On eve of GM meetings, Ramirez and Wood stay with Cubs, Wright dealt to Orioles

Monday, November 13th 2006, 10:46 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ With the free-agent market open for business, major league general managers gathered in Naples, Fla., for their annual meetings.

Aramis Ramirez decided not to pursue the free-agent market, agreeing Sunday to a five-year, $73 million contract that keeps the third baseman with the Chicago Cubs.

On the first day free agents could negotiate money with all 30 teams, oft-injured pitcher Kerry Wood also opted to stay with the Cubs, agreeing to a one-year, $1.75 million deal that could be worth up to $6 million.

And the New York Yankees made their second trade in three days, sending Jaret Wright to the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday for right-handed reliever Chris Britton. As part of the deal, the Yankees will pay $4 million of Wright's $7 million salary next year.

Several major agents also planned to attend the GMs gathering, which began Monday. Top free agents Alfonso Soriano, Barry Zito, Barry Bonds, Carlos Lee and Jason Schmidt are likely to take time to weigh their choices, so the early November sessions are traditionally a lot more talk than action.

Alex Rodriguez is sure to be mentioned in trade rumors all offseason, and perhaps the annual Manny Ramirez speculation will start up once one again.

But this much already is clear: It's been usually busy early this offseason. San Diego and Cleveland started things off last week, with the Padres dealing second baseman Josh Barfield to the Indians last week for infielder Kevin Kouzmanoff and right-hander Andrew Brown. Then the Yankees sent right fielder Gary Sheffield to Detroit on Friday for three pitching prospects.

Two Japanese players will make news during the meetings.

The Seibu Lions of the Pacific League must decide by Tuesday whether to accept the high bid for 26-year-old right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Boston Red Sox, Yankees, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers were thought to be among the bidders, but the identity of the club that made the high bid won't be announced until after the Lions accept the figure.

And the Yakult Swallows of Japan's Central League have until Thursday to accept the high offer for Akinori Iwamura, a 27-year-old third baseman who has five Gold Gloves in Japan.

Ramirez, acquired by the Cubs from the Pittsburgh Pirates midway through the 2003 season, had opted out of the final two seasons of a four-year, $42 million contract and filed for free agency on Oct. 30. His new deal contains a mutual option for 2012.

``He proved to Chicago that when you leave $20 million or $30 million on the table, it's where you want to go,'' Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. ``Both sides gave a little bit at the end.''

Ramirez set career highs last season for homers (38) and RBIs (119) and batted .291, thanks to a strong finish.

``When we spoke at the end of the year, I felt like he wanted to be back here,'' Hendry said. ``Not only does he like it here, he has the faith we will get better.''

Wood, the 1998 NL Rookie of the Year, has been bothered by arm problems throughout his career. He made just four starts last season, has been rehabbing a torn rotator cuff and will be shifted to the bullpen.

New York had until Sunday to opt out of Wright's contract, a move that also would have cost the Yankees a $4 million buyout. Wright, a right-hander who turns 31 on Dec. 29, will be reunited with pitching coach Leo Mazzone. When the pair were with the Atlanta Braves in 2004, Wright went 15-8 with a 3.28 ERA.

``I think the primary factor is his relationship with Leo back in his Atlanta days,'' Orioles vice president Jim Duquette said. ``He costs us $3 million. When you look at the free-agent market and consider what it would cost for a guy like this, it's a great move for us.''

After agreeing to a three-year, $21 million contract, Wright had a pair of disappointing seasons with the Yankees. He injured a shoulder early in the 2005 season and was 5-5 with a 6.08 ERA in 13 starts, then went 11-7 with a 4.49 ERA this year, not pitching more than 6 1-3 innings in any of his 27 starts.

``Our feeling is the injuries are behind him,'' Duquette said.

Britton, who turns 24 on Dec. 16, made his major league debut last season and was 0-2 with one save and a 3.35 ERA in 52 relief appearances with the Orioles while holding batters to a .228 average.