LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Sooner or later, someone really important in this offseason standoff between pitchers and the people throwing money at them is going to blink. Maybe the suddenly steaming-hot Ted Lilly (lifetime record: 59-58) will break, or the now strangely attractive Gil Meche (55-44, 4.65 ERA). Maybe Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt finally will decide to end the suspense and start earning millions in interest on the millions he's bound to make.
It'll happen. But it didn't happen Monday on the first day of baseball's winter meetings here at Disney World. So far, the best free-agent pitchers -- and even most of those considered not quite as good -- are still standing menacingly pat. The teams that so badly need them -- which, if you're counting, is just about everyone -- are still sweating it out.
And the prices for starting pitchers -- you can bet a fistful of dollars on this -- are climbing higher every hour.
Baseball's annual swap meet and cash grab stepped off to a typically sputtering start Monday, with more whispering than shouting and more fiction that fact. Yet underneath all the blabbering and storytelling was the sobering realization that, as far as starting pitching goes, we haven't seen anything yet.
Oh, we've seen a lot this offseason. Way too much, if you listen to a lot of executives around the game. We've seen Daisuke Matsuzaka -- not a true free agent, but worth mentioning anyway -- command a staggering $51.1 million from the Red Sox just to buy the right to talk to him about a contract. We've seen Randy Wolf (who has started a total of 25 games in the past two seasons) grab $8 million a year. We saw Adam Eaton (who started only 13 games last year) land a three-year, $24.5 million contract. Clearly, the game's general managers began this winter looking more than a little desperate.
But they've already moved rapidly past desperate and, in the next few days or weeks, once someone of note cracks, they will end up ... where?
At $9 million a year for the unheralded Meche? At $10 million a year for Lilly? At $13 million or more a year for Schmidt, and maybe a full-blown $15 million-plus a year for Zito?
Late Monday, more than one source reported that Vicente Padilla had agreed to a deal worth some $11 million a year for three years. He is 66-61 lifetime.
"Obviously," the wonderfully understated general manager of the Astros, Tim Purpura, said of the starting pitching market, "it's a commodity that a lot of clubs are geared up for."
Everybody at these meetings knows that Schmidt and Zito, for two, will get their money. But few observers figured that the price of mediocre pitching would rise so high, so quickly. The problem facing the game's GMs now is to figure out how much money to throw at the lesser lights of the pitching world.