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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Ned Colletti thought back to last winter, when people kept pestering him.

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''You've got eight starting pitchers. What are you going to do with all eight?'' the Los Angeles Dodgers general manager recalled everyone asking. ''And three weeks in, we're on No. 9.''

Pitching is at a premium already, with teams looking to increase depth for the long season ahead. Pretty much all free agents are going for top dollar this early in baseball's offseason.

Tim Lincecum got a $35 million, two-year contract to stay with the San Francisco Giants, who didn't want him going on the open market.

Outfielder Marlon Byrd agreed to a $16 million, two-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies this week, a huge increase from the agreement he signed with the New York Mets last winter that wound up earning him $800,000 - including bonuses.

''It's definitely a little scary,'' Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said Wednesday after hearing some of the asking prices.

Several agents were on hand for baseball's meetings this week, which included sessions with GMs for the first three days and a full owners' gathering on Thursday morning. The courtship process will build heading toward the winter meetings in nearby Lake Buena Vista from Dec. 9-12.

Agent Scott Boras, who wants to goad teams into spending more on free agents, criticized the Mets, Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros for not spending enough and playfully suggested the Tampa Bay Rays seek a more financially beneficial home.

''I think there's a lot of cities that may attract them,'' he said. ''Maybe New Jersey would like that winning percentage.''

After missing the playoffs for only the second time in 19 years, the New York Yankees are in a shopping mode. In addition to trying to retain second baseman Robinson Cano, they're interested in catcher Brian McCann and outfielder Carlos Beltran, among others.

They need pitching, too. But there aren't any aces on the free-agent market, so teams could bid up the prices of pitchers projected as a No. 2 or No. 3 on a staff.

''I don't think there's any question about that,'' Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik said. ''The market sets itself.''

Only one agreement was announced Wednesday, with infielder Nick Punto leaving the Dodgers for a $3 million, one-year contract with the Oakland Athletics. For the premier players, deals will take more time.

How long is unclear.

''There's a certain amount of hesitation on really agent side as well as club side in terms of what the market is and what's going to happen next,'' Mets GM Sandy Alderson said. ''I'm sure there's some clubs that are looking to jump in and get something done right away and are prepared to do it under any circumstances, and so that's why I think you may see something over the next week or two. I don't think necessarily you have to wait til the winter meetings. I don't know what effect a late Thanksgiving will have.''

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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