Now that Red Sox finally have trophy, everyone else trying to knock them off

Friday, February 11th 2005, 6:31 pm
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ As major league baseball spring training camps open next week from Florida to Arizona, there's a new team, new doping rules, and new champion to topple.

``We have a slogan around here: `Any group of schlemiels can win once,''' said Larry Lucchino, president of the World Series champion Boston Red Sox. ``We've got to win more than once.''

Batting stars Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield start spring training under unusual scrutiny, with the government investigation of illegal steroid distribution still hanging over them. Players and owners have agreed to more frequent testing for steroids and harsher penalties, but the deal still hasn't been put in writing.

``As a sport, we have done everything that we could at this point,'' commissioner Bud Selig said. ``There are immediate penalties, random testing, a player gets publicly named if heaven forbid he does test positively.''

That deal isn't the only new thing this spring. After years of trying to move, the Montreal Expos finally did. After 36 years in Quebec as Les Expos, the team was reborn in December and christened the Washington Nationals, the first MLB team in the nation's capital since the expansion Senators became the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season.

``It'll be fun to go down to spring training and see all the new faces and put on the new uniforms and stuff,'' closer Chad Cordero said.

Bought by the other 29 teams before the 2002 season, the franchise remains under control of the commissioner's office, and a sale to new owners is unlikely before opening day. That meant general manager Jim Bowden didn't have much to spend.

Other teams lavished fortunes on free agents during the offseason, with New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya making the biggest splash. Adding a Latin flair to New York's No. 2 team, he lured three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez from Boston for $53 million over four years, then signed Carlos Beltran to the biggest contract of the offseason, a $119 million, seven-year deal that convinced the All-Star center fielder to leave the Houston Astros.

``I call it the new Mets because this organization is going to a different direction, the right direction, the direction of winning,'' Beltran said.

Across town, the Yankees were still stunned from last October, when they not only lost to Boston in the American League championship series but became the first team in major league history to take a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series and lose.

Revamping their shaky starting staff, New York signed free agents Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, then acquired five-time Cy Young Award winner Randy Johnson from the Arizona Diamondbacks for Javier Vazquez, minor leaguers, and $10 million.

Boston, trying to win back-to-back titles for the first time since 1915-16, added David Wells and Matt Clement to replace Martinez and Derek Lowe, who signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and stole shortstop Edgar Renteria from the St. Louis Cardinals. The Dodgers brought in outfielder J.D. Drew and shipped Shawn Green to Arizona, trying to rebound from a 111-loss season. Under new ownership, the Diamondbacks spent $45 million on third baseman Troy Glaus, and $33 million on pitcher Russ Ortiz.

Seattle, which lost 99 games, took first baseman Richie Sexson from the Diamondbacks for $50 million and third baseman Adrian Beltre from the Dodgers with a $64 million deal.

Anaheim, which tasted success when it won the 2002 World Series, also made some moves. Owner Arte Moreno renamed the franchise the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, even though it's about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from Tinseltown, and brought in shortstop Orlando Cabrera and outfielder Steve Finley.

Florida, coming off the 2003 World Series title, missed the playoffs last year and went into the market to sign first baseman Carlos Delgado and pitcher Al Leiter.

Sammy Sosa was another big name to move, accepting a trade to the Baltimore Orioles from the Chicago Cubs, where he had worn out his welcome after bolting early on the last day of last season. Even with Sosa, it's hard to envision the Orioles overtaking New York and Boston in the big-money AL East.

``All the problems I had in Chicago, it's in the past. What happened, happened,'' Sosa said. ``Just like a marriage, sometimes you just have to get a divorce. We're all smart guys. We know it was time to move on.''

Roger Clemens, 42, coming off his record seventh Cy Young Award, made news by staying put. After saying for the second straight offseason that he intended to retire, he signed an $18 million contract with Houston, the highest salary for a pitcher in MLB history. The Rocket helped the Astros come within a game of their first World Series appearance and remembered being honored at halftime of a Houston Texans' NFL game in November.

``You got 60,000 people chanting, 'One more year!' That stuck with me,''' he said.

Bonds, who won his seventh National League MVP Award last year and raised his home-run total to 703, will be missing from the field for much of spring training, following knee surgery last month. The San Francisco Giants expect him to be ready for opening day, when he resumes his quest to overtake Babe Ruth (714) and Hank Aaron (755).