By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
After the White Sox finalized the Bartolo Colon deal, Expos GM Omar Minaya called his counterpart with the Red Sox, Theo Epstein, to express continued interest in Shea Hillenband. But Minaya will not move Javier Vazquez and may be able to go to spring training without moving further payroll. The Mets are also continuing to try to work out some sort of deal for the Red Sox's All-Star third baseman, but now are talking to the Orioles about a Jeromy Burnitz-Tony Batista deal.
It's been a frustrating run for the Mets, who had a deal for the Royals' Joe Randa, only to have him invoke his no-trade clause to New York. Randa had earlier been dealt to the Cubs, only to have K.C. owner David Glass pull the plug on teh trade. So, the Royals may now be stuck with Randa's salary.
Baltimore continues to talk to Jose Cruz, Jr.. and Pudge Rodriguez, and GM Mike Flanagan says it's apparent the agents for both players have decided to take one-year deals for their clients and assume the market will re-open next offseason.
The Giants would like to sign Jose Hernandez, but have to move salary in order to do so. This is the reason why Felix Rodriguez could become available.
Reds GM Jim Bowden has worked hard to lock up potential free agent Danny Graves, and while Bowden is disappointed he hasn't been able to trade for an established starter, he says "we're as open to looking at kids like Josh Hall and Bobby Basham as we are the veterans (like Pete Harnisch). We have a lot of depth, so maybe we do a five-for-one in the spring."
Bowden has a lot of players out of options, which means that after a huge winter, outfielder Ruben Mateo may be available because he and Wily Mo Pena can't be sent back to the minors unless they clear waivers.
Graves, Barry Larkin and Adam Dunn are all working out with Ken Griffey Jr. in Orlando. In fact, Dunn is living at Griffey's house.
Boston is working on signing Jon Lieber, who might be ready for the stretch run after undergoing surgery. He would certainly be a significant addition for 2004.
The Mariners will be the first team to open spring training. Feb. 10 is the day the M's will start because they begin the season in Japan against Oakland. New Mariners manager Bob Melvin says that Ryan Franklin will be given every opportunity to be the club's fourth starter after Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia and Joel Pineiro.
By the way, reports on the progress of the injured Gil Meche, whose stuff is as fithy as anyone on the M's staff, are very encouraging.Ditto for Jeff Heaverlo.
"It's been a remarkable experience for me to work with (GM) Pat Gillick," says Melvin. "He really gets it, which is why he relates to everyone -- players, scouts, workers at the ballpark. I look at the team he has put together and I see depth, defense, pitching. I feel very fortunate, and extremely excited."
If Indians GM Mark Shapiro is right about the GM-manager partnership (Shapiro says he's very close and in tune with his new manager, Eric Wedge), the Gillick-Melvin partnership will be extremely successful.
Rangers manager Buck Showalter was relieved to get Ismael Valdes back at a fraction of the $7 million per year agent Scott Boras was asking for. "He did a good job for this team, and he's an experienced guy," says Showalter. "Give (GM) John Hart credit. We've added a lot of pitching depth, but John will have a ton of flexibility at the end of the season."
Incidentally, Showalter says Francisco Cordero has been throwing "lights out" in the Dominican League, which may insure that Cordero gets the big outs in a set-up role in front of closer Ugueth Urbina.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, of those with 20 or more starts, those who had the most significant improvement in the stetch as opposed to out of the stretch in 2002 were Colon (.758 OPS against out of the windup, .600 out of the stretch) and Barry Zito (.686 and .548 respectively). Those who had the biggest differentials throwing out of the stretch: Frank Castillo (OPS +.245 out of the stretch), Brad Radke (+.242), Danys Baez (+.201), A.J. Burnett (+.188) and Mike Mussina (+.184).
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