The Winter Meetings get underway across the street from me this morning at the fabulous Bellagio Hotel. I went over last night to pick up credentials for the week and was stunned by the labyrinthian acres of opulence at what has become the gem of the central strip of always extravagant Vegas casinos. With the famous dancing fountains out front, the Bellagio makes Caesar's Palace next door look oh so dated.
In any case that's not where I'm actually staying so I don't need to worry about getting lost late at night looking in vain for my hotel room as happened too often last year at the hillbilly heaven that was the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. No, this year I'm across the street at the compact, fabulous Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon. The one line in Bill's online promotion of his four-story gamblin' palace hard by the Flamingo that attracted my attention was "with a view of the Bellagio fountains". They had me at "hello".
Vegas is evidence that if anything, America is in a recession and not a depression. It seems that money is still flowing in the streets. There's always something special going on. When I landed on Saturday, lining up at the rental car counter, the bubbly women behind the counters were trying to pass time as people filled out their forms by guessing what event everyone was in town for. There was the big Rodeo for all the guys in Cowboy hats. There was the half-marathon for those skinny people were wearing running shoes and eating seeds. There was the championship DelaHoya fight for the paunchy high rollers looking overmatched by the glittery women hanging off their arms. Then there was me. I stumped them. The Baseball Winter Meetings? What the hey is that?
But now they are here and so are 30 major-league front offices looking for trades, free agents and in the case of the Blue Jays, a bargain to fall into their laps. The Yankees were reported to have met with C.C. Sabathia's agents Greg Genske and Brian Peters last night (not Scott Boras as was erroneously mentioned in this space). The Mets were talking to closer Francisco Rodriguez a day in advance of the meetings. There will be plenty of news -- somew trades but mostly free agents.
With free agents David Weathers and Darren Oliver wisely accepting arbitration at Sunday's deadline, with Mike Mussina retiring and with the classy Vegas resident, Greg Maddux about to do the same today, that leaves 156 free agents on the market. As expected, A.J. Burnett refused the Jays' offer of arbitration, effectively removing them from the mix.
The Jays can now take that money they had budgeted for A.J. and decide whether or not to use it elsewhere. Right now the payroll, minus A.J., stands at $70 million. They likely won't reach the plateau of $100 million this year as they were close to being last opening day. In fact, there's a good chance they'll do nothing with that saved money, but stay tuned.