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Points to ponder as spring training opens

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Before spring training gets under way, here are a half-dozen people and issues to follow the next six weeks:

Have Bat, Will Hit: Rickey Henderson is well within range of the 3,000-hit club, but is without a job. The Reds have interest, but only if he agrees to be a part-time player. Henderson, 42, has hit .254 the past five seasons, but has averaged 102 walks and 44 stolen bases. He is 86 hits away.

Have Bat, Will Hit, Part II: Harold Baines has been invited to spring training with the White Sox, but must earn a spot on the roster. Baines, who turns 42 next month, is 145 hits from 3,000. He has had 145 hits or more only once in the last 11 years. Baines could join Frank Robinson as the only players of the last 50 years to retire within 150 hits of 3,000.

Looking for That Old Magic: John Smoltz is throwing as well as ever after missing last season because of elbow surgery. If he proves in the spring he is ready, the Braves should be on their way to a 10th straight division title.

Turmoil Test: Ivan Rodriguez has a habit of showing up late for spring training and has never been known as a model teammate. Rodriguez says he will appear on time this spring and swears he has no problem making about one-third as much money as new teammate Alex Rodriguez. His attitude this spring should give the Rangers an idea of what to expect the rest of the year.

Far East Meets AL West: The Mariners have lost Rodriguez and Ken Griffey in the past 12 months and still may have one of the most watched players in 2001. Ichiro Suzuki is the first position player from Japan to sign for big bucks in the United States, and manager Lou Piniella is talking about using him in the No. 3 spot formerly occupied by Junior and A-Rod. The Mariners even have a television deal in Japan because of Suzuki. Fans and executives in both countries will watch closely to see if he can cut it in the majors.

Heads Up: Chuck Knoblauch's throwing woes reached a crossroads in October when the Yankees kept him off the field during the post-season. He needs to prove in the next six weeks that he has his throwing problem under control.

NO MO PRODUCTION: In his final three seasons in Boston, Mo Vaughn hit .326 and averaged 40 home runs and 118 RBI. Assuming he does not play this season after surgery on his left biceps last week, Vaughn will have hit .276 with an average of 23 home runs and 75 RBI in his first three seasons with the Angels. Anaheim has insurance to cover most of Vaughn's $11-million salary this season, but must count on Jose Canseco and Wally Joyner to pick up the offensive slack.

SHUT UP AND PLAY: Sammy Sosa's posturing over a contract extension apparently has cost him some good will in Chicago. There was scattered booing when Sosa was introduced at the Cubs convention last weekend. "It's a free country," Sosa said. "Whatever they feel like they have to do, that's okay." At least the fans are liberal with their contempt. General manager Andy MacPhail also was jeered.

SAVE ME: The list of remaining free agents is thin, but among those are Randy Myers, John Wetteland, Rick Aguilera and Doug Jones. At the end of 2000, they were Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 in active save leaders. Jones and Wetteland have said they are retiring and Myers has not pitched in two years because of arm woes.

HERE AND THERE: Pirates rightfielder John Vander Wal, coming off a career year with a .299 average and 94 RBI, is unhappy his job has been handed to free-agent acquisition Derek Bell. Vander Wal has requested a trade. ... Phillies manager Larry Bowa essentially has given rookie Jimmy Rollins the starting job at shortstop. ... The Rockies appear resigned to losing first-round draft pick Matt Harrington, who turned down a $4-million signing bonus in September. ... Billy Taylor, who spent about six weeks with the Rays last season and went 1-3 with an 8.56 ERA, has been invited to camp with Pittsburgh as a non-roster player.

TAKE MY FIRST BASEMAN, PLEASE: The Athletics apparently do not have a sense of humor. When Jason Giambi attended a banquet in New York to pick up his MVP award, he was seated between Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and Mets general manager Steve Phillips. Both executives made jokes about Giambi's impending free agency after this season. The A's have filed a complaint with the commissioner's office.

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

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