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Winter Meetings prove difficult for dealing

The Winter Meetings traditionally end with the Rule 5 Draft, after which is baseball's annual Running of the Bulls as executives, agents and anyone and everyone charges for the doors and the airport.

Unless you love Christmas sweaters with flashing Santas and plastic trees, this week's event caused an even wilder charge for Nashville International Airport. In reality, little was accomplished. Granted, some of the market was held hostage by the due diligence of Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton, but much was also due to the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, which on one weeknight housed 6,000 guests across acres with hallways more complex than any English maze.

"It was really difficult to have face-to-face meetings," said D-backs general manager Kevin Towers. "We probably would have gotten more accomplished by phone."

Which is what the Rockies did. Chief baseball officer Dan O'Dowd remained in the Denver offices with scouts and front-office staff, sending senior vice president of Major League operations Bill Geivett, scouting director Bill Schmidt and manager Walt Weiss to Nashville while doing most of the work by phone, text and email.

In fact, as the bulls charged for the airport, Mariners president Chuck Armstrong was stopping mediates to refute the reports that Seattle was making a major push for Hamilton and Towers was denying multi-team trade rumors.

The biggest signing to date was B.J. Upton's five-year, $75.25 million deal with the Braves, which happened on Nov. 29. As the Boston Globe's financial section pointed out, the urgency to get it done with a $3 million signing bonus paid before Dec. 31 will save Upton approximately $140,000 in taxes.

Russell Martin was done before the Meetings, as was Jonny Gomes, Ryan Madson, Jeremy Guthrie, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Jonathan Broxton and Scott Feldman.

The Meetings at the Opryland produced the signings of Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Marco Scutaro, Angel Pagan, Jeff Keppinger, Joe Blanton, Jason Marquis, Joaquin Soria and Koji Uehara and the trades involving Denard Span, Ben Revere, Alex White and Yunel Escobar. Towers admitted he was confused by the notions of some of the three-, four- and five-way deals that were thrown around, and suggested they should have been more clearly thought out and detailed before everyone arrived in Nashville.

Understand, there was a time when the Winter Meetings signaled the end of the interleague trading period, so in the 1970s there was an urgency to get trades made. Now, Billy Beane swoops in for a day, which he calls "basic cable." There is no urgency.

One element that many saw coming is that with the new restrictions on what teams can spend on Draft and international signings, much of the new television money was thrown in huge quantities at free agents. Scutaro and Keppinger, two solid, reliable veteran infielders, were signed, by the Giants and White Sox, respectively, for three-year deals worth $20 million and $12 million. Pagan signed for four years and $40 million. Victorino got three years and $39 million from Boston, turning down more from the Indians. Blanton and Feldman will make more next season than R.A. Dickey, the National League Cy Young Award winner.

Meanwhile, Nick Swisher, a legitimate, consistent hitter who can play first base and both corner outfield spots, was left drifting because of the Draft. Because the Yankees made Swisher a qualifying offer, the team that signs him will have to surrender a first- or second-round pick, depending on that team's 2012 finish. For instance, the Red Sox were very interested in Swisher, but it would have cost them their second-round pick next year. And because of the new system, not only would they have had to give up the pick, they would lose that selection's slotted money in their 2013 Draft pool. Boston's scouting department estimates that it will have between $6 million and $7 million to sign all its picks, the first of which will be the seventh overall selection. Losing the ability to spend some of that money would severely restrict their ability to cut deals and maneuver around the allotted Draft signing totals.

"What they did was set up a system where now the cash is flowing into crazy free-agent deals," said an NL general manager. "And people criticize Anibal Sanchez's agent for asking for $90 million? Why shouldn't he?"

Once Greinke and Hamilton are settled, there will be a major rush to sign veteran free-agent pitchers, such as Sanchez, Ryan Dempster, Kyle Lohse, Brett Myers, Shaun Marcum and Joe Saunders. Several GMs suggested that will happen next week, as will intensified efforts to pry James Shields or another starter away from the Rays.

We know Greinke and Hamilton are unusual cases. All along there had been an assumption that Greinke would be a Dodger, but that assumption now has been shaken by the threat of the Rangers. Hamilton was long thought to be a lock for the Rangers, but the often-denied Seattle reports linger and there are the stalkers in the Yankees and Red Sox.

Boston GM Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell met with Hamilton and his family on the first day of the Meetings, but if they get to the point where they discuss a three-year, megabucks deal, "it will be," in one Boston official's words, "in the hands of ownership." And John Henry wasn't doing the Opryland.

What we witnessed was a decline in activity at the Meetings, as well as the impact of the new Draft system. Now we will wait to see where Greinke and Hamilton go, and how much their wakes impact the players waiting behind them.