GMs Wait Out Offseason Movement

Monday, November 6th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. (AP) — Four players hold the key to this offseason's movement in baseball.

Until Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Mike Hampton and Mike Mussina decide where they will play next year, everyone else's plans will be on hold.

``There's a lot of shopping and a lot of talking, but not a lot of action yet,'' Boston general manager Dan Duquette said Sunday, echoing the sentiment of many of his colleagues at the GM meetings.

There are at least a dozen teams in the running for the big four free agents, including the Red Sox, who are targeting Mussina. Those teams are unwilling to spend money or fill holes with lesser players until they know where they stand in the big sweepstakes.

Until the free-agent market plays itself out, you won't see much movement on trades,'' said Mets general manager Steve Phillips, who could be involved with all four superstars. ``Most trade discussions are held in conjunction or secondary to the free-agent market.''

The Mets have already made offers to free-agent pitchers Rick Reed and Turk Wendell, and could resolve their contracts before they are free to negotiate with other teams beginning Saturday.

That's the first day teams other than Seattle can talk money with Rodriguez, the head of this year's free-agent class.

A-Rod is one of the top offensive players in the game at the mostly defensive position of shortstop. At 25, he has most of his career ahead of him.

Agent Scott Boras has prepared a 50-page document detailing the qualities of his client, who hit .316 with 41 homers and 132 RBIs this season.

``When it comes to power hitters, the sluggers, the guys who can drive in 120 RBIs, MVP-type players, in this certain timeframe between 27 and 35, the longer the owners wait to lock them in, the better for the player,'' said Boras, who will probably make Rodriguez baseball's highest-paid player.

``Patience is a virtue for the slugger. Patience is a virus from the club's standpoint.''

Boras, who cut off negotiations with Seattle before the season, also clarified remarks from Rodriguez that he won't sign with the Yankees, who already have his buddy, Derek Jeter, at shortstop.

``We think it was maybe a misunderstanding or something. He was talking about playing them in the American League championship series,'' Boras said. ``I spent five days with him on the subject. He's hasn't dismissed any team.''

Cleveland GM John Hart, one of the other major players this week, arrived Sunday and immediately huddled with his assistants as the Indians mull over a counterproposal to Ramirez's $200 million, 10-year request. They expect to respond to Ramirez's agent, Jeff Moorad, by Tuesday.

Cleveland also is pursuing a fallback plan that could include signing a starting pitcher and a lesser outfielder to make up for Ramirez's .351 average, 38 homers and 122 RBIs in only 439 at-bats.

The Indians are interested in pitchers like Mussina, Denny Neagle and Darren Dreifort, as well as outfielder Ellis Burks.

``This is a good place to lay the groundwork,'' Cleveland assistant general manager Mark Shapiro said.

The Yankees, who will be a leading contender in the Ramirez sweepstakes, decided they want to keep their current right fielder, Paul O'Neill.

The Yankees appeared willing to let O'Neill go as he struggled down the stretch because of age and injuries. But a .474 batting average in the World Series apparently changed GM Brian Cashman's mind and it looks likely that O'Neill will sign a one-year deal.

``Brian called me and said they want to bring Paul back,'' agent Joe Bick said. ``We hope to get it done this week.''

Last season's movement was dominated by trades, not free agents, as players such as Ken Griffey Jr., Hampton, Shawn Green, Juan Gonzalez and Carl Everett were sent packing one year before becoming free agents.

This year, the top names available are on the free-agent market, which also includes players like Gonzalez, Charles Johnson, John Wetteland, Mark Grace, Todd Hundley, Pat Hentgen, Andy Ashby and David Segui.

``With as comprehensive a free-agent class as it is, the sexier talk is about free agents, not the trade market,'' Phillips said.