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Inside Baseball

Oct. 26, 1998
Oct. 26, 1998

Table of Contents
Oct. 26, 1998

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Inside Baseball

START THE BIDDING
Kevin Brown could be the key to a robust free-agent signing
period

This is an article from the Oct. 26, 1998 issue

Padres general manager Kevin Towers has no beef with his Rockies
counterpart, Bob Gebhard. But that doesn't guarantee that Towers
won't visit good ol' Bob's office in Denver in the off-season,
kick him in the shins and steal some pencils. Nothing personal,
of course. Strictly business.

For the past six weeks the Rockies have had a scout attending
all the games started by San Diego ace Kevin Brown. Brown, who
can become a free agent after the World Series, is holding a
winning lottery ticket as one of 1999's top catches. Colorado
has made no secret of its interest. Neither have Towers and the
Padres, who will make Brown (18-7, 2.38 ERA) the top priority
among their potential free agents, a group that also includes
third baseman Ken Caminiti, centerfielder Steve Finley, first
baseman Wally Joyner and catcher Carlos Hernandez. "Without
Brownie, we're not in the World Series," Towers said last week.
"He's made as big an impact as you possibly can. We want him
here for a long time."

One problem. While John Moores and Larry Lucchino, San Diego's
owners since '94, have increased the payroll to keep the Padres
competitive, they might be competing against a man--Colorado
owner Jerry McMorris--who is fast becoming the George
Steinbrenner of the West. The Rockies recently lured Jim Leyland
away from the Marlins with a three-year deal at $2 million
annually, the highest salary ever for a manager, and are likely
to pursue free-agent catcher Mike Piazza, who should command
more than $10 million per year. Colorado may offer Brown a deal
similar to the $12.5 million a year that Boston gave to Pedro
Martinez last November.

Brown, who won't say much on the matter, does offer that if the
money's right, he'd like to stay with San Diego. "I hope it works
out here," he says. "I enjoy the team, the community. It's been a
nice fit."

Last year at this time the pitcher Towers coveted was free-agent
Houston ace Darryl Kile, but the Rockies wound up signing him to
a three-year, $24 million deal. Kile and his killer curveball
then proved ineffective in Denver (17 losses, 5.20 ERA). Don't
expect the same from Brown, however. His 97-mph fastball won't
lose speed in the thin air, and his killer sinker will still sink.

"I'm a realist," says Towers. "Dollar for dollar, we're going to
have a tough time matching the [high-revenue] clubs. But a lot of
our guys have taken less to stay in San Diego. I'd like to think
that Brownie has enjoyed playing here, and maybe he'll want to
stay."

Free-Agent Scramble
THE DOMINO THEORY

Should Brown decide that he'd enjoy having a fat bank balance
more than he likes the gentle breezes of San Diego, he could set
off a chain reaction that will greatly affect the other
free-agent signings. Here are some of the dominoes that may fall
if Brown relocates.

--Mike Piazza probably won't end up in Colorado if Brown signs
with the Rockies. Huge attendance or not, the Rockies already
have $43.6 million tied up next year in 11 players--most
prominently Kile, rightfielder Larry Walker and leftfielder
Dante Bichette--and they are unlikely to spend more than $20
million on two additional players.

--A wild card in all this could be the Indians, whose need for
an ace was evident yet again this postseason. Cleveland, which
is interested in Orioles free-agent second baseman Roberto
Alomar, is expected to make a strong bid to acquire Atlanta's
16-game winner, Denny Neagle, who would solidify the Indians'
rotation. The Braves would surely ask for reliever Paul Shuey in
return, but the Indians are loath to put the hard-throwing
righty on the market.

--No matter where Brown signs, his package will be closely
watched by Astros lefthander Randy Johnson, who wants one more
rich, multiyear contract and has hinted that he won't return to
the National League. Although Johnson went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA
for the Astros the last two months of the regular season, there
are questions about the 35-year-old's durability. When Johnson
pitched against San Diego in the National League Division
Series, Padres pitching coach Dave Stewart was shocked that his
fastball was clocked at 91 mph--tops. "The difference from what
we're used to seeing was huge," says Stewart. "Throwing 90 is
still good, but it's not unusual. Heck, I've seen him throw 96,
97, 98. I guess he was tired--it's been a long year for him. But
he's also getting up there in age. I don't know what he has left."

Heard at the World Series
LITTLE HOPE FOR DAVEY LOPES

Davey Lopes, the Padres first base coach, has interviewed for
four manager's jobs in the last three years without ever getting
called back for a second interview. Lopes, who is
African-American, does not blame this on his race so much as on
his reputation. During his 16-year playing career, Lopes was
tagged as a cantankerous, ornery guy. "I've pretty much accepted
it," says Lopes. "I don't believe I'll ever get a chance to
manage." San Diego players and coaches say Lopes has as much
baseball knowledge as anyone in the game. "He'd be a great
manager," says Kevin Towers, the Padres' G.M. "The problem is, I
think a lot of general managers want a guy they feel comfortable
with immediately. Maybe Davey doesn't give that warm first
impression, but he knows the game."...

Keep an eye on the internecine battles in Toronto, where Blue
Jays skipper Tim Johnson had his problems in '98, his first year
as a big league skipper. By the end of the season Johnson and
pitching coach Mel Queen were openly feuding, and several
veterans were tiring of Johnson's rah-rah attitude.
Nevertheless, he got Toronto into the wild-card hunt after the
club dumped Juan Guzman, Tony Phillips, Ed Sprague and Mike
Stanley before the trading deadline, and Randy Myers a week
later. Also credit Johnson for developing young outfielders
Shawn Green and Shannon Stewart. Johnson and Queen were
scheduled to meet this week with general manager Gord Ash to
clear the air....

During the National League Championship Series against San
Diego, Braves closer Kerry Ligtenberg shocked teammates by
shaving his trademark lamb-chop sideburns. "I was tired of
looking like a dirtbag," he said. "Besides, I wanted to change
our luck." Didn't work.

COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. After his stellar season in '98, Brown could be wooed away by a Rocky Mountain-high salary. [Kevin Brown pitching in game]COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA [Roberto Alomar sliding in game]

GUNS FOR HIRE

After the World Series concludes, more than 150 players will be
eligible for free agency--give or take a couple of dozen whose
teams can exercise options to keep them. Here are the 10 players
(in alphabetical order) who should command the most attention,
if they decide to test the free-agent waters.

Player, Team Position 1998 Stats 1998 Salary

Roberto Alomar, Orioles (above) 2B .282, 14 homers $6.3 mil.
Kevin Brown, Padres P 8-7, 2.38 ERA $4.8 mil.
Ken Caminiti, Padres 3B .252, 29 homers $3.5 mil.
Randy Johnson, Astros P 19-11, 3.28 ERA $6 mil.
Brian Jordan, Cardinals OF .316, 25 homers $3.7 mil.
Al Leiter, Mets P 17-6, 2.47 ERA $3 mil.
Rafael Palmeiro, Orioles 1B .296, 43 homers $6.5 mil.
Mike Piazza, Mets C .328, 32 homers $8 mil.
Mo Vaughn, Red Sox 1B .337, 40 homers $6.6 mil.
Bernie Williams, Yankees OF .339, 26 homers $8.3 mil.