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Delgado's New Deal Likely to Drive Up Free-Agent Prices


DENVER (Oct. 27) -- The World Series has ended. Now the fun begins.

Players began filing for free agency Friday. In two weeks they can start to entertain financial offers from prospective new employers.

Already the price of playing poker has been shaken.

Before the New York Yankees took the field for the first game in what became their third consecutive world championship, the Toronto Blue Jays had taken baseball's financial sweepstakes to a new level.

When the Atlanta Braves agreed to a six-year, $90 million contract extension with third baseman Chipper Jones during the 2000 season, it was believed that while Alex Rodriguez would be immune to any artificial salary ceilings, Jones' signing would establish the upper limit for the rest of the baseball world.

So much for that idea.

Toronto broke new ground on the eve of Game 1 of the World Series when Carlos Delgado took advantage of the leverage of a contract his agent suckered the Jays into signing a year ago. He signed a four-year, $68 million deal that includes not only a record-setting annual average salary of $17 million but also contains a no-trade clause. And this is a guy who is a DH in a first baseman's disguise, not an incumbent MVP like Jones.

"Let's just say it is an interesting situation," commissioner Bud Selig said. "It raises more than an eyebrow."

Among other things it raised was the price of doing business, and the impact will be felt immediately.

The Chicago Cubs were hesitant to finalize an extension with outfielder Sammy Sosa -- when Sosa was looking for a smidgen over $15 million a year -- because he wanted to at least momentarily carry the title of "baseball's highest paid player" until Rodriguez works out his deal.

Outfielder Manny Ramirez already has rejected a five-year, $75 million offer to return to Cleveland because too much of the annual average salary of $15 million was being deferred.

And if the price for Sosa or Ramirez creeps up, it figures to give another jolt to what Rodriguez, who at 25 is the youngest and most talented free agent in history, will be able to command.

Initial speculation was Rodriguez would walk away with a 10-year, $200 million deal, but that figure now could increase by another $50 million.

Rodriguez, after all, is going to have all the big hitters taking a shot at trying to lure him from Seattle , which has made it clear it is prepared to match whatever financial offer Rodriguez receives.

What's more, the Blue Jays undercut any hope the owners had of getting the Major League Baseball Players Association to finally accept their claim that the game is reaching financial crisis as preparations are made for talks on a replacement for the Basic Agreement that expires in a year.

The Jays are a team that a decade ago was considered the most successful in baseball but now struggles to even draw an average of 20,000 a game. It's a team that is in the process of being sold, and before Rogers Communications' purchase of 80 percent of the franchise has even been formally approved by the rest of the owners the Jays have set a new salary standard with the deal for Delgado.

Give agent David Sloane credit.

Toronto general manager Gord Ash panicked a year ago after being forced to trade Shawn Green, and Sloane was able to parlay that into a sweetheart deal for his client.

He got Ash to sign Delgado to a three-year, $32 million deal a year ago and forced Ash to include an opt-out clause for Delgado, allowing him to force a trade after the first year was completed.

It was a win-win situation for Delgado.

Had he been hurt or struggled on the field the past season, he had the security of the final two years of that deal.

As it was, he enjoyed a season worthy of MVP consideration.

And Delgado was able to combine that with the ego of a new ownership wanting to show fans it is committed to building a contending team into a salary that shook baseball's free-agent market before the first player had even filed for this year's bidding.