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New Orleans (BP) – And on the second day, we got an awful reminder of what last year was like.

Don’t remember the 2002 Winter Meetings? No one does, save for war stories of the Opryland Hotel in Nashville (and parts of Knoxville and Memphis). A couple thousand collected baseball people, media and hangers-on, and the only thing everyone can agree on is that the New Orleans Marriott is better than last year’s hotel.

Oh, and that there was nothing to talk about yesterday. The only press conference was the Blue Jays’ announcement of the Miguel Batista signing. While any number of rumors swept the land, the stuff of actual substance wasn’t sexy: the Royals getting close to Tony Graffanino, the Tigers getting far too close to Reggie Sanders, the Padres not as close as they’d like to be on a center fielder.

It was the kind of day that tempts you into starting your own rumor. I’m not saying that’s something the highly-trained professionals down here would ever think of doing, but if you happen to hear something about Paris Hilton, two well-known writers and enough Hurricanes to kill all three of them, just let it go.

With each passing day on which few or no free agents sign, the pressure on players and agents grows. Come next Saturday, the deadline for tendering a contract offer to players on the 40-man roster, it’s likely that the number of players seeking employment will double, with a particular swelling in the ranks of outfielders and first basemen. That non-tender date is on everyone’s mind, and it’s an element in every negotiation with a player below the level of superstar. The recognition that baseball’s middle class is filled with guys who don’t have to be highly-compensated just because they have service time or tenure with your ball club has permeated the landscape, and even without getting into the C word, that recognition is driving supply up and demand down.

So we may see a lot of the guys who weren’t tendered arbitration, and the free agents on the second and third tiers, sign deals this weekend just to keep themselves out of that mass of humanity. It’s an interesting, and positive, change, because it frees teams to use the bulk of their resources on players who do make a difference in the standings. Whether they do, or if they just sit on the money, is a separate issue for another time.

  • The Roger Clemens thing is largely being driven by imagination and local media, but the Astros should consider bringing him back, even if it means building a season around him. Sign him and let him stay in the state of Texas all year; he pitches at home and in the interleague series at Arlington. You can probably get 20-23 starts out of him that way, and that might be enough to push the ‘Stros over the top in a so-so division. I think it’s safe to assume that Clemens would be willing to make road trips in October.

    Just because no one’s ever done it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Clemens is still an above-average pitcher, and there is precedent for what used to be called a "Sunday starter," Ted Lyons being the most famous example. Clemens has had enough strains and minor owies over the past couple of seasons that you want to keep his workload down anyway, and going into a season knowing you’ll only get 22 starts and 150 innings from a guy is a much different thing than expecting 33 and 220 and getting 22 and 150.

  • Derek Zumsteg suggested that I clear something up from yesterday. The third year of Randy Winn‘s new contract is actually a dual option. The Mariners can pick up their end for $5 million; if they don’t, Winn can pick up his for $3.75 million. If they both decline, Winn becomes a free agent.

    I shortened that yesterday, knowing that the Mariners aren’t any more likely to pick up their end than Winn is to decline his. Thanks to Derek for pointing out that it should have been explained better. No thanks to Derek for going on MSNBC and relegating the rest of us to being greeted with the phrase, "Now, you’re not the good-looking one."

  • It should be noted that for about an hour last night, Jay Jaffe owned Baseball Prospectus. I promise to never again be suckered by someone who pretends to need a reminder of how poker is played, or play with someone who comes equipped with a built-in nickname. Well, except "Baldy" Carroll.
  • I did have two more good meals yesterday, and if I don’t have beignets by sunrise Sunday, will consider the entire trip a disaster. I’ve determined that once I leave New Orleans, I will not be allowed to eat until Super Bowl Sunday, or consume more than 300 calories a day through the balance of 2004.

    It is so worth it.