With some of the biggest business taking place in the wee hours of Tuesday morning and the stream of discussions and rumors becoming downright viral as the day went along, baseball's Winter Meetings picked up a good head of steam on Day 2 of the discussions headquartered at the Bellagio.There was some big free-agent news, and the domino effect that followed. There was an actual trade. And, no doubt, there was little sleep among the participants doing it all. In the city that never closes, baseball's closers took center stage as Winter Meetings 2008 really got out of the blocks. They can't say it officially yet, but it's pretty clear the Mets are happy with their new closer: Francisco Rodriguez, whose three-year, $37-million deal is expected to be announced Wednesday. "The reason we've been looking at him is obvious," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said. "He's a competitor."
Added manager Jerry Manuel: "Any time you acquire somebody at that level, it raises the level of everybody else. It's almost the same as saying: 'Johan [Santana] is pitching today.' You feel a different spirit."The Winter Meetings were feeling one once the K-Rod news cracked the ice. Throughout Day 1, the buzz was about whether Rodriguez liked the three-year offer the Mets extended him as soon as they got to Las Vegas, or didn't like it. Shortly after midnight on The Strip, it was becoming apparent he liked it enough. That's when reports that he'd agreed quickly made the media rounds. Release the dominoes! Even if one didn't knock down the next, the K-Rod signing certainly stirred up the relief market. Kerry Wood soon agreed to a two-year deal with the Indians, also pending final announcement, taking another closer off the market. The Angels immediately became subject of speculation that they are in the market to replace K-Rod, perhaps with Brian Fuentes -- but not so fast on that one. With Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia in their sights, the Angels don't appear to mind having veteran Scot Shields and youngster Jose Arredondo, who served as Rodriguez's principal setup men, watch over the eighth and ninth if it comes down to it. "We think they're capable," Angels GM Tony Reagins said. The Tigers remain interested in J.J. Putz, who would be forever part of new Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik's first trade if a deal were to happen. Alan Embree agreed to terms with the Rockies, making it that much more crystal clear they won't be bringing back Fuentes, considered by many the top remaining free agent closer on the market. Fuentes had some nice conversations with the Cardinals, and it's pretty clear he's not going to have trouble landing a job. All-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman and his representatives have been making the rounds a bit, too. Whew, that's just the relievers. And Sabathia isn't a reliever. Neither is Jake Peavy. Sabathia rumors continued to dominate the landscape at the Winter Meetings, with California teams chiming in with their intentions. The Dodgers, who finally had a follow-up conversation with Manny Ramirez that didn't go very far, indicated they might go beyond their three-year "rule" on pitchers with Sabathia, but the Giants -- closer to his hometown of Vallejo -- termed Sabathia a "fallback" option. Of course, all the while that mammoth six-year, $140 million offer from the Yankees, not to mention the Brewers' continued interest, is in CC's back pocket. Actually, as of Tuesday night, Yankees GM Brian Cashman was in Sabathia's back yard, leaving Las Vegas to meet with Sabathia in the Bay Area, fueling speculation that the Yankees were homing in on the big left-hander. On the trade front, the Peavy siege continued into another day, with time ticking down on Padres GM Kevin Towers' self-imposed deadline of getting a deal done by the end of the Winter Meetings. One trade did get done -- the one sending catcher Ramon Hernandez from Baltimore to Cincinnati for Ryan Freel and two prospects. Meanwhile, Towers met with the Cubs at least twice, and the Phillies reportedly are at the table as a third dance partner, with widespread discussion centering on the Cubs' ability to move Jason Marquis' $9.875 million salary. "We've pretty much settled on the players coming back," Towers said. "Jim [Hendry, the Cubs' GM] has a feel for what we need to move Peavy. It's [about], is he able to make things happen financially to take on Jake's contract?" Ben Sheets and A.J. Burnett, another pair of right-handed starters, continued to be names of interest, with the Yankees meeting with Sheets and the Red Sox reportedly jumping in with the Yankees and Braves on Burnett, whose agent says he's not waiting around for anybody else but still doesn't anticipate getting something done this week. "None of this is contingent on what CC or anybody else does," agent Darek Braunecker said. "If the right deal presents itself from the right club, we'll be prepared to act."
With all of the activity, the Angels are among the teams lurking in the weeds a little bit, their name being mentioned about pretty much all the big names but nothing concrete as yet. The Red Sox are serious about slugger Teixeira, but no more so than the Angels, who continue to weigh in on Sabathia."Tex and CC, that's greedy, isn't it?" Torii Hunter said of the possibility. Maybe, but Hunter wasn't just in Las Vegas to stoke his team's competitive fire. The Angels' Gold Glove outfielder was there to announce the launch of The Torii Hunter Project's Education Initiative, a program that will provide college scholarship and character development to students in Las Vegas, Anaheim, Minneapolis, and Hunter's hometown of Pine Bluff, Ark. There also was a presentation about baseball's Safety and Heath Advisory Committee, which put forth recommendations to curtail the number of shattered bats. Beginning this season, there will be a system in place, including an audit at the 30 Major League ballparks, to examine and certify each new bat before it is distributed to any player. The Dodgers and White Sox got together not for a trade but for a press conference officially announcing their partnership at Camelback Ranch, the state-of-the-art Spring Training facility the two teams will share starting next year in Glendale, Ariz. And Tony Kubek, whose reach from behind the microphone extended well beyond his Yankees roots to national prominence, was announced as the 2009 recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence from the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In the lobby, the rumors were good and strong -- among them, reports of shortstop Rafael Furcal narrowing his focus to the Dodgers, A's, Blue Jays and Royals -- plus there was the announcement of the World Series champion Phillies extending manager Charlie Manuel's contract. So it was another full day -- and night -- of baseball's Winter Meetings. And, just like any trip to Las Vegas, the time seems like it's slipping away pretty fast.
John Schlegel is an executive editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.