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Ohtani, Soto and Yamamoto still up for grabs as teams head home from winter meetings

Agent Scott Boras responds to questions during a news conference at the Major League Baseball winter meetings, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV) Agent Scott Boras responds to questions during a news conference at the Major League Baseball winter meetings, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -

Shohei Ohtani, Juan Soto and Yoshinobu Yamamoto were still up for grabs as team officials started to head home Wednesday evening following a baseball winter meetings of much talk and little action.

Ohtani, the unique two-way star, is expected to get a record contract of US$500 million-plus. His agent, Nez Balelo, didn't travel to the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, preferring to stay away.

While Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts acknowledged meeting with Ohtani at Dodger Stadium before heading to Nashville, other teams were mum. Some fans tried to use flight-tracking programs to determine Ohtani's whereabouts, and Toronto general manager Ross Atkins sparked speculation of a get-together at the team's spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida, when he switched a media availability on Monday to Zoom.

Ohtani has not spoken with reporters since Aug. 9, two weeks before a pitching injury that required surgery and will keep him off a mound until 2025.

The Yankees, after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2016, have been negotiating a trade to acquire Soto from San Diego. The three-time All-Star can become a free agent after next year's World Series.

New York did make a rare trade with the rival Boston Red Sox late Tuesday, acquiring outfielder Alex Verdugo for right-handers Greg Weissert, Richard Fitts and Nicholas Judice.

"He's actually been a guy that we've talked about now for, for a while," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "I feel like there's an edge he plays the game with."

Both the Yankees and Mets are among the teams seeking Yamamoto, a 25-year-old right-hander who was 16-6 with a 1.21 ERA this season for the Orix Buffaloes of Japan's Pacific League. The Yankees plan to meet with the pitcher on Monday in California, a person familiar with the planning told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because details were not announced.

Mets owner Steve Cohen and president of baseball operations David Stearns went to Japan ahead of the winter meetings to talk with Yamamoto and family.

"I think it demonstrates Steve's commitment to do everything he possibly can to bring players to New York," Stearns said.

In deals that did get finalized, Baltimore agreed to a US$13 million, one-year contract with closer Craig Kimbrel, the Los Angeles Dodgers announced a US$9 million, one-year deal to keep outfielder Jason Heyward, and World Series champion Texas signed veteran reliever Kirby Yates to a US$4.5 million, one-year contract.

Agent Scott Boras, who represents Soto along with free agents Cody Bellinger, Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery and Jung Hoo Lee, held his annual winter meetings news conference filled with one-liners.

"As far as Bellinger, we know that the belly button has been pushed and there's a lot of inners, more inners than outers no doubt," Boras said. "So it's been an aggressive campaign for elite talents in these winter meetings."

Snell followed his 2018 AL Cy Young Award by winning this year's NL honor. "When you flip the coin, it always comes up ... on both sides," Boras said.

Teams stocked up on pitching in the big league phase of the winter meeting draft of unprotected players, taking pitchers with eight of the 10 selections -- including three from the Yankees' system.

The Yankees lost a pair of right-handers in the first two picks, with Oakland taking Mitch Spence and Kansas City selecting Matt Sauer. Texas, fresh off its first World Series title, chose right-hander Carson Coleman from the Yankees with the No. 23 selection.

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AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this report.

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