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First step: Figure out the Montreal situation

Special to

Sept. 14

It is two weeks since the labor agreement, and Bud Selig still has to try to hold together the 30 different owners so often pulled apart by centrifugal forces. He has implored the owners to cease and desist when it comes to talking about labor and financial woes, saying, "The most important thing now is to somehow find a way to build a partnership with the players so we can market the game the way it should be marketed."

Many a voice has raised this hope, but Selig claims to be adamant. "Talking to former players, I realized that this friction has been going on all the way back to the sixties," says the commissioner. "It's time we all accepted that we have a stake in the game's future, and if we do it right, I believe that it can come back in a hurry. We have to brainstorm and explore every idea. I am encouraged by what some of the players have said in this area."

As the negotiations wound down, Tom Glavine made it clear that he wants his legacy to be more than his entrance to Cooperstown, that he wants to leave the game better than when he arrived in the majors. Todd Zeile has expressed the same emotion.

"I will be reaching out to the players," says Selig. "Now that we have a settlement, it's important that we act quickly to try to change the atmosphere that's existed for more than 30 years."

Selig also says that language in the collective bargaining agreement, in fact, assures that additional revenue-sharing money will have to be invested in baseball operations. But, first, he has the Montreal Expos issue.

The Expos are not moving to Washington or New Jersey for next season. On a conference call this week, several owners suggested moving them to either Charlotte or Las Vegas. Selig vetoed the idea, telling owners that neither market could support baseball. "I'm not," says Selig, "going to throw out some short-term solution that becomes an even greater problem in the long run."

So, with the lawsuit by the former limited partners of the Expos staring MLB in the face, the Expos are apparently going to stay one more season in exile (the St. Helena Expos?). General manager Omar Minaya plans to meet with the commissioner's office when the team is in New York next weekend, as he's had no clarification on the team's future.

Several owners are complaining that running the team is costing each of the other 29 teams $1 million apiece. Minaya estimates that to keep this current team -- one he believes "is close to winning" -- together, all operational costs would total between $70 million and $80 million. If, as rumored, MLB will allow only $55M-$60M in operational expenses, Minaya may be forced to trade some of his more expensive players. The Expos may have more than 10 arbitration cases, and some of them -- Javier Vazquez, Tony Armas, Orlando Cabrera, Michael Barrett -- will be big tickets. Bartolo Colon, Vladimir Guerrero and Vazquez are free agents at the end of the 2003 season. Then there are the issues of Frank Robinson and staff.

"We'll have wait and see what we're told," says Minaya. "Then work quickly."

Mile high problems
Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd has been criticized for veering in and out of direction. "What I'm trying to do," he says, "is find something that works."

No one has yet to figure out what works in Coors Field, not when the franchise is 10 years old and has never won more than 83 games. O'Dowd has problems in structuring next year's roster, since ownership thought they could expand revenues to carry an $80 million payroll (and signed Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle) but now find they need to be under $50 million. O'Dowd has the the pitchers, Larry Walker and Todd Helton signed for $40 million, leaving approximately $7-9M for the rest of the roster.

That said, for the first time the Rockies appear to have developed some good young pitchers in Jason Jennings, Aaron Cook, Jason Young, et al. It didn't help that four young players they hoped could be cornerstones -- Juan Pierre, Juan Uribe, Jose Ortiz, Ben Petrick -- had disappointing seasons, but O'Dowd and Clint Hurdle think they have some ideas about how to move forward.

Mike Hampton
Mike Hampton, 7-15 with a 6.15 ERA, has become a payroll burden for the Rockies. He'll make at least $11 million each of the next six years.

"Coors tends to develop bad habits," says O'Dowd. "It becomes easy to hit home runs by hooking and pulling the ball. Then when we get on the road, it becomes a totally different thing. Our problems away from home haven't been the pitchers, it's been that we don't hit."

Todd Hollandsworth and Todd Walker went to Coors, had strong first seasons, then fell into the Coors trap. To see what happens when the club plays long homestands of six or more games, check this research:

The Coors Effect

Homestands of six or more games
Total games: 60
BA: .307
HR: 74
Runs PG: 6.08
OBP: .369
Slug Pct.: .494

Road trips following 6+ homestands
Total games: 48
BA: .234
HR: 36
Runs PG: 3.48
OBP: .298
Slug Pct.: .355

All other road trips
Total games: 26
BA: .225
HR: 14
Runs PG: 3.0
OBP: .290
Slug Pct.: .328

(Numbers entering Dodger series at Coors this weekend)

Hurdle and O'Dowd believe that in an ideal world, they need five or six elite hitters, like Helton and Walker, hitters who stay inside the ball consistently and drive it to all fields. That's easier said than done on a $50 million payroll, but they hope this is an atmosphere in which Jay Payton and Gabe Kapler flourish. They hope to trade an outfielder(probably Pierre, with Payton to play center until Choo Freeman is ready) for a young third-base bat, and develop an organizational philosophy that preaches discipline and using the entire field.

When Peter Magowan was building Pac Bell Park, he wanted to make sure that pitchers had a place to get hitters out. As it has turned out, Pac Bell is a great pitchers' park where the Giants took a 3.12 home ERA into the weekend (4.22 on the road). Their hitters know they can win because of their pitching, and then they keep their good habits (.252 average/.727 OPS) and lead the league in road offense (.273 average/.821 OPS). Seattle made a similar adjustment going from their HO-scaled Kingdome to Safeco, and even this year had a better road than home record going into this week's collapse, partially due to the home/road splits:.264/.744 at home, .289/.806 on the road.

Thus far no one has come up with a solution for how to allow athletes to better recover playing everyday at 5,300 feet. "Mike Hampton told me that pitching here is like playing a high school football game," says O'Dowd, "and that it takes him five or six days to recover."

Because of the difference in oxygen level, the ability to regenerate red blood cells makes players' recovery periods longer, which takes its toll. For a tightly-muscled athlete with a breakdown history like Payton, that is a concern. For a Helton, who is playing with elbow and back problems, it can be a tough grind; after hitting .372/42 HR/147 RBI/1.161 OPS and .338/49 HR/146 RBI/1.117 the previous two seasons, Helton's 2002 numbers of .330/27 HR/92 RBI/1.002 OPS are a dropoff.

Can any team win playing every day at 5,300 feet? "We sure are going to try to figure out something," says O'Dowd.

Hard to single out managers
No postseason award rings more hollow than manager of the year, because there is no one manager who has run his business better than anyone else. Anaheim's Mike Scioscia likely will win the American League award, and he is without question one of the best managers in the game who, over three years, has molded his team's personality in his style. He has delegated authority to a workaholic staff. But the previous organization and GM Bill Stoneman have provided some very good players, from MVP candidate Garret Anderson to many others.

But the A's are about to win 100 games for the second straight year. What about Art Howe? Ron Gardenhire has maintained the Tom Kelly personality of the Twins, only with a bit more humor. Did Lou Piniella not manage every bit as well with a thinner, older team? And Joe Torre has set the style and approach of the Yankees for seven years, and the long-term success is far more important than the one-year run.

That long-term vision is what makes Bobby Cox one of the best managers of all time. Tony La Russa has never done a better managing job that this season (oh, sure, we all knew Jason Simontacchi would be their second-biggest winner). Dusty Baker, every year. Jim Tracy has taken the Dodgers farther than anyone thought.

Cox and Howe have become consistently successful because they don't operate in a vacuum. "Everything that has worked for the Braves comes down to the fact that Stan Kasten and I entrust everything to number six (Cox)," says GM John Schuerholz. La Russa succeeds because he, owner Bill DeWitt and GM Walt Jocketty are on the same page. Howe works for Billy Beane, and they run the operation with clearly defined philosophies. The Yankees may have to deal with George Steinbrenner, but he runs his business with committees that arrive at one decision.

It's long been that way with Kevin Towers and Bruce Bochy in San Diego, despite recent ownership instability. When Paul Godfrey brought in J.P. Ricciardi in Toronto it was to develop a real organization, and the Carlos Tosca regime has been one of those classic on-the-same-page operations. Cleveland appears to be developing into the model study.

What the Braves, A's, Blue Jays and Indians believe is that the general manager has to run the business, and that to be successful he must be a leader, have a vision and be able to evaluate talent. The manager's job is to manage what the organization gives him and develop that talent.

Thus, there aren't long-term managers of the year. It's all about organizations, from owner to GM, manager to rookie league instructor to area scout.

Matt Morris
Starting Pitcher
St. Louis Cardinals
29 16-7 193.2 186 160 3.25

Cardinals vs. Diamondbacks
When Matt Morris returned topping out at 95 mph and Jason Isringhausen did the same out of the bullpen Tuesday, it was a huge sigh of relief for the Cardinals. In the time Isringhausen was sidelined, the St. Louis relievers combined for 34 scoreless innings, including seven hitless innings from Jeff Fassero. Earlier this summer, La Russa was driving past the park at The Arch and saw Fassero running in near-100 degree heat. When he became available, he jumped to get him from the Cubs. Now with Woody Williams returning to form, the St. Louis pitching appears better prepared for the postseason.

And that postseason opponent may be Arizona, 51-13 in the starts by Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, and with Rick Helling allowing two or fewer earned runs in 15 of his first 26 starts. But some in Arizona are concerned; the D-Backs have not won a series from a playoff contender (hence, L.A. and S.F. included) since the All-Star break, and for the season are 4-11-1 in series against playoff teams. Also, the bench that was so dangerous and such a vital weapon in the 2001 postseason is not the same. Last year the bench batted .,278 with 14 homers, 54 RBI and an .839 OPS. This year:.220, 6, 29, .640. Oh yes. Don't think the loss of Craig Counsell isn't huge.

Around the majors

  • Kansas City has cancelled its instructional league team ($250,000) to save cash, and owner David Glass wants GM Allard Baird to get from close to $50 million in payroll down below $40M. That likely means that Paul Byrd won't be back, and Baird may have trouble finding a taker for Joe Randa ($4.5M) or Michael Tucker($2.5M). Toronto, which similarly has shrinking revenues, is paying for its instructional league with cash picked up in deals for players like Dan Plesac, Scott Eyre and Pedro Borbon.

  • Meanwhile, Steinbrenner is so upset at his extra revenue-sharing contributions that he cancelled the Yankees' annual September minor-league minicamp and fired a handful of scouts. Pay Sterling Hitchcock $6 million a year, but fire scouts making $30,000. No comment necessary.

  • As the Angels won the last three games against the A's and then beat Texas Friday night, the crowds have taken on a totally different aura. "It's unbelievable," says Scioscia. "These have been East Coast crowds. They stay until the end, they are into the games, and we're getting 40,000 a night. It's tremendous."

    Remember: Scioscia is a Philadelphia East Coast guy.

    Marcus Giles
    Second Base
    Atlanta Braves
    58 8 21 23 .327 .246

    News and notes

  • The Braves know that they may not have Javy Lopez's bat healthy in the postseason, and are giving Marcus Giles every opportunity to win the playoff second-base job. "Marcus is a very good, dangerous offensive player," says Schuerholz. "He's also made tremendous improvements defensively since going down to the minors. He could be a big addition to our lineup."

  • Meanwhile, Torre is allowing Juan Rivera, Shane Spencer and Rondell White battle it out for the Yankee postseason left-field job. ... By the way, since Aug. 1, Jeff Weaver has been lights out --10 runs in 37 1/3 innings. "He had three rough outings," says GM Brian Cashman. "But since then, he's pitched extremely well. A lot of other pitchers have had trouble adjusting to New York, but Jeff has been outstanding. I'm just glad we have him for the next few years every fifth day." ... The Cincinnati Bengals have been sniffing around about Drew Henson, but Cashman says, "They can sniff all they want, but he has specific language in his contract prohibiting him from playing football, and we're not relinquishing it."

  • After watching Padres No. 1 pick SS Khalil Greene play in the California League playoffs, GM Kevin Towers says, "It wouldn't surprise me at all if Khalil came in and had a good spring and made our club next year. He's really good, and he's really mature." Incidentally, although Sean Burroughs has played adequately at second base, Towers insists he will be a third baseman. So whither Phil Nevin? Talk to some of his old Angels teammates and they think he could go back to catching and be the West Coast Mike Piazza, but whether or not Pads management would think the same way is another matter entirely.

  • Texas GM John Hart is now indicating that he may keep Jerry Narron for another season, a reward for the way the young players have developed under him, especially pitchers Joaquin Benoit and Colby Lewis. ... Joe Kerrigan thinks that now is the time for Pedro Martinez to move to closer to add years to his career. It's not going to happen at $14 million a year. "Would you want him pitching 70 or 200 innings a year?" asks one Red Sox official. ... Danny Graves may not have been thrilled with moving into the rotation without spring training preparation, but it worked for Derek Lowe. And this is the right move at the right time in his career for Scott Williamson to begin closing.

  • Jaret Wright is 26-29 since the promise of 1997, and will be a free agent at the end of the season when the Indians don't pick up his option. ... It's now evident that Rick Reed will open the playoffs for the Twins with his 8-2, 2.69 record in the second half. Brad Radke is better suited for Game 3 in the shadow of the Baggy, as he's got a 6.17 road ERA. ... Rod Beck has let it be known that he wants to try a comeback after missing the season with Tommy John surgery, and the Giants will give him an opportunity if he wants to come back. They don't come much better than The Shooter.

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