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Buster Olney: Numbers keep dropping for free agents

Migrant Redbird

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The other day, a general manager chatted about Arizona's signing of veteran second baseman Felipe Lopez for $3.5 million. When I referred to it as a low-budget signing, the GM laughed.

"Low-budget?" he scoffed. "Are you kidding? I wish I had $3.5 million to spend."

Throughout baseball, budgets are being downsized from week to week to reflect the latest read on the economy, and what you are about to see -- once the smoke clears from the Sabathia and Burnett and Teixeira news conferences -- is a stunning drop in salaries for the free agents, a time when solid veteran players might be fortunate to get one-year offers for $5 million to $8 million. General managers throughout the game are reporting, on background, that their payrolls are being locked down, cut down, slashed.

One executive tells the story of three different rounds of downsizing, as his team gathers information about how the economic downturn will affect his team's sponsorships and season-ticket returns....

1. When the offseason began, the agent for Derek Lowe was asking teams for five years and $90 million, baseball executives say. Now that asking price is down by almost a third,...

2. All but two of the free agents who were offered arbitration turned it down in the hopes of landing multiyear deals elsewhere. But increasingly, it appears that the Jason Variteks and Orlando Cabreras are going to have a difficult time landing deals that match what they might have made in arbitration....

3. ... As prices for players like Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell and Jason Giambi and the rest of the corner outfielder/DH types drop, Ramirez increasingly looks like the Hummer left standing in the middle of the showroom floor....

4. The Mets need a starting pitcher, but, increasingly, their position is a lot like Tampa Bay's position in the corner outfield market: The buyer, and not the seller, is in command,....

5. .... Brian Fuentes, a Type A free agent, is struggling to find suitable bidders, his market hurt by the fact that any team that signs him will lose draft picks.

Speculation is that Fuentes might still end up with St. Louis or, if his price drops enough, back in Colorado.

I noticed someone urging the O's to go after Dunn now, rather than waiting for the Teixeira dance to play out. Maybe, if the O's wait, they can add Dunn and a couple of veteran pitchers for the proverbial bag of game balls.

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