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Sunday, December 15
Kent passes on offer, clearing way for Alfonzo

By Jayson Stark

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A funny thing happened to Jeff Kent on Sunday on the road back home to San Francisco.

He got lost.

Jeff Kent
Second Base
San Francisco Giants
152 37 108 102 5 .313

Kent decided to hold off signing a three-year deal with the Giants, according to sources, because he wasn't happy with the money he was being offered. So the Giants -- who had given Kent until Sunday to say yes -- turned around and signed Edgardo Alfonzo for four years, $26 million.

"We sensed that a lot of teams had interest in Alfonzo," said Giants assistant GM Ned Colletti, who actually finished negotiating the deal during his daughter's 18th birthday party. "And we were being told that a lot of teams had interest in Jeff. We couldn't stand by and find out we couldn't sign either player."

So the Giants signed the player who was most ready to sign with them. Alfonzo received a $4 million signing bonus and annual salaries of $3 million, $5.5 million, $6.5 million and $7 million.

The Giants are taking a chance that Alfonzo -- who has had back problems and numerous minor injuries -- will stay healthy for four years. But Colletti said they had done their "due diligence" researching Alfonzo's health history and weren't worried. Nevertheless, a scout who has watched Alfonzo quite a bit in recent years said Sunday: "If you can convince me his back and his body are what they're supposed to be, then it's a hell of a deal. Other than that, I love him. He's got great makeup and great baseball instincts, and he's a very consistent person. The biggest issue is his health."

The Mets weren't willing to offer the 29-year-old Alfonzo more than two years, because they thought Alfonzo hadn't taken good enough care of himself after signing his last four-year deal before the 1999 season. But over the last six years, he still has a .292 batting average, a .380 on-base percentage and an .851 OPS.

He can't touch Kent's power or RBI numbers. But the Giants are trying to revamp their offense by putting high on-base-percentage hitters in front of Bonds to force other teams to pitch to him more. (Good luck.) "He could hit fifth or sixth, or second or third," said Alfonzo's new manager, Felipe Alou. "But whatever, I'd love to have him."

Asked if he planned to play Alfonzo at second or third, Alou had trouble emerging from his post-Expos culture shock.

"I've got to wait," he said. "I'm not used to this thing -- acquiring players."

The Giants will try to get their payroll back under control now by trading pitcher Russ Ortiz. But the big question is what will happen to Kent. If he doesn't return, the Giants would become the first team in history to lose its manager and a 100-RBI guy after going to the World Series.

Giants GM Brian Sabean said, for public consumption, that the club remains "open-minded" about a possible return by Kent. But the reality is that Alfonzo's signing effectively marks the end of the six-year middle-of-the-order partnership between Kent and his good friend, Barry Bonds.

The offer Kent rejected Sunday afternoon -- believed to be three years, for somewhere between $20-24 million -- is "not on the table" anymore, Colletti said. What is on the table is an offer by the Giants to allow Kent to accept arbitration. But he is expected to decline.

If Kent were to say yes, that would be tantamount to signing for one year. And both Sabean and Colletti said they'd been told a number of times by Kent's agent, Jeff Klein, that Kent had multiyear alternatives from several other teams. None of them have surfaced publicly, however.

"They've never talked to me about a one year deal," Colletti said. "It was always a multiyear."

Asked what would happen to a Giants payroll that already is over its $73-million budget if Kent accepted arbitration, Colletti replied: "That's their choice. But I've just been led to believe they've got some multi-year things."

But where? The Dodgers have been rumored, but they've said privately they aren't interested. The Cubs have talked about signing Kent to play third for Dusty Baker, but that's Kent's third-best position. And the Cubs have spent the last few days trying to deal for several other third basemen.

There hasn't been so much as a hot rumor involving anyone else. But once the Giants officially drop off Kent's radar screen after Thursday's deadline for accepting or rejecting arbitration, that could change.

"It's been a difficult tightrope to walk," Sabean said. "Everyone knows our affection for Jeff Kent. Everyone knows we had to do it in the right fashion. So we talked a lot today, and he did have a chance to step up. He wasn't able to do so."

So now, unless something unforeseen happens, the Giants will start working on stepping up without him.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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