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GMs leave meetings lamenting high cost of free agents

11/16/2006 - MLB

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."

As for free agents, it appears big-money players such as pitcher
Barry Zito and second baseman Alfonso Soriano will take their time,
waiting for the market to develop.

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.