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Grace okays deal to stay in Arizona

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 22, 2002

PHOENIX -- The Diamondbacks reached agreement Saturday on a one-year deal with first baseman Mark Grace.

Terms of the contract, which includes a club option for the 2004 season, were not announced, but Grace was believed to have taken a pay cut from the $3-million he earned last season.

Grace, 38, will serve mainly as backup and mentor to rookie Lyle Overbay, who will move up to the big club this spring after a highly successful run through the minors. Like Grace, Overbay is left-handed.

"I think Mark is excited about the prospect of working with Lyle," general manager Joe Garagiola said. "He remembers what it was like back when he was breaking in."

Grace lives in the Phoenix area with his wife and young son and had little interest in playing elsewhere, even for more money. The team also covets his clubhouse presence.

If Grace retires after this season, he has been assured a spot on the Diamondbacks broadcast crew as part of a handshake agreement he made with managing general partner Jerry Colangelo during the season. He also has indicated an interest in coaching and managing.

Grace, who signed with Arizona as a free agent in 2001 after 13 seasons with the Cubs, has a career .305 average with 170 home runs and 1,130 RBIs. A four-time Gold Glove winner, he appeared in 124 games for Arizona last season, batting .252 with seven homers and 48 RBIs.

His 506 career doubles rank fourth among active major-leaguers. He enters the 2003 season 82 hits shy of 2,500 in his career.

Ankiel moving to bullpen

ST. LOUIS -- Rick Ankiel, the star prospect whose career was undercut by control problems, will enter spring training as part of the Cardinal bullpen after missing almost all of last season with tendinitis in his left elbow.

"He feels good about it," manager Tony La Russa said Friday, adding that Ankiel embraces the role change as a challenge.

Ankiel is throwing at the team's spring training site in Jupiter. He won 11 games for the Cardinals as a starter in 2000 but has struggled to overcome record wildness that began during that season's playoffs.

The 23-year-old left-hander last pitched for St. Louis in May 2001 before he was sent to the minors. In March, in his only spring training start for the Cardinals, he left after two innings because of tendinitis and was placed on the disabled list.

Ankiel was considered among baseball's most promising young pitchers in 2000 as a 21-year-old rookie before facing Atlanta in Game 1 of the NL division series. He threw five wild pitches in the third inning, making him the first pitcher to throw five wild pitches in a major-league inning.

The switch is meant to lessen pressure on Ankiel, with the Cardinals believing the intense scrutiny associated with a start complicates his recovery.

INDIANS: Outfielder Chris Magruder signed a minor-league contract and was invited to spring training.

METS: Cliff Floyd passed his physical, finalizing his $26-million, four-year contract. The Mets have scheduled a news conference Monday at Shea Stadium to officially announce the deal. The team still needs to find a starting third baseman to replace Edgardo Alfonzo and a shortstop to play until rookie phenom Jose Reyes is ready to take over. After Norihiro Nakamura's decision to stay with the Kintetsu Buffaloes, the Mets will look at free-agents Bill Mueller and Jose Hernandez.

YANKEES: The team has obliged pitcher Roger Clemens' request to intensify negotiations in the last few days, and recent talks have been productive, the New York Times reported. Clemens, who has 293 career victories, is reportedly seeking $10-million or more for next season. The Yankees have wanted to keep the figure closer to $8-million. The differences now, agent Randy Hendricks said, "are strictly dollars on a one-year contract." General manager Brian Cashman said that if the Yankees signed Clemens, they would end what has become a lukewarm pursuit of Montreal right-hander Bartolo Colon.

CONTRERAS UPDATE: The Jose Contreras sweepstakes is likely to quickly produce a winner between the Red Sox and Yankees when the Cuban right-hander becomes eligible to sign Monday, the New York Daily News reported. Agent Jaime Torres has laid the groundwork with the Red Sox and Yankees and wants to get a deal done quickly. Torres is expected to command at least a three-year deal worth about $22-million, but would like to get a fourth year.

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