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Plenty of deals in the works

Special to

Nov. 23

"I'm a junk bond king playing Seminole Bingo."

And so we have the official song for this (past) week in baseball. All the he-said-she-said-he-saids are over and the Larry Walker/Matt Williams/Toronto/Oakland four-way deal went dead.

Whether or not Williams' family issues could ever have been resolved remain debatable, and you'll have to take someone's word in the Walker-Jerry Colangelo salary-deferral flap. That's because Walker and his agent Pat Rooney say the D-Backs wanted to defer half his 2004-2005 salaries at a three-percent interest, while Colangelo says Walker never even gave them a chance to negotiate. Arizona newspapers are now killing Walker for making such a big deal during the regular season of his admiration for Mark Grace playing for a winner and going out with a ring.

Erubiel Durazo
Erubiel Durazo was close to landing in Oakland, but for now will stay in Arizona.

You have to feel sorry for the A's and Blue Jays, because they weren't in on the junk-bond stuff, just the baseball. If Colorado had gotten Erubiel Durazo they would have then traded him to Oakland. The A's would then have sent minor-league right-handed pitcher Jason Arnold and outfielder John-Ford Griffin to Toronto. The Blue Jays, in turn, would have sent Orlando Hudson to Colorado and let Howie Clark and Dave Berg play second base. The A's were dying to get Durazo, the Jays for Arnold.

So the Rockies are back in the junk-bond market, trying to work a three-way deal with the Yankees and Mets. Now, the way it was explained in the New York Daily News on Saturday made no sense for Colorado.

Here's the way it makes some sense: the Rockies would send Denny Neagle (set to make $9 million, $9 million and $10 million in the next three years) for Rondell White and Raul Mondesi (total $12 million in 2003), then the Yankees would spin Neagle to the Mets for either Roger Cedeno ($4 million in 2003) or Rey Ordonez ($6.25 million in 2003), depending on whether they could send Ordonez to Milwaukee for Curtis Leskanic and split the salary difference.

Meanwhile, without Williams, the Rockies offered Jose Jimenez to Boston for third baseman Shea Hillenbrand, but Boston may wait to get relievers, especially with such a glut on the market and several more likely to be non-tendered (Antonio Alfonseca, Esteban Yan, Kerry Ligtenberg).

Confused? Kohl and Kravis is working on all this.

"Someone finally pieced that whole nutty three-way that sent Mike Hampton to Atlanta (deal together) where the Braves don't have to pay him for three years," says one NL GM. "Why not?"

Teams which have cash are trying to get players by taking on bad contracts. Expos GM Omar Minaya believes that playing 22 games in Puerto Rico will be worth $2-3 million payroll, but since keeping the present team together might cost $55-57 million there's a good chance that when Montreal team president Tony Tavares gives Minaya the payroll limits this week that contracts will have to be moved.

The Cubs, for instance, have talked to the Expos about the concept of taking Fernando Tatis' $6.5 million contract if Montreal will trade Javier Vazquez. The Yankees, Red Sox and some other teams have discussed similar ideas, especially since Bartolo Colon and Tony Armas are free agents at the end of this coming season. If Minaya were to trade arbitration-eligible catcher Michael Barrett (freeing up the job for Brian Schneider) and move Tatis' contract along with a pitcher, he would likely meet any budget imposed by the Commissioner's Office.

"What we're seeing is a lot of teams honing in on teams with budget problems," says one AL East official. "They're looking into whether or not the Reds have to move salary with no payroll bump and 10 arbitration-eligible players; in other words, could Sean Casey be had?

"Some teams are wondering whether or not a Hank Blalock or Travis Hafner were available if someone were to eat one or two of those bad bullpen contracts? The Dodgers will talk about a few things if you'll take Mark Grudzielanek. There is a lot of creative thinking going on right now. The Yankees need to move payroll to get Hideki Matsui. The Mets need to move payroll to try to get in position to sign Cliff Floyd and find a quality pitcher."

Around the majors

  • It's expected the Jim Thome Sweepstakes will end Tuesday or Wednesday, and if the Phillies move up to six years at $15 million per season, they will get him. If so, the Indians will take the money and either try to get Casey, take a Fred McGriff for a year or look at some of the potential non-tenders at first base, like Brad Fullmer, Travis Lee or Brian Daubach.

  • Tom Glavine and his agent Gregg Clifton are looking at the beginning to middle of next week. What they want to see is how the Braves come back with their offer. The suspicion has been that they originally planned to let Glavine go and re-sign Greg Maddux, but if Maddux's agent, Scott Boras, clings to a five-year demand, Atlanta could come back in the face of the Mets and Phillies attention -- where Glavine and Clifton are waiting for those magic words, "we're not offering four years, but if you say that it would clinch the deal ..." -- and do three years and an option. After all, Hampton comes free to the Braves for the next three years.



  • The Padres have been talking to the Braves about a Brett Tomko-for-Marcus Giles swap, although Braves GM John Schuerholz told a couple of Giles suitors that he's Atlanta's second baseman, with Mark DeRosa playing third base. That, as well as Chipper Jones' position, could change at any moment.

  • Since Frank Thomas' window to be a free agent or return to the White Sox at their price closes Dec. 7, expect that his agent Arn Tellem will be very busy working on his case during the next 10 days.

    Baltimore has shown interest in Thomas. Some of that may depend on what happens with the GM spot, as owner Peter Angelos is expected to decide this weekend between Mike Flanagan and Ron Schueler. The Red Sox are expected to make their decision on a new GM this week, as well, with conventional wisdom being that they'll elevate 28-year-old assistant Theo Epstein to GM. Epstein will be surrounded by experienced minds, like Lee Thomas and possibly Bill Lajoie, one of the game's best evaluators as well as once being one of the best GMs.

    "What people don't realize is that the talent pool for what the general manager job now requires is very small," says Red Sox team president Larry Lucchino, "and many of those who fit the complicated criteria are very young (Epstein, Oakland assistant GM Paul DePodesta, Mets assistant GM Jim Duquette, Cleveland assistant GM Chris Antonetti, et al)."

    All along, the Red Sox had only two candidates, Billy Beane and J.P. Ricciardi. And after Beane accepted the job, then changed his mind, they did feel out Sandy Alderson to whether he would be interested at all.

    Beane, Sabean ... and the Sox
    Beane was surprised and distressed at some of the amateur psycho-analysis of his change of heart in taking the Boston GM job, most of which centered on his fictional fear of Lucchino.

    "It simply isn't true," says Beane. "None of those people who speculated talked to me, or know me. I took the job 48 hours after meeting with Larry at John Henry's house in Florida. Anyone who's afraid of working with Lucchino has little confidence in one's ability and convictions, which I don't lack. Are some people so unhappy and cynical that they cannot comprehend decisions based on values and the heart?"

    One theory included as fact was that Giants GM Brian Sabean turned down the job because of Lucchino. Hmmm. For some reason -- as Sabean is a brilliant general manager -- Sabean was not on Boston's list, but his lawyer called the Red Sox trying to get Sabean interviewed right up to the end of the World Series.

    This and that

  • Sabean is working to rebuild the Giants. As of now, the only major-league outfielders on the roster are Barry Bonds and Marvin Bernard, although rookie Tony Torcato will likely platoon in right field, and there have been discussions with Steve Finley (as well as Ray Durham to replace Jeff Kent). This weekend, new manager Felipe Alou is in the Dominican Republic meeting with Neifi Perez and Pedro Feliz, two of his prime projects.



  • With rookie pitchers Kurt Ainsworth, Jesse Foppert and Jerome Williams on the horizon, the Giants are willing to deal one or two starters for bats. One deal thrown out there is Russ Ortiz for J.D. Drew. Ortiz-for-Jose Cruz Jr. isn't out of the realm of possibility, either.

  • One factor complicating Pudge Rodriguez's market is the fact that there are several other starting catchers available on the trade market -- Barrett, Seattle's Ben Davis, Cincinnati's Jason LaRue (with Dane Sardinha and Corky Miller on deck) and Boston's Jason Varitek.

  • Boston upped its offer to Cliff Floyd to three years at $8 million per season, but when Floyd didn't jump at it, the Sox pulled the offer off the table.

  • If the Red Sox have to patch some spots with $13-17 million (not counting Cuban pitcher Jose Contreras), they have a lot of depth and future holes to fill. Their farm system is so bad they have only an incredible 28 players on their 40-man roster, and as one AL GM points out, "It's about 22, because of all their non-tenders (Daubach, Rolando Arrojo, Wayne Gomes, et al) and selling Benny Agbayani to Japan."

  • Speaking of Japan, several teams like the A's and Red Sox were interested in bringing first baseman Roberto Petagine back to the States after he was runner-up to Matsui in virtually every big offensive stat, but his agent Peter Greenberg has informed the U.S. clubs that Petagine is staying with the Yukalt Swallows for a new deal that may reach $11 million per season.

  • Yes, the American League East standings did finish in the exact order of payroll, from the Yankees to the Devil Rays, but the AL West finished in the inverse order, from the lowest payroll, Oakland, to the highest finishing last, Texas.

  • The Royals have their June, 2002 No. 1 pick -- high school pitcher Zack Greinke -- pitching for Mayaguez in Puerto Rico so he can work with Guy Hansen. Greinke has allowed five runs in 14 2/3 innings. Mike MacDougal has been converted to a closer in Mayaguez, has hit 100 mph on radar guns and, more important, been close to unhittable. Brian Rose will go to Mayaguez shortly, as he's almost fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. And although Jeremy Affeldt continues to have blister problems, he hasn't allowed a run in 19 1/3 innings in the Dominican. It's becoming obvious that Kansas City is trying to rebuild with young pitching.

  • Not only did Tampa Bay outfield prospect Rocco Baldelli win minor league player of the year honors, then go to the Arizona Fall League and hit .300, but scouts love his enthusiasm.

    "He's got a tattoo on his ankle that reads MLB," says one scout. "How great is that?"

  • One scout who's watched the Tigers' Eric Munson play third base in Puerto Rico says "he's pretty rough -- range, feet, problems -- but he's trying it and he's listening to Steve Boros. And he's hitting (.356 through Bouxsein Day, Nov. 22)."

  • Hey, scouts watch. The Devil Rays and Brewers fought over signing shortstop Gabby Martinez. Tampa won out.

  • And the hot rumor in winter ball is that a few years have suddenly been added to Miguel Tejada's age. Surprise, surprise.

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