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Indians have plenty of talent to replace

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 6, 2002

The cover of the Indians' recently released 2002 calendar features 12 players.

The cover of the Indians' recently released 2002 calendar features 12 players.

Five of them -- Juan Gonzalez, Roberto Alomar and Kenny Lofton included -- have either been traded or left the team as free agents.

That summarizes Mark Shapiro's offseason. The Indians' first-year general manager was instructed to trim payroll by at least $17-million before the start of the 2002 season.

Cleveland has won six AL Central titles in the past seven seasons and did so last year after the Twins collapsed in the second half. Its losses will directly affect the offense.

Gonzalez, Alomar and Lofton batted .359 with runners in scoring position and .571 with the bases loaded last season. By comparison, teammates hit a combined .314 with the bases loaded.

"With our payroll being what it is, the challenge for us next year is that our best chance to contend and win another division title is to one, play to our potential, and, two, overachieve our potential as much as possible," said Shapiro, whose major offseason additions have been Ricky Gutierrez and Matt Lawton. "That can only happen when everyone is playing with passion and pride, and trying every day to get the most out of their abilities. We need a collection of players with those values in order to achieve those goals."

SPEAKING OF: Should Gonzalez, his agent and the Mets end weeks of posturing and agree on a contract for the All-Star outfielder as is expected this week, it sets up an intriguing interleague series for New York in mid June.

That's when the Indians host the Mets, who would have Cleveland's Nos. 3 and 4 hitters from a year ago in Gonzalez and Alomar.

BRAIN TEASE: The most bizarre series of transactions this offseason didn't involve players named Rocker or Everett.

It began when the Reds traded second baseman Pokey Reese, who made $3.2-million last season and is arbitration-eligible, and pitcher Dennys Reyes to the Rockies on Dec. 18 for Luke Hudson and Gabe White.

It continued the next day when the Rockies traded Reese to Boston for catcher Scott Hatteberg.

"I hope Colorado at least sends me a hat or a T-shirt," Reese said.

The Rockies nontendered Hatteberg, which allowed him to sign with Oakland on Dec. 29 to help fill the void left by Jason Giambi's departure. The Red Sox nontendered Reese, who is receiving interest from at least four teams yet could still sign in Boston.

So who benefited?

The Rockies view getting the left-handed Reyes as a bonus while also getting out of an obligation to pay the $5.825-million White is guaranteed for the next two seasons. The A's have a prospective first baseman.

LOOKING FOR THE NEXT ICHIRO: Teams have until the close of business on Monday to submit bids for the rights to Yakult Swallows left-handed pitcher Kaz Ishii.

Ishii, who went 12-6 with a 3.39 ERA last season, isn't expected to command as much as Ichiro Suzuki did when the Mariners bid $13-million for the future AL MVP and rookie of the year.

SWEET DEAL: If Expos owner Jeffrey Loria buys the Marlins from John Henry, it's likely that Montreal manager Jeff Torborg will follow his owner to Miami.

Torborg has a personal-services contract with Loria and could either serve as the manager or general manager.

CLOSING TIME: The Rays have closed their retail outlet at Brandon TownCenter, but will maintain a store at WestShore Plaza and also will continue to have a presence at BayWalk in St. Petersburg.

"Our lease was up and we decided to consolidate our resources and maintain the one store at WestShore Plaza," said John Higgins, Rays senior vice president and general counsel.

The outlet store had offered merchandise and tickets without a service charge.

ODDS AND ENDS: Rays manager Hal McRae and new hitting coach Milt May will conduct a hitting camp for a handful of the organization's top prospects next week at the Naimoli Complex. Of those expected to participate are Josh Hamilton and Carl Crawford. ... Alabama businessman Donald Watkins, who once was interested in buying the Rays, is expected to meet with Major League Baseball officials in New York on Thursday to express his desire to purchase the Twins.

THE LAST WORD: Royals manager Tony Muser vows to focus more on the positive and wants his players to be more relaxed.

Take Joe Randa, who has a reputation as the club's top complainer, for example.

Muser said he would like to reserve a spot on the clubhouse message board next spring for Randa to post his whine of the day.

"I'm honored that he's going to let me have my own space," Randa said.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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