Rosenthal: Will Yankees beat out Royals for another free agent?

The winter meetings technically begin on Monday, but the lobby at the Dolphin Hotel already was buzzing Sunday.

A quick emptying-out of the notebook with information gathered from major league sources.

• The Royals’ bid for free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran was at least three years, $41 million, or just $1.3 million per season less than the Yankees’ winning offer.

Club officials were disappointed to lose out by such a narrow margin; their offer could even be viewed as better than the Yankees’ considering the cost-of-living differences between New York and Kansas City. But Beltran apparently wanted to join the Yankees, with whom he tried to sign in 2004 before reaching a seven-year, $119 million deal with the Mets.

The Royals, after losing Beltran, quickly turned their attention to free-agent second baseman Omar Infante. Alas, Infante also is a target of the Yankees — and perhaps a primary target. The Royals are talking to Mark Ellis, the next-best second baseman on the market. The Yankees are not.

• The Yankees are listening to offers for center fielder Brett Gardner, but it is hardly certain they will trade him. Gardner is a longtime favorite of general manager Brian Cashman, and the team is excited by the offensive and defensive possibilities of pairing Gardner with Jacoby Ellsbury.

One possible deal, already speculated upon by others, would be Gardner for Reds right-hander Homer Bailey. Both are entering their walk years, though Bailey projects to earn $9.3 million in his final year of arbitration and Gardner $4 million, according to Matt Swartz of (The projection on Gardner would appear low.)

The Yankees still need starting pitching, and the addition of Gardner would give the Reds additional time to develop Billy Hamilton. The Reds could replace Bailey by signing a free-agent starting pitcher with some of the money they might have used on Shin-Soo Choo. They would gain a draft pick for losing Choo, and could lose one for say, Ervin Santana.

An even better thought: Re-sign Bronson Arroyo without losing a draft pick, and wind up ahead.

• The Tigers will get Choo only if owner Mike Ilitch stages one of his patented last-second interventions. The possibility cannot be dismissed, but for the moment, the greater likelihood is that the team will find a right-handed platoon partner for Andy Dirks and also add another reliever.

If Choo is indeed out of reach for the Tigers, then it’s conceivable that he could land with either the Rangers or Mariners, with Nelson Cruz going to the other. The Mariners, in need of a right-handed hitter, probably view Cruz as a better fit. Of course, other teams also are pursuing these players; the Orioles and Royals, for example, like Cruz.

• Rakuten Golden Eagles president Yozo Tachibana has indicated to Japanese media that he would not necessarily post right-hander Masahiro Tanaka once MLB and NPB strike a deal on a new posting system.

An agreement is expected this week, leaving Tachibana with a business decision: Accept the new $20 million posting fee for Tanaka now, accept it after next season or receive nothing for the pitcher once he becomes a free agent after the 2015 campaign.

Major league free agents simply want a verdict: The delay is causing teams to hold off bidding not just on pitchers such as Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez, but also position players they might want to pursue.

• The first-base market is flush with trade possibilities, from the Mets’ Ike Davis and Marlins’ Logan Morrison to the Rangers’ Mitch Moreland and Red Sox’s Mike Carp.

The Red Sox are not motivated to move Carp, even after re-signing Mike Napoli, but teams looking for first basemen have choices beyond free agents James Loney, Corey Hart and Kendrys Morales.

Loney wants a three-year contract for between $24 million and $27 million, sources say. The teams in the first-base market, including the Rays, Pirates and Brewers, are mostly lower-revenue clubs that might not want to meet that price.

Davis, Morrison and Moreland all project to earn $3.5 million or less in arbitration. The acquisition cost for such players, however, also would include talent.

• Right-hander Ryan Webb, who agreed to a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Orioles, drew interest from 11 clubs after the Marlins declined to offer him arbitration.

The Orioles weren’t the only team to offer Webb two years, and he also received a number of one-year offers above the $1.5 million he was projected to receive in arbitration.

So, why the Orioles?

Webb wanted to play in the ultra-competitive American League East and for Orioles manager Buck Showalter and new pitching coach Dave Wallace. His agency, the Wasserman Media Group, also had positive experiences with two of their other recent Orioles clients, right-hander Bud Norris and lefty Randy Wolf.

• A number of teams continue to investigate the market for midrange starting pitching, including the Twins, Phillies, Mets and Braves.

The Twins, who already have committed a combined $73 million to Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, could aim higher than one of their previous targets, Mike Pelfrey. The Phillies pursued Scott Feldman but were outbid by the Astros, who signed the right-hander for three years, $30 million.

The Mets seem likely to pursue back-end types such as Aaron Harang and Daisuke Matsuzaka, then summon Noah Syndergaard at midseason, following the same path they did with Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler.

The Braves are more in the exploration stage. If they find the right fit, great; if not, they will simply go with their current five – lefties Mike Minor and Alex Wood and righties Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran and Brandon Beachy.

Finding a taker for the remaining two years and $26 million on second baseman Dan Uggla’s contract would create payroll flexibility. Easier said than done, however.