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GMs come to Disney World

Big names are expected to be the topic of discussion when the meetings begin today.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Barry and Manny figure to be mentioned prominently alongside Grumpy and Goofy when baseball’s winter meetings open Monday at Disney World.

Barry Bonds and Barry Zito are among the most notable of the unsigned fee agents heading into the four-day session of signings and swaps, and Manny Ramirez once again is being dangled in trade discussions by the Boston Red Sox.

Thus far, some general managers have spend nearly as wildly as they did in the great bull market following the 2000 season, when Alex Rodriguez got his record $252 million deal with Texas and Ramirez agreed to a $160 million contract with the Boston Red Sox. In the past two weeks, Alfonso Soriano got a $136 million agreement from the Chicago Cubs and Carlos Lee was guaranteed $100 million by the Houston Astros.

Some teams have shied away from big-name free agents, preferring to concentrate on lower-priced players and trade talks

“We’re going to sign them to the value we think is right, not what the market is dictating,” St. Louis Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said. “The market right now is kind of silly, and it may continue to be silly.”

Bonds’ agent, Jeff Borris, was angry that the Giants didn’t offer salary arbitration to the 42-year-old left fielder, coming off a $90 million, five-year contract with San Francisco, and he might step up his efforts with other teams. Zito, who spent his first seven seasons with the Oakland Athletics, is the top available free-agent pitcher in a market desperately seeking arms. Scott Boras, known for pushing for high prices, represents Zito.

“The market has definitely spiked. There’s no doubt about it,” Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said. “It’s clear that there’s a lot of available money to be spent, probably more holes on teams than players to fill them.”

Boston bid $51,111,111 just for the right to negotiate with ace pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka under baseball’s posting system with the Japanese Leagues, and the New York Yankees offered $26,000,194 for Kei Igawa, projected as a No. 4 of five starter. The contracts for those two likely won’t be resolved until later in the month.

Zito and Jason Schmidt, another free-agent pitcher, are expected to command big bucks and be a focus of the winter meetings.

“You would wonder when the pitching is going to order itself,” San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean said. “There have been some signings but they have not been sequential.”

All the money committed thus far has caught the attention of commissioner Bud Selig, who repeatedly has warned teams about making lengthy big-money deals. Soriano’s contract is for eight years.

Some players regarded as less-than-top-line stars have gotten huge contracts, a group that includes outfielders Gary Matthews Jr. ($50 million over five years from Los Angeles Angels) and Juan Pierre ($44 million over five years from Cubs). After opting out of the final three years and $33 million of guaranteed money from the Los Angeles Dodgers, J.D. Drew is in the final stages of completing a $70 million, five-year agreement with the Red Sox.

Selig isn’t ready to draw any conclusions on whether teams have gone back to rash financial practices.

“I want to let this whole thing play out, then I’ll make a judgment. It’s a little too early yet,” Selig said. “I want another month or two to go by. I’ll be able to give you an answer in January.”

Boston hasn’t commented on its talks involving Ramirez. The Red Sox explored trades following the 2004 and 2005 seasons without finding any deals they liked.

Ramirez is owed $18 million next year and $20 million in 2008, of which $4 million annually is deferred, but his contract contains a pair of $20 million team options, and he might ask that they be guaranteed in exchange for waiving his no-trade rights.

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