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Decisions await non-contenders

Special to

Sept. 29

For everyone else, the season has gone to black, with the sounds of Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Bret Boone and the A's in the distance.

If you are in Pittsburgh, Detroit or Kansas City, the restorations are a long, hard way off. If you are in Minnesota, Montreal, Florida or Anaheim, you don't know what to believe or how to differentiate contraction from (Nardi) Contreras, relocation from (Jeff) Reboulet.

We are a week from the playoffs, and no one seems to know what the offseason holds for anyone. We don't know whether the owners will order a Nov. 6 freeze on all transactions and repulse their public with threats of a lockout or whether they'll tuck their million billionaire squabbles into the trunks of their Rolls Royces for a year. When the Players Association leaders met agents this week, they informed the agents that -- five weeks from the end of the current agreement -- they have absolutely no idea what the owners want.

What they want is to rid themselves of a few franchises and move a couple of others, but no one seems to know when and how any more than they'll know where they can watch nearly half the divisional playoff games (hint: it's a hopeless task courtesy of a mindless decision).

This is a time when general managers and managers worry, even GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Torre in New York, as owner George Steinbrenner demands another world championship. Detroit GM Randy Smith probably knows calls have been made around him (including one to Bob Watson) to feel out candidates to take over his position. Texas' Doug Melvin incredibly lives on the edge (he will not be out of work long -- be it Toronto, Boston, wherever -- if Tom Hicks replaces him with a big name). If Torre isn't certain to return, then it isn't surprising that Buddy Bell (Colorado), Joe Kerrigan (Boston), Tony Muser (Kansas City) and Tony Perez (Florida) wonder as well, for various reasons.

But in this last week, seven teams that could consider themselves disappointments can crawl from the frustration. They can look forward and believe that 2002 is going to be a whole lot better than 2001:

Chicago Cubs
Guaranteed commitments: 11 players, $41.8 million
Key options: Fred McGriff, $6.75 million salary/$500,000 option; Kevin Tapani $6M/$500,000
Free agents: Rondell White, Ron Coomer, Delino DeShields, Matt Stairs, Todd Van Poppel, David Weathers, Eric Young
Key arbitration figure: Kerry Wood (3-plus years of service)

Because the Cubs got to 18 games above .500 when closer Tom Gordon began being bothered by tendinitis, the finish is a disappointment. But remember, this was a team that hadn't won more than 67 games in either of the previous two seasons. As GM Andy MacPhail looks forward, he has the framework for a very good team in a very strong division.

MacPhail has to make a decision on whether or not to bring back White. He is heading to a leg specialist this winter, and MacPhail believes the offense is at least adequate with White and McGriff around Sammy Sosa. Three of their key prospects -- first baseman Hee Seop Choi, second baseman Bobby Hill and third baseman David Kelton -- were slowed by injuries, so how they perform in the Arizona Fall League will determine a lot of the decisions they need to make. Jon Lieber, Kerry Wood and Juan Cruz are a wonderful foundation for a long time to come. And while MacPhail wants a left-hander, other kids like Carlos Zambrano, Will Ohman, Scott Chiasson and Courtney Duncan add some depth to the pitching staff.

MacPhail is not worried at all about Corey Patterson. "It isn't a matter of if; it's when," says MacPhail of Patterson. MacPhail, in fact, is trying not to rush right-handed pitcher Mark Prior, the Cubs' first-round pick (second-overall selection) this past June by letting him return to classes at USC this fall. This is a franchise that is building a very solid foundation.

Cincinnati Reds
Guaranteed commitments: Nine players, $23.1 million
Key options: Wilton Guerrero $850,000 salary/$250,000 option; Ruben Rivera $1M/$350,000
Free agents: Pete Harnisch
Key arbitration figures: Pokey Reese (5-plus years), Dmitri Young (5-plus), Danny Graves (4-plus). Sean Casey (3-plus), Aaron Boone (3-plus), Elmer Dessens (3-plus) and Scott Williamson (3-plus).

It was an awful season for the Reds, cursed with a record number of home losses. On a $45 million payroll, Junior Griffey, Barry Larkin and Aaron Boone have to be healthy. But with Adam Dunn reeking of superstardom and the addition of Todd Walker, GM Jim Bowden can market Reese and perhaps even Young for pitching.

Bowden has a lot of arbitration concerns, but he believes Harnisch and Joey Hamilton, kids Chris Reitsma and Lance Davis and the comebacking Williamson and Seth Etherton are a start toward a more stable rotation. Then he has to make deals.

Colorado Rockies
Guaranteed commitments: 11 players, $48.4 million
Key options: none
Free agents: Brian Bohanon, Jay Powell, Dan Miceli and Terry Shumpert
Key arbitration figures: John Thomson (4-plus years), Scott Elarton (3-plus) and Jose Jimenez (2-plus)

In a season that was one of the most disappointing in either league, the second half provided hope; after Friday, the Rockies were three games over .500 since the All-Star break. They are young up the middle with shortstop Juan Uribe, second baseman Jose Ortiz and center fielder Juan Pierre. They are blocks on which to build. Pierre, in fact, has impressed to point where he is second in the NL in hits with 193 through Friday. They can also build on their young right-handed pitchers -- Jason Jennings, Elarton, Shawn Chacon and Thomson.

GM Dan O'Dowd has to figure out whether or not to stick with Jeff Cirillo or to upgrade their power at third base, add right-handed power to go with Todd Hollandsworth in the outfield, find a catcher and about three or four relievers. It's fine to want right-handed power, but it's tough to find and/or afford. They'll listen on Mike Hampton or Denny Neagle, but they might not accept any trade because they both like being in Colorado so much.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Guaranteed commitments: 13 players, $83.9 million
Key options: Jeff Shaw $7.050 million salary/$1.5 million option
Free agents: Chan Ho Park, Terry Adams, Tim Bogar, Jeff Reboulet, Dave Hansen and James Baldwin
Key arbitration figure: Alex Cora (2-plus years)

The word from Dr. Frank Jobe is that Kevin Brown should be back by spring training and so should Andy Ashby. Park will be gone, but they hope to re-sign Terry Adams and Baldwin, then see where Eric Gagne and Luke Prokopec fit and decide whether or not to pick up Shaw's option after a half-dozen second-half blown saves. They need a leadoff hitter and a shortstop and if no one bites on Eric Karros or Tom Goodwin, they may even explore the Gary Sheffield market, particularly if Sheff wants to re-open his contract talks. They have a lot of bad payroll to swallow.

San Diego Padres
Guaranteed commitments: Seven players, $26.7 million
Key options: none
Free agents: Tony Gwynn, Dave Magadan and Rickey Henderson
Key arbitration figures: Kevin Jarvis (5-plus years), Carlton Loewer (3-plus), Bubba Trammell (3-plus) and Damian Jackson (3-plus)

If someone had told you last spring that the Padres would go into the final week with a chance to finish with a better record than the Rockies, Blue Jays or Red Sox, you'd have laughed yourself to sleep. But it's a possibility, and as they stick to a $32 million budget next season, they are a team on a healthy curve.

GM Kevin Towers' trades for outfielder Mark Kotsay and infielder D'Angelo Jimenez were great moves, he has third-base prospect Sean Burroughs ready for next season and in two years can have a Floridaesque rotation of right-handed power in Adam Eaton, Ben Howard, Dennis Tankersley and Jacob Peavy. Phil Nevin turned down a four-year, $32 million extension offer this week, so he could be a cheap cleanup hitter next season or one of the winter's most sought-after trade commodities.

Boston Red Sox
Guaranteed commitments: Nine players, $63.3 million
Key options: Mike Lansing $6 million salary/$1.25 million option; Troy O'Leary $5.35M/$300,000; John Valentin $6.4M/$600,000
Free agents: Hideo Nomo, David Cone, Rod Beck, Dante Bichette, Darren Lewis, Hipolito Pichardo
Key arbitration figures: Ugueth Urbina (5-plus years), Rich Garces (5-plus), Scott Hatteberg (5-plus), Chris Stynes (4-plus), Trot Nixon (3-plus), Doug Mirabelli (3-plus) and Brian Daubach (3-plus)

Few teams have more shamefully resembled a platoon of Boer War deserters than these Red Sox, backbiting, finger-pointing and in tattered desperation trying to blame the media. The problem here is that no one knows who is going to run the team. Justin Moreale, who is overseeing and administering the sale for Bingham, Dana and Gould, is trying to expedite the process so the new owners can come in and have their own business by November.

That has led to a great deal of speculation about a general manager, as the official web site only feeds the frenzy in a season that produced record attendance, TV ratings and revenues. John Hart, Brian Sabean, Brian Cashman, Billy Beane, Doug Melvin and Jim Bowden have all had their names thrown into the air as potential GM candidates, with numerous managerial speculations, from Buck Showalter to Joe Torre to Felipe Alou to Terry Francona. But that's all speculation, because no one knows.

Carl Everett
What will the Red Sox do with Carl Everett? Good question.

In addition, no one knows about the 2002 health and performance levels of Pedro Martinez and Jason Varitek, but if those two are close to their normal strength, with Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez and Nixon they have a solid core of stars to superb players. Even if Derek Lowe and Casey Fossum make the rotation, they need a starter who will give them innings, perhaps some bullpen help (Urbina's future in Boston at $6 million in arbitration value is questionable) and a legitimate leadoff hitter, as well as some depth.

One problem is that they may have to pay the freight for someone ... anyone ... to take Carl Everett.

The arbitration cases take them precariously close to their break-even point and because of their disappearing farm system have virtually nothing to trade or bring in to fill spots at low salaries.

"It's a long process because the farm system has to be rebuilt in terms of talent and coaches," says one interested GM. "But when you have Garciaparra, Varitek, Manny, Nixon and Pedro, that's a heckuva start. Restoring respect among the players will be a major step forward, and that core will respond to that."

Toronto Blue Jays
Guaranteed commitments: 14 players, $66.1 million
Key options: Dan Plesac $2.2 million salary/$200,000 option
Free agents: Jeff Frye and Tony Fernandez
Key arbitration figures: Shannon Stewart (4-plus years), Chris Carpenter (4-plus) and Kelvim Escobar (4-plus)

Sure, there are firegordash web sites, and history has shown the Jays to be at their best in March and September.

But the Jays have to decide whether to deal Stewart -- who has at least 6-8 interested suitors -- and possibly Alex Gonzalez, but add in a veteran presence who can hit, a catcher and a frontline starting pitcher and the Jays can get competitive again. They can mix in Stewart and Felipe Lopez and have talent leftover to trade, and remain under $80 million.

Searching for new talent
Leading free agents
Starting pitchers
Terry Adams, L.A.
Pedro Astacio, Hou
James Baldwin, L.A.
Dave Burba, Cle.
Pete Harnisch, Cin.
Gil Heredia, Oak.
Chan Ho Park, L.A.
David Cone, Bos.
Hideo Nomo, Bos.
Aaron Sele, Sea.
Jason Schmidt, S.F.
John Smoltz, Atl.
Kevin Tapani, Cubs
David Wells, White Sox
Brian Bohanon, Col.
Sterling Hitchcock, Yankees
Ron Villone, Hou.
Albie Lopez, Ari.

Greg Swindell, Ari.
Jason Christiansen, S.F.
Todd Van Poppel, Cubs
David Weathers, Cubs
Bob Wickman, Cle.
Steve Karsay, Atl.
Mike Williams, Hou.
Steve Reed, Atl.
Rod Beck, Bos.
Tim Crabtree, Tex.
Jason Isringhausen, Oak.
Todd Jones, Min.

Position Players
Charles Johnson, C, Fla.
Javy Lopez, C, Atl.
Todd Pratt, C, Phi.
Jason Giambi, 1B, Oak.
Tino Martinez, 1B, Yankees
Chuck Knoblauch, 2B-OF, Yankees
Eric Young, 2B, Cubs
Randy Velarde, Inf., Yankees
Scott Brosius, 3B, Yankees
Tyler Houston, 3B-1B, Mil.
Ricky Gutierrez, SS, Cubs
Rey Sanchez, SS, Atl.
Moises Alou, OF, Hou.
Dante Bichette, OF, Bos.
Barry Bonds, OF, S.F.
Johnny Damon, OF, Oak.
Roger Cedeno, OF, Det.
Juan Gonzalez, OF, Cle.
Kenny Lofton, OF, Cle.
Troy O'Leary, OF, Bos.
Matt Stairs, OF, Cubs
Rondell White, OF, Cubs

Fifteen players whose contracts may become available
Steve Finley, CF, Ari. $6.6M
Carl Everett, OF, Bos. $7.807M
B.J. Surhoff, OF, Atl. $4.5M
Jeff Cirillo, 3B, Col. $6.125M
Denny Neagle, LHP, Col. $7M
Cliff Floyd, OF, Fla. $6.5M
Antonio Alfonseca, RHP, Fla. $3.55M
Jeromy Burnitz, OF, Mil. $6.5M
Mark Loretta, Inf., Mil. $5M
Mo Vaughn, 1B, Ana. $10M
Tim Salmon, OF, Ana. $9.25M
Damion Easley, 2B, Det., $6M
Roberto Hernandez, RHP, K.C. $5.5M
Alex Gonzalez, SS, Tor. $3M
Ray Lankford, OF, S.D. $7.6M

Eight contracts teams will pay others to take
Eric Karros, L.A. $6.5M
Jay Bell, Ari. $7M
Jose Offerman, Bos. $8.5M (including 2003 buyout)
Todd Zeile, Mets $6M
Andy Benes, St.L. $6M
Greg Vaughn, T.B. $7.78M
David Segui, Bal. $6.658M
Kevin Young, Pit. $5.5M

Critical fifth-year arbitration decisions -- Tender, non-tender or trade
Andruw Jones, OF, Atl. $8.2M
Shawn Estes, LHP, S.F. $4M
Ugueth Urbina, RHP, Bos. $4.2M
Deivi Cruz, SS, Det. $3.75M
Darin Erstad, OF, Ana. $3.45M
Tony Clark, 1B, Det. $4.6M
Jorge Posada, C, Yankees $4.050M
Rick Helling, RHP, Tex. $4.5M
Pokey Reese, SS-2B, Cin. $3.2M
Dmitri Young, OF, Cin. $3.5M
Billy Wagner, LHP, Hou. $5M
Jamey Wright, RHP, Mil. $2.3M
Jimmy Haynes, RHP, Mil. $2.2M
Matt Lawton, OF, Mets $3.9M
Scott Rolen, 3B, Phi. $5.5M

News and notes

  • The Yankees are always the team to be feared in October, but they are worried about their physical problems. Derek Jeter is playing at what may be less than 80 percent, although he never makes excuses. David Justice and Paul O'Neill may or may not be ready to play in the field in the playoffs, and Jorge Posada is 10-for-54 since his son's illness. Then throw in the fact that Andy Pettitte can make only one appearance between being hit with a line drive and pitching against the A's, and it is not the same team -- although it is the same team of people who seemingly always find a way to win.

  • "Look at the four American League playoff teams and you see what arguably are the four best GMs -- Pat Gillick, John Hart, Billy Beane and Brian Cashman (along with Mark Newman)," says one AL executive. "They're all very good organizations because of their leadersip."


  • Mo Vaughn made a visit to Fenway this week to bid farewell to Cal Ripken, and not only indicated that if management changes, he'd love to come home, and perhaps could rework things to make it happen. You can't imagine how many times this season a Red Sox player said, "this (---) wouldn't be happening if Mo were still around."

  • The Expos' financial condition is so bleak that they've eliminated their instructional league, may cut the roving instructors and eliminate all winter scouting trips. Financial officer David Samson, owner Jeffrey Loria's son-in-law, will be the de facto GM in the wake of Jim Beattie's retirement. Incidentally, Beattie is not set to take the Dartmouth AD job, and would prefer to get back into baseball if possible. Things were not easy for Beattie in a divided Expos house, but few people bring more integrity to the game than Jim and his wife Martha.

  • Roger Cedeno is sitting and thus will likely not make a $75,000 incentive clause, but the club denies it's because he turned down a three-year offer to enter the free-agent market. There are a lot of teams interested in Cedeno.

    "He can run and steal bases for a second-division team," says one AL GM. "But his defense makes him a DH and his instincts make a lot of us wonder if he is worth a lot of money on a good team."

  • The A's now have Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Eric Chavez, Miguel Tejada and Terrence Long tied up to long-term contracts to avoid arbitration hassles and give them payroll predictability. But they won't be able to lock up Barry Zito, much like the Royals likely can't lock up Carlos Beltran, because each has Scott Boras as an agent and he likes to push the arbitration envelope annually rather than accept security.

  • The Streak overshadowed Cal Ripken's place among all-time shortstops, and somehow time and the likes of Omar Vizquel have dimmed the memory of what an athletic, cerebral and doggedly great defensive shortstop he was. Players and administrators alike should look at the response Ripken, Sammy Sosa and Nomar Garciaparra evoke from fans, and appreciate that the respect they get is equal to the respect they give. They are proof that it isn't hard to be nice to people, and that goes for so many owners who take their ticket buyers for granted.

  • The A's have always scorned stolen bases and sacrifice bunts as wastes, a la Earl Weaver. Remember, of those Cardinals teams that led the NL in steals seven straight years, the only one that led the league in runs and won the World Series was the '82 edition that also led in on-base percentage. The A's are in the bottom four in steals and sacrifices this season, and in the top four in runs. They look first at their pitchers' ERA, then their hitters' on-base percentage and then begin looking at other stats after that.

  • David Wells is working hard on conditioning, and while he has the expected sciatic discomfort, he thinks there's a chance that the White Sox will offer him a low base with incentives in addition to the $1.5 million buyout for 2002. He could end up back with the White Sox.

  • Three different managers this week offered the opinion that the top three defensive center fielders in the AL right now comprise one of the most elite groups in a long, long time -- Torii Hunter of the Twins, Mike Cameron of the Mariners and Vernon Wells of the Blue Jays. Cameron, by the way, may be one of the most underappreciated players in the league.


  • The Phillies asked Pat Burrell to go to winter ball after more than 500 plate appearances, but Burrell will instead go to Tempe, Ari., for the winter and work with Mark Vestagen, Nomar Garciaparra's conditioning guru. Burell will be in good company along with Jeffrey Hammonds, Nomar and Michael Garciaparra, Robby Alomar, C.C. Sabathia, Eric Munson and dozens of other players.

  • Justin Thompson is having his third shoulder operation, which means that once the Rangers buy him out for next season, he'll have been paid $5.2 million since he last time he threw a pitch in August 1999. Texas is looking for a solid defensive center fielder for next season, a necessity in their park. Their pitchers haven't exactly been Freddy Garcia, Roger Clemens and Mark Mulder, but their defense is part of the reason that they're first in the AL in doubles and triples allowed. Rick Helling has allowed 63 doubles this year. How is that?

  • It's amazing how many writers say they think Jimy Williams will finish third in the AL manager of the year balloting.

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