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All dollars stop with owners

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Some teams just can't play the game, and so when the Padres thought all Jeromy Burnitz wanted was home and security, they learned that if they want Burnitz and and keep their payroll at $37 million, they'll have to pay him at least 27 percent of that total. Which doesn't work.

With all the Reds' cutbacks, they'll be paying Junior Griffey and Barry Larkin -- who are taking less to play in their hometown -- half their payroll, and don't think all those teams aren't fully aware that when(and if) Mike Mussina signs with the Yankees and Mariano Rivera and Ramiro Mendoza are satisfied at the arbitration table that the 2001 Yankees pitching staff will cost more than $50 million.

Every August, owners don brown robes and take vows of poverty, then come November act like Democratic high-rollers summering on Nantucket. A month ago, the Pads thought Burnitz, who can be a free agent next fall, was an $8-million-a-year player who might take $6.25 million to play near his California home, only to find out that his agent's perception is Burnitz is a $10-12 million player. Weeks ago, the Mets thought Rick Reed was a $5.5 million pitcher, and now he's about to get at least $7.5 million for three years (from the Mets?).

Common logic said Denny Neagle had lost value with his postseason performance, but word Friday was that Boston was willing to go $10 million in the right deal. Kevin Appier? His agents claimed he can get a 3-4 year, $8.5 million per annum market. Darren Dreifort (39-45 career record) is going to get $50M or $55M for five years. In October, the Giants thought Ellis Burks a safe $5M, and he's going to get three years and close to $24M from either the Rangers or Indians.

As Mark Knopfler says, "That's what it is."

Baseball is unfair, but don't start knocking on Alex Rodriguez's door. The inequities are between owners, not players, and the fact is that as a group, owners in the last decade have been far greedier than players. It was the owners who, for quick monetary hits, expanded twice in the last decade, escalating salaries and costs (such as amateur acquisition) and shortsightedly eliminated blackmail destinations for teams stuck in local political swamps.

But as the Padres and Reds -- who have already dumped arbitration eligibles Eddie Taubensee, Chris Stynes and Ron Villone and will soon move Steve Parris and Brian Hunter -- are projecting lower payrolls on April 1, 2001 than they had on Oct. 1, 2000, there are those in the game wondering if the Expos' year-to-year, hand-to-mouth approach isn't the realistic way to go.

The Royals have done a remarkable job restoring a good franchise in a great baseball town, but now Johnny Damon has to go as a fifth-year player staring at 2001 free agency, and both Mike Sweeney and Jermaine Dye will be in the same position next season. The Marlins, too, have had a tremendous resurgence, but if owner John Henry cannot get a ballpark, with the core of the team arbitration eligible or free agents in the next two years, they may have to crawl out of their window.

One starts to wonder how many teams can afford to keep putting $10-20M players on their credit cards, and that if the answer is finite, when and where some players start to lose out (hello, Juan Gonzalez). Take the Dodgers. They're already at a $78M payroll for next season, and once they sign a pitcher (Dreifort?) and Chan Ho Park has won his $11M-13M in arbitration, they will be over $100M. Since Gary Sheffield's recent no-trade list eliminates, as one GM says, "every good, wealthy team," what it would take to move him would be so prohibitive it is virtually impossible. So, for the Dodgers to sign a Charles Johnson to a Jason Kendall deal would zoom them in towards $120M when all is said and signed. Or to sign A-Rod? How does $130M sound.

This obviously is what the Mets thought out when they decided to drop out of the Rodriguez sweepstakes, and because there had been so much anticipation of his impending arrival in beautiful Flushing, GM Steve Phillips had to play spin doctor.

Jason Giambi is one player who understands all this. He also knows that he may be as happy as he'll ever be with this particular Oakland team. It is arguably the best young club in the game; after all, only the White Sox and four National League teams won more games. "Every day is like a frat party" says Giambi, and when he stood at the podium at a press conference Wednesday after winning the MVP award, he became very emotional. He told his agents, Joel Wolfe and Arn Tellum, that as he answered questions he looked over and saw tears in the eyes of some of the front office employees, who understandly have affection for Giambi's unbridled, genuine enthusiasm.

Giambi, of course, is a free agent at the end of next season. He legitimately can look at Carlos Delgado's $17 million-a-year deal and say, "That's mine." But he isn't. Tellum and Oakland GM Billy Beane are trying to find a fair ground that won't leave the A's paralyzed, and both believe it can be done, likely with some escape mechanisms should the Oakland ownership situation turns into Charles Oscar Finley III.

Yankees may give thanks to Mussina
While the A's try to work on the emotion of their moment, Tellum is working on making Mussina the first of The Fab Four to get signed. Tellum met the Yankees, Mets and Red Sox in New York this week before flying back to his Los Angeles office. At this point, he also intends to talk to the Dodgers and Cardinals, and says "this could be worked out relatively quickly." In other words, the week after Thanksgiving. If Mussina doesn't sign with the Yankees, it will be a shock.

The recruitment by Yankees players has been very impressive, and one GM said that a Yankees exec this week told him, "When the Yankees decide they want someone, they get him." It should be noted that the only significant player on the 2000 world champions who was signed as a free agent from another team was Mike Stanton.

While Ellis Burks could sign quickly with the Rangers or Indians, Mike Hampton, Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez may go well into the winter meetings, which begin December 7 in Dallas. Texas has a Bushload of cash to spend thanks to owner Tom Hicks' TV deal, and Hicks wants a big name -- A-Rod, Hampton or Sammy Sosa -- and some marquee value. "They are in on more players and trades than anyone," says another club official. "I don't think Doug (Melvin) ever sleeps."

If Burks were to sign with the Indians, Ramirez is definitely out. Cleveland would have loved to have done the deal with Toronto that would have sent Roberto Alomar and Dave Burba for Raul Mondesi and David Wells (then sign a second baseman like Jose Valentin or Bret Boone), but the Indians cannot absord the extra salaries they'd take on as the Jays try to re-balance their finances as well.

Exactly where the Ramirez chase will lead, no one seems sure at this point. Seattle has lined him up should Rodriguez walk, but Mariners GM Pat Gillick seems reluctant to go too many years on Many, especially after his lingering hamstring problems this past season. The Mets keep coming up. Colorado, too. If the Rockies lose out on Burks, as expected, they could go hard after Ramirez, but it is unlikely Dan O'Dowd will allow his team to have half its payroll wrapped in only three players (Ramirez, Todd Helton and Larry Walker).

"What you might see is Dan see if Walker would waive his no-trade and go somewhere -- probably Boston -- for prospects, then take his money and use it on Manny," says one GM. "It may be hard matching, however, because if it were the Red Sox, they have almost no prospects above A ball."

The Mets are trying to get their pitching straightened out before going further, which is complicated by the free agent status of Reed, Hampton, Bobby J. Jones, Turk Wendell and John Franco. If they get Reed and Wendell done soon, they still have to find two more starters to go with Al Leiter snd Glendon Rusch, and add depth in the pen. Don't be surprised if they look internationally.

News and notes and rumors

  • San Diego may now hold onto Phil Nevin, whose market value is multiplied by his modest $1.5M contract. The Mariners have interest, but don't have the corner power the Padres require, the Cubs have zeroed in on Bill Mueller of the Giants (who would go with Russ Davis and rookie Pedro Feliz, who hit 33 homers at Triple-A Fresno and is off to a .325 start in the Dominican), the Orioles have found out that Cal Ripken doesn't care for first base (and Ryan Minor, long swing and all, is off to a good start in the Dominican at .339 with 5 HRs in his first 16 games) and Toronto has now decided that even if Alex Gonzalez leaves as a free agent that Tony Batista should remain at third base.

  • Because the Yankees have three good young shortstops -- Alfonso Soriano, D'Angelo Jimenez and Erick Almonte (15 HR at Norwich, good Arizona League showing) -- they could move one of them. ... The Jays have been one of several teams working hard on acquiring Dustin Hermanson from the Expos. The Mets are also on Hermanson. ... With so few closers on the market that Jose Mesa was able to get $6.8 million for two years from the Phillies, if the Expos can show that Ugueth Urbina is healthy by the end of spring training, his could be a huge market.

  • Toronto is also talking to the Twins about Matt Lawton. ... The Brewers and Giants are still in on Roger Cedeno, as the Astros search for pitching. ... The Royals zeroed in on young Tampa Bay catcher Toby Hall in Arizona, with the Rays one of the possibilities in a Damon trade. ... The Cubs are the clear early leader for Todd Hundley, with the Tigers also in pursuit and one more unnamed club to be explored in the next couple of days.

  • Padres president Larry Lucchino and GM Kevin Towers visited Tony Gwynn Saturday to try to smooth ruffled feathers. If Gwynn stays with the Pads, he gets $2M in addition to whatever he gets in this contract. Right now, other teams have shown interest, but no one else has made an offer.
  • Once the current second tier of free agent pitchers is signed, there is expected to be a rush on Hideo Nomo. "If you look at the raw numbers (8-12, 4.74), they aren't good," says Phil Garner. "But Hideo pitched great for us. He had a handful of bad games that shot his earned run average up, but in most of his starts he pitched very well. If we had scored runs and played well for him, he'd have easily won 15 games."

  • Darren Bragg was never healthy after signing with the Rockies, but after a strenuous rehab program, the veteran outfielder is playing in the Dominican to prove to clubs that he is the same player he was two years ago. ... There is some amazement that Kevin Appier is looking at 3-4 years and more than $8M per year. "Why?" asks Beane. "The guy won 31 games for us. How many pitchers win 15 games and throw 200 innings?" Steve Trachsel has averaged 204 innings the last five years, incidentally. ... Now that David Nilsson has a two-year deal done with Boston, he has to fly in from Brisbane after Thanksgiving to pass a physical that will make the signing official.

    Final thoughts

  • Nomar Garciaparra called Carl Everett's house and left a message this week to 1) make it clear he never asked Dan Duquette to trade Everett and 2) deny he privately lunched with the GM. Duquette left Garciaparra out to dry on this story, which originally was an item claiming that the two lunched before the GM meetings and Garciaparra suggested it would be the best for everyone if Everett were traded. Nomar was actually in California, but the fact that Duquette told reporters he talked to Nomar at the end of the season made it seem as if the GM sought out the star shortstop's advice when he doesn't seek any other player's advice.

    Anyone who knows Garciaparra knows he would never dictate team policy or seek any special treatment. And why didn't Duquette call Garciaparra and arrange some call with Everett to set the record straight? A little people skill would have gone a long way here.

  • While the fiscally disoriented Diamondbacks have fired office staff and rid themselves of baseball people like Mel Didier, they still haven't indicated to other clubs that they are willing to dump high-profile players. But that doesn't stop clubs from asking for Curt Schilling.

  • The Pirates have Jason Kendall tied up as their franchise player, but few teams are deeper in catching. Twenty-four year old Craig Wilson hit 33 homers and slugged .604 in Double-A, and now can move to first base. Left-handed-hitting Lee Evans caught well in Arizona, and J.R. House is a much-touted prospect. ... When Cubs GM Andy MacPhail bluntly says "we have to get better," he honestly sees that since June 9, 1999, the Cubs are 110-169, worst in baseball. Minnesota is next, 111-154.

  • The Brewers haven't been used to good news in the last year, but off Ben Sheets' brilliant performance in the Olympics, RHP Allen Levrault is off to a strong start (2-0, 2.02) in Venezuela. ... One of the greatest names of the last decade is Wonderful Terrific Monds III, who briefly played the outfield for the Braves. Monds is the son of a former Canadian Football League star. There is another Monds on the way. Devon Monds, Wonderful Terrific III's step-brother, is a touted prospect in Ottawa and recently signed a letter of intent to play at Northeastern, which in the last three years has had two notable high draft picks, 1B Carlos Pena (Texas) and LHP Greg Montalbano (Boston).

  • Keith Ginter batted .357 with an OPS of 1.037 at Double-A Round Rock and followed the season with a strong showing in Arizona, but the Astros intend to start him at Triple-A in the spring, and let him go back and forth between second and third base. However, if Craig Biggio is not healed, Ginter could get a short to open the season in Houston. ... One scout's report on Mark Hendrickson, the 6-9 former NBA player who has pulled a reverse Chris Weinke and is in the Jays system: "He pitched well (2-3, 2.67) in Arizona, and has a nice style. But he's a mid-80s high fastball guy. If he pans out, he's kind of a Jim Deshaies, but I don't think his stuff is as good as Deshaies in his prime". ... Speaking of baseball and hoops, Devil Rays scout Bart Johnson -- the one-time White Sox pitcher and uncle of quarterback Rob -- was called by John Wooden, "The best offensive high school forward I ever saw." On his 50th birthday, Johnson went out and dunked, just to prove he can still do it. "I used to go out at midnight in street shoes and a couple of beers in me and do it easily," says Johnson. "Now I have to wear sneakers, stretch and work my way into it."

  • "The reason the Red Sox don't have much left in their system is that they've traded so many arms, and many of them were on display in Arizona," says one scout. "Chris Reitsma (Dante Bichette deal, 1.44 ERA in the AFL)) could be in the Reds rotation next year; he's got a great feel for pitching, he's an athlete and he throws strikes. Matt Kinney (Greg Swindell, 1.57 ERA in the AFL) was one of the best pitchers in Arizona, a low-90's guy with a chance to be a 2-3 starter in the Twins rotation. Travis Harper (released after the threat of a lawsuit) is going to sneak into the Devil Rays' rotation by June; he can really pitch. The Indians may have pulled a steal when they took Roy Padilla in the minor-league draft; 6-7 lefties who throw 99 don't come along too often, and he could be in that bullpen soon. And I wouldn't be surprised if Jeff Taglienti (part of the Mike Lansing/Rolando Arrojo deal) battles his way into a prominent middle role with the Rockies this season."

  • Mac Andrews four years old? Only 14 years until he has to choose between signing with the Orioles or going to Penn State.

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