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Yankees top list of contenders in race for coveted free agent Holliday

Outfielder Matt Holliday, probably the biggest free agent about to be on the market -- John Lackey and Jason Bay are the only other in-their-prime stars -- is said by a friend to love the idea of going to the Yankees.

After the Yankees, whom Holliday supposedly loves for their mystique -- and realistically, we'd have to assume their money -- he is believed to like the Dodgers, Angels and Mets, perhaps in that order.

"He just loves the idea of going to the Yankees. He loves the whole aura," the friend said.

Curiously, all of the thought-to-be preferred choices are in major markets on both coasts, which would be a switch for the Oklahoma product who's thrived in Denver and St. Louis (except for three days, anyway). Holliday batted .353 in St. Louis after struggling at .286 in Oakland this year, and he rebuilt his value by hitting .357 after the All-Star break and posting a 1.047 OPS, which was second best in baseball to the Cubs' Derrek Lee. Interestingly though, the Cardinals, who say they will make an all-out effort to re-sign him, are said by the friend not to be at the top of his preferred list. Holliday very much enjoyed playing in St. Louis, though, and appreciates the Cardinals' keen interest. So they are still likely to be in the mix.

Here is a look at the potential contenders for Holliday and their chances to take the big plunge. (In the L.A. Times, agent Scott Boras compared Holliday to Mark Teixeira, who got $180 million as a free agent last year.)

1. Yankees: They have a trio of corner outfield free agents -- Johnny Damon, Xavier Nady and Hideki Matsui (though he's only DHing this year). They could just try to keep Damon, who wants to return, for maybe $7 million to $9 million a year for two years, and sign a big pitcher instead (though Lackey's the only No. 1-type pitcher available, and some believe he may prefer Texas). "I'm not absolutely positive we're going to go for [Holliday]," a Yankees official said. Although, it's hard to remember too many years when the Yankees didn't go for the biggest free agent. (Carlos Beltran was a rare one they passed on.)

2. Dodgers: But if Manny Ramirez opts to pick up his $20 million player option -- and one Dodgers person said, "he has to pick it up now" as a make-good for what transpired this spring -- there wouldn't appear to be room for Holliday.

3. Angels: They tried to keep Bobby Abreu for $16 million over two years, and while he didn't accept, he said he'd like to return. But left fielder Juan Rivera is only an average bat in left field and they may let Vladimir Guerrero leave. The Angels are a great organization, but they seem to refrain from outbidding others for the biggest stars -- while they got Torii Hunter for $90 million before the '08 campaign, they failed to sign Teixeira and CC Sabathia before this season. They were outbid by a combined $81 million by the Yankees on Teixeira and CC (and missing out on CC has particularly come back to haunt them, as he has logged two wins against the Halos in the ALCS).

4. Mets: The last time the Mets were a backup plan to the Yankees for an outfielder was when they got Beltran, who so wanted to go to the Bronx he offered to do so for $98 million -- which was $21 million less than the Mets offered him. Holliday is said to be preferred by Mets people to Bay as a gung-ho clubhouse presence and a little better bat.

5. Red Sox: Their biggest mistake last winter was letting Teixeira go to the Yankees, and now with Bay a free agent, they are going to need to sign at least one big bat (and two if they want to match the Yankees' lineup). They could also chase Adrian Gonzalez or even take a peek at Abreu, who fits their hitting profile.

6. Cardinals: Holliday absolutely tore it up in St. Louis, and manager Tony La Russa is a major supporter. They say they are going to go hard for Holliday, but they also understand they won't be the high bidder. Looks like a long shot today.

7. Giants: GM Brian Sabean's summer pickups of Freddy Sanchez and Ryan Garko barely made a ripple. They knew they needed a big bat, but understood they wouldn't be able to pry away Holliday from the rival cross-Bay A's. A perfect fit, except that their park is a neutralizer for right-handed power.

8. Braves: Word is, they seek power from a corner spot, and they know Holliday's done his best work as a National Leaguer. The Braves rebuilt their rotation last winter. Now it's time to work on the offense.

9. Mariners: They have the money and could use the power. They once gave big contracts to Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre. But they may be in over their heads here. What's more, they need to save their shekels for King Felix.

10. Field: Orioles and Nats tried for Teixeira. Cubs could take a run if they can unload Alfonso Soriano (good luck with that).

Manny Ramirez was lying back on his chair, his feet up on an adjacent chair, his head back and a look of total relaxation on his face. If anyone was a picture of peace, he was it.

Yet, the writers from Los Angeles were worried.

"Do you sense any desperation?" one asked.

"It's just baseball, you know," Manny said.

"Pressure?"

"No, life is good," Manny said.

Why even ask?

When it comes to pressure, it's pretty obvious Ramirez ranks somewhere between impervious and oblivious. Ramirez doesn't even necessarily give the impression he knows what's happening in the series, and it should have shocked no one when he revealed that he was showering when Jimmy Rollins hit the game-winning double in Game 4. "When I came out, everyone was turning the TVs off," he said.

The only surprise was that he definitely sensed he revealed too much about his whereabouts when a follow-up questioner sounded stunned while asking him to repeat that.

"I don't want to talk about that," Manny said. "Next question."

Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who always seems to have the perfect answer scripted in his head before the question comes, explained later that "Manny has so much confidence" in the team, and is "such a cool customer." That's surely part of it, anyway.

Torre also said Manny's frequently in street clothes for the congratulatory handshakes. "It's nothing different than he's done before," said Torre, before allowing, "The way it turned out, it probably doesn't look too good."

No it doesn't. But in the end, it's fair to say the relaxation mode works for him.

For good or bad, the Dodgers are one loose bunch. Nobody's quite as loose as Manny, of course. But their entire young nucleus seems fairly carefree, as well. "Ain't nobody worried. We all good," the chatty, peppy Orlando Hudson said, using broken English for emphasis.

One exception could be closer Jonathan Broxton, a quiet guy who seemed sullen the day after allowing Rollins' game-winning hit that put the Dodgers on the cusp of elimination. (Torre said he talked twice to Broxton to let him know he has faith in him and he's going to keep getting the ball.)

The everyday nucleus is a fun bunch, though. The 20-somethings in their everyday lineup aren't maybe quite as relaxed as Manny, but they aren't going to let the situation spoil their day, either.

It has occurred to Torre how different this group is from his young Yankees nucleus in the '90s, and he wasn't surprised to be asked about that dichotomy. Torre called those Yankees teams "intense" and "very good baseball tight." While suggesting this group is quite different, he praised this one, too, saying "the core group of young players is very confident."

With those Yankees teams, Torre said he even often had to remind them to have some fun. He gave such a speech to them with the team down 2 games to 1 to the Indians in 1998. After listening respectfully to Torre's speech about enjoying themselves that year, Paul O'Neill came up to him in the meeting and said, "It's not fun unless you win, skip."

For good or bad, these Dodgers don't appear to have that same issue.

A couple of their young players earned a bit of a late-night rep in 2008. "Last year early in the year we sort of had to reel them in a little bit," Torre said. "But they never really lost the fun of playing the game, which is good. Yeah, we keep an eye on it, there's no question."

Those Yankees, "intense" and "a lot more serious-minded" according to Torre, won four out of five World Series.

The Dodgers will try to win one with a totally different demeanor.

• The Dodgers rewarded GM Ned Colletti with what everyone described as a "very long" contract after an excellent year of work in which he obtained several useful pieces, including their Game 5 starter Vicente Padilla for $80 grand. Nobody would say exactly how long. Josh Byrnes, GM of the rival Diamondbacks, is believed to have the longest current contract of any GM; he's signed through 2015.

• Before the Dodgers gave new Padres owner Jeff Moorad permission to interview Dodgers assistant GM Kim Ng, Colletti tried to make sure Ng wasn't being used as a non-serious token minority candidate. So Colletti asked Moorad beforehand if this was a serious interview. After Colletti received an assurance it was, Ng went for the interview. Serious or not, others characterize her as a longshot in the derby that also includes Red Sox assistant GM Jed Hoyer.

• Dodgers hitting coach Don Mattingly had a phone interview with Indians GM Mark Shapiro and is expected to have the option to talk more about their managerial job. The Nationals also contacted the Dodgers about him in their search for a new manager. However, Mattingly is considered the heir apparent to Torre, and it's hard to imagine him giving up his chance to become Dodgers manager, even if it means starting a year earlier. "The Dodgers have been great to me," Mattingly said.

• Worst October? A) closers, B) base runners, C) umpires, D) weathermen. (My answer below.)

Alex Rodriguez has made up for Octobers past. He and Ryan Howard have had an RBI in all eight of their postseason games.

• The Rockies haven't taken any action yet but are going to offer new deals for GM Dan O'Dowd and manager Jim Tracy.

Matt Stairs noted how he saw that Broxton, who walked Stairs on five pitches in the winning Game 4 rally, said he was trying to make him chase pitches out of the strike zone. But Stairs said, "It's kind of hard to chase when he's throwing 100 mph." Stairs, who hit a game-changing homer off Broxton in last year's NLCS, also said that his goal every at-bat is "to see how far I can hit it." Stairs added, "It might not be the smartest approach. But it's worked pretty good. I'm not going to change at 41."

• Phillies closer Brad Lidge revealed that there are two differences that have enabled him to regain his form: 1) with his knee feeling better, he was able to get back to his old mechanics (for a while, he altered his windup to lessen the knee pain, he said); and 2) Stairs detected a flaw in his mechanics that enabled hitters to see the ball too well and soon.

• My order for "Worst October": 1) base runners (awful), 2) umpires (putrid), 3) closers (blowups by Huston Street, Joe Nathan, Ryan Franklin, Jonathan Papelbon, Brian Fuentes and Broxton) and 4) weathermen (they occasionally get it right).

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