The Manny Ramirez sweepstakes are heating up, with the talk now shifting from the Dodgers (whose offer of LaRoche and Broxton fell short) to the Angels, who are reluctant to offer Scot Shields plus one of their top prospects. The Red Sox are still at the center of pretty much all discusions, centering on Matsuzaka, Drew, and Lugo, but so far, have been the belle of the ball without doing much of anything. One good note from Red Sox Nation is that reports on Jon Lester have been very positive.

Mike Piazza is a name of interest now–both the Rangers and A’s have him ticketed for their backup catcher role with a heaping helping of DH duty on the side. Piazza’s contract demands have surprised some teams–he’s not willing to go incentive-heavy–but he might be signed by the time we leave Orlando.

The Orioles? I’m not sure why they’re here. There’s nothing happening after their spate of bullpen signings. Same holds true with the Braves. They have almost no budgetary room unless they move Marcus Giles or Andruw Jones. They’re not talking about moving either player.

The Rangers decided that getting Vicente Padilla at the going rate–$11m a year for a mid-level starter–was better than ending up with nothing. Padilla had a nice year in Arlington and could keep it up–he’s had the talent, but injuries have held him back. The pursuit of Zito seems, well, twitchy. Some compare it to Tom Hicks’ pursuit of Alex Rodriguez in 2001, though the rumored six years and $102 million was denied by the Rangers.

So far, Wayne Krivsky’s not making friends. “He’s signing guys no one wants and pushing the bar up.” I can’t print the rest of the quote from an NL official.

Bengie Molina? Pedro Feliz? The Giants are cornering the market on older and slower. Several baseball officials were shocked when the news of the Molina signing began to circulate. Most immediately discussed his defense. At best they called him average behind the plate, with most saying less positive things.

Greg Maddux should be signed by the time the Meetings close, perhaps at some point tomorrow. The Dodgers appear to have been outflanked by the Padres, but a late flurry of offers from the Dodgers and one other team seem too little, too late. Credit Ken Rosenthal on this scoop.

The feeling in the lobby about Barry Bonds is confusing. The “baseball men” don’t want Bonds replacing Aaron, and not-so-secretly hope that he’s pushed out of the game. Pushed, though, and each of them concedes that Bonds still has immense value to the right team. One AGM compared Bonds to the 2006 version of Roger Clemens–“what if he sits back, works out, and picks his spot in May? He’d have plenty of time to break the record, avoid so much of the spring training circus, and still get paid.”

A nice deal was put together by Walt Jocketty and the Cardinals to lock up Chris Carpenter at below-market rates. They’ll fill out their roster card with similar deals. Somehow, St Louis seems to get more for less than any other team.

I won’t make any secret of the fact that I like Jon Daniels. He’s a solid baseball guy who’s earned his spot. The shots that he’s taken remind me of those that Paul DePodesta took during his tenure. Some old-school baseball writers have been emptying both barrels at Daniels recently, calling him a puppet or a “boy genius.” Despite that, Daniels has been the quiet, classy guy who’s intent on winning a division and more.

The name Lee Gronkiewicz could come up early in the Rule 5. The Toronto reliever could hold his own in many major league bullpens. I’ve known Lee since 2004 and with a combination of a weak Rule 5 class and his talent, I think someone could really get a steal. The other name I’ve heard discussed is Shelly Duncan, another son of Dave Duncan. He’s a power hitting DH type like his brother Chris, and hit .256/.327/.487 for Double-A Trenton in the Yankees chain before struggling to .186/.271/.279 at Triple-A Columbus. Already 27, that his name’s coming up tells you something about the state of the Rule 5 draft under the new CBA.

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