Lots of talk, no action on first day of winter meetings

Saturday, December 14, 2002

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The only swapping taking place on the opening day of baseball's winter meetings was of stories about inactivity.

General managers wandered between lobbies at the vast Opryland Hotel asking each other if anything was going on. As of early Friday night, not a single trade and been made.

"Montreal is stagnating things because they have so many players that might be attractive," New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.

The Expos, owned by the other 29 teams, have been told their payroll can't accommodate all the players on their current roster. General manager Omar Minaya, easy to spot in a bright red shirt, was surrounded by reporters and cameramen as soon as he entered the lobby following a morning flight from New York.

"I don't have to do anything," Minaya said. "We'll just have to wait and see."

Among Minaya's players are outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, pitchers Bartolo Colon, Javier Vazquez, second baseman Jose Vidro, shortstop Orlando Cabrera, third baseman Fernando Tatis and catcher Michael Barrett.

Baseball executives kept walking through this sprawling hotel, with 2,881 rooms in huge atriums over seven acres -- there's even a fake river running through it. The hotel is famous for its Christmas shows, and people who came to be entertained -- there even was a midget Elvis lookalike wandering around -- mingled among the baseball types.

The free-agent market, which has driven many winter meetings in recent years, slowed to a near standstill. The only free agent to sign was right-hander Chris Carpenter, who agreed to a one-year contract with St. Louis that guarantees him $500,000.

Teams did reach agreements with several players eligible for salary arbitration: Cleveland outfielder Karim Garcia got $900,000, New York Mets utilityman Joe McEwing $600,000, Colorado infielder Greg Norton $600,000 and Atlanta first baseman Wes Helms $575,000. The Rockies also agreed to a one-year deal with catcher Bobby Estallela.

Teams have taken a more aggressive approach to non-stars eligible for arbitration, threatening to not offer contracts by the Dec. 20. The threat of putting more free agents on the market has also slowed trade talks and free-agent signings, according to team executives and agents.

Cashman, who has a meeting scheduled with Minaya, is trying to cut payroll from the team's record high of $135 million this year.

"I have a goal that I want to shave off," he said. "Sometimes, you don't always accomplish your goals."

In addition, Tampa Bay sold the rights to infielder Andy Sheets to Hiroshima of the Japanese Central League.

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