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Boras again to be big Meetings factor

Boras again to be Meetings factor

LAS VEGAS -- With the backdrop of a struggling global economy and the bright lights of Vegas, the Winter Meetings open Monday with an air of uncertainty.

But there's at least one thing for certain: Scott Boras will be there.

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As usual, Boras will attract considerable attention, whether he's holding impromptu media briefings in the lobby of the Bellagio Hotel and Casino or shuttling among team suites, promotional binder in hand, playing one against the other to land work for the 16 free agents he represents.

While the signings have been slow this winter, Boras is confident about the free-agent market based on his conversations with club officials.

"It's been very aggressive for my clients," he said.

Boras has developed a reputation of being an unmistakable power broker because of the star players he represents and the rich contracts he's negotiated.

This year is an excellent example of Boras' clout. He represents the two most-valued available hitters -- Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez -- as well as one of the better pitchers, Derek Lowe.

Boras has floated a 10-year, Alex Rodriguez type of contract as a target for Teixeira. If his past method of operation is any indication, he will engage the few clubs that can afford to think about that -- the Angels, Red Sox and Yankees primarily -- and backchannel one or two dark-horse suitors. And once Teixeira signs, he'll really earn his money by trying to convince the remaining teams that the 36-year-old Ramirez would be a can't-miss addition to any lineup.

With Lowe, Boras might sit on the sidelines and wait for the most valuable pitcher on the market -- CC Sabathia -- to sign, set the market and clear the logjam. The consistent and durable Lowe then becomes the pitching equivalent of Ramirez, with a three- or four-year deal in mind.

Boras also needs to land work for veteran catcher Jason Varitek, who is coming off a down year at age 36, and for developing left-handed starter Oliver Perez, catcher Ivan Rodriguez, outfielder Garret Anderson and one-time closer extraordinaire Eric Gagne, along with a handful of others.

In many quarters, Boras is accused of manipulating, if not helping to create, a system that has sent player salaries ever higher. Closer to the truth is that he understands the system put in place by the collective bargaining agreement, how it has evolved through the years and the revenues the game has generated.

The former Minor Leaguer is successful because he is thorough, patient, has the trust and cooperation of his clients and is a seasoned veteran in baseball contract negotiations, having engaged in them since 1985.

In fact, one of the true secrets of his success is that he often bypasses general managers, going directly to ownership with sales pitches, as he did on a shuttle tour in the two weeks leading up to the opening of the Winter Meetings.

Of course, the big unknown this winter is how the global economy will impact the decisions of owners who, on the one hand, must answer to their ticket-buying customers by fielding a winning product, while on the other hand run their operation in the midst of shrinking incomes.

That might not hinder clubs like the Yankees and Mets, with new stadium revenues anticipated and low debt ratios. But from the Diamondbacks to the Dodgers to countless others, economics are expected to put a damper on what clubs are willing to pay their employees.

Without disputing any of the developments from Wall Street to Main Street, which prompted Commissioner Bud Selig to have a former Federal Reserve chairman address owners last month, Boras isn't convinced that free-agent contracts will be depressed.

"I fully expect 10 to 12 teams to be very aggressive for players, eight or so teams interested in one player or two at the most, and as always, a number of teams not strongly addressing the free-agent market," Boras said. "If there's a difference this year, it's the major players requiring a substantial contract, and until they get done, the rest might not move."

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

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