By RONALD BLUM
AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- It's the time of year in baseball for courting and bluffing -- sometimes simultaneously.
Free agent signing season began Friday with teams competing for a
dearth of stars and a large number of players nearing the end of their
With only pitcher John Lackey and
outfielders Matt Holliday and Jason Bay considered elite players by
most, it could be a slow signing season as teams seek to fill needs
with solutions that are less than ideal.
"Those players who are franchise players that are available are even
more valued because of the rarity of them," said agent Scott Boras, who
The second tier
includes starters Erik Bedard, Joel Pineiro and Randy Wolf; relievers
Fernando Rodney and Billy Wagner; first baseman Carlos Delgado; second
baseman Placido Polanco; shortstop Miguel Tejada; third
baseman/outfielder Chone Figgins; third basemen Mark DeRosa and Pedro
Feliz; outfielders Mike Cameron and Johnny Damon; and designated
hitters Vladimir Guerrero and Hideki Matsui.
"It's not a deep marketplace, but in the end you've got some good
players out there," New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya said.
Last offseason, the New York Yankees alone gave $423.5 million to
pitchers CC Sabathia ($161 million) and A.J. Burnett ($82.5 million)
and first baseman Mark Teixeira ($180 million).
Among others who got big deals were pitchers Derek Lowe ($60 million
from the Los Angeles Dodgers), Ryan Dempster ($52 million from Chicago
Cubs) and Francisco Rodriguez ($37 million from New York Mets); and
outfielders Manny Ramirez ($45 million from Dodgers), Raul Ibanez
($31.5 million from Philadelphia) and Milton Bradley ($30 million from
It's hard to see many of this year's
free agents rising to similar amounts. In addition to lesser quality
players, some teams have expressed concern about the weak economy.
"Conversationally, a lot of middle- and small-market teams I think are
racheting their payrolls back for next year," Milwaukee Brewers owner
Mark Attanasio said.
Boras, of course, thinks there's no reason for spending to slow.
"We've had two years of record success in the game, where the owners
are making $6.5 billion," he said, a reference to the annual revenue of
the major leagues. "Because of that, there's every reason for teams to
continue to invest in franchises, to grow their franchises."
He says he doesn't believe it when some teams say they're not interested in signing big-money free agents.
"That pattern seems to be something that is a preferred path now," he
said, "where you publicly announce you're out of a negotiation but
internally you're keeping your irons in the fire to examine."