NAPLES, Fla. (AP) – Even before a formal announcement, baseball general managers were expecting the Boston Red Sox to be the winner of the bidding for Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.

“We’ll congratulate the winner and move on,” New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said before the announcement.

The Yankees, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers were thought to be among the unsuccessful bidders. Major League Baseball wouldn’t reveal the identity of the highest bidder until the Lions, who knew only the amount, accepted the offer.

Once the bid was accepted, the winning team would be given 30 days to negotiate a contract with Matsuzaka’s agent, Scott Boras.

“Pitching, as usual, is at a premium,” Boras said.

Agents roamed the lobby at the hotel where GMs are meeting, discussing their free-agent clients. Some agents think the market will move more quickly this offseason because of the decision by management and the players’ association to eliminate the Dec. 7 deadline for free agents to re-sign with their former teams unless they were offered salary arbitration.

Mike Mussina’s agent, Arn Tellem, kept up talks with the Yankees on a new contract for the pitcher that likely will be worth $23 million to $25 million over two years.

“We’re in the red zone,” Tellem said.

With Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt heading a weak free-agent class, pitchers will get top prices.

“There are 30 clubs and probably three-quarters are looking for pitching,” new Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. “There’s a lot of interesting pitchers out there. At the end of the year, the teams that have pitching, and healthy pitching, are usually the ones that are around.”

GMs, as usual, will hold their annual discussion Wednesday of whether to have instant replay available to umpires, a concept commissioner Bud Selig opposes. In the past, the idea hasn’t garnered enough support.

“I guess we’ll get a sense of that tomorrow,” said Joe Garagiola Jr., a senior vice president in the commissioner’s office.

There will also be talk Wednesday of whether to eliminate tie games, having them instead become suspended games.

On Thursday, the GMs will discuss whether to have uniform standards for storing baseballs, a talk prompted by the use of a humidor by the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.

As for the postseason schedule, nothing seems to have come of the idea floated by Selig to give wild-card teams fewer home games in the playoffs.

“That is not officially on the agenda, so I suspect that will be some good lobby talk,” Garagiola said.

GMs did vote on one rule change, proposing that outright assignments to the minor leagues not count against the number of optional assignments a team has on a player. That must be approved by owners and the union.

AP-ES-11-14-06 1751EST



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