INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – With baseball awash in record revenue as the signing season starts, Scott Boras compares the habits of teams to families sifting through supermarket shelves.
At the winter meetings in Dallas last year, the agent had this to say of the financially troubled Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets: "Normally, they're in the steaks section, and I found them in the fruits-and-nuts category a lot."
Since then, the Dodgers have been sold for $2 billion. The Mets owners have agreed to pay up to $162 million — and likely much less — in a deal with the trustee for Bernard Madoff's fraud victims.
So on Wednesday at the general managers' meeting, Boras said his view of the Dodgers had changed.
"I think they bought the store," he said.
And as for the Mets?
"The best you can say is that they might be in the freezer section," he explained. "But there's a lot of good, longstanding products that they can acquire there."
Slugger Josh Hamilton and pitcher Zack Greinke are among the top players in a relatively weak free-agent class that also includes outfielders B.J. Upton, Michael Bourn, Torii Hunter and Nick Swisher; first baseman Adam LaRoche; and pitchers Kyle Lohse and Rafael Soriano.
Baseball estimates revenue this year at $2.5 billion — an increase of about $500 million. National television contracts with Fox and Turner that run from 2014-21 will double the average yearly money baseball receives to about $800 million.
And perhaps the biggest evidence of baseball's wealth is franchise values — the Dodgers sold for $2 billion this year in a bankruptcy court auction and the lowly San Diego Padres were bought for $800 million.
"So now we've had owners that have become instant billionaires. They've made over a billion dollars by this reevaluation," Boras said. "I don't think we need Forbes anymore to tell us what franchises are worth because we had a bankruptcy court judge say this is open season, come tell me what this is all worth, and I think we got a proper accounting. Franchise values are through the roof because interestingly enough, we know what a near-top team is worth and we know what a near-bottom-value team on the market is worth by what's gone in the past three or four month. So I think there's a lot of smiling faces for people who invested in this industry in the early 2000s."
Since the Dodgers were bought last spring by a group headed by Mark Walter, Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson, they increased their payroll by about $35 million, adding infielder Hanley Ramirez, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, closer Brandon League, pitcher Josh Beckett and outfielder Carl Crawford.
"Today compared to a year ago, we're in much better shape," general manager Ned Colletti said.
The Dodgers' payroll next year might approach or surpass that of the New York Yankees, who have topped spending every year since Los Angeles edged them by $1 million in 2001.
New York is vowing to cut its payroll by 2014 because of changes in the collective bargaining agreement that will cut the team's revenue-sharing bill if it doesn't wind up paying a luxury tax.
"Every year you're kind of given your budgets, your challenges, your needs," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "You always have your restrictions, whether it's in terms of what ownership provides, the Basic Agreement allows."
It is in Boras' interest to encourage spending. His free-agent group includes Soriano and fellow closers Jose Valverde and Ryan Madson, first baseman Carlos Pena, Bourn, Lohse and pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Infielder Maicer Izturis became the first major league free agent to switch teams this offseason, agreeing to a $10 million, three-year contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. The 32-year-old hit .256 with 17 steals in 19 tries, two homers and 20 RBIs this year for the Angels.
"He's someone that's going to come in and compete for the job at second base," said Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who tried to acquire him last summer. "He's not guaranteed the job, but the fact that he can play all over the infield, he's just a valuable guy to have. He can do a lot of little things. He's a winning player. He can draw a walk. He can put the ball in play — a pretty good contact rate. He can run a little bit and steal some bags. He plays very good defensively, as well, and is a good teammate, good in the clubhouse."
As the meetings conclude Friday, the deadline will pass for free agents to decide whether to accept $13.3 million qualifying offers from their former clubs. Among the eight players on the market who were given the offers, pitcher Hiroki Kuroda appears to be the only one who might accept. He is coming off his first season with the Yankees.
NOTES: Oakland GM Billy Beane was given the major league executive of the year award by The Sporting News. He also won it in 1999. He had 31 votes, and Washington's Mike Rizzo was second with 13. ... Mets GM Sandy Alderson said he hopes to sign knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, a Cy Young Award finalist, to a contract for beyond 2013 but he wouldn't rule out trading him. Alderson also is trying to reach a new deal with 3B David Wright, whose contract expires after next season. With Lucas Duda recovering from a broken wrist, Jason Bay released and Scott Hairston a free agent, Alderson decided to be funny when asked about his outfield. "What outfield?" he said.