher.

"Next to Greg Maddux, he's the most durable pitcher on the market in almost 30 years," Boras said. "He's never missed a start, he's a winner and he's going to get a contract that reflects that."

Sexson on the market? Seattle first baseman Richie Sexson is thought to be available. The Mariners are seeking a frontline starting pitcher, and their reported top free-agent target, Schmidt, is no longer an option.

Toronto could take Stairs: The Blue Jays are considering free agent Matt Stairs as a possible addition to the roster. Stairs hit a combined .247 (86-for-348) with 13 homers and 51 RBIs in 117 games for Kansas City, Texas and Detroit last season. He usually filled in at designated hitter but also played some first base as well as both corner outfield spots.

Stairs would bring another left-handed bat to a roster dominated by right-handed hitters. Stairs, who turns 39 in February, was born in Canada.

Jays wooing Meche: With Lilly now out of the picture, the Jays will wait to hear if the four-year deal they offered free-agent starter Gil Meche is enough to convince him to join Toronto. The Jays have met with Meche's representatives throughout the Winter Meetings, and general manager J.P. Ricciardi said he was simply waiting to hear back from Meche.

"I think we've done everything we can possibly do," said Ricciardi, referring to Toronto's pursuit of Meche. "Really, the ball is in their court at this point. We're waiting to hear from them, but I don't think it's going to be a long wait. I think we'll find something out in the next few days."

LaRoche for Gonzalez deal dead: For most of the afternoon Wednesday, it appeared as though the Pirates and Braves were on the verge of finalizing a deal that would have sent Bucs closer Mike Gonzalez to Atlanta for first baseman Adam LaRoche. Atlanta's concern over Gonzalez's health was believed to be the only sticking point in the negotiations.

By nightfall, however, the proposed deal appeared to be abandoned altogether. Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz reportedly grew frustrated waiting for Pirates GM Dave Littlefield to finalize the trade and decided to move on to other options.

Pitchers possibly on the move: The Mariners are talking with the Braves about a deal of pitchers that would send Rafael Soriano to Atlanta and left-hander Horacio Ramirez to Seattle.

Soriano was used primarily as an eighth-inning pitcher last season, but he has closer tools and indicated that he would like to be a starter.

Preliminary talks: The Brewers have talked to the Giants about outfielder Geoff Jenkins.

Andy Pettitte will pitch in 2007, but it remains to be seen whether it's for the Yankees or the Astros. The Yankees have offered a one-year deal worth $15 million, the Astros are also seeking to sign Pettitte to a one-year contract for an undisclosed sum.

• The Twins appear to be in the process of bringing back Rondell White but it would be as the team's starting left fielder, not designated hitter. The team is expected to use some in-house candidates, including left-hander hitter Jason Kubel, to fill the hole at the DH spot.

Twins GM Terry Ryan wouldn't confirm if the Twins had actually tendered an offer to the free agent outfielder but said he had talked with White's agent, Seth Levinson, and that the team has significant interest in resigning White.

"It would be nice to have some finality to a few spots here," Ryan said.

• As of Wednesday afternoon, Brewers GM Doug Melvin had not heard back from the representatives for free agent infielders Jeff Cirillo or Tony Graffanino. The team submitted a one-year offer for Cirillo on Tuesday, and Graffanino has until Thursday to decide whether to accept the team's offer of salary arbitration. The Padres are also interested in Graffanino.

• It appears less likely Arizona will sign free agent left-hander Mark Mulder.

Jim Molony is a writer for reporters contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.