GMs leave meetings lamenting high cost of free agents
NAPLES, Fla. -- Kenny Williams stood in the hotel lobby as general managers started to leave, talked about his starting pitchers and said the $51.1 million fee the Boston Red Sox bid merely for negotiating rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka had given him an idea.
"Instead of trading one of them, I'd rather post him," the Chicago White Sox GM said. "If you can get that much for a guy that hadn't pitched here, what are you going to get for some of the guys in our rotation?"
General managers headed home talking trade, discouraged by the prices being tossed around for a free-agent class lacking star power.
"I think that's the byproduct of an over-inflated free-agent market," Williams said. "I think it prompts you to get serious in trade talks and explore trade opportunities quicker."
Nine major league free agents already have contract agreements that clubs have announced. Last year, that number wasn't reached until Nov. 28.
Everyone wants pitching. The Mets gave 41-year-old Orlando Hernandez a $12 million, two-year deal this week, and the Baltimore Orioles reached a preliminary agreement on a $12 million, three-year contract with left-handed reliever Jamie Walker, who has a 15-16 career record with five saves and a 3.95 ERA.
As for offense, designated hitter Frank Thomas and the Toronto Blue Jays were close to an agreement on a two-year contract. Houston talked with the agent for slugger Carlos Lee, who figures to take some time to weigh the market for his big bat. And the Red Sox appeared to be conducting their annual exploration of whether anyone wants Manny Ramirez, owed $40 million over the final two seasons of his contract.
"There's only so much talent in the market to fill the needs of what I'm hearing are of most of the clubs," New York Mets GM Omar Minaya said.
Some teams are moving more slowly than usual.
"It's quiet on the Yankee front right now," GM Brian Cashman said, "but it's early."
In other action at the meetings on Thursday, general managers agreed that batting practice will start 15 minutes later next season, allowing more fans to watch their favorite players take cuts in the cage. The proposal was made by Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin.
"Typically gates open at just about the time the home team batting practice ends, and the fans always say, 'Gee, I wish I could see a little more of home team batting practice,'" baseball senior vice president Joe Garagiola Jr. said. "So now that 15-minute infield slot that never gets used will be filled up with batting practice, and if a team wants to take infield, they'll call ahead and say, 'Hey, we're going to take infield today and rearrange the schedule.'"
With some teams wondering how much the humidor at Denver's Coors Field is deadening baseballs, the commissioner's office sent a questionnaire to teams.
"Who handles them? Where are they stored? What's your average length of time? Who rubs them up? That kind of thing. Are your storage areas temperature and humidity controlled?" Garagiola said. "I suppose we could learn something from this that would cause us to want to look into a particular situation a little more closely."
Scott Boras, Matsuzaka's agent, also represents outfielder J.D. Drew, who opted out of the final three years and $33 million on his contract. Boras said there has been much interest in Drew.
Los Angeles GM Ned Colletti said the Dodgers had not filed tampering charges against any club. However, he did not rule out the possibility that Los Angeles would in the future.
GMs selected Boston's Theo Epstein and Florida's Larry Beinfest as co-chairs of next year's meetings, meaning an East Coast site is likely. Lake Buena Vista, Fla., the site of this year's winter meetings, is a possibility for next year's GM sessions.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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