It was only a week ago that Expos GM Omar Minaya was talking like a man who didn't feel much pressure to trade Javier Vazquez any time soon. But here's why he changed his mind, according to a variety of sources:
1) Minaya had a conversation with Vazquez in which Vazquez told him he'd prefer to be traded and couldn't envision himself re-signing with the Expos next winter after he became a free agent.
2) As Minaya began calling around, he found his options for dealing Vazquez were more limited than he'd originally thought. The Angels signed Kelvim Escobar. The Phillies traded for Eric Milton. And the Red Sox dealt for Curt Schilling. So the teams with both the dollars to spend and the players to give up were dwindling in a hurry.
3) With Bartolo Colon, Kevin Millwood, Andy Pettitte, Greg Maddux and Sidney Ponson still out there as free agents, Minaya felt that if he waited until the winter meetings and those free agents began to sign elsewhere, he might have even fewer options. So with the Yankees pressing him for an answer and only the Yankees and Braves left as serious bidders by Wednesday, Minaya took the best offer -- from New York.
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According to one baseball man, the Vazquez deal almost happened Wednesday night. But the Yankees initially balked at giving up Johnson without getting a 72-hour window to negotiate an extension with Vazquez. By Thursday, though, they were willing to take their chances. And every indication is that Vazquez is interested in a longer-term deal that would keep him in New York.
The Yankees continue to sound confident that they'll re-sign Pettitte. But officials of two clubs who have spoken recently with either the Astros or Pettitte's agents, Randy and Alan Hendricks, say they think Pettitte's chances of landing in Houston are stronger than ever.
The Astros have continuously denied that they've made an offer to Pettitte. But one NL executive says his understanding is that Houston has let Pettitte know informally that if he's serious, they're prepared to pay him $30 million over three years.
And an executive of one AL club went so far as to predict that Pettitte will sign with the Astros.
"This guy has already made a ton of money," the executive says. "And he's a family guy. He's not a New York guy. He's done the New York thing and done it very well. But my feeling is, if three for $30 million is there from Houston, he'll take it."
If Pettitte does listen to his inner Texan, don't look for the Yankees to turn to Kevin Brown. According to clubs that have spoken to the Yankees and Dodgers, that option was alive only as part of a three-team or four-team deal that would have ended with Richie Sexson in L.A. Once Sexson became a Diamondback, that killed the Brown-to-New York plot lines.
So with Vazquez traded -- an estimated savings of about $9 million -- it only increases the odds of Vladimir Guerrero returning to Montreal, with a contract backloaded so the big bucks get paid out once the Expos finally move.
The buzz is that the Orioles are prepared to offer Guerrero a five-year contract. But Guerrero is said by friends to prefer a team with a big population of Spanish-speaking, and preferably Dominican, players. And that's not Baltimore.
The Orioles have zero prominent Dominicans. And the only Dominicans (other than September call-ups) who were on their club at the end of last season were Willis Roberts, who was placed on waivers; Tony Batista and Deivi Cruz, who are free agents, and Jose Morban, who might not make the team.
The Orioles do have Melvin Mora, Jorge Julio, Rodrigo Lopez and Omar Daal from Venezuela. Their current roster also includes Luis Matos, from Puerto Rico, and Geronimo Gil, from Mexico. But that's closer to the demographics in Iowa than it is to what Guerrero has been used to in Montreal, where seven of the nine players in the opening-day lineup were from Latin America.