11/16/2006 6:47 PM ET
Money is hot topic at GM Meetings
Plenty of deals and trades brewing, but big names don't move
By Jim Molony / MLB.com
NAPLES, Fla. -- Chicago White Sox general manager Ken Williams figured to be a popular man at the General Managers Meetings this week, especially since the club has a deep rotation and perhaps could be persuaded to trade one of its starting pitchers.
But after hearing that Boston had posted a $51.1 million bid for the negotiating rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Japanese Central League, Williams had a better idea.
"Actually, I told my guys the other day, instead of trading one of them, I'd rather post them," Williams joked in the lobby of the Naples Grande Resort on Thursday afternoon. "If you can get that much for a guy that hasn't pitched here, what are we going to get for some of the guys we have in our rotation?"
Money made Matsuzaka the big story of the 2006 General Managers Meetings and money continued to make the news, giving GMs a clearer idea of what is shaping up as a lucrative market for free agents.
A day after the Red Sox won the Matsuzaka sweepstakes, the Devil Rays got into the act with a modest winning bid of around $4.4 million for Japanese third baseman Akinori Iwamura.
Dollars were being spent freely on the international market, and also here in the United States.
The Chicago Cubs spent $95 million in four days on four players: Aramis Ramirez, Kerry Wood, Mark DeRosa and Henry Blanco. The New York Yankees declined Mike Mussina's $17 million option, but were nearing an agreement on a two-year contract with the pitcher worth around $23 million.
Baltimore was reportedly closing on a three-year contract with lefty Jamie Walker in the $11 million range, and Toronto was reportedly about to agree to terms on a multi-year deal with Frank Thomas for between $20-$30 million.
The Detroit Tigers re-signed first baseman Sean Casey to a one-year contract.
All of which makes GMs wonder how much money the really big names on the free-agent market -- Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee and Barry Zito -- will get.
The market has clearly been set higher than what the sport has seen since perhaps 2000. The dollars have done more than raise eyebrows, it has forced teams to pursue trades harder.
"I think that's a byproduct of an over-inflated free-agent market," Williams said. "It prompts you to get serious in trade talks and explore trade opportunities quicker. You never really want to have to give up something to get something, but the byproduct of the inflated free-agent market is such that you do have to put equal weight on that. That's just the way it is."
Williams made one deal, sending reliever Neal Cotts to the Cubs for relief pitchers David Aardsma and Carlos Vasquez.
On Wednesday, the Mets traded relievers Royce Ring and Heath Bell to the Padres for outfielder Ben Johnson and pitcher Jon Adkins.
"It's early in the process," Padres GM Kevin Towers said. "[But] it sounds, at least in the discussions we've had with agents in the last 48 hours, [that] they're in no real hurry to get their players signed. I think that's why you see a lot of GMs now talking about trade discussions. There's a sense that there's not going to be a lot of movement. Some of these agents want to get offers in hand, and try to use those as a floor and try to get everybody else up."
Houston Astros GM Tim Purpura agreed with the assessment that the market is inflated.
"It seems like there's a lot of money out there that's being spent on players that we would have expected to go for lesser amounts," Purpura said. "You can't fault the clubs for doing that because they're trying to help their ballclubs, but it does impact everybody else."
The Astros didn't make any deals during the meetings, but the club does have multi-year offers on the table to both Soriano and Lee.
"We tried to lay the groundwork for a number of things on the trade front, free agency, and I think we've accomplished that," Purpura said. "You know, we've made a lot of inroads, met with a lot of clubs, tried to get a lay of the laid of who's available and who's not. [I'm] probably a little disappointed, in some ways, because there are some players out there we thought we might match up for, and we probably don't have the matches."
Mets GM Omar Minaya kept the dialogue open on a number of fronts, both with other teams and free-agent representatives. Other than the deal with San Diego, Minaya did not pull the trigger on any transactions.
"The meetings have given me a good feel for the needs of the other clubs," Minaya said. "Who's out there, who's not, who plays, who's not. There's only so much talent in the market to fulfill the needs."
The Yankees dealt Gary Sheffield to the Tigers before the meetings began. GM Brian Cashman made no other player transactions before the meetings adjourned.
"This is all part of the process," Cashman said. "You gather all of the information that you can, and you choose a course and pursue it. The groundwork laid here can only help us move forward going into the Winter Meetings.
"It's quiet on the Yankee front, but it's early."