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Baseball GMs come to Chicago for brief meeting

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Instead of swaying palm trees, the roar of 747s greeted baseball’s general managers Monday as they began gathering for their annual meeting.

They came to a hotel near O’Hare International Airport to swap stories and perhaps players, and to start discussions with agents.

Increasing the use of instant replay could be a topic when the formal meetings start Tuesday, especially after a series of missed calls in the postseason.

“How far would I go with it? A lot further than most,” Chicago White Sox GM Ken Williams said. “I think the game has changed with the use of technology. I think we should bring it up to date.”

Video reviews, which began in 2008, currently are limited to determining whether potential home runs are fair or foul or whether the ball cleared a fence.

“I have been on record as using as much technology as possible for the betterment of our game and to protect the umpires, too,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Monday.

Cashman is comfortable commissioner Bud Selig will protect the game and “make sure that whatever gets implemented is done in the proper way, and if it gets done slowly over time and we’re better for it, so be it.”

Just last Wednesday, the Yankees beat the Phillies for their 27th World Series title. Now it’s time to move on to next season, though Cashman doesn’t expect much to happen during these sessions.

“Friday was the parade. Saturday and Sunday was quiet time, and today felt like a full day of traveling, even though Chicago is not far,” Cashman said. “We’ll be in catch-up mode. The last thing you want to do is do something quick. I really want to make sure I take our time, sit down, and have our discussions with all personnel. I have my own ideas of what I think would be best.”

More deals are expected around the winter meetings, to be held in Indianapolis from Dec. 7-10. World Series MVP Hideki Matsui and left fielder Johnny Damon became free agents Monday and 37-year-old left-hander Andy Pettitte also is eligible for file.

New York’s biggest rival in the AL East, the Boston Red Sox, were busy Monday. They exercised their $7.7 million option on Victor Martinez and declined options on Jason Varitek and Alex Gonzalez — although Varitek can exercise a $3 million player option.

Boston also agreed to a $5 million, two-year contract with 43-year-old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

Since this year’s GMs meetings last only until midday Wednesday, the general managers might not be able to hold as many discussions as they did during past sessions.

“Surprisingly, there have been more conversations throughout the playoffs and the World Series than I can remember,” Williams said last week after his team acquired third baseman Mark Teahen in a trade with the Kansas City Royals.

“And to be able to do something prior to the general managers’ meeting and have substantial talks on major things prior to that is surprising, but certainly welcome to me. We’ve done our groundwork quite some time ago.”

The New York Mets, who slid to 70-92 during an injury-filled season, could be active, general manager Omar Minaya said. They had an opening-day payroll of nearly $136 million this season, second only to the Yankees’ $201 million.

“We have to find a way to be able to slug more and I think pitching is another area we have to look at,” Minaya said. “I think we are going to identify some of the players we like, and once we identify those players, then we are able to sit down with the agents. … We are also going to have to explore some trades. If the opportunity is there and we have a player we like, we are going to pursue that player.”

The Cubs, who had the third-highest opening-day payroll at $135 million, already have had a relatively eventful offseason.

Tom Ricketts and his family took over as owners and said they would do everything they could to bring a World Series title to a franchise that hasn’t won one since 1908.

But the Cubs’ pitching staff took a blow one month after the season ended when left-hander Ted Lilly, one of the team’s most consistent starters for three years, had surgery on his pitching shoulder. Lilly probably won’t start throwing for four months and almost certainly will miss the start of the season.

Cubs GM Jim Hendry said there were no immediate plans to look for another starter. But he could trade mercurial outfielder Milton Bradley, suspended for the final two weeks of his first season with the Cubs after he criticized the club.

“Like I said all along, he’s on our roster and until he’s not on the roster that’s how you have to look at it,” Hendry said. “A lot of people have had worse exits than that at the end of the year and they returned. The goal will be the best you can to put a good club on the field by spring training. Until people aren’t here, then as a GM approach it like they are here.”

Bradley still is owed $21 million on the final two years of his deal. Hendry hasn’t spoken with Bradley but has talked quite a bit to his agent.

NOTES: Colorado Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd was voted Sporting News’ Executive of the Year by a panel of major league GMs and assistant GMs. O’Dowd was presented with the award Monday night.

© 2009 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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