General managers, agents and media descended upon the desert mecca for the first time as the Winter Meetings began on Monday, staging Day 1 of a four-day gathering right there on the Las Vegas Strip. It's a session that could see big stars making huge news, late and lively nights of spirited camaraderie, and the potential for money changing hands.
In other words, just a normal four days in Vegas -- with a red-seamed twist that makes it anything but normal.
It was fitting that the top name on the marquee for Day 1 was a hometown hero, Las Vegas' greatest gift to baseball: Greg Maddux. The winner of 355 games, Maddux started the clock on his road to Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame by officially announcing his retirement.
Leave it to the cerebral right-hander to throw the first pitch of these Winter Meetings with class.
"I'm just here to say, really, thank you to everybody," Maddux said. "Everybody in baseball, from teams I've played for, GMs, hitting coaches, pitching coaches, teammates, clubbies, people that work in the ballparks that you see every day in baseball. Everybody has always treated me great, and the friends I made, I really just came out here today to say thank you."
As baseball's fans shouted a collective "No, thank YOU!" to Maddux, the murmurs and whispers quickly gathered volume into the annual crescendo of Hot Stove action, reaction and just plain old fiction.
Some business was accomplished on Day 1, from the finalization of a trade that sent catcher Gerald Laird from the Rangers to the Tigers to the subsequent reported signing by the Tigers of veteran shortstop Adam Everett, pending a physical. Later, Casey Blake and the Dodgers appeared close to reuniting for 2009.
No, the headlines of done deals did not shake the baseball world on Day 1.
"I guess it was a typical Winter Meetings day," Red Sox GM Theo Epstein said on Monday. "Some talks, couldn't get anything done. It took a half-hour to get through the lobby. It was all right."
But as usual, it wasn't so much about what got
done as it as about what's getting
And nobody was getting it done like Sabathia.
The most sought-after free-agent pitcher worked the market up and down the Strip for a good 24 hours. He and his representatives started by meeting with the Yankees -- who brought Reggie Jackson to the room for good measure -- on Sunday night. The big lefty caught Dodgers GM Ned Colletti on the way out and professed, according to Colletti, a desire to pitch for the Dodgers. And then, during the course of Monday, Sabathia met with the incumbent Brewers ... and then with the Yankees yet again ... and the Red Sox, too?
Already offered a deal by the Yankees worth a reported $140 million over six years, Sabathia has a lot to think about as he weighs which teams (Giants? Angels?) might get him to his native California or whether the East Coast will win out.
"I just think, when I look at CC, I look at a guy that has three young kids, and he's trying to make the decision that is best for his family," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after spending time with Sabathia on Sunday night. "He's not going to rush into it."
Sabathia wasn't the only pitcher on the tips of people's tongues as the meetings began, not by a long shot. Day 1 was almost exclusively about the arms, and there are a lot of them out there.
Ben Sheets himself made his way through the lobby, and the free agent who hails from Texas met with the Rangers. The pursuit of A.J. Burnett remained high on the Yankees' list for the offseason, though it continued to be evident that Burnett isn't going anywhere until Sabathia makes a move.
The Mets and their search for a closer also made noise at the Bellagio, with Francisco Rodriguez reportedly receiving a three-year contract offer from New York, all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman emerging as a possibility and the team continuing to consider trade options.
And then there was another twist or two to the seemingly never-ending saga of the Padres' attempt to trade their ace, Peavy, who stands to make $63 million over the next four years. GM Kevin Towers said on Monday he has one team -- the Cubs -- he's targeting, and he plans to get something done with them or with the assistance of a third or fourth trade partner by the time the meetings end on Thursday, or he'll prepare to keep Peavy next year. By the end of the night, it had been revealed that the Phillies could become a third team in a deal and that the Angels might not be so far out of the running themselves.
There were a few good rumors, too -- Ramon Hernandez possibly going to Cincinnati for Ryan Freel, the Blue Jays perhaps considering getting in on shortstop Rafael Furcal and the Rays being interested in outfielder Milton Bradley.
Along with the annual media sessions with managers, there was the introduction of the MLB Network and a new Hall of Famer in Joe Gordon, along with the appearance by what could be the newest surefire candidate for the Hall of Fame in Maddux.
And that was just Day 1.
Las Vegas, baseball has arrived in town. If you weren't Las Vegas, we'd say you'd better prepare to stay up late.