Indians, Red Sox may fight for Mussina
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- The prices float through the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton. Johnny Damon, right now? Two top relievers and then $40 million for six years to sign him. Not playing the Alex Rodriguez sweepstakes? Why not Alex Gonzalez? Four years, $24 million. Ichiro Suzuki? Lord only knows.
"One of the reasons that it will be awhile before things start to happen is that people want to wait," one American League general manager says from this weekend's GM meetings. "Hey, as some of the signings (which cannot happen until Nov. 11) come in, there may be a lot of players suddenly available. It makes sense to wait."
For instance, the rejection of the sale of the Blue Jays to Rogers Communications has raised a lot of speculation. "Supposedly, Bud Selig couldn't believe that the new owners projected operating expenses at a loss of $30 million a year for their first three years," says a GM. "Now, Gord Ash has been operating under the assumption that they are pumping capital into the franchise. He signed Carlos Delgado to that big contract. Now will they have to go the opposite way and cut payroll? If so, a lot of teams want to be there if Raul Mondesi is available."
Red Sox GM Dan Duquette arrived willing to discuss trading Carl Everett, although he seems willing to try to work things out between Everett and Jimy Williams and put all his cash into Mike Mussina. Duquette has discussed the concept of trading Everett, and some of his people would push for a deal with Colorado involving Larry Walker. But there are two big obstacles to that deal: 1) Walker has a no-trade clause and loves Colorado; and 2) the Rockies want Trot Nixon. "All I can tell you is that Walker is a great player," says former Colorado GM and current Cardinals executive Bob Gebhardt. "He'd be a perfect Fenway Park player because he's a great right fielder and he's a left-center field hitter."
Boston dearly wants to get Mussina. "We have to get a prime-time No. 2 starter to go with Pedro Martinez," says one Red Sox official. "We can't go on patching with hope. We have two young kids (Tomo Ohka, Paxton Crawford) who can be in our rotation next year, but we need that second big starter."
The Yankees, Indians, Mets, Orioles and possibly even the White Sox are among the teams expected to be deep into the Mussina hunt. But the Yankees might be able to trade for a right-handed starter and save their money for Manny Ramirez and someone else. The Yankees have talked to Colorado about Pedro Astacio. In return, they would have to deal three or four players, guys like Alfonso Soriano, Adrian Hernandez, Ramiro Mendoza and Shane Spencer. "The Yanks have made an offer to Paul O'Neill to move him to left, so they can afford to move Spencer," says a GM.
Because the GM meetings are so early in the offseason, few agents are expected to come in and hawk their players. Scott Boras arrived Sunday. Brian Rogers, agent for Mike Hampton, is also coming in expecting to be courted by the Mets, Braves, Rockies and other clubs.
Around the majorsThe Indians figure that signing Ramirez is a lost cause, and they're laying the groundwork for Mussina and Ellis Burks, although Burks would prefer to go to his home, Denver. "If the Yankees should get a Gary Sheffield and pass on Manny, it could really hurt his market," one agent says. "He may end up closer to Chipper Jones ($90 million for six years) than many think."
The fact that Sean Casey is a Super Two arbitration-eligible player puts added pressure on Jim Bowden, who admits he "will have to move some of our 12 arbitration eligibles. But we will not touch any of our core players, even if they can go to arbitration." Bowden thus will try to move RHP Steve Parris, LHP Ron Villone, C Eddie Taubensee, utilityman Chris Stynes and perhaps even reliever Scott Sullivan as he tries to keep Cincinnati in the $45 million-$48 million payroll range.
Also in the Super Two category are John Rocker, Kerry Wood, Paul Konerko, Brad Fullmer and Javier Vazquez. Rocker will be a fascinating case, and Konerko, Magglio Ordonez, Herbert Perry, Keith Foulke and James Baldwin present new White Sox GM Ken Williams with some immediate arbitration headaches -- without assistant GM Dan Evans, who had done all that work over the years for the club, but left the team when Williams got the GM job.
In the second half of the season, many GMs were critical of Duquette for his aloofness and tendency to never return calls. But this offseason, he has been just the opposite, aggressively trying to address his club's problems. If he can get David Nilsson -- who has four solid bidders -- signed to catch 50-60 games, DH and play some first base, he can trade Scott Hatteberg, and can probably have Matt Stairs as well. Duquette has talked about Ken Caminiti because of the uncertain future of John Valentin. ... The Red Sox are losing both Rheal Cormier and Jeff Fassero out of their pen, but think they may be OK from the left-handed side with Sang Lee and Tim Young, especially since Rich Garces (.209) is so effective against left-handed batters. And there is a sleeper. Casey Fossum, a sandwich pick after the first round in '99 who was 9-10, 3.44 in the Florida State League, has thrown very well in the Arizona Fall League. "He's throwing harder (90-92 mph) than anyone ever projected, he's got an outstanding breaking ball, he throws strikes and he's polished," says one scout in Arizona. "I think he'll be in Fenway by the end of the year."
The Braves are interested in Alex Rodriguez, but only if, as one club official says, "he comes to us and falls into our lap." More likely, they will pursue Mike Hampton and address their first-base question. Presuming that they cannot trade Brian Jordan, the official says "we're fine with Jordan, Andruw Jones and B.J. Surhoff in the outfield. But we have to start thinking about that time when our three great pitchers no longer carry us." They like three kids for the immediate future -- right-handers Jason Marquis and Matt McClendon and left-hander Damian Moss -- and think they have six-to-eight legit big leaguers off their Myrtle Beach club in the South Atlantic League. But that is a long, long way off. ... The Braves also figure they'll be better off just with Javy Lopez 100 percent and team leader Eddie Perez healthy. Perez is playing in Venezuela, DHing and playing first to get back into playing shape. You never have to worry about his ability to catch.
Boras logically says there will be no "hometown discount" as far as Charles Johnson returning to the Marlins, but if Johnson's price floats down to the $7.5M-$8M per-year range, the Fish may jump after him. After all, C.J. had 29 more homers and 50 more RBI than the combined totals of all 2000 Florida catchers.
"I finally have Timo (Puff Daddy) Perez figured out," says one scout. "He's Luis Polonia with an arm." ... You have to love the fact that Joe Torre sent David Cone and Paul O'Neill up to the podium during the Yankee parade. And how about offering congrats to Nelson Doubleday and Bobby Valentine? Yes, Fred Wilpon fired him, and Torre thought Steve Phillips fueled the whole Roger Clemens thing.
Jocketty rewarded with extensionWalt Jocketty's four-year extension as Cardinals GM had been in the works with owner Bill DeWitt for months. Few men have ever deserved it more. "Every player I represent says he'd like to at least explore St. Louis because it must be such a great place to play," says one agent. It was always the greatest baseball town in America, but the beer baron laid it dormant. Now there is little question the Mark McGwire trade was the most significant franchise deal of the last 20 years. Jocketty would like to get in on the Hampton/Mussina sweepstakes, but doesn't know his budget parameters just yet.
There is talk that Seattle is interested in Ray Lankford. In his defense, Lankford did hit .270 with 23 homers after hitting .176 in April. "If we can't afford one of the big starters, we'll address our bullpen," says Jocketty, who thinks Matt Morris, Rick Ankiel and Bud Smith can eventually plug the rotation with Darryl Kile and Andy Benes. "I think Ankiel will be fine," says Jocketty. "We're pleased that he's going to spend the winter in California, working out with (Chad) Hutchinson in a rigorous program." Ankiel will also be under the close scrutiny of Boras' office and psychologist Harvey Dorfman.
News and notesAfter three operations, Justin Thompson may have to be non-tendered by the Rangers, ending a career that never was with that franchise. ... "There are rumblings among all the baseball people that the Angels are going to pare down payroll," says one executive. "We've all heard that Tim Salmon and Mo Vaughn are available, but we're hearing Garret Anderson can be had, as well." ... The Mets jumped right after Turk Wendell and offered him a three-year, $6.6M contract to stay out of the free-agent market, but he wants to see if Jeff Nelson moves the market.
The Mariners refused to negotiate Lou Piniella's contract with agent Alan Nero, because the commissioner's office believes that agents shouldn't represent players and managers. The Players Association issued a similar edict some time back, but has backed off, and Nero (Piniella), Tony Attanasio (Bobby Valentine, Bruce Bochy, Davey Lopes), Jeff Moorad (Dusty Baker) and others are now allowed to represent both sides of the aisle. The union never fusses with agents. They need them.
The Padres couldn't get a deal for Bret Boone (other than Royce Clayton, but that didn't help them cut payroll), so they didn't pick up his option and the Devil Rays and Rangers are free to talk to him. ... Adam Katz says John Wetteland will "wait until January, see how his back feels, see if he wants to pitch again and assess where things stand." Wetteland is one man for whom money is not an issue.
There is a feeling that Cincinnati may have to end up trading Drew Henson back to the Yankees if there's any chance he's going to play baseball. The expansion Houston NFL people love Henson, and could make him the first pick in the NFL draft in April 2002. That is leverage, but Bo Jackson went for baseball.
If I'm trading for a pitcher, one reason I want to talk to the Padres about Matt Clement: He has never missed an inning in his professional career because of injury. ... Albert Belle is spending the winter in Arizona, undergoing grueling therapy three to five hours a day trying to come back and slow the deterioration of his hip.
Scouts in Arizona rave about Mets CF Brian Cole, Royals reliever Shawn Sonnier, Brewers 20-year-old RHP Nick Neugebauer, Orioles CF Ntema Ndungidi (Pat Gillick's masterful steal right out of Montreal) and Indians reliever Danys Baez, the $15.7 million Cuban bonus boy. "He's what we saw when we signed him," says an Indian official. Adds a scout: "He's essentially a two-pitch guy, but he could be a dominant reliever." Steve Karsay is a free agent at the end of next season. Sonnier's velocity is down from the regular season because he's tired, but he's the prize of that organization's bullpen's future. In two pro seasons, Sonnier has a 2.49 ERA and in 130 innings has 46 walks and 173 strikeouts. Think about that.
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