Free Agent Free-For-All!

There still was time before last call, but the moment the clock struck midnight Monday, the flirting was no longer relevant.

For the first time since last winter, it was permissible to lure baseball's most glamorous and gifted individuals to your residence.

All it takes is money.

It's called free agency, and baseball's meat market has officially begun, when teams were allowed to sign any of the 148 players who filed for the privilege.

For a cool $300 million or so, you can have Alex Rodriguez, or at least get him interested enough to engage in conversation.

Center fielder Torii Hunter, who listened two hours Sunday night to Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams' sales pitch — including a videotape with designated hitter Jim Thome and Chicago Bulls center Ben Wallace pleading for him to come — is now available. The Texas Rangers were scheduled to visit Hunter on Monday, and the Kansas City Royals have a breakfast meeting scheduled for today.

Center fielder Andruw Jones may have hit a career-low .222 this season, but if you listen to agent Scott Boras' sales pitch, you'll learn that Willie Mays is the only outfielder who hit more home runs by the age of 30. Cha-ching!

Catcher Jorge Posada, with the New York Mets also needing a catcher, figures he'll be staying in New York, but likely back with the Yankees for at least $40 million.

There also will be a variety of players available from the Far East, led by Chunichi Dragons outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, who declared for free agency after leading the Dragons to their first Japanese championship in 53 years.

This year's market, however, is considered thin. It won't command nearly the attention of a year ago, when outfielders Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee and pitcher Barry Zito broke the $100 million barrier. Rodriguez is expected to be the only man to hit the nine-figure mark this winter.

The early returns indicate teams will still pay for pitching experience. Greg Maddux, 41, received a one-year, $10 million contract to stay with the San Diego Padres, and Curt Schilling, who turns 41 on Wednesday, signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Boston Red Sox, who even agreed to pay for child care on the days he pitches.

"The free agent market is not strong," Mets general manager Omar Minaya says. "Everybody is looking for pitching. But there's a price for pitching that people aren't willing to pay."

Perhaps this is why the Philadelphia Phillies traded for Houston Astros closer Brad Lidge and teams like the Mets and Yankees are waiting to see whether the Minnesota Twins put two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana on the market.

It's a seller's market, with closer Francisco Cordero the lone All-Star pitcher available.

"There are a lot of clubs out there with huge holes to fill," Padres general manager Kevin Towers says, "but not enough bodies to fill them. It's going to make for an interesting winter."

Gentlemen, start your checkbooks.