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Baseball meetings focus on trades

Associated Press

When the winter meetings last were in Dallas five years ago, owners spent nearly $739 million on 24 free agents, giving Alex Rodriguez $252 million and Manny Ramirez’s $160 million. With many top free agents this off-season already committed, the focus is likely to be on trades rather than signings when teams gather today.

Relievers Billy Wagner and B.J. Ryan, first baseman Paul Konerko, outfielder Brian Giles and shortstop Rafael Furcal already have agreed to contracts, with Furcal leaving the Atlanta Braves over the weekend to accept a $39 million, three-year offer from with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Top remaining players in a weak free-agent group include center fielder Johnny Damon and pitchers A.J. Burnett and Kevin Millwood.

“This particular free-agent market is difficult,” said New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, stymied in his search for a center fielder. “Because of that, it’s going to promote a lot more aggressive trade discussions.”

Ramirez is the biggest name available. But he can veto trades and is owed $57 million over the final three years of his contract, complicating efforts to deal him by the Red Sox, the only major league team without a general manager.

“We’re certainly not going in with the expectation that we’re going to have to make a trade,” assistant GM Jed Hoyer said, adding more than a dozen teams have inquired.

Pitchers who could be switching teams include Boston’s David Wells, Oakland’s Barry Zito, the Mets’ Kris Benson and Arizona’s Javier Vazquez, who filed a trade demand last month. Texas might part with a pair of All-Stars, second baseman Alfonso Soriano and third baseman Hank Blalock, as it seeks pitching. Tampa Bay catcher Toby Hall and Philadelphia’s Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell could possibly get dealt, as could outfielder Jason Michaels.

Free agents still on the market include designated hitters Mike Piazza and Frank Thomas, relievers Bob Wickman and Trevor Hoffman, catchers Bengie Molina and Ramon Hernandez, and outfielder Sammy Sosa. Nomar Garciaparra is willing to play just about any position.

Mets close to landing Lo Duca

The Florida Marlins were close to a trade that would send catcher Paul Lo Duca to the New York Mets, cutting more payroll in exchange for prospects.

Florida would receive minor league pitcher Gaby Hernandez and a second minor leaguer, a pair of baseball officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the trade had not been finalized. The sides were still discussing the involved players, and the deal was not likely to be completed until today, the officials said.

Indians, Byrd near deal

Free agent starter Paul Byrd is close to finalizing a $14.25 million, two-year contract with the Cleveland Indians, filling one of the club’s biggest needs on the eve of the winter meetings.

Byrd, who went 12-11 with a 3.74 ERA in 31 starts for the Los Angeles Angels last season, was trying to compete a deal with the Indians, a person familiar with the negotiations said Sunday night, speaking on condition of anonymity because the deal was not yet in place.

The person familiar with the talks told the AP that there were a few outstanding issues remaining, but that a deal could be struck as early as today.

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