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Meetings big on talk, not action

Special to

Nov. 15

PHOENIX -- OK, so when one American League team surveyed its counterparts in both leagues and found that the average club is trying to slash $4.5 million from its payroll -- which would take $135 million out of the players' pockets from 2003 to 2004 -- we all understand that until the industry is out from the idle speculation of 1999-2000 and the Chicken Little negotiations of 2002, that there is a recession mentality.

What's hard to correlate is having the meetings at The Biltmore, where $5.50 will get you a small bottle of water, and $18 will get you a delicate chicken sandwich, this after 16 of the 30 teams dropped in attendance from 2002 to 2003.

Vladimir Guerrero
Vladimir Guerrero surprisingly was not the central topic of discussion in Phoenix.

Most of the general managers had beaten it for Sky Harbor Airport by the time the only trade -- A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants for Joe Nathan and two very good pitching prospects -- of the five-day meetings was made. Oh, Curt Schilling's name got thrown around a lot, nothing happening. Derrek Lee, Richie Sexson, Odalis Perez, Tino Martinez, too. The media speculated a lot about Alex Rodriguez, who never was going anywhere unless Texas takes Manny Ramirez, and Mike Piazza, who isn't going anywhere unless the Orioles take the first step, and they're jogging toward Javy Lopez.

So, washed down with chugs of $5.50 water, most of the five days were spent in meetings and discussing ways of moving money like the Pritzker family. "I heard more about QuesTec and the bereavement rule than I did Vladimir Guerrero or Miguel Tejada," said one GM. "We were just throwing this around at dinner. Where do you hear Guerrero?" Nowhere. "Where do you hear Tejada?" Nowhere yet if the Angels can get an outfielder and the Orioles decide to spend elsewhere and put Brian Roberts at short.

"Almost every team I talked to is worried about losing draft picks, which means they want to wait until after December 7," says agent Dan Horwitz of the Beverly Hills Sports Council. The one exception is Boston, which is willing to surrender a first-rounder to Oakland if it can sign Keith Foulke, pronto. "We want to help ourselves by signing some free agents," said Mets GM Jim Duquette, "but we can't afford to give up draft choices in our rebuilding process." The Phillies, for instance, lost their second- and third-rounders last season, and while they are in the market for a starting pitcher and a significant setup man in front of Billy Wagner, they will not do so until after Dec. 7, when they know the pitchers' original clubs have not offered arbitration.

Everyone expects Andy Pettitte to return to the Yankees at a fair price. Then folks await New York's next move, and while one official says "I don't see anything happening with Schilling," they are touching base with the Expos on Javier Vazquez (although Omar Minaya doubts he'll have to trade him), Bartolo Colon, Kevin Millwood, Perez, et al. Gary Sheffield has called the Yankees, but otherwise even The Winning Empire is proceeding cautiously, knowing that it could be the only landing ground for free agents who believed Scott Boras when he said "if Alex (Rodriguez) were on the market today, he'd command more (than he did in 2000)." Earth to players: If you believe that, fast-forward to Abraham Lincoln's birthday and call for your spring training invitation.

Draft choices, the debt/equity rule, $135 million in rollbacks and a $17.25 tuna melt. "There's one more thing we talked about," said one club official, "and that it's a bad time to be going to taxpayers asking for money to build a ballpark. After what's going on in Milwaukee, it seems as if all the rust belt ballparks with the exception of Cleveland have turned into disasters -- Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati…" And in Milwaukee, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson has echoed local outrage at the Brewers razing payroll to $30 million, citing promises from Bud Selig that if the taxpayers built him a stadium, the club could put a team on the field that would sign stars and compete for a world championship; unless you consider Chris Magruder a star, the entire Brewer situation seems like an off-Broadway musical based on Lowell George's "Thanks, I'll Eat It Here."

The Diamondbacks want Sexson or Lee, but they need to cut payroll by $15 million. Then next year, when Jerry Colangelo's credit card debt has to pay more than $50 million in deferred salary, they may have to be at $60 million for active players. As usual, Brian Sabean made a terrific trade, but he stated his mission is to "find a catcher, first baseman, shortstop, right fielder and starting pitcher, and try to get it all down to $75 million." (The debt service on a ballpark not paid for by taxpayers is overwhelming.) The Padres have a little cash, the Rockies have $5-6 million to sign 19 players and while Dan Evans tried to be very active, he knows that when Frank McCourt takes over the Dodgers, he is going to try to get that franchise back on financial flat ground, which means going from $115 million to $90 million.


The Braves have to slash from $95 million to $80 million, try to re-sign Sheffield, bid on Millwood and await this winter's John Schuerholz creativity. The Mets are not going Guerrero-land. Now that they have a $49 million payroll for players, the Marlins have to make tough decisions on Lee, Mike Lowell, Luis Castillo, Mark Redman and Juan Encarnacion. Cubs GM Jim Hendry is looking for a first baseman (preferably left-handed, maybe J.T. Snow), a second baseman unless he brings back Mark Grudzielanek, the re-signing of Kenny Lofton to have a four-outfielder setup and, most of all, two additions to the bullpen. The Cardinals are not trying to dump Jim Edmonds ("I read where I'd offered him to two teams I hadn't even talked to," said Walt Jocketty), but they have to pare payroll and rebuild the pitching staff. Pittsburgh is at $45 million (with Kris Benson and Jason Kendall comprising 30 percent of that), looking for a couple of bats, a third baseman and a closer. Houston was thrilled to get Dan Miceli done. The Brewers are waiting out local maelstrom, the Reds are on a river in Ohio.

The American League isn't much different. Oh, the Yankees will buy, but as long as the decisions are based on Brian Cashman's sagacity and not the read-and-react minds of George Steinbrenner and Randy Levine, they won't get taken. The Orioles have cash to burn, but the indications are that they do not like the value vs. cost of the prominent free agent pitchers -- especially after the Florida and San Francisco deals -- and were talking more about Jose Guillen, Javy Lopez, Derrek Lee, and the like, than about Guerrero and/or Sheffield. Even $5.50 bottles of water couldn't decide what Tampa Bay will pay of Tino Martinez's salary.

Then there's the AL Central, where the two best teams, the White Sox and Twins, have to pare payroll. The ChiSox have made it clear they will trade someone, preferably Paul Konerko (not happening), then maybe Magglio Ordonez or even Carlos Lee, especially since the Mets told them to keep Billy Koch after asking for cash in a Koch-Roger Cedeno deal. Having moved Pierzynski, the Twins are making Eric Milton and Jacque Jones available, both of whom have markets. Cleveland is looking for a relatively low cost second baseman to awaken Brandon Phillips and a starting pitcher. The Royals are looking for a catcher, third baseman and second baseman while trying to figure out what to do with superstar Carlos Beltran. Detroit ownership can't seem to figure.


Out west, the Rangers are trying to get to $75 million, the Angels are proceeding cautiously but will add, and the Mariners are trying to deal with horrific arbitration numbers while trying to re-sign Mike Cameron and Shigetoshi Hasegawa and get free agent Raul Ibanez.

Could Texas trade A-Rod? Yes, it could. But perhaps the single stupidest rumor was an A-Rod-Nomar Garciaparra-Angels three-way deal, because there never was any way that the Red Sox could afford Rodriguez and Ramirez, who between them in 2005-2006-2007 would cost $44 million, $44.5 million and $46 million for two players, one of whom is essentially a DH. Stupid is a kind word. A-Rod has indicated that he would accept a deal to the Yankees, not happening, or the Red Sox.

So the only deal that Boston could do is Rodriguez-Ramirez. A-Rod's for it. Ramirez's camp is pushing hard. The Red Sox will do it. The Rangers keep insisting there's no way, although there are several voices whispering in John Hart's ear reminding him how much Ramirez likes Hart, what a productive player he is and how the Arlington ballpark is suited to Manny.

The other force at play is, of course, Garciaparra. Theo Epstein seems to want to keep Garciaparra, and he has had strong indications from his agent that Nomar's preference is to re-sign with Boston. Epstein can wait and see what the Tejada signing does to the market, and there is also the argument that the comparison of Nomar's 1998-1999 stats (.364 average, 1.026 OPS) and his 2002-2003 numbers (.305, .874) are so different they automatically erase 2000 contract comparisons, even if Garciaparra is reliable to a fault, never fails to play hard, is an exemplary person, cares about winning and wants to be in Boston.

The Red Sox refused to extend Schilling's contract (which they cannot with Pedro Martinez not extended past 2004), had nothing that interested the Expos (Minaya tried to do a Livan Hernandez-David Ortiz deal last June, but now needs 0-3 service time players), cannot play on Colon, have no interest in Millwood and will wait out the rest of the market. Epstein had one exploratory conversation on Kelvim Escobar, had discussed Milton and would consider Freddy Garcia only if he were non-tendered, which may be the only way the Mariners can go. Foulke is the Red Sox's primary target, and having re-signed Mike Timlin, would use Timlin, Scott Williamson, Alan Embree, Bronson Arroyo and whatever lefty they find to set up Foulke. If Foulke resigns with Oakland, then the Red Sox will seek another reliever, starting with Tom Gordon.

They also have to fill second base, and unless someone falls below expected market value, look for a cheap platoon, with Tony Graffanino a distinct possibility against lefties (.886 OPS against them). Then comes the manager, and it will be a Ralph Houk shock if it isn't Terry Francona.

News and notes
  • The distinguished Brothers Hendricks have left SFX.


  • Colorado has made an early push for Raul Mondesi, which would lead to a Jay Payton non-tender.

  • "One of the big concerns everyone has on Colon is that ligament in his elbow," said one GM. "It is ugly."

  • If you sense some apprehension in Baltimore about spending wildly, remember that David Segui, Marty Cordova and Omar Daal add up to $14.7 million in 2004.

  • Albert Belle has now graduated from Arizona State with his business degree.

  • Jeff Cirillo has had eye surgery and his agency group Beverly Hills SC is trying to broker some deal to get him out of Seattle, but attempts to get him back to Colorado apparently failed because the Rockies couldn't move Charles Johnson. Too bad, because Cirillo is a good guy who's spooked by the Seattle ballpark.

  • That Greg Maddux's name was hardly ever uttered is remarkable. Somehow, the money has to be worked out to get him to Pac Bell and San Francisco.

  • Bill James projects Manny Ramirez to have an 87 percent chance at hitting 500 homers, a 16 percent chance at 3,000 hits and a 29 percent chance at 600 homers, for some perspective.

  • How deep was Boston's lineup last year? Production out of the nine hole was 24 homers, 93 RBI and a .910 OPS. Compare that to the cleanup hole production of the Dodgers (26 HR, 78 RBI, .754 OPS), Devil Rays (14 HR, 61 RBI, .710 OPS) and Orioles (19 HR, 99 RBI, .787 OPS). Yikes.

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