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Sunday, December 15
Kent has until Sunday to accept Giants' final offer

By Jayson Stark

NASHVILLE -- Just when half the population of San Francisco had gotten used to waving so long, farewell, au revoir to Jeff Kent, it might be time to start waving hello, great to see you, where ya been.

Jeff Kent

According to sources familiar with the negotiations, Kent seems to be on the verge of returning to the Giants before the weekend is over.

The Giants are said to have told Kent that he has until today to decide whether to accept their final offer -- believed to be a three-year deal for significantly less than the $10 million to $12 million per year he'd been looking for. And, with no other tangible offers to weigh, Kent appears to be ready to say yes, even though the contract is heavily backloaded and is believed to pay him only around $4 million in the first year.

Kent would return as the second baseman -- for now. But with newly signed Ray Durham also in the picture now, Kent would be phased into increasing time at first base so that he could take over at first in 2004, once J.T. Snow's contract expires. In the meantime, Durham has volunteered to play a lot of center field.

If Kent signs, even for just $4 million in 2003, the Giants would then have payroll issues. So their next move would be to deal a starting pitcher -- almost certainly Russ Ortiz -- for young players.

The Giants are known to have talked to a number of teams about Ortiz, including the Blue Jays, A's, Phillies, White Sox and Cardinals. But they're not expected to deal him to either Toronto or Oakland, because it's possible those teams would then send Ortiz to one of their biggest division rivals, the Diamondbacks.

As of late Saturday night, none of this had actually happened, of course -- because, with the annual winter meetings two days old -- Nothing had actually happened. No major trades. No major signings. No minor trades. No minor signings.

There has never been a winter meetings before at which nothing took place except a lot of talk and large room-service bills. But at this point, it isn't out of the question. Not as long as Expos GM Omar Minaya continues to listen to offers on everyone but the public-relations department.

"I was standing at the end of a really long line today," complained Braves president Stan Kasten. "I thought it was for Chik Fil-A. It turned out to be for Omar."

Well, this just in: We personally witnessed Minaya complete one deal. Unfortunately, the only thing he acquired was a smoothie.

The negotiations on deals involving Bartolo Colon, Javier Vazquez, Vladimir Guerrero or Jose Vidro, on the other hand, is turning out to be a little more complicated.

An official of one club that has been speaking with the Expos said they could do a deal for one of those four sometime Sunday -- which didn't mean they would. Although the Expos had held meetings with 14 teams by Saturday night -- and spoke by phone with several more -- the Yankees are still considered the favorite to be their first dance partner.

All indications are that the first Expo to get traded will be Vazquez rather than Colon -- for two reasons: 1) with an estimated $6-million price tag via arbitration, he would be more than $2 million cheaper than Colon (who will make $8.25 million next year), and 2) Vazquez is two years away from free agency, where Colon is only a year away.

The Expos and Yankees have been talking about a deal that would include first baseman Nick Johnson, rookie outfielder Juan Rivera and Orlando Hernandez for Vazquez. But a source said the teams have had trouble getting the deal consummated because Montreal wants the Yankees to include cash to pay El Duque's salary.

The Diamondbacks, Cubs and Phillies also have reportedly made major pushes for Vazquez. Whether they're enough is another story.

Minaya denied rumors that he didn't want to trade his best players to the Phillies or any other team in his division -- saying, "My job is to get the best talent back that I can." But he also left no doubt that once he's finished dealing and cutting payroll, he still wants the Expos to be in position to contend.

"By the end of this weekend," he said, "I hope to be able to get close to our payroll number (believed to be somewhere between $40-43 million). And at the same time, I hope to keep our team competitive."

Once upon a time, in a very different juncture of Expos history, it was Felipe Alou who managed a string of Expos teams hoping to stay competitive. Now, though, Alou will be managing a Giants team that would look a whole lot more formidable if it can hold onto Kent.

Placing Durham, Rich Aurilia and Kent in the 1-2-3 holes in front of Barry Bonds might actually keep Bonds' walk total next year under 250.

"The situation you want to have is somebody on first base," Alou said Saturday, "for as many of Barry's at-bats as possible. When there's a guy on second base or third base (and no one on first), they're not going to pitch to him."

Then again, in the World Series, it didn't matter much whether runners were on first, second, third or none of the above. The Angels walked Bonds in just about every situation.

"It paid off for them in the end, I guess," Alou said. "But I'm afraid it will set off a trend that's going to get even worse during the regular season. We're looking at somebody who has a shot at Hank Aaron's record. But if he doesn't get his swings to do it, he'll have a difficult time breaking it.

"I know people are not trying to keep Barry Bonds from hitting 900 home runs," Alou went on. "They're trying to win the game. But in the end, if they keep walking him, it's going to be a threat to that aspiration."

So one of the Giants' major offseason goals was to add offense in front of Bonds and behind him to make the prospect of walking him more difficult. They've already signed Durham to plug into the leadoff hole. And they're not through.

Even if the Giants get Kent signed, they would continue to look for one more bat to hit behind Bonds in the fifth or sixth hole. If they don't get Kent signed, it's believed they would immediately launch a serious effort to reel in Edgardo Alfonzo.

But more and more Saturday, as Kent's deadline for saying yes grew closer, it was starting to appear that the 2003 Giants are going to resemble the 2002 Giants more closely than anyone would have figured six weeks ago.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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