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Sheffield, Dodgers square off

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Much of this spring's discontent for Gary Sheffield stems from misconceptions, or what the Dodgers believe are misconceptions.

Sheffield heard the Dodgers shopped him at the winter meetings so they could sign Alex Rodriguez. The Dodgers and Scott Boras have both said that L.A. was never in the sweepstakes, and clubs – like the Indians – that were interested were told he wasn't available. Sheffield feels that while he has taken on a mantle of leadership, the club should pass that respect back, and he suggested some sort of lifetime contract in the last two weeks. But with no accord met – what with four more years left on the deal he renegotiated when he went to the Dodgers. in 1998 – it has became a showdown between the two sides, one in which the Dodgers claim they will not blink.

Not now, anyway.

Sheffield said Monday he wanted a new deal or a trade to the Yankees, Mets or Braves. While Dodgers rookie manager Jim Tracy and the full squad take the field for the first time Tuesday, Sheffield is not expected to be in Vero Beach. However, as general manager Kevin Malone talked to clubs Monday, he made it clear that he wants a comparable right-handed bat. He asked the Mets for Mike Piazza, then suggested a deal involving Sheffield and Mark Grudzielanek for Edgardo Alfonzo. Steve Phillips: nyet.

We still don't want to trade him, but we'll have to see what happens.
Dodgers GM Kevin Malone

Would David Justice and Alfonso Soriano for Sheffield and Terry Adams make sense? "We're more interested in a right-handed bat," says Malone. He talked to the Braves and made it clear Javy Lopez would do; Brian Jordan, despite glowing reports out of Disney, would not.

Malone denies that there is a 72-hour window to move Sheffield, and says this could go on for awhile, whether Sheffield comes to camp or not.

"My hope is that he'll come here, sit down with us and reach some understanding of what's really gone on," Malone says. "But our feeling is that we will go on, with or without him. Fortunately, the three teams he mentioned are all interested, but there could be 19 clubs with whom we can work before the opening of the season.

"But this is a misunderstanding. If we knew he felt this way back in November or December, we had several teams interested and could have made a heck of a deal. If we'd have known that, we might have been interested in A-Rod. But we told them we weren't interested in trading Gary. We still don't want to trade him, but we'll have to see what happens."

Sheffield has matured into a great hitter, and the edge he brings to a team is a form of leadership. He hasn't had any hint of personal problems for years. "He works hard, he plays hard and he brings a lot to every at-bat, from taking pitches to giving himself up to getting an RBI when necessary," says Rick Down, the Red Sox' hitting coach who was with Sheffield in L.A. last season.

The Dodgers claim they had a marketing campaign built around him, with posters and billboards and television commercials. There had been a discussion of making him team captain.

To the Braves, Mets or Yankees, he is a monster piece. But as long as the Dodgers stick to their price and Sheffield sticks to his stance, this is going to be a standoff.

Around the camps

  • The Red Sox' early views of third baseman John Valentin have been extremely encouraging. Few in the organization thought he would make it back from his collapse last May and the ensuing knee operation, but his workouts have shown surprising mobility, he has lost a lot of weight and seems obsessed to return. Boston's other interesting early positional player story has been Mike Lansing, who in December had a serious abductor muscle operation that the club kept private. "I knew one side bothered me," Lansing says. "But when (the doctor) operated, he found the other side was worse. It makes sense that it affected me at the plate, in the field, everywhere." "Lansing was a very good player, and it wasn't long ago," says Dan Duquette, whose first acquisition as Montreal GM was to purchase Lansing from the independent Miami Miracle. "Maybe that's the reason he played the way he did last season." "I couldn't turn on the ball at all," Lansing says. "I think I can pepper The Wall." If Lansing can play, he could see action at second, first and third. ... David Cone, wearing Flash Gordon's old No. 36: "Maybe Stephen King's next novel will be 'The Girl Who Loved David Cone.'"

  • If the Blue Jays need some encouraging news during workouts in Bradenton, Fla., in the IMG camp, Vernon Wells, who is up in the sculpted 215-220-pound range, did the equivalent of a 4.35 40. ... Not only was Junior Griffey in Reds camp with the pitchers, but he hit this winter for the first time. Watch out. ... Montreal's Peter Bergeron has a private tutor to help him work on the art of leading off – Tim Raines.

  • Yes, there was a Jim Corsi sighting in Cardinals camp. "This is a test of Eck (Dennis Eckersley) as scout," says Tony La Russa. "He called and said he was working out with Corsi and that he was throwing well. So we'll see how good a scout he is." At different times this spring, La Russa is bringing in Eckersley, Will Clark and Gary Gaetti as instructors/presences. ... Mike Easler on J.D. Drew: "He can be Jim Edmonds. His power, pulling and in the follow through, is as good as anyone's. He has to learn to stay back and let the bat take the ball wherever it needs to go. He'll learn, and he'll be a big, big star." Easler points to Mo Vaughn as one who has to keep the same approach, but when he got to Anaheim he forgot, started pulling and got messed up. Then Mo was hurt for the second half of last season, and for some reason the injury was never attended to properly and he blew out the tendon.

  • One comeback to watch – Ariel Prieto with the Indians. He had a strong winter, is healthy and is intent on saving his career. ... Clubs needing a solid left-handed starting pitcher on the last year of his contract may be looking at Sterling Hitchcock when he begins his rehab assignment in late April or May. As long as Hitchcock is on rehab, the Padres get the insurance money, but once he's in the big leagues, they have to pay his contract. And with stadium delays possibly taking the opening of its new park to mid-2003, San Diego has to watch every penny.

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