DALLAS (AP) – A.J. Burnett’s agent was talking with St. Louis and Toronto, and Trevor Hoffman’s representatives were speaking with Cleveland as baseball’s winter meetings began Monday in a town where teams spent freely five years ago.

On the first day of baseball’s annual swap session, the New York Mets completed their trade to acquire catcher Paul Lo Duca from the Florida Marlins, and the Cleveland Indians finalized their $14.25 million, two-year deal with pitcher Paul Byrd.

Boston talked about trading Manny Ramirez, and the Red Sox said they were reluctant to pay some of the $57 million the outfielder is owed in the final three seasons of his contract.

“You’re going to pay another team to have that player beat you?” Red Sox senior adviser Bill Lajoie said. “That doesn’t make sense, does it?”

Still, Lajoie wouldn’t rule out having Boston pay some of the money as part of a deal.

“You’re not going to get value in any way, shape or form,” Lajoie said.

“This is an A-1 hitter and you’re not going to get an A-1 player that somebody is going to give you. So if you trade him, you’re not going to get the same value, man for man, and sometimes four players don’t even add up to one.”

Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said the Blue Jays went as far as they would go with Burnett, who likely will get a four- or five-year deal in the $10 million to $11 million range as he joins the Florida exodus. Hoffman, San Diego’s longtime closer, was negotiating with the Indians, who might have set a deadline as they look for a closer to replace Bob Wickman, who became a free agent.

Lo Duca followed Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Carlos Delgado and Luis Castillo out of Florida, which is purging payroll. The catcher joins Delgado and reliever Billy Wagner on the Mets, who might be the division favorite heading into spring training.

“I think it would be a disappointment if we didn’t win the NL East,” Lo Duca said.

When baseball last gathered in Dallas after the 2000 season, Ramirez got a $160 million, eight-year contract from Boston and Alex Rodriguez agreed to his record $252 million, 10-year deal with Texas.

A-Rod, now with the New York Yankees, is among the stars who have committed to play in next year’s inaugural World Baseball Classic. But while the two-time MVP was among the 177 major leaguers announced Monday by the commissioner’s office and the players’ association, he hasn’t decided which country to represent – the United States or the Dominican Republic.

Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter and Barry Bonds plan to play for the U.S. team in the 16-nation tournament, scheduled for March 3-20.

Mike Piazza (Italy), Andruw Jones (the Netherlands) and Pedro Martinez (Dominican Republic) also have agreed to participate.

“This is going to be the most important international baseball event ever staged,” baseball commissioner Bud Selig said.

While players will be subject to Olympic drug-testing rules, in which more substances are banned than in baseball, a player testing positive during the tournament for a substance banned under the new MLB drug agreement would not be disciplined by the commissioner’s office, which starting next year will have a 50-game penalty for a first offense.

Gene Orza, the union’s chief operating officer, said a positive test could not lead to a player being tested more frequently for “cause” under the drug plan. But MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred declined comment.

Clemens wants to pitch for the United States, but he hasn’t decided whether to return for a third season with the Astros. If Houston doesn’t offer salary arbitration by 11 p.m. Wednesday, the 43-year-old ace can’t re-sign with the Astros until May 1.

“It’s the same situation we were in last year where we were uncertain as to when we would get an answer,” Astros general manager Tim Purpura said. “It puts us at somewhat of a disadvantage to build our club.”

Clemens retired after pitching for the New York Yankees in the 2003 World Series, then came back to pitch for his hometown Astros after close friend Andy Pettitte signed with Houston.

The Rocket won his seventh Cy Young Award in 2004, then led the majors with a 1.87 ERA this year.

“Today, he would retire if he had to make the decision,” said Clemens’ agent, Randy Hendricks, adding that a return would not surprise him either.

The Yankees also face Wednesday’s deadline with Bernie Williams. New York’s longtime center fielder could return in a reserve role, but the Yankees won’t offer arbitration unless Williams’ agent, Scott Boras, agrees to reject it. Players offered arbitration can re-sign with their former teams through Jan. 8.

New York general manager Brian Cashman planned to speak with Boras and said he also might speak to Williams, who is scheduled to be at the meetings.

St. Louis, meanwhile, agreed to $800,000, one-year contacts with infielder Deivi Cruz and catcher Gary Bennett, Pittsburgh agreed to a minor league deal with reliever C.J. Nitkowski, and Arizona was talking with catcher Brad Ausmus.

Free-agent pitcher Jeff Weaver’s agent was thought to be talking with the Los Angeles Angels. The Dodgers said shortstop Rafael Furcal, who reached a preliminary agreement last weekend on a $39 million, three-year deal, had his physical pushed back to Tuesday.

AP-ES-12-05-05 2108EST


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