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Follow the bouncing rumor

Retained my post in the lobby of the Walt Disney Dolphin Resort this morning, and the morning buzz is pretty much that: A lot of buzz without much sting. Still waiting for the first major announcement of the Winter Meetings, though it’s worth wondering whether there will be any. This is one of the repurcussions of the current market. Free agents continue to be wooed, and even when they do reach a deal, there are physcials to be taken, i’s to be dotted, and t’s to be crossed. So even when there is a deal in place — Vicente Padilla’s three-year, $34 million deal with the Texas Rangers for example — teams can’t announce it. And if teams don’t announce it, they inevitably turn to the the “if it hasn’t been announced, it isn’t true” card.

Which brings us to the locals. Word I get from various members of the industry, including one member with ties to the A’s, is that Mike Piazza’s signing with the A’s is “imminent.” They’ve reportedly offered him a two-year contract, and the numbers I’ve heard indicate it would be worth between $14.5 and $15 million, depending on certain incentives. Impossible to know if those numbers are entirely accurate, since Dan Lozano, Piazza’s agent, hasn’t returned calls and since the A’s don’t reveal such information. The Rangers apparently have dropped out of the race, and according to one industry source, the Angels never were that interested.

As far as the Giants, all the talk surrounds Barry Bonds, even though the team is working on a potential three-way deal to land Manny Ramirez (a complete long-shot, it says here) and is set to meet with the agents of pitcher Ted Lilly this afternoon.

Speaking of Bonds, the most outlandish rumor I’ve heard in three years of covering these things circulated last night. The reason A’s general manager Billy Beane wasn’t at the meetings yet, the rumor went, was that he was personally negotiating a contract with Bonds, and he was going to fly in Wednesday to announce a deal. For one, I’d like to know what Bonds’ agent Jeff Borris would say to the notion of Bonds negotiating his own deal. For two, you think Beane would fly 3,000 miles just to hold up a uniform and smile for the cameras? (Uh, no.)

The rumor-mongering is one of the more interesting aspects of this. Heard a veteran news reporter for the New York Times — his name is escaping me — once say that when President Kennedy was assassinated, it was the only time he ever saw a rumor move. This reporter was at the luncheon at which JFK was supposed to speak that fateful day, and word of his assassination spread quickly. All I can say is that said reporter never stood in the lobby of the winter meetings, where the rumors take on a direction entirely their own.

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Greetings from Florida

I find myself on the grounds of Walt Disney World today, but it’s anything but a vacation. If you truly are dying to one day write a thesis on the elements that comprise the theater of the absurd, you could do a whole lot worse than spending a day in the lobby of baseball’s winter meetings.

Here’s a typical afternoon: Pick a strategically well-placed spot in the lobby (i.e., one where you can witness who walks into the building and who walks out of it). Wait for an acquaintaince _ a source _ to wander through. Ask him what he’s hearing. Tell him what you’re hearing. Promise to keep each other posted. Go your merry way.

Now, this is not to disparage the ability of certain people to execute this job. it truly is a study in admiration to watch the likes of ESPN’s Peter Gammons and Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal schmooze with just about everybody in the building. If there are two more tied-in reporters to this sport, I haven’t met them. For most of the rest of us, however, the four days of the winter meetings feels a bit like a cattle call, and you hope that the call will involve movement by the team you’re there to cover.

In between all of this, you make a handful of calls, hope for a few call-backs, and wander back and forth from the media room to the lobby. Now, there are far worse ways to make a living, but to me, anything involving baseball that doesn’t involve the crack of the bat, freshly cut grass and the roar of a crowd just doesn’t measure up.

Anyway, I’m here monitoring all things A’s, and to this point, it’s been akin to watching a pot of wather boil. General manager Billy Beane, according to one of my lobby contacts, er sources (in this case, a member of the A’s organization), is not supposed to arrive until this evening, and his stay may consist of just over a day. Doesn’t exactly give off the impression that the A’s are in the midst of anything huge. They do continue to pursue Mike Piazza, and according to industry sources, the chief competition will be the Rangers and, possibly, the Angels.

Also, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported in his blog that the A’s are close to signing reliever Alan Embree, who presumably would take the bullpen spot vacated when Joe Kennedy returns to the rotation. Could be more on this later in the day.

One final thing. The A’s just announced they’ve hired Ty Van Burkleo as their new hitting coach. Burkleo was the roving minor-league instructor for the Angels for the past six seasons.