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BASEBALL / ROSS NEWHAN

Free Agents, General Managers Take Their Show on the Road

November 22, 1998|ROSS NEWHAN

So, free- agent pitcher Randy Johnson and his agents were in Anaheim on Friday and Los Angeles on Saturday to meet with officials of the Angels and Dodgers.

The 1998 market has become a traveling road show. If it's not players peddling their wares like medicine men, it's general managers--and even owners--piling up frequent-flyer miles in pursuit.

"We were talking about it the other day," said Fred Uhlman Jr., the San Diego Padres' assistant general manager. "It's almost like recruiting at the college level now. At least we can buy them dinner, provide a limo and put them up in a hotel suite. With the NCAA, you can barely feed them."

Padre owner John Moores and General Manager Kevin Towers went to Macon, Ga., on Friday to meet with pitcher Kevin Brown and agent Scott Boras to emphasize their interest in retaining Brown--and to increase their offer of $44 million for four years.

"I think it's great," Uhlman said. "Kevin knows San Diego. It makes more of an impression if we go to him."

Of course, Brown hasn't only been sitting there, waiting for callers. He has been making the rounds himself and will be in Denver on Wednesday to meet with officials of the Colorado Rockies, among them owner Jerry McMorris and Manager Jim Leyland.

It is not an entirely new dimension to free agency, but now just about everyone is doing it.

Some examples:

* Boston Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette parted company with Mo Vaughn and almost immediately got on a plane for Los Angeles, where he met with Arn Tellem, representing Albert Belle, and agent Adam Katz, hammering out the acquisition of Jose Offerman.

* Free-agent outfielder Brian Jordan and agent Jim Turner, in the last week, have been in New York to meet with the Yankees and Mets, in Baltimore to meet with the Orioles, and in Atlanta to meet with the Braves.

* Free-agent outfielder Bernie Williams and agent Scott Boras met with the Diamondbacks in Arizona and expect to be in Boston next week. Boras had been to Cleveland on Thursday to meet with Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, whose manager, Joe Torre, was in Tucson last week to romance Belle during a round of golf.

"Nothing substitutes for personal interaction," agent Jeff Moorad said. "It allows both sides to make a more informed decision. In what is a high-stakes recruiting process, it also allows the creative club to put on a show and make an impression in more ways than one."

Such as Johnson--visited recently at his Phoenix-area home by Angel manager Terry Collins-- finding his name on a Diamondback or Angel uniform in a locker bearing his nameplate.

Such as Will Clark, then a 1994 free agent escorted by Moorad, walking into Camden Yards and seeing his name in the Oriole lineup posted on the Diamondvision screen, which then ran clips of his highlights.

"We know the statistics and we know the scouting reports, but this is a better way to get to know the person," Dodger General Manager Kevin Malone said. "We're committing such large amounts of money, it's another way to get to know the person to whom we're committing it."

And another way, Malone said, for the player to learn more about the community and organization.

"Given that the dollars are such a large part of the equation, the concern is that agents are using the process to drive up the market," Malone said. "But I do think that players are focusing more on family and that there is growing and sincere interest on the part of players to know more about the people, the community and organization they are considering.

"If both sides are more thorough in their approach, it's a positive development for the industry. We go into the homes of young players as scouts. Why not where free agents are involved and the money is so large?"

Malone credits former Baltimore and Toronto general manager Pat Gillick, now a Dodger consultant, for pioneering the now- widespread approach that he said has to be an advantage to the Dodgers.

"Any player visiting here would have to be impressed with the city, history, stadium and weather," he said. "It would be hard to duplicate."

In the case of Johnson, who is believed to be leaning toward the hometown Diamondbacks, time will tell. The question, in the meantime, isn't whether he'll choose the Dodgers, Angels or neither. It's, who pays for these recruiting forays?

"Who do you think?" said Malone, laughing. "Michael Eisner and Rupert Murdoch."

THE NOTEBOOK

* The Angels did what they had to do: They made a six-year, $72-million, pre-emptive offer to Mo Vaughn. If the deal is now

$80 million, as Vaughn said the other day, why are the Angels bidding against themselves? Vaughn has no other offers and shouldn't need incentive clauses and award bonuses on top of

$72 million. He should advise his agents to get this deal done before the Angels yank it off the table and go after Rafael Palmeiro, who will be happy to take $20 million less.

* The acquisition of Todd Stottlemyre for four years at

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