Winter Meetings, Day 1

Welcome to Orlando, home of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the 2006 MLB Winter Meetings.

I’m here at the unbelievably large Swan & Dolphin hotels, where the entire baseball world has gathered to meet. Agents will be peddling their players, GMs will be bouncing trade ideas off one another and writers will be scurrying the lobby, looking for any nugget of information they can find.

I will be providing updates throughout the meetings, trying to give you a feel for what is going on here.

I don’t expect the Yankees to do that much this week, as their biggest needs are a backup catcher, right-handed hitting first baseman and utility infielder, though Miguel Cairo should return to fill that final spot.

The Yanks could also look at another arm or two, but don’t expect it to be any of the major names on the market such as Zito, Schmidt, Meche or Lilly. Andy Pettitte seems like a more likely candidate if he wants to pitch next year and is willing to leave Houston, but only time will tell.

I’ll be back later when there’s some news to report.

7:00 pm: Relatively slow day in the lobby. The only official moves to be announced were Jose Guillen to the Mariners, a contract extension for Chris Carpenter with the Cardinals and the Giants bringing back Rich Aurilia and Pedro Feliz.

Of the hot rumors floating around, Ted Lilly to the Cubs was probably the most talked about. I think this would be a good move for the Cubs, since Lilly has shown his ability to pitch in the American League. Moving to the National League can only help, so he could be a nice addition for a team that desperately needs pitching.

If the Cubs sign Lilly, I could see the Blue Jays moving to sign Gil Meche, since they’ll have to replace Lilly. Toronto has money to spend, so they won’t be scared off.

As for the Yankees, not much going on. Brian Cashman continues to say that he is in no rush to do anything, and quite frankly, why would he be?

Cashman said that teams have still been calling occasionally about A-Rod, but he hasn’t changed his mind when it comes to trading his third baseman. Teams can call all they want, Rodriguez isn’t going anywhere.

Chris Britton showed up in Cashman’s suite and spoke with the beat writers for a few minutes. He lives about three hours away, so he decided to come up and meet with the Yankees’ executives for the first time since being traded. I’ll say this … he’s a big boy. I wasn’t sure if he was a reliever or an offensive lineman.

Octavio Dotel, who didn’t make much of an impression during his brief time in New York, is talking with the Red Sox, Devil Rays and Indians.

One name noticably absent from the lobby buzz is Barry Bonds. This guy may break the all-time home record next year … if he can find a team to sign him. The guess here is that he ends up back with the Giants, because I can’t see any other team taking a chance on him. Maybe the A’s, but that’s about it. And if Oakland signs Mike Piazza as they have been rumored to do, that would end the Bonds speculation.

One name that seems to be on everybody’s lips is Manny Ramirez. It seems like every time I talk to someone new, the conversation turns to, "Where do you think Manny will wind up?" The latest buzz has the Dodgers, Mariners and possibly the Giants in the mix, though Los Angeles seems like the most serious of the three. If the J.D. Drew deal is made official with Boston this week, I’ll believe Manny is going to be traded. Until then, it’s the same old Manny talk.

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Mark your calendars

The Yankees released their 2007 regular-season schedule on Friday. Some of the highlights:

The 105th home opener at Yankee Stadium will take place on Monday, April 2 at 1:05 p.m., kicking off an 81-game home schedule which will feature nine games against each of the team’s American League East foes, including the rival Red Sox.

The Yankees will host Interleague series against the Mets (June 15-17), Diamondbacks (June 12-14) and Pirates (June 8-10) — all former World Series opponents. The Bombers will visit the Giants (June 22-24), Rockies (June 19-21) and Mets (May 18-20) as part of Interleague Play.

New York and Boston meet for the first of 19 times on April 20 at Fenway Park, opening a three-game series. The Red Sox visit the Bronx a week later, as the two rivals play three games at Yankee Stadium from April 27-29. The two teams meet again six times in May, three times in August and three times in September.

Joe Torre’s team will get its first look at Gary Sheffield and the defending AL champion Tigers on August 16, the first of four games at Yankee Stadium. A week later, the two teams renew acquaintances in Detroit for four games.

For the complete schedule, go to Yankees.com

$26 million? Really?

I realize that people have been scratching their heads over the Yankees’ $26 million bid for the rights to Kei Igawa, but the move makes total sense to me.

Who knows how good Igawa will be? I doubt the Yankees are expecting more than for him to be a No. 4 or 5 starter. He is no Matsuzaka, this much we know.

The Yankees bid $32 million for Matsuzaka, fully believing that their bid would be competitive. The Red Sox crushed it with a $51.1 million bid of their own. This time, the Yankees weren’t going to be outbid for another guy they wanted.

But at $26 million, plus the $15-20 million he is expected to sign for, the Yankees will pay out about $45 million for him over four years. Had they decided to give Ted Lilly or Gil Meche the same money (they, too, would have been No. 4 or 5 starters), the Yankees would have been subjected to an additional $16 million in luxury tax. With Igawa, they are only on the hook for whatever his contract is in terms of luxury tax, so the cost is much less.

Would you feel any better with Lilly or Meche? Maybe. But who knows, maybe this kid turns out to be pretty good. Gaku Tashiro, my colleague from Sankei Sports newspaper in Japan, compared Igawa to a "skinny David Wells," a comparison I found quite amusing.

I think the Yankees will probably get one more starter this winter, though they don’t really need to. They’re confident that Scott Proctor could start if necessary, and with Jeff Karstens, Darrell Rasner, Phil Hughes, Humberto Sanchez and Tyler Clippard at Triple-A, they can always hold the fort if Randy Johnson’s back or Carl Pavano’s entire body aren’t ready by Opening Day.

Give Igawa a chance. He could be the next Hideki Matsui, or he could be the next Hideki Irabu. Only time will tell.

Off the Mark

The Hall of Fame ballot was released this week, sparking the immediate controversy around Mark McGwire’s candidacy.

Here’s what we know: Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn will get into the Hall this year without a problem. McGwire and his 583 home runs will probably not.

The question is, why not?Mcgwire

McGwire was a 12-time All-Star, the 1987 AL Rookie of the Year, a Gold Glove winner in 1990 and his 70-homer season in 1998 helped bring baseball back after the 1994 strike. Whether he used performance-enhancing drugs or not — and I think he probably did — shouldn’t impact his inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

That’s right. Read it again. It should have nothing to do with this subject.

During McGwire’s career, there were no rules against using any of these drugs. To think that he was the only one to do so would be ignorant. So there are two choices: disregard the entire era, or just accept that players were using drugs and judge them against their peers.

I would choose to do the latter.

McGwire made a fool of himself in front of Congress last year, but it shouldn’t cost him his shot at the Hall. For the 16 years he played, he was the game’s greatest slugger. He was part of World Series championship teams, part of the sport’s rebirth. To me, Ripken’s streak and the McGwire-Sosa home run race were responsible for making baseball popular again.

Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for steroids at a time that the drugs were illegal in the game. McGwire never tested positive, because there was no testing. Innocent until proven guilty, right?

I’m not naive enough to think he wasn’t doing some bad things. Would McGwire have hit as many homers if there had been testing during his career? Who knows? He hit 49 homers as a rookie, and nobody seems to believe there was much of a drug problem in 1987. Who’s to say he wouldn’t have hit 500 homers in an era of testing? You don’t know. That’s the point.

I don’t have a Hall of Fame vote, but if I did, here’s what my ballot would look like this year: Ripken, Gwynn, McGwire, Rich Gossage, Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris, Jim Rice

My prediction: Ripken and Gwynn are elected on their first ballot, while Gossage finally gets his due and joins Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter in Cooperstown.

Happy Thanksgiving

I just wanted to wish everybody out there a happy thanksgiving.

Enjoy your families, enjoy the turkey and all the trimmings (or whatever you serve at your house), and have fun rooting against the Cowboys. There’s nothing better!

Jeter misses out on MVP

The hot topic of the day was Derek Jeter’s second-place finish behind Justin Morneau in the American League MVP race.

As an MLB.com writer, I don’t get to vote for postseason awards. That job goes to the BBWAA members, each of whom write for newspapers. That said, here would have been my ballot:

1) Derek Jeter
2) Justin Morneau
3) David Ortiz
4) Johan Santana
5) Frank Thomas
6) Jermaine Dye
7) Justin Verlander
8) Joe Mauer
9) Travis Hafner
10) Johnny Damon

I thought Jeter’s season was spectacular, especially when you consider that the Yankees were without Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui for four months, Robinson Cano missed six weeks, while Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi endured some horrific slumps.

Jeter’s .381 average with runners in scoring position was the stat that jumped out at me. Every year, people talk about the "intangibles" that Jeter brings to the table, making comments like, "You have to see him on a daily basis to appreciate him."

Not this year. This year, Jeter’s numbers on the field spoke for themselves. He should have won. For those who believe that Jeter’s handling of the A-Rod situation played a part in the vote, I have to disagree. I give the voters more credit than that.

(Well, 27 of the 28, anyway. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, who voted Jeter sixth, voted like a man who just didn’t pay attention. After listening to his interview on WFAN Tuesday, clearly he didn’t, as he listed Jeter behind Morneau, Dye, Santana, Thomas and Ortiz. If you haven’t heard it, you can listen to it here. Fortunately for Cowley, his vote didn’t cause the final result, so he escaped being involved in a potentially huge controversy.)

However, that’s not to say that Morneau was undeserving. He had a phenomenal season and helped the Twins overcome incredible odds to win the AL Central. But with Santana and Mauer on his team, it’s hard for me to think he was the most valuable player in the league when one could argue he wasn’t the most valuable on his own team.

Jeter might not have an MVP award to go with the rest of his impressive resume, but I’m sure he’s not worried. He’s got four titles and will eventually be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. I’m sure he’ll survive this.

Radio daze

For the past eight months or so, you have all heard my ranting and raving on this blog. Monday and Tuesday, you’ll have a chance to hear me on MLB Radio and see me on BaseballChannel.TV.

Mlb_radio I will be co-hosting the Hot Stove Show with Seth Everett on Monday from 4-6 p.m. ET, then again on Tuesday from 3-5 p.m. ET.

With the Alfonso Soriano news, the usual hot-stove rumor mill and several other stories to follow, we’ll have a lot to talk about.

You can click here to tune in. Feel free to call into the show or to send e-mails and/or IMs while we’re on the air. And, of course, I’m sure you will all keep a running comments section on my performance. Be kind, though … I’m still relatively new at this!