Garner, Francona among managers taken aback by growing salaries

Dec 6, 2006 - 2:46 AM By Drew Silverman PA SportsTicker Staff Writer

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida (Ticker) -- When it comes to baseball contracts, roles are well-defined.

Agents and general managers negotiate, owners pay the agreed amount and players perform for the salary.

But where do managers fit into all this? Well this year, they can best be described as stunned spectators.

"(The going rate) has absolutely shocked me," Astros manager Phil Garner said.

"It's amazing," added Boston Red Sox skipper Terry Francona, whose team recently bid $51 million for right to negotiate with Japanese star Daisuke Matsuzaka, $38 million more than the Seattle Mariners bid on Ichiro Suzuki in 2000.

And that's where the problems started this winter. Never before has a team bid so much for the chance to sign someone. Granted, the Red Sox get a refund on their investment if they cannot come to an agreement with the 26-year-old righthander by December 14, but Francona knows that pitching is at a premium more than ever.

"There's a lot of teams out there (that are willing to be agressive)," he said. "And we knew coming in it was going to be like that. Teams want to be competitive. There's just not enough pitching around to be had."

If there's anyone who knows the value of good pitching, it's St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who rode ace Chris Carpenter and surprising veterans Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver to the World Series title in October.

The Cardinals locked up Carpenter with a five-year extension on Monday, but they still might have to deal with the possibility of losing Suppan and Weaver, as well as fellow starters Jason Marquis and Mark Mulder, all of whom are free agents.

"The smartest thing we've done is that we haven't spent more money than we thought we should spend," La Russa said. "One reason we've remained competitive (over the years) is we put a value on a pitcher or a player that fits our ballclub. And if that doesn't get him and you end up stretching (for more money), you end up causing more problems."

The Cardinals had no issues throwing $65 million at Carpenter, who has won 51 games over the last three seasons. The 2005 Cy Young Award winner certainly isn't the type of player La Russa is concerned about.

"I think whether it's a player or a pitcher, I don't think many of us are fans of a lot of years, a lot of money," La Russa said. "That's a security that goes against human nature, but if you have a unique situation, I don't think motivation is ever going to be a problem for Chris. So you get the right situation, the right guy, it makes sense."

While Carpenter definitely falls into the unique situation category, there are numerous free agents who have signed this season that do not.

For example, Adam Eaton - who never has won more than 11 games - received a three-year, $24 million contract from Philadelphia despite never having pitched more than 200 innings in a season. And as recently as Tuesday night, the Boston Red Sox and outfielder J.D. Drew - who has numerous injuries and zero All-Star berths on his resume - agreed on a five-year, $70 million deal.

And these aren't even the top-tier free agents. Alfonso Soriano will receive $136 million from the Chicago Cubs over the next eight years and fellow outfielder Carlos Lee has a cool $100 million coming his way over the next six years, courtesy of the Astros.

"I have generally predicted where the market was going to go, (but) the only one I got right so far this year was Soriano," Garner said. "I've been absolutely stunned at the amount of money that speciality players are getting, fitting a role. A lot of dollars."

At least Lee, Soriano and Drew are getting paid tens of millions of dollars to play 150 games a season and bat in the heart of their teams' lineup. But that simply is not the case with marginal relievers like Jamie Walker, Chad Bradford and Danys Baez, who each signed three-year contracts with the Baltimore Orioles worth a combined $41.5 million.

"Some of the relievers kind of open your eyes, some of the early signings maybe a little bit," said Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin, who admitted his team is more likely to acquire more affordable players through trades. "But teams feel like they can handle it and it seems like there's some money to be spent out there right now."

And the checkbooks haven't exactly been put away yet. Future Hall of Famers Barry Bonds, Mike Piazza, Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux are going to get paid, while Barry Zito could get more money than any of them.

While the market is relative if each team is spending big money, La Russa feels that overvaluing everyone is a strategy that can only hurt the overall product in the long-run.

"I just think it would be better for the game if we didn't have to do that," he said.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, Chris Carpenter and Alfonso Soriano might beg to differ.

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