Even $10M is too much to spend for most

The lack of takers for Manny Ramirez, placed on irrevocable waivers by the Boston Red Sox Wednesday, signals a change has (finally) come to baseball economics.

When Ramirez signed his eight-year, $160 million contract with the Red Sox in December of 2000, it followed by a few days the 10-year, $252 million extravaganza conjoined by Alex Rodriguez and the Texas Rangers. Only one economic rule seemed obvious: the price for top players would always spiral upward.

Now, less than three years later, it's just as obvious that that single week in Dallas represented the apex of baseball spending. No deal has topped either since, and none likely will.

Moreover, this week finds the Red Sox and Rangers attempting to move their respective superstars, with the Sox being a little more obvious about their intentions.

Unable to bait the Yankees into putting a claim for Ramirez -- the Sox believed they had an admittedly outside shot at getting George Steinbrenner to act first and think later -- the Sox last best chance remains the Baltimore Orioles.

After six straight losing seasons, all resulting in fourth-place finishes in the static AL East, the Orioles -- and more specifically, owner Peter Angelos -- have grown restless.

The Orioles have been unable to attract top free agents in recent seasons. Remember, they lost out on postseason hero Pudge Rodriguez despite offering him a three-year guaranteed contract to the Florida Marlins' one-year deal.

This time, they've targeted outfielder Vladimir Guerrero and shortstop Miguel Tejada, but aren't assured of landing either, especially with Steinbrenner approaching full-scale panic mode.

Claiming Ramirez, though expensive, would give them a middle-of-the-lineup presence. And at cozy Camden Yards, with its inviting power alleys, Ramirez would thrive as a hitter.

Still, the pricetag is hefty and the Orioles -- as others -- may be more enticed by the prospect of making a trade for Ramirez.

The irrevocable waiver route, after all, was merely a stopping off point in the Red Sox effort to relocate Ramirez. After a second September Surprise in two years (Ramirez famously never left the batter's box on a comebacker to the mound in a September 2002 game; he skipped a series with the Yankees on the final weekend of August this season, then refused to pinch-hit Sept. 1 before being benched the following day), the Sox had made an internal decision to attempt to deal Ramirez this winter.

They were further emboldened when Ramirez, through agent Jeff Moorad, told Red Sox management that his "preference" would be to play elsewhere next season. It wasn't so much a demand as it was a request.

Though the prospect of Ramirez landing with a division rival -- and the Yankees in particular -- seemed daunting, the Sox were never seriously worried about further shifting the balance of power by hand-delivering Ramirez to the Bronx.

In their minds, the Yankees were going to wildly spend for someone this winter, whether it was spent on Ramirez or Guerrero or Sheffield was essentially incidental. But, in the meantime, if the Sox could rid themselves of approximately $100 million over the next five seasons, they could reinvest the money to address varied needs.

At the same time, they would unburden themselves from further off-field distractions.

With that scenario unlikely and waivers nearly expired, the Red Sox will turn to the trade route. In between fitting in a few managerial interviews over the next 10 days, general manager Theo Epstein will invite offers at the GM meetings in Phoenix in the second week of November.

Likely rebuffed in their attempts at dumping Ramirez altogether via waivers, the Red Sox will not be dealing from a position of strength. The asking price will be surprisingly affordable for a player who has knocked in 100 or more runs and hit 30 or more homers in the last six seasons and eight of the last nine.

A serviceable player and prospect would get a deal done from Boston's side. But neither will the Sox accept an onerous contract in return. They may have agreed to swap Ramirez for Rodriguez (the Rangers weren't interested), but they're not going to take back, say Denny Neagle ($19 million over the next two years, plus an option and/or a buyout for 2006).

The most haggling is unlikely to center on what the Red Sox are getting back, but rather, on what portion of Ramirez' remaining financial obligation they'll be willing to assume.

It's at that point that the Sox might hear from the New York Mets (trying to stay under $100 for next season), Anaheim Angels, or Los Angeles Dodgers, whose ownership transfer will be that much closer to complete.

If the Sox would agree to take care of half of Ramirez' remaining contract, that would make Ramirez a $10 million per year player for his new team.

That salary level alone would eliminate most teams from bidding. But anywhere from a half-dozen to 10 teams could afford a $10 million AAV (average annual value) contract since many were planning to offer that much to the likes of Guerrero, Sheffield, Tejada and Kaz Matsui.

Sean McAdam of the Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.