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Notes from around the majors

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The Olympic Committee has an important conference call Tuesday, but at this point Bob Watson and his associates have found it's a lot easier to put together a team for summer events like last year's Pan Am Olympic qualifier than the Olympic Games in Sydney in September. Before getting around to teams like the Red Sox, Yankees and Orioles, who have undermined the effort, the big problem is September callups.

The Indians, for instance, have five minor leaguers that the Olympic Committee would like to use -- shortstop John McDonald, outfielder Russell Branyan, left-handed pitcher C.C. Sabathia, outfielder Dave Roberts and first baseman Danny Peoples. Of the five, the only one that may be available is Peoples, as McDonald is Cleveland's best backup shortstop, Roberts is the one player they could use to come off the bench and steal a base and Sabathia may get a start or two as the Indians play 32 games in the 30 days of September.

The committee would like to get Giants right-hander Kurt Ainsworth and Reds shortstop Gookie Dawkins, but they may not be available. Some of the young prospects still under serious consideration are Tigers catcher Brandon Inge, Tampa Bay second baseman Brent Abernathy, Toronto shortstop Felipe Lopez, Astros shortstop Adam Everett, Astros second baseman Keith Ginter, Cubs center fielder Corey Patterson, Expos outfielder Brad Wilkerson, White Sox right-handers Matt Ginter and Jon Rauch, Mariners left-hander Ryan Anderson (if he is healthy), Brewers righty Ben Sheets, Royals lefty Chris George and Oakland reliever Bert Snow.

The U.S. is being realistic, especially in the fact that the Japanese are using several major league top-line starting pitchers. Japan and Cuba are the heavy favorites, while the U.S. will be fortunate to make it to the final round because it will have to oust either Korea, which hopes to have Boston's Sun Woo Kim, or Australia to get there.

Speaking of Cubans, third baseman Andy Morales, a two-time escapee, will head off this week to get citizenship that will get him free agency. With Morales, a 27-year-old with good hands, a strong arm and power, escaped with his cousin Carlos Castillo, a shortstop. Because Morales' in-laws live in Miami, he expects his wife and seven-month old daughter to be allowed to leave Cuba shortly. But Morales revealed that Kendry Morales, an outfielder/pitcher who may be, at 16, the best young player in Cuba, is not actually related to him. If you want to see someone get big free agent bucks, get Kendry Morales out to Costa Rica.

Carlos Beltran
The Royals had high expectations for Carlos Beltran, the 1999 AL Rookie of the Year.
Around the majors
It's getting to the point where you wonder if players and owners 1) can ever try to get rich together and 2) agree it is a team game. The grievance that will be heard in 10 days on Carlos Beltran is an indication that the Players Association and the lawyers think the concept of team is trash.

Beltran, who had to be benched for lackadaisical play while hitting .247 with six homers this season, was sent to Florida to rehab, as is the case with all Royals players. He refused, after being convinced to do so by his agent Scott Boras and the union, who believe the individual is always greater than the team.

Relations don't seem to be getting better as a major 2002 showdown lurks on the horizon, and while traditionally the union has counted on divided ownership, bad negotiators and help from the National Labor Relations Board, the landscape may have changed to the point where ownership may pull an NBA-type lockout. The player landscape has changed, and if the New York lawyers don't understand some of the resentment, they'll be mistaken.

In 1994 the big-market coalition was around a dozen teams, but that may be down to the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers and perhaps one or two others now. And where once whoever negotiated needed complicated forms of consensus, Bud Selig will negotiate as he feels he must, and while some think Selig would never allow a second shutdown in his administration, he is more interested in changing the playing field back to the point where the small- and medium-market teams have a chance. Now, the only place the small markets can compete is for minor-league free agents, as evidenced by the fact that at the deadline after the Yankees added a pro-rated two-month total of $7.9 million to their payroll to top the $113 million mark, while the A's were able to only add a pro-rated total of $100,000.

Looking ahead
Right now, clubs are looking to the free-agent market and wondering what's out there for them. Here's a few things they're thinking:

  • "Chipper Jones' deal ($15 million per six years) may put a cap on the positional free agents other than Alex Rodriguez," says one GM. "Manny Ramirez isn't going to get more than that. If Cleveland signs Juan Gonzalez, it will probably be for $8 or $9 million."

  • Where does Darren Dreifort stand? He has great stuff, and can be very intriguing, but a scout following the Dodgers says, "look how they've backed off him because of his arm. Since the break, he's pitched on extra rest in most of his starts." Actually, twice in four starts.

  • "It will be interesting to see how the A-Rod thing plays out," says another. "To sign him would push the Mets or Dodgers over $100 million, unless the Mets decide -- and it's unlikely they will -- to let Mike Hampton go. What's more likely is that they'll sign Mike Bordick and try to find someone to take some of (Rey) Ordonez's salary. The Cubs? If Sammy Sosa stays, can they go that high? Seattle will push high, and Colorado can do him and stay around $70 million if he wants to assure his place in history."

  • "Does Boras know that by keeping Jason Varitek out of the game for two years that he's not only cost him millions on millions, but he's still got three years before free agency?" asks a third GM.

    Boras was quoted in the Boston papers as saying that he will go to arbitration if the Red Sox don't come in with a deal similar to Charles Johnson's. Varitek, who if he had signed with the Twins in 1993 would have likely been in the big leagues by the time he finally started playing pro ball in 1995, would be close to free agency and probably have already made over $10 million. Instead, after Boras rejected a long-term deal in spring training, Varitek is 29 with three years service time. And between injuries and the pressure of the contract, the diligent, intelligent and tireless catcher has had a down year this season. He also has the worst percentage of throwing out runners of any AL catcher with more than 50 attempts and a .207 average since the break. Varitek is still an All-Star catcher, when healthy and relaxed, but he hasn't been that way all year.

  • How about Kirk Rueter signing for three years and $15.6 million with the Giants, two months from taking the third-best lifetime winning percentage of any lefty in the last 30 years (after Randy Johnson and Andy Pettitte) onto the free agent market?

    "Kirk kept telling me it wasn't about money," says Giants assistant GM Ned Colletti. "He meant it." Darren Oliver got $19 million for three years while Brad Radke got $36 million for four years. It's amazing what the Giants put on the field for $54 milion.

    They have an innings horse in Livan Hernandez, Rueter, a former 18-game winner (Russ Ortiz) and a former 19-game winner (Shawn Estes), one of the game's best closers (Robb Nen), a Hall of Famer (Barry Bonds), a second baseman(Jeff Kent) with more 100 RBI seasons (four) than all but four players at his position in the history of the game, the best defensive first baseman in the world (J.T. Snow) who happens to hit .300. Kent at $6 million is one of the great contracts in the game. But players love San Francisco, they love the park and they love Dusty Baker.

  • "Is Montreal in or out as a real player?" asked a GM this week. They gave Chris Widger away, and essentially did the same with Rondell White (although GMs point out that the Yankees and Brewers had their three-way to get Jeromy Burnitz to the Yanks and Alfonso Soriano to Montreal had White not failed a Brewer physical), but still are on the books for Graeme Lloyd and the Hideki Irabu extension.

    Clearing up the waiver mess
    Here are a couple more waiver items:

    1. Moises Alou was claimed and pulled back.

    2. Oakland was not going to claim Jose Canseco. The problem with the Yankees claim is that they now have four DHs -- David Justice, Luis Polonia, Glenallen Hill and Canseco -- and no backup center fielder. What happens if, on the fourth of October, Bernie Williams tears a hamstring? Buster Olney of the New York Times wrote that because of that, Ryan Thompson may have a better chance of being on the postseason roster than Canseco. But put nothing past Brian Cashman, because he could go find a Ryan Christenson-type of center fielder and stick him in Columbus on Aug. 31 to have available for the postseason in the event of an injury.

    The whole claiming process is crazy. So, with the help of the commissioner's office, here are three suggestions to make the races more fair:

    1. Set the trading deadline back to June 15, when more teams are in it and less likely to deal.
    2. Freeze potential postseason rosters on Aug. 1, so that if a team has an injury, tough, they have to fill from within.
    3. Do away with September callups. Races shouldn't be decided by the 10 best players in the minors. To expand rosters past the 25-man limit and impact the outcome of pennant races runs against the integrity of the game.

    Houston, by the way, couldn't let Alou go without his permission. But look for the Astros to move him along with Daryle Ward and Jose Lima this winter (if for no other reason to get Lima away from the impressionable Octavio Dotel). Ken Caminiti, who was hitting .303 with 45 RBI in 59 games when he ruptured the tendon sheath in his ritght wrist, says right now he is inclined not to take less money to remain in Houston, which would prompt the Astros to let him go.

    But that can change, especially since Caminiti has a history of being emotional, loyal and willing to take less than the market value.

    This and that

  • It's long been believed that Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo is about the best in the business, and the leg kick trigger he gave Gabe Kapler to get him to stay back and stop jamming himself is a classic example. Look at the Rangers and you see Rusty Greer and three big-time outfield potentials (Ruben Mateo and Ricky Ledee in adition to Kapler). Along with that they have Mike Lamb, Royce Clayton, Jason Romano, Mike Young and Carlos Pena in the infield. They will be good again -- quickly -- and for a long time.

  • The Cape Cod League wasn't loaded with topflight 2001 draft-eligible prospects, but there was terrific freshmen (2002 draft) talent. The best by consensus was Rutgers right-handed pitcher Robert Brownlie, who throws 93-95 mph with a tight breaking ball, mound presence and a great body. The two best prospects in the long run may be University of Miami third baseman Kevin Howard and South Carolina shortstop Drew Meyer, freshmen who both struggled early but can really play.

  • Royals GM Allard Baird says he hopes he can re-sign pitcher Ricky Bottalico. "He's meant a lot to us in ways that don't get seen, especially helping young pitchers like Dan Reichert," says Baird. "I think this is a good fit, so we really want him back."

  • Red Sox minor-league field coordinator Dave Jauss thinks they may a developing jewel in Vladimir Guerrero's youngest brother Julio, who is now playing at Lowell in the New York-Penn League. "He's starting to grow, and he's found his spot in right field," says Jauss of the onetime $750,000 bonus baby who struggled during his first two pro seasons. "The problem is that he's got such a violent swing, like his brother, that until he grows a little more into his body he gets hurt. But he's got a chance to be a very special player."

  • Best description of Nomar Garciaparra, from Oakland GM Billy Beane: "He's Kirby Puckett. He plays with that same joy, that intensity, and he lifts all his teammates around him because of that. He impacts players the way Puck did."

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