John Donovan
Thursday January 20th, 2005

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- No matter how hard anyone tries to predict what will happen at baseball's annual winter meetings (hereafter referred to as the "Big Crap Shoot," or BCS), no one can know, with any degree of certainty, what really will go down.

Oh, sure. Something will happen. Talk, for instance. Talk will happen. Proposals will happen. A trade or two. A free agent signing. Drinking will happen. A lot of drinking will happen.

But the BCS is so frenetic at times -- with general managers and scouts and player agents and managers and coaches and the occasional player and trainers and job seekers and software sellers and approximately 7 million reporters all milling around -- that everything is much harder to pull off.

A couple of years ago in Nashville, Tenn., the team formerly known as the Montreal Expos were going to be the big swappers at the BCS. Had to cut payroll, the word was. GM Omar Minaya was going to set up a lectern and bring his gavel and the whole team was going up for bids.

Well, it didn't work like that at all.

Last season, going into the BCS in New Orleans, the big news was the impending trade that would send all-world shortstop Alex Rodriguez to the Red Sox. Catcher Pudge Rodriguez was about to sign with the Orioles. Roger Clemens was 99 percent retired.

Well, A-Rod didn't sign with the Sox, Pudge went to the Tigers, of all teams, and Clemens didn't stay retired. But, hey, media types can't get everything right.

This year will be much of the same. More names tossed about and more near deals. The collapse of some talks and the genesis of others. If nothing else, the annual BCS provides all of baseball with a place to get things started. And, once in a while, to actually get something done.

Here are some of the names and teams that will be thrown out for consumption at the BCS, which begins Friday and ends with the Rule 5 draft on Monday morning in Anaheim ...

Randy Johnson A lot of GMs have talked over the phone since the end of the season, but the BCS gives everyone a rare chance to get everything on the table, face to face. The Diamondbacks and Yankees haven't talked in a week after the Yanks backed off their pursuit of the Big Unit, citing Arizona's exorbitant demands that included Javier Vazquez, pitching prospect Brad Halsey, millions of dollars and several partridges in pear trees.

Pedro Martinez Red Sox brass flew to the Dominican Republic for a ceremony at their baseball academy there, and at the airport met with right-hander Martinez, a free agent. Everyone came out smiling, which means either that things are progressing or that they were serving doubles at the bar. Martinez is on a couple of other wish lists, too -- including the Mets' -- but all signs point to him heading back to Boston.

Carlos Beltran The biggest chip in the free-agent sluggers' market has yet to fall, and that's because super agent Scott Boras holds that chip. And Boras knows how to play this game. Don't expect center fielder Beltran to sign with anyone this weekend, but anyone who is interested ought to look up Boras, if they haven't already. The suitors include the Yankees, eventually, the Astros, maybe the Angels and anyone else with $200 million lying around and a need for one of the game's best young players.

Carl Pavano The most sought-after free-agent pitcher on the market did a five-city swing in a week, then skipped a side trip to Anaheim. (Getting wined and dined is not as easy as it sounds.) The Red Sox, Orioles, Tigers and Phillies are in the hunt, as well as the Yankees and the Angels. Pavano already has been offered deals that run around four years for up to $40 million. Will he sign this weekend? Doubtful. But he'll be talked about, for sure.

Richie Sexson, Tim Hudson, Richard Hidalgo, Edgar Renteria, J.D. Drew, Moises Alou, Matt Lawton We have now learned that the only player who will NOT be talked about at the BCS is Terrmel Sledge, the outfielder for the team everyone used to call the Expos. (They're now the Washington Nationals.)

Terrmel Sledge Just heard his name in the lobby. With new Nationals GM Jim Bowden in charge -- this guy once tried to trade ties with John Schuerholz during a GM meeting -- it was just a matter of time.

Orioles This is the sleeper team of the BCS. They are stacked, offensively, but no team has more of a need for pitching, and the Orioles have some money to spend. Couple that with the fact that they now have competition up the pike in the so-called Nationals, and you can see that the Orioles need to make a splash. And soon.

Yankees Every agent worth his Benz wants to talk to the moneybags Yankees. GM Brian Cashman could sit in a big upholstered chair in his hotel room and have all these guys come up and kiss his ring. But the Yanks have to be proactive. They want Pavano, but he's not a sure thing. They want Johnson, but they're in a "cooling off" period there. They want Beltran, but may have to settle on someone like Drew.

Nationals Bowden, the former Reds GM, evidently is working without a budget, considering the Nats (yeah, that's what some are calling them) have no owner as of yet. The fair-haired one, who pulled off the Ken Griffey Jr.-to-Cincinnati trade (don't hold that against him), is a bit of a live wire anyway. This weekend, he's a raging wild card.

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