GMs bowled over as meetings open

GMs discuss Rockies' humidor system

NAPLES, Fla. -- On the first day of their annual meetings, the general managers went bowling. That's right. You heard right.

The winner was Kevin Towers of the Padres, who bowled in the mid-160s. That, of course, is out of 300.

While no one was setting any records, the afternoon excursion away from the Naples Grand Resort on Monday was meant to engender camaraderie and goodwill. When the group returned, player agents were waiting as the second day of the free-agent season was about to end with no significant names changing teams.

"It was a lot of fun," said Towers, who returned from the excursion wearing a blue floral shirt, his sunglasses dangling from his neck. "Now it's back to work."

When their first real session opens early on Tuesday morning, the GMs will study rule changes, including again the limited use of instant replay to help umpires on home run calls, and the possibility of installing Colorado-type humidors to store baseballs in each of the Major League's 30 ballparks.

Currently only the Rockies employ the practice at Coors Field.

"From a layman's non-scientific viewpoint, I think there were significant differences [in the way the ball carried at Coors Field before the humidor]," Houston general manager Tim Purpura said. "I'm all for leveling the playing field whenever we can."

Others were trying desperately to sway the playing field.

The fact that the Cubs spent $73 million over five years to retain Aramis Ramirez sent ripples through the baseball cognoscenti, who now wonder what a player like Alfonso Soriano is worth on the open market. Two years ago, Carlos Beltran was signed by the Mets for $119 million over seven seasons, and with a new labor deal signed through 2011 and television contracts generating $7 billion a year through 2013, Soriano could easily receive that kind of money.

"I have to keep up with the Cardinals," Cubs GM Jim Hendry said about the defending World Series champs and chief rivals in the National League Central. "At least as far as spending money."

It also became clear on Monday that Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka could become a very rich man.

Wide-ranging media reports substantiated by baseball officials indicated that the Red Sox had won the rights to negotiate with the right-hander and winner of the Most Valuable Player Award during Japan's victory in the first World Baseball Classic staged this past March.

The announcement that the Seibu Lions, Matsuzaka's Japanese team, had accepted the bid was scheduled to be made jointly by the commissioner's offices of Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET (10 a.m. Wednesday in Tokyo).

The Major League club that wins the bid would then have 30 days to negotiate a deal with Matsuzaka's agent, Scott Boras, or the pitcher would have to return to Japan for the 2007 season. In that event, the team won't have to pay the winning bid price to the Lions, and the Lions wouldn't be able to post Matsuzaka again until next year.

The buzz in the hotel lobby was that the Red Sox weren't as serious about signing Matsuzaka in making their bid as they were about keeping him away from the arch-rival Yankees. The Red Sox lost the bidding war back in 2003, the last time the two teams tried to woo an international pitcher -- Cuban expatriate Jose Contreras, who signed with the Yankees.

Also on Monday night, The Sporting News announced its Executive of the Year at a dinner honoring the award winner.

This season, the award went to longtime Twins general manager Terry Ryan, a man who has kept his team in contention almost every season despite a restricted player personnel budget and protracted fight over the funding of a new ballpark. The Twins won the American League Central during a season in which the future of the franchise in Minnesota was settled with the announcement that a yard will be built in downtown Minneapolis.

Other top candidates were Dave Dombrowski of the American League champion Tigers, Walt Jocketty of the Cardinals, Omar Minaya of the NL East-winning Mets and Billy Beane, whose A's were swept in the AL Championship Series by the Tigers.

The vote is taken at the end of the regular season and didn't take into account playoff success. Last year's decision was controversial -- Cleveland's Mark Shapiro won over the White Sox Kenny Williams, even though Chicago captured its first World Series in 88 years.

During the meetings, BaseballChannel.TV will broadcast live from Naples from 9 a.m. ET to noon, and will provide breaking news, live reports and exclusive interviews throughout the day.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.