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Schuerholz's exit likely in 2001

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The Atlanta Braves have lost two key figures in their braintrust -- assistant GMs Bill Lajoie (to Milwaukee) and Brian Murphy (to Kansas City) -- and the consensus within the organization is that this will be the last year of John Schuerholz's successful, dignified era in Atlanta.

A read on the Reds' job
There was a lot of fallout after Willie Randolph and Ron Oester declined -- sort of -- the Cincinnati Reds managerial job before Bob Boone took it. Owner Carl Lindner set the salary limit at $300,000-$350,000. While Randolph felt it was not enough to pack his family up and leave Connecticut, Oester apparently didn't believe team president John Allen when Allen told Oester it was a take-it-or-leave it offer, and that's the way the Reds operate; hey, when Jim Bowden took the GM job, he was the lowest-paid GM in the business, but he took what they offered and moved on because he wanted to be a general manager, and that was his chance. Incidently, the board that interviews candidates was extremely impressed with Randolph.

Ben Grieve
Ben Grieve could be running in the Reds' outfield in 2001.

Cincy won't Grieve over cash limits
The Reds' cash limitations forced the salary dump of Ron Villone and will also force the exits of right-handed pitcher Steve Parris and infielder Chris Stynes, while Bowden tries to make a couple of other deals to take Ben Grieve's $4.3 million salary from Oakland for pitcher Scott Williamson.

Can't touch Sheff
Four times this week, Dodgers GM Kevin Malone has reiterated, "I have no interest in trading Gary Sheffield. We are going to keep him. I think these rumors are started by agents trying to create leverage for other clients."

A little verbal misdirection
This is the season for silly talk from agents, but Mets GM Steve Phillips had a brilliant response when pitcher Rick Reed's agent, Phil Tannenbaum, said the Mets' offer was "insulting." Phillips responded with, "I can't respond because he didn't say those things to me." In other words, Phillips essentially responded, "The guy didn't have the guts to say it to me."

DH debate continued
Rangers GM Doug Melvin offered an interesting reason "to think about discontinuing the DH. There was only one DH, Edgar Martinez, who had 500 at-bats. There were only two, Frank Thomas and Brad Fullmer, who had as many as 400 at-bats. The rest were mix-and-match." The union will not allow the American League to ditch the DH, but all managers will tell you it's a lot easier to manage when he doesn't have a set DH and can give injured or tired players days off from the field and still keep their bats in the lineup.

Secondary concern
Not only are there questions about how much the Blue Jays can spend this winter, but now Homer Bush's hip problem may be serious enough to force them to go get another second baseman. Bret Boone is signable and is being looked at by the Rangers as well, and the A's are looking to move Randy Velarde so they can use a platoon of Jose Ortiz and Frank Menechino. "Ortiz," says an NL GM, "is a potential impact middle infielder. He has tremendous offensive ability."

Unusual audition
Oakland may be one of the league's elite teams, but the A's were also the only one to bring a minor-league free agent in to the GM meetings. Carlos Chantres, a 25-year-old righthander who was 10-4 at Triple-A Charlotte, came to the meetings to meet A's officials. Some feel knuckleballer Jared Fernandez, 10-4 at Pawtucket and another minor-league free agent, might fit in as their fifth starter. Oakland would love to sign Tim Wakefield as well, and the foul territory and fly-ball space in the Mauseleum would help him. If other things fall and they trade Grieve, the A's could do a Omar Olivares-Ray Lankford swap because the Cardinals are looking to unload Lankford's salary.

Bucs' McClendon is hopeful
One of the most impressive new managers is Pittsburgh's Lloyd McClendon, who as a player carried a lot of respect wherever he went.

"I'm just going to be myself," says McClendon, who has Bill Virdon as bench coach. "We hope we can stay healthy and keep moving forward."

McClendon is hopeful pitchers Jason Schmidt and Francisco Cordero will be healthy and thinks health and a change from artificial turf to grass will help shortstop Pat Meares.

"I really think you're going to see (third baseman) Aramis Ramirez have a big year," says McLendon.

Phil-ling the middle
The Phillies will hand the middle infield over to shortstop Jimmy Rollins and second baseman Marlon Anderson and let them play every day.

"I haven't seen them much," says new manager Larry Bowa. "But I know Rollins is a very athletic kid. They tell me Anderson can hit, and there are some things we can do with him defensively to try to help him. But they can't be in and out of the lineup. They have to play."

Philly's priority is the bullpen, and with trades virtually impossible, the Phillies may go after relievers like John Franco and Jose Mesa.

Bowa had a long talk with agent Scott Boras about Travis Lee and came away encouraged that Lee's off-season work program could produce a more lively player. After all, Lee hit one homer for the Phils.

"There is a lot of interest from other teams in Lee," says Bowa. "So he can't be too bad."

Rays look to youth
Tampa Bay has decided to go with Olympian and rookie Brent Abernathy at second, and manager Larry Rothschild is keeping an open mind on whether or not hot prospect Josh Hamilton will get a shot at making the major-league club out of spring training.

"Some young players are so good they're not bothered by being put into that position at such a young age," says Rothschild. "Josh may be one of those players."

Rothschild is convinced Wilson Alvarez will come back with a big season because of Alvarez's off-season work routine. The manager also thinks the Rays have something special in Paul Wilson?

Rangers seeking Caminiti
The Rangers are in the chase for third baseman Ken Caminiti, although Melvin still believes Mike Lamb can do the job.

"He'll be fine in time," says Melvin, "but he may need some time."

Outfielder Ruben Mateo is so far along in his recovery that Melvin reports he may play winter ball, which is very good news.

"We have Mateo, Rusty Greer, Gabe Kapler, Ricky Ledee -- our outfield should be fine," says Melvin, but he shrugs at the suggestion that -- one way or another -- Juan Gonzalez will end up back in Texas.

"I think that's the best place for him," says one Tiger official. "It's not about money with Juan; it's about comfort and happiness."

Around the league

  • The Tigers have discussed right-handed reliever Matt Anderson in talks about Johnny Damon, but they would prefer holding on to Anderson.

  • On the emergence of pitcher Jeff Weaver as a premier pitcher, manager Phil Garner says, "This season we'll start him out in the middle of the rotation, but in time he's going to be a top guy. And it won't take long. He's special."

  • The passing of Arizona Proposition 302 will not only help the Cardinals football team build a stadium, but it will insure that the Royals and Rangers will head out to Arizona for the 2002 spring training. The bill will add some financing to refurbish Oakland's Phoenix stadium.

  • Expo GM Jim Beattie talked to several teams about trading pitching (Dustin Hermanson) for some power, but at this point he hasn't got anything concrete. Beattie is no longer looking for a third baseman. "Geoff Blum is going to be fine," says Beattie. "In fact, there have been several teams that have asked about him, but I like him a lot."

  • Funny how these things go. The Expos backed off an agreed-upon spring training trade of John Rocker and Bruce Chen for Ugueth Urbina and Miguel Batista. Now the Expos wish they had made the trade, and the Braves are fortunate they did not.

  • Former Indian and Brewer pitcher Rich Thompson -- an Amherst teammate of John Cerutti and Dan Duquette -- ran for Rick Lazio's vacated congressional seat on Long Island and got six percent of the vote as the Conservative Party candidate.

  • The Orioles are leaning toward bringing back shortstop Mike Bordick, as they give 23-year-old Brian Roberts time to develop.

  • You don't think people over baseball didn't fall down laughing when Orioles owner Peter Angelos said of the Yankees: "They've got an old man in right field, the center fielder hasn't been the same since he signed the big contract. The shortstop is a great player, and the catcher is OK, but the second baseman is a psychological wreck." Any owner in the Beltway area referring to other psychological problems should immediately be sent a pocket mirror.

  • Congratulations to the University of Virginia baseball program. This is letter-of-intent week, and one of their baseball recruits is Ty Grisham, son of novelist John Grisham. If you've ever seen John Grisham's baseball complex, you've seen the man work on the diamonds himself. And his son is a terrific addition to the Cavs program.

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