Money flows at GM meetings; economy may hurt free agents

DANA POINT, Calif. -- The minimum room rates at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort cost $745 a night, but it includes your choice of spa treatments or golf.

You can lie out by the pool in a cabana for $300. A room-service serving of orange juice and cereal — including the berries — is $20.

If Major League Baseball is feeling the effects of a struggling economy at its annual general managers' meetings, it has a funny way of showing it.

The agents hanging in the posh circular lobby, with a European wine cellar and 100-year-old French flooring, still are seeking top dollar for their clients. It's business as usual, at least so far.

"If you examine history," says Jeff Borris of the Beverly Hills Sports Council, "during the worst economic times, people spend whatever they can to entertain themselves. And baseball still is the cheapest form of entertainment.

"I don't think the U.S. economy will have a depreciable effect on the baseball economy."

Certainly, no one is forecasting that the marquee free agents, such as starting pitcher CC Sabathia, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Manny Ramirez and closer Francisco Rodriguez, will get anything less than top dollar. For the rest of the free agent class, who knows?

"I don't think you'll see an impact on the premium free agents," says Los Angeles Angels general manager Tony Reagins, who would like to retain Teixeira. "It may play a part on the next level of players."

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and Boston Red Sox counterpart Theo Epstein have no idea whether the economy will impact their well-heeled clubs' winter plans. Major League Baseball officials say they're not panicking, so why should big-market clubs?

"I would think about seven teams would feel little or no impact," Cleveland Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said. "But it's different for a lot of us. In Cleveland, we've been feeling the effect for quite a while."

Major League Baseball generated a record $6.5 billion in revenue last year, Commissioner Bud Selig said, but he warned teams to be careful.

"These are very tough times, economists say the toughest time since the Great Depression," Selig said Tuesday. "Everybody in America has very significant trepidation, and so should we."

The Pittsburgh Pirates announced Tuesday that they have put a freeze on season-ticket prices and offered an interest-free payment plan. Arizona Diamondbacks CEO Jeff Moorad says his club has lost a corporate sponsorship with their ballpark pool. The San Diego Padres, general manager Kevin Towers said, are braced to cut payroll to $40 million.

Chicago White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who also owns the Chicago Bulls, says there already has been an impact in the NBA. Season-ticket renewals are down, along with corporate sponsors.

"I think the same thing will happen in baseball," Reinsdorf says. "We've been through recessions in my lifetime, but we haven't seen the market drop like this since the Depression..

"I know we're projecting some losses of revenue. And I know baseball has already lost one big sponsor. Now, whether that all works its way onto the free agent market, I don't know. Some people in our game don't mind losing money."

Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez, was the one last month who uttered the infamous words:

"I want to see who is the highest bidder. Gas is up, and so am I."

The average price of gas fell to $2.41 Monday, but Dodgers GM Ned Colletti doesn't necessarily expect a drop in the Manny market.

"We'll just have to check the gas market, I guess," Colletti said, "before I go and speak with him."