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Bonds, Zito biggest names still available

LAKE BUENA VISTA - The annual winter meetings end today with few trades and plenty of money spent in the free-agent market, but some of baseball's big names still remain without teams.

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published December 7, 2006


LAKE BUENA VISTA - The annual winter meetings end today with few trades and plenty of money spent in the free-agent market, but some of baseball's big names still remain without teams.

Left-hander Ted Lilly went to the big-spending Cubs, who made the deal while GM Jim Hendry was in a hospital bed. Hendry was taken to a local medical center with apparent chest pains and was admitted overnight for observation.

Catcher Mike Piazza found a one-year home in Oakland for $8.5-million. Former Rays reliever Joe Borowski signed a one-year deal to close in Cleveland for half of that. And the Dodgers were nearing a deal with pitcher Jason Schmidt for three years and a reported $47-million.

Still, the meetings may end with several free agents still out there. None created more buzz than Barry Bonds, who made an appearance in the hotel lobby with agent Jeff Borris, but doesn't appear close to a deal.

Bonds and left-hander Barry Zito, the premier free agents remaining, are still out there. Coveted pitchers such as Gil Meche, Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver also remain. And Andy Pettitte said he plans to pitch, which could prompt a bidding war between the Astros and Yankees.

"The lull right now is the free-agent pitchers and the fact that a lot of them haven't landed yet," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "We will have a pretty dramatic trickle-down effect on subsequent moves because that will free teams up to trade or free teams up to sign certain relievers; free things up across a lot of different avenues."

Lilly signed a four-year, $40-million deal, choosing Chicago over the Yankees after being recruited by manager Lou Piniella.

Late Wednesday, the Phillies picked up the veteran starter they wanted, acquiring right-hander Freddy Garcia from the White Sox for pitchers Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez.

LOBBY CHATTER: Piniella told the media his opinion on the state of the Rays, his former team: "They've got some good, young talent over there. They need to get some stabilizing veterans, and hopefully they will." ... The Dodgers signed free-agent catcher Mike Lieberthal, making it more likely ex-Rays catcher Toby Hall will be traded or non-tendered. ... The Twins are still negotiating with Tampa's Brad Radke, but manager Ron Gardenhire said the chance of talking the free-agent pitcher out of retirement "doesn't look very good." ... The Mets promoted former Clearwater High standout Howard Johnson to first-base coach.

MCCLUNG WOES: Rays pitcher Seth McClung's older brother, Marcus, has been diagnosed with throat cancer, so McClung has spent most of the offseason with him in Virginia. "We're really optimistic about it," Seth McClung said. "We're going to attack it like we would a baseball game - aggressively."

Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at eencina@sptimes com.