Free agents spice winter meetings

Monday, December 10, 2001

BOSTON -- After pleading poverty in front of Congress last week, baseball teams gathered Sunday to spend some more money on free agents at the winter meetings.

Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Chan Ho Park and Juan Gonzalez headed the list of available players. While this year's class isn't expected to produce the free-agent frenzy of last year's gathering in Dallas, the late ending of the World Series shortened baseball's business season, which should make for a hectic four days before general managers go home Thursday.

The New York Yankees and Mets didn't even wait for the meetings to get into a dealing mood, with the Yankees sending outfielder David Justice across town on Friday for third baseman Robin Ventura. And Oakland acquired closer Billy Koch from Toronto for a pair of minor leaguers.

But all was quiet Sunday.

"Nobody's looking to make a trade right now," Mets general manager Steve Phillips said. "People want to talk to everybody to know what's out there."

There were just five trades last year and only one of significance, a six-man swap that sent Brad Ausmus, Doug Brocail and Nelson Cruz from Detroit to Houston for Roger Cedeno, Chris Holt and Mitch Meluskey.

Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez got most of the attention, with Texas giving the shortstop a record $252 million, 10-year contract and the Red Sox giving Ramirez a $160 million, eight-year deal.

In all, owners committed $739.2 million to 25 players.

"This has to end sometime," Philadelphia Phillies manager Larry Bowa said. "The well's got to run dry. It seems it does for a little bit, but then it starts back up."

Commissioner Bud Selig testified before the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday and said baseball was broke, blaming high salaries caused by free agency and salary arbitration.

While owners have sung that chorus repeatedly since the reserve clause was struck down in December 1975, many keep spending in an effort to win.

Scott Boras, who negotiated Rodriguez's deal last year, arrived Sunday to step up his peddling of Bonds. While Bonds hit a record 73 homers this year, he is 37, creating caution among teams faced with an expected asking price of $20 million or more annually for four or five years.

San Francisco, the outfielder's team since 1993, made Bonds an offer last week, but no other club has publicly admitted interest in the outfielder.

"We offered a home-team discount in spring training," Boras said. "We offered them a four-year contract at a very favorable number."

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