MLB sessions put spotlight on stars' fates

Next stop for Red Sox's Ramirez tops list of questions in Dallas



Baseball's annual winter meetings start today in Dallas, and certain things are guaranteed.

Cameras will follow around reporters who have the next big scoop, which will turn into another dispelled rumor minutes later.

Super agent Scott Boras will pass out Bible-sized reports that prove his clients can walk on water, but will never issue walks in key situations.

Nationals general manager Jim Bowden will make a trade offer.

And Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan will confirm interest in any free agent who hasn't appeared before the House Committee on Government Reform.

What gets done in the next few days is anyone's guess. But there are plenty of intriguing issues awaiting the sport's annual manufactured newsfest. Here are 10 of the biggest questions heading into the four-day event and how they may be resolved.

1. Who will love Manny?

There's no bigger domino than the Boston Red Sox's enigmatic outfielder, Manny Ramirez. He's a likely Hall of Famer. He's also baseball's biggest flake. This time, it's not just Manny being Manny. He really wants out of Boston, but it won't be easy. He's owed $57 million over the next three years and, with two club options, could be kept through 2010 for another $40 million.

Very few teams can take on that kind of money - the Orioles said they aren't interested - but his talent is special. The Los Angeles Angels are a possibility, but look for the New York Mets, who also have offered Babe Ruth and Ted Williams contracts this winter, to be the biggest player.

2. Are the Mets printing money?

It sure seems like it. They have added Carlos Delgado and Billy Wagner a year after signing Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. They are in the Manny mix and have flirted with nearly every substantial name on the free-agent and trade markets now that GM Omar Minaya has been liberated from Montreal's shackles.

The Mets have money and plenty of interesting trade chips, from such homegrown players as Aaron Heilman and Lastings Milledge to such established veterans as Kris Benson, Steve Trachsel and Cliff Floyd. They're the team to watch this winter as Minaya will try to get creative with his surplus.

3. Are the Orioles printing Confederate money?

They lost closer B.J. Ryan to a boatload of money north of the border. They watched postseason hero Paul Konerko stay for less cash in Chicago. They watched Delgado promise to bless America in New York, Jim Thome limp toward his Midwest home in Chicago and Josh Beckett take his youthful promise to Boston. Other targets, such as A.J. Burnett, are still making up their minds, but Baltimore likely won't be their final destination.

The Orioles haven't been bystanders this offseason, but they haven't landed anyone yet, and a thin crop is getting thinner. Fans are beginning to wonder whether Syd Thrift's proclamation of having "Confederate money" a few years ago rings true in December 2005. Although they've missed out on some of the bigger names, it's hard to believe the Orioles won't make any additions to the club. The jury is out on whether those moves will have any significance, though.

4. Will the insanity stop?

Last year was supposed to be the offseason of the inflated contract. Then, last week, the financially minded Oakland Athletics gave generic right-hander Esteban Loaiza a three-year, $21.4 million contract. And the Toronto Blue Jays signed Ryan for about 1.5 times the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' payroll. And baseball executives throughout the land, including those in a stately warehouse near you, went, "Uh-oh."

The trend won't stop this year. Big-money guys such as Johnny Damon, Burnett and Kevin Millwood are still on the market. And when they go, some teams will panic and pony up ridiculous figures for mediocrity.

5. How about them Red Sox?

They've already pulled a major trade for Beckett without a general manager, so how much fun could this next week be for team president Larry Lucchino and company? He'll be dealing with the Ramirez situation while rolling up his sleeves and talking turkey with Boras, the agent for Damon.

Damon reportedly wants a seven-year deal - an impossibility if Boras weren't the agent. The Red Sox also will entertain offers for disgruntled pitcher David Wells, and one industry source believes they'll trade another starter, maybe even Matt Clement.

6. Where are the Yankees?

Speaking of big money, the world's favorite budget busters have been relatively quiet, adding a set-up reliever and a backup catcher. What's that line about the calm before the storm? No way does King George allow the Mets and Red Sox to steal all of the headlines. Before this month is over, they'll have a new center fielder (Juan Pierre or maybe Damon) and a couple of new pitchers.

7. Will the discount Fish Fry continue?

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