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Plenty of deals in the works
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
"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.
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
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
"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
"He's got a tattoo on his ankle that reads MLB," says one scout. "How great is that?"