Bargain hunting

As general managers headed out the hotel doors and into the bone-chilling air, most had much work to do. Only the New York Yankees, Houston, Texas and Milwaukee accomplished a lot this week during the winter meetings.

Canadian Rich Harden is now a Texas Ranger after inking a one-year deal.

INDIANAPOLIS — As general managers headed out the hotel doors and into the bone-chilling air, most had much work to do. Only the New York Yankees, Houston, Texas and Milwaukee accomplished a lot this week during the winter meetings.

The top three free agents — John Lackey, Matt Holliday and Trail, B.C., native Jason Bay — remained unsigned. Toronto ace Roy Halladay was still being shopped.

With two weeks left until the holiday break, agents and teams figure to try to wear each other down. Some premier players may not know their spring training destination until January.

Essentially, teams are acting as if they were shoppers waiting for price drops. Why pay full price when markdowns might be coming soon, especially for position players?

“You can turn left, you can right, you can look up and down and you’ve got a DH sitting right there begging for a job,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.

Some players seem to be waiting to find out where the Yankees will bid for them. The big-market teams are holding back, and the small-market clubs are hunting for bargains.

“I’ve kind of been programmed since Day 1 here not to use those words: ‘small market.’ But the facts of it are that’s what we are,” Kansas City manager Trey Hillman said. “We have to get a surplus developed within our own system to be able to fund it ourselves.”

On the last day of the meetings, the New York Mets made offers to Bay and free-agent catcher Bengie Molina. Their bid for Bay, a slugger who could fill the team’s void in left field, was between US$60 million and $65 million over four years.

The World Series champion Yankees obtained all-star centre-fielder Curtis Granderson in the only major trade of the meetings, a three-team, seven-player swap that also included Detroit and Arizona. New York also kept pitcher Andy Pettitte with an $11.75 million, one-year deal.

Houston bolstered its bullpen by acquiring Matt Lindstrom in a trade with Florida, reached a preliminary agreement with reliever Brandon Lyon on a $15 million, three-year contract and agreed to a $4.5 million, one-year deal with third baseman Pedro Feliz.

Milwaukee also raced to add arms, striking preliminary deals with starter Randy Wolf ($29.75 million over three years) and reliever LaTroy Hawkins ($7.5 million over two seasons).

The cash-strapped Rangers, in the process of being sold, created some flexibility by shipping pitcher Kevin Millwood and $3 million (to cover part of his $12 million salary) to Baltimore for reliever Chris Ray. Texas then agreed to a $7.5 million, one-year deal with oft-injured right-hander Rich Harden of Victoria.

As the meetings wound down, Texas and Boston were discussing a trade that would send 2007 World Series MVP Mike Lowell to the Rangers.

The 35-year-old was an all-star four times from 2002-07, hitting .324 with 21 homers and 120 RBIs in 2007. But he slumped to 73 RBIs in 2008 and 75 RBIs this year, hitting 17 homers each season. He was slowed by surgery in October 2008 to repair a torn labrum in his right hip and remove a bone spur on a thigh bone.

He is owed $12 million in 2010, the final season of a $37.5 million, three-year contract. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said the teams still are discussing the trade, which also would be subject to physicals. Boston would have to give Texas money to offset a portion of Lowell’s salary.

Surprised that Rafael Soriano accepted salary arbitration, Atlanta was close to sending the reliever to Tampa Bay for pitcher Jesse Chavez. The teams were waiting for the medical reports to be approved, and Soriano seemed set to approve the trade — a necessary component. The right-hander had 27 saves last season for the Braves, who signed free-agent relievers Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito.

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