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The Great Off-season Salary Dump begins

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 5, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Between the end of the World Series and the beginning of the free-agency period, general managers have 15 days to decide the future of their organizations, and thus, the focus of their off-season. Which often means dumping as many salaries as possible.

In the past week, the Padres declined salary options for a future Hall of Famer (Tony Gwynn) and a former All-Star second baseman (Bret Boone). The Cardinals did not pick up the option on a former Cy Young Award winner (Pat Hentgen). The Tigers cut loose an ex-Rookie of the Year (Hideo Nomo), and the Red Sox saved $20.5-million in 2001 salaries by not exercising options for pitchers Tom Gordon, Ramon Martinez, Pete Schourek and Tim Wakefield.

That group does not include teams that will show up at the general managers meetings in Amelia Island this week looking to trade players such as Johnny Damon, Tony Clark and Jeromy Burnitz.

The Marlins and Expos may have given salary dumping a bad name in the '90s, but the reality is that even the best teams need to know when to cut their losses. A salary saved in November can be spent in December.

So the Red Sox clear room for a possible run at Mike Mussina. The Dodgers would love to shed the salaries of Mark Grudzielanek, Carlos Perez and Devon White to chase Alex Rodriguez.

Even the Devil Rays could get involved. With Aubrey Huff's promising start and Vinny Castilla's $6-million salary, they could be tempted to move their third baseman to find money for a rightfielder. Cubs manager Don Baylor could have interest in reuniting with his Colorado third baseman, but Chicago supposedly is looking at Ken Caminiti.

In the past two years, players such as Shawn Green, Juan Gonzalez and Denny Neagle were dealt soon after the World Series. Those kinds of blockbuster trades may be delayed this year because of the quality of free agents available. Negotiations with Rodriguez, Gonzalez, Mussina, Mike Hampton and Manny Ramirez cannot begin until Saturday, so trades may be put on hold while teams try to determine their chance of getting free agents.

"I think a lot of teams are going to be playing a wait-and-see game until some of the big boys start signing," Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said. "There will be some trades at the (general managers) meetings, but I think most of the moves are going to come later, around the winter meetings."

IN LIEU OF LOU: Word in Cincinnati is that the Reds did not have the money to woo Lou Piniella from Seattle. Because Piniella would have cost at least $2-million a year, general manager Jim Bowden would have had to take money from his player payroll. When the Reds did not make an offer, Piniella grabbed Seattle's three-year deal.

HIDE THE PASTA: Here's a frightening thought: They are talking in Los Angeles about Tommy Lasorda possibly returning as a coach to help rookie manager Jim Tracy.

AWARDS TIME: The Baseball Writers Association of America awards will be presented beginning this week with the rookies of the year and managers of the year, followed by the Cy Young and MVP next week. Jerry Manuel and Dusty Baker are favorites for the managers honors, and Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez should repeat as Cy Young winners. Otherwise, the races could be tight. Seattle closer Kazuhiro Sasaki has the numbers for Rookie of the Year, but some voters may not consider him a rookie because he played professionally in Japan. Rafael Furcal and Rick Ankiel are the top candidates in the National League. Mike Piazza could win NL MVP if Giants teammates Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent split votes. The American League is a toss-up among Jason Giambi, Frank Thomas, Carlos Delgado and Rodriguez.

HOO RAYS: Registration is under way for the Devil Rays Baseball Camp on Dec. 27-29 at the Raymond Naimoli spring training complex. The camp, for boys and girls, is divided into two sessions based on age. The first session, for children 7-12, runs from 9 a.m.-noon and focuses on fundamentals. The second is for ages 13-17 and runs from 1-4 p.m. Cost is $125. For information, call (727) 825-3306 or visit the Web site http://www.devilrays.com. DECISIONS, DECISIONS: Juan Gonzalez appears ready to bolt from Detroit, but they are not exactly crowing in Texas. Justin Thompson, a key part of the Gonzalez trade, did not throw a pitch in 2000 because of a shoulder injury and could miss 2001 after further surgery. The Rangers face the dilemma of whether to tender him a contract -- at a $3-million minimum -- knowing he may not pitch next year. Otherwise, they risk losing him.

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

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