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Notes from Nashville

Special to

Dec. 15

NASHVILLE -- Some jottings from the lobby of the Opryland Hotel, where Whitey Bulger could have been hiding the last six years:

  • Expos GM Omar Minaya spent Sunday trying to get the Red Sox and Yankees into a battle for either Bartolo Colon or Javier Vazquez. The Yankees have a deal they can make -- Juan Rivera, Nick Johnson and Orlando Hernandez -- but New York would have to eat the El Duque contract. With Vazquez looking at $6.9 million in arbitration, that would cost George Steinbrenner between $11 million and $12 million against the luxury tax when factoring in Hernandez's contract.

    "Boston doesn't have the prospects, but it may have the cash," said one Expos official. "So we could get rid of our payroll cutting in one deal."

    Shea Hillenbrand would be in the deal, plus either Casey Fossum or Freddie Sanchez.

    But the key would be if Boston would take Fernando Tatis and the $6.75 million he is owed. Montreal thought the Red Sox would, so indications were that Boston would then get a couple of prospects.

    "There is no way in the world that we're taking Tatis," said a Red Sox executive. "No way."

    How does Boston come up with the money? The feeling is that the Red Sox might not be able to get Cuban defector Jose Contreras because of his immigration snafu.

    "He has 30 days to get his residency in Nicaragua or he has to get his residency in the U.S. and go into next June's draft.," said one major league official.

    So, where the Red Sox had counted on Contreras, they might take his money and go for more than $13 million in Tatis and Vazquez or Colon.

    That said, the Red Sox still think Contreras will be a free agent and that they will sign him. While Minaya pushed Colon, they want Vazquez. The Red Sox asked for minor-leaguers they could buy, and they will still talk about Jose Vidro, which Minaya doesn't seem to buy.

    Clearly, Minaya was trying to play Boston against New York, although the Red Sox would rather let the Yankees take Colon and leave Contreras to them. If the Yankees got Colon, that would be the end of Roger Clemens.

    And there's another theory.

    "The word is circulating that MLB doesn't want Omar to make a deal until the non-tenders (Dec. 20)," said an National League executive. "He can freeze a lot of people."

    Another problem for the Sox is that Clifford Floyd's agents are threatening to accept arbitration, which might cost Boston $9 million. With Jeff Kent out in San Francisco because of the Edgardo Alfonzo signing, there is speculation that the Dodgers could sign Kent to play first base at a lower price than Floyd would cost. Of course, if Boston could sign Kent to a two-year deal, that might change things.

    The Red Sox thought they had Alfonzo signed before the Giants stole him away. Boston had an offer for two years and an option that appeared to be a deal until the Giants stepped in with the four years. Alfonzo would have played third for Boston, with Hillenbrand moved for a reliever.

  • Earlier in the day, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein acquired Jeremy Giambi for pitcher Josh Hancock. "Giambi is an on-base machine," says Epstein. The best part is that Giambi has been obsessively dedicated to his conditioning this offseason in Tempe, Ariz. -- at the right time in his career. Billy Beane points out that Giambi "crushes" lefties, which gives Grady Little more flexibility, although the Sox are in the market for a right-handed hitter who can play first.

  • The Montreal deal also impacts Roger Clemens. "I think we can get Roger signed with the Yankees quickly if that's what they want," said Clemens' agent, Randy Hendricks. "The differences are that great. But if they choose not to bring him back, we'll move on. We already have an offer from another club for more money than the Yankees have offered, but Roger's first choice is to return to New York."

  • The Giants are not worried that Kent will accept arbitration and put them in a financial hole. "Both Jeff and his agent (Jeff Klein) have indicated that he wants a multiyear deal," said a Giants official. "They say he has one or two multiyear offers on the table. So we wish them well."

    "We're not sure what's happening," said Brian Sabean, who seemingly has bettered the Giants and given them much more speed around Barry Bonds in a remarkable whirlwind of signings. "We told Edgardo we don't know where he's playing. Or Durham. If Kent takes arbitration? We'll see. We're above budget, so we have work to do."

    Sabean is trying to find a home for Russ Ortiz, a pretty darned good pitcher. If Kent comes back? "We're always a work in progress," said Sabean.

  • The Mets put $4.25 million in the deal that sent Rey Ordonez to Tampa for Russ Johnson and a player to be named later. Originally, they were supposed to take Ben Grieve's $5.5 million salary to offset the Ordonez money, then planned to send Grieve to Boston for John Burkett. "We decided that we'd rather pay off the $4.25 million than have Burkett," says a Mets official. But Boston turned down an Andy Ashby-Burkett deal, as the Dodgers are trying to move Ashby's salary.

    Johnson won't be announced until after Monday's Rule 5 Draft. The Blue Jays will get pitcher Jason Arnold from Oakland in the four-way trade and the Jays also will eventually get outfielder John-Ford Griffin, but that will be part of a future deal.

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