Free agents hot topic at GM Meetings

Free agents hot topic at GM Meetings

DANA POINT, Calif. -- Looking downright presidential in his self-assurance on Election Day, Scott Boras strolled into the lobby at the St. Regis Monarch Resort on Tuesday and held court with a captive media crowd eight-to-10 deep, delivering richly flavored updates on the likes of Manny Ramirez, Mark Teixeira, Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek.

The most enthralling declaration involved big bopper Ramirez, who went bi-coastal this season, bashing from Beantown to Hollywood. Boras proclaimed, without much prompting, that Manny warrants a six-year deal that would take him to age 42.

Somewhere, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti had to cringe.

Until Nov. 14, when others can try to impress Boras (and Ramirez) with riches, the Dodgers own exclusive negotiating rights to the man they accepted from Boston in a multi-player swap also involving Pittsburgh at the Trade Deadline.

"It will be the first time we've talked about it," Colletti later said of a sit-down arranged with Boras at an undisclosed time before the General Managers Meetings wrap up on Thursday.

In other headline developments on the first official day of the Meetings, A.J. Burnett elected to opt out of the final two years of his Blue Jays contract; Ken Griffey Jr. led a list of nine players filing for free agency; Commissioner Bud Selig urged club officials to exercise caution in light of the economic times, and the agent for Yankees stalwart Andy Pettitte said the southpaw plans to return to the mound in 2009 -- hopefully with the Bronx Bombers in their spiffy new house.

The 2009 options of two of Pettitte's teammates, Jason Giambi and Carl Pavano, were not picked up by the Yankees, making them free agents.

Boras, who also maintained that his relationship with Alex Rodriguez is on solid footing, wasn't in on the Selig conference video -- not that it would have made impacted his designs for his clients.

Invoking Barry Bonds and A-Rod as representative of Ramirez's place in society, Boras made it evident it would not be easy for the Dodgers to head off others, such as the Yankees, at the Manny pass.

"I did Barry Bonds' contract with Ned [with San Francisco in 2001] when he was a year older than Manny," Boras said. "Back then there really wasn't a benchmark. But last year, when we did [Rodriguez's contract] the key negotiating point was that he be paid to the same age that Barry Bonds was paid. And so we have two extraordinary hitters in Bonds and A-Rod that were paid to the age of 42.

"Bonds was a franchise player who literally paid for himself with the people he put in the seats and his historic home run performance. Those players are like Manny Ramirez."

Bonds, the all-time leader with 762 homers, was 37 years old when he signed a five-year, $90 million contract with the Giants following his historic 73-homer season in 2001. A-Rod was 32 last year when he signed a 10-year, $275 million contract with the Yankees.

Ramirez is 36 and showing no sign of decline after creating a stir unseen in Chavez Ravine since the unveiling of Fernando Valenzuela and Fernandomania in 1981.

The Dodgers, internally, have been discussing offering Ramirez two years at $55 million, although that offer -- or any offer at all -- has yet to be made.

Teixeira, as important to the Angels the final two-plus months of the season as Ramirez was to the team up the freeway, also merits a long-term, mega-deal, Boras proposed.

At 28, Teixeira could command even more years than Manny at a comparable salary scale.

Angels general manager Tony Reagins, like Colletti, hadn't yet met with Boras to get specific with his franchise's plan to retain its superstar centerpiece.

"We have an understanding as to how we're going to move forward with this," said Reagins, who has five other free agents -- Francisco Rodriguez, Garret Anderson, Jon Garland, Darren Oliver and Juan Rivera -- to consider. "We're going to be respectful of both sides.

"I don't think there's a clear-cut favorite [in the Teixeira derby]. There will come a point where we'll have to make a decision -- whether we're in or not. We don't want to jeopardize other decisions we have to make."

Colletti also mentioned that business will proceed as usual, if less colorfully, if Ramirez doesn't enrich Joe Torre's lineup in 2009.

"Any time you have more than one player to add," Colletti said, "you have to take them as the timeline dictates -- as circumstances dictate."

Selig's Election Day message to his constituents was succinct: Go out and do what you have to do to improve your clubs, but be aware of the global economic situation as you do.

"He talked about the overwhelming unsteadiness of our economy," said Jimmie Lee Solomon, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, who was in the room. "He wanted everyone to recognize that while we need to move forward to do our business, we need to be cognizant about our economy."

The presentation lasted about 15 minutes and prefaced a morning meeting during which the umpires, instant replay, the upcoming World Baseball Classic and the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport were the hot topics of discussion.

Selig said throughout the postseason that though MLB's gross revenues had grown to new levels and attendance was virtually even with 2007, the clubs needed to mindful because the full weight of the country's economic issues may have yet to be felt.

"For any of us to believe that eventually all this isn't going to affect us in this business you have to have your head in the sand," said White Sox general manager Kenny Williams. "People are struggling. And what does that mean? People who spend their discretionary dollars on sports and other forms of entertainment have got to make some decisions about what they want to do."

Selig told the group that he's wary after talking to a number of noted economists about the future, but that the economic signs for the sport are all good.

Burnett's agent, Darek Braunecker, confirmed that the pitcher will walk away from the $24 million he was scheduled to make over the next two seasons.

"We weren't surprised," said Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi. "I think he wants to see what's out there from a standpoint of interest from other clubs and we're still involved in the mix. That's all we can ask for. We've operated on the assumption that we'll try to make him priority No. 1 and then just continue to see what's available."

Burnett signed a five-year contract worth $55 million with the Blue Jays on Dec. 6, 2005. After a pair of injury-riddled campaigns, Burnett pieced together arguably the best season of his career in '08, posting a personal-best 18 wins with an American League-leading 231 strikeouts.

Beyond the Blue Jays, the Yankees, Orioles and Red Sox have all been rumored to be interested in Burnett, who makes his offseason home outside of Baltimore. Burnett is arguably the top available arm behind free agent left-hander CC Sabathia.

The 37-year-old Giambi completed his seventh season in New York, batting .247 with 32 home runs and 96 RBIs. The Yankees held a $22 million option for 2009 on Giambi's original seven-year, $120 million contract signed on Dec. 18, 2001, buying him out instead for $5 million.

"His option year was so big, number-wise," Yankees GM Brian Cashman said of the decision. "We certainly love Jason, he's been, you know, a pleasure to have as a Yankee and it doesn't mean we won't consider the opportunity going forward to have him be a Yankee. But the option number was such a large number that this was a no brainer because of that.

"He's in the free-agent market, and obviously we have an opportunity to still pursue him. Now 29 other clubs will have the opportunity to pursue him."

Joining Griffey in filing for free agency were pitchers Elmer Dessens, Mike Timlin and Mark Mulder, outfielders Luis Gonzalez, Trot Nixon and Cliff Floyd, catcher Gary Bennett and infielder Juan Castro.

Griffey Jr. officially became a free agent a week after the White Sox declined the $16 million option held on the prolific slugger for 2009.

"When I talked to him about not picking up the option, he was nothing but a class individual, unbelievably positive," said Williams, Chicago's GM. "There's just not a fit."

He hasn't filed for free agency, but Pettitte wants back in, according to his agent, Randy Hendricks. In an e-mail to MLB.com, Hendricks wrote: "He has decided to pitch."

Pettitte was 14-14 in 2008 with a 4.54 ERA in 33 starts. He has worked at least 200 innings in 10 of his 14 seasons, including the past four with the Astros and Yankees.

Pettitte told Houston television station KRIV on Tuesday night he would like to continue his career with the Yankees.

"That's what I would like to do, obviously," Pettitte said prior to a charity event to raise money for college students affected by Hurricane Ike. "Hopefully, we can see if something happens. Randy and me, we talked about three weeks ago, and really we haven't talked since then. As far as I know, nothing has happened at all."

Padres general manager Kevin Towers had no progress to offer in trade discussions involving ace Jake Peavy and shortstop Khalil Greene. Towers did suggest that a multiplayer swap involving Peavy -- presumably with one of five National League clubs atop the pitcher's list -- could yield a shortstop that would enable him to move Greene, who is eligible for free agency after the 2009 season.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.