Ah, the nostalgia. After the hint of fiscal sanity returned to baseball last winter, players are once again signing eye-popping deals that have management torn between disgust...

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ANAHEIM — Ah, the nostalgia. After the hint of fiscal sanity returned to baseball last winter, players are once again signing eye-popping deals that have management torn between disgust and dismay.

And just think — uber-agent Scott Boras (or “The Prince of Darkness,” as the owners affectionately call him) hasn’t even completed his first mega-contract this winter.

However, in the wake of several signings that have whetted the expectations of agents, the Mariners insist they aren’t wavering from their ambitious goals of improving their offense and possibly adding a front-line starting pitcher.

In fact, the word circulating among baseball officials yesterday was that the Mariners have survived Carl Pavano’s first cut and are on the short list, along with the Yankees and Red Sox, for the 18-game winner. And the Red Sox may have fallen out of the running with late word that they are closing in on signing David Wells.

But as the winter meetings officially commenced yesterday, the M’s aren’t naïve enough to think that the landscape hasn’t changed.

Asked if the Mariners will have to lower their expectations after deals signed yesterday by outfielder Steve Finley (two years, $14 million with Anaheim) and pitcher Russ Ortiz (four years, $33 million with Arizona) continued the trend of higher-than-expected signings, Mariners’ GM Bill Bavasi replied:

“We’ll have to alter them; I wouldn’t say lower them.”

Troy Glaus’ signing with Arizona a day earlier for four years and $45 million seemed to particularly dismay the Mariners, as it did other clubs.

Speaking of the upwardly evolving market and its effect on teams’ plans, Bavasi said, “It’s affected it. Anybody saying it’s not affecting it, that’s wishful thinking, or they have their heads in the sand. They’d like to think it’s not, but it is.”

The Mariners are plunging forward, however. They are still focusing on three of the prime sluggers on the market — Carlos Delgado, Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson — as well as being a finalist for Pavano.

They met yesterday with Delgado’s agent, David Sloane, who has set up operations away from the headquarters hotel. Seattle was believed to have sent a contingent of Bavasi, chief negotiator Bart Waldman, assistant GM Lee Pelekoudas and former GM Pat Gillick, who signed Delgado to his original contract with Toronto.

They have also met here with Boras, the agent for Beltre, and have another meeting planned. The Mariners have made an offer to Beltre, but a source shot down the rumor that they had gone to seven years in their proposal.

The Dodgers are believed to be Beltre’s preference, but some insiders feel the Dodgers may sign Corey Koskie for third base to give them more money to pursue pitching.

Bavasi said he has a good working relationship with Boras, who has clashed with the Mariners in the past, most of the ill-will involving client Alex Rodriguez.

“It’s fine — not a problem,” Bavasi said of his relationship. “I haven’t signed too many of his guys, but I haven’t had a problem with him.”

Sexson’s agent, Casey Close, hadn’t yet arrived in Anaheim, but the Mariners will meet with him when he gets here.

As for Pavano, he has flown to his home in Montreal to mull his decision. There was a point early in the day when baseball officials thought the Mariners were on the verge of signing Pavano, but it didn’t happen. Pavano’s agent, Scott Shapiro, said that Pavano’s parents might fly in to help him choose.

“Carl just needs to let me know which organization he wants to play for,” Shapiro said.

Despite the reports yesterday that Pavano had narrowed his choices to the Mariners, Red Sox and Yankees, Shapiro said that Detroit and Baltimore were also in play, with the Tigers said to have upped their offer to five years.

The Mariners have made Pavano what they term the “framework” of an offer. As they juggle several negotiations at once, they are being extremely careful about what constitutes a formal offer.

As Bavasi said, “If all five just happen to call the same night and say yes, we’d have problems. But we’ve at least given numbers they can counter and can consider pretty serious.”

The Red Sox, meanwhile, were suddenly hot after veteran left-hander Wells yesterday, with ESPN.com reporting that it was “essentially a done deal.” If they sign Wells and Pedro Martinez, they would likely drop out of the Pavano sweepstakes.

The Sox are reportedly closing in on Martinez for three years and $40 million, and have offered Wells an $8 million base with a chance to earn another $5 million if he makes 31 starts, ESPN.com reported.

With Wells a cheaper option than Pavano, the Red Sox may use the savings for a pursuit of free-agent shortstop Edgar Renteria. There were also reports yesterday that the Mariners are looking at Renteria as an option if they are unsuccessful at getting a third baseman — Beltre or Koskie.

In such an instance, 20-year-old Jose Lopez, penciled in at shortstop, could move to third base.

“Offensively, he profiles to be a pretty good third baseman, but a great second baseman,” Bavasi said of Lopez. “He looked pretty good at third base, what little I saw of him there.”

One team the M’s seem to be competing with on many fronts is the Orioles, who are also homed in on Delgado, Sexson and Pavano. The Rangers believe they have a shot at Delgado as well.

Bavasi confirmed that the Mariners have spoken to Sexson about playing left field in case they sign him and Delgado. He has experience at the position, most of it in Cleveland, under current Mariners manager Mike Hargrove.

“He (Sexson) is open to that, but I don’t think it’s his first choice,” Bavasi said. Nevertheless, Bavasi said that signing both Sexson and Delgado is still possible.

Besides Finley and Ortiz, yesterday’s other significant deal involved outfielder Richard Hidalgo signing with the Rangers (one year, $4.5M).

Boras, not surprisingly, had a different view of the burgeoning marketplace, as he negotiates for clients like Beltre, Carlos Beltran, Jason Varitek, J.D. Drew, Magglio Ordonez and Derek Lowe, among others.

“I think a lot of owners have looked at it and said, ‘I’m doing well, I want to have a good team. Attendance is up. TV contracts are up.’ And you know what? It’s very good business for me to have a good team, because I make more money when I have good team.”

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com