High stakes for GMs next week in Vegas

High stakes for GMs next week

NEW YORK -- They've all got an instinctive bit of gamble in them, these Major League general managers do, and baseball couldn't have picked a better locale for them to prove it. Yet pardon the game's top executives next week if they brush past the craps tables and sidestep the slots. Las Vegas, site of the Winter Meetings, will be an office for these men -- not a playground.

Take Padres GM Kevin Towers, for example, who has spent most of this offseason glued to a telephone, fielding offers for his ace, Jake Peavy. Or Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd, who might trade Huston Street only weeks after acquiring him. Or Brian Cashman, general manager of the Yankees, whose expectant fans demand offseason action.

They'll all find opportunities when the Winter Meetings kick off at the Bellagio on Monday, the first of baseball's four days in the desert. Though in theory, GMs attend the annual meetings for the conferences, the announcements and the Rule 5 Draft, sparks tend to fly when 30 of them gather in the same hotel. And this year's Meetings, which run from Dec. 8-11 in Vegas, should be no different.

Considering how wary teams are of shelling out dollars for top free agents this winter, the trade market may become an even popular weapon than usual. The Winter Meetings will provide an arena. And offseason buzz has already shown the trade-hunters where to look.

The jewel of this winter's trade market is Peavy, a former Cy Young Award winner who doubles as one of baseball's most likely players to be moved. Towers has been searching for potential matches for most of this offseason, and should soon determine whether or not the Padres can strike a deal. The rest of his Hot Stove depends upon it.

"It's certainly a large sum of money we would be moving," he said recently, referring to Peavy's $11 million contract for 2009. "Once that's decided, we will have a better idea of what holes we would be plugging."

The Padres have already had extensive talks with the Braves regarding Peavy, perhaps in a package centered around shortstop Yunel Escobar. Atlanta has already solidified its starting rotation by agreeing to a deal with the White Sox for right-hander Javier Vazquez.

Several other teams -- the Cubs and Cashman's Yankees among them -- have also indicated interest in Peavy, including a recent report that has the Orioles landing outfielder Felix Pie from the Cubs in a three-team deal. The Winter Meetings could help expedite negotiations.

"We're basically in the same position as everybody else," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said, "waiting for a couple of big dominoes to fall."

Perhaps the most active general manager at the meetings, however, could be a man who has already been plenty active to date. O'Dowd made the offseason's first and most significant splash when he dealt perennial MVP candidate Matt Holliday to the Athletics for Street and two others. Yet O'Dowd seems far from satisfied. Published reports have linked Street to both the Mets and Yankees. And the Rockies, with Manuel Corpas ready to step in for free agent closer Brian Fuentes, have reason to consider flipping him.

The Mets, for their part, seem interested in just about anyone with closing experience. If they can't acquire either Fuentes or Francisco Rodriguez through the free agency -- or even if they can -- they will likely pursue the best relievers available through the trade market. J.J. Putz is one option; Jose Valverde is another. And the Mets have indicated that they would be interested in acquiring Street as a setup man.

Many of O'Dowd's other Vegas machinations may revolve around Garrett Atkins, a third baseman who could garner a package comparable to the one the Rockies received for Holliday. Though his numbers can't compare to those of Holliday, who has hit 95 home runs over the past three seasons, Atkins still has two seasons to play before he can file for free agency. In today's market, that makes him a valuable commodity.

Reds general manager Walt Jocketty confirmed last month that he had spoken with O'Dowd -- and the Angels, Twins and Indians have all been linked to Atkins.

"My relatives and friends are always asking me," Atkins said. "I think they believe I have an inside scoop or talk with our GM or some other team's GM. That's not the case. I tell them I can read the paper, but that's the only scoop I have on anything."

But count him among those curious. Rumors began flying around the country long before the game's general managers packed their bags for Vegas, where most expect trade winds to intensify. There's already talk of Jermaine Dye to the Mets or Phillies, and of Mark Teahen to the Cubs, possibly in exchange for Sean Marshall and Mike Fontenot.

There's talk of Julio Lugo to Detroit for Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson, though the Tigers have shown more recent interest in free agent shortstop Orlando Cabrera. Jack Wilson of the Pirates and Khalil Greene of the Padres are options, too, but the Tigers will face competition in the market -- the Blue Jays are after a shortstop as well.

"We'll be open to anything," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "We're not in a slash-payroll mode, but we're in a situation where if we can make ourselves better via trade, we'll look that way."

There's also been talk of shipping outfielder Jeff Francoeur out of Atlanta, though the Braves seem more inclined to trade Escobar or Kelly Johnson instead -- perhaps in a deal for Cardinals slugger Ryan Ludwick. Miguel Tejada or Ty Wigginton might be headed out of town, though little in Houston has graduated beyond a rumor.

If the Marlins can stomach the thought of parting with former top prospect Jeremy Hermida, they should find a nice package waiting for them in return. And the Rangers might yet trade one of their young catchers -- Gerald Laird or Max Ramirez or Jarrod Saltalamacchia -- knowing that Taylor Teagarden is waiting in the wings.

What's clear is that something is primed to happen next week, because the odds of all 30 general managers leaving Las Vegas empty-handed are slim. Not in this city. Not with these stakes. And certainly not with so many of them aching to gamble.

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