Ricky Bottalico came in the Gant trade, and Scott Radinsky was signed as a free agent. The $8-million signing of Eric Davis should help compensate for the Gant/Jordan loss, as should J.D. Drew, who arrived with a bang in September. The Cardinals are vying with the Mets for third baseman Robin Ventura and are lurking in the shadows of the Orioles and Colorado Rockies, who are leading the pursuit of Brown.
The second-year Diamondbacks have a long way to go, of course, but have the financial resources to get there in a hurry. Bank One Ballpark is just that, a cash machine. The signings of Todd Stottlemyre for $32 million and Armando Reynoso for $5.5 million are a significant boost to a rotation that might soon be joined by the Big Unit for about $50 million. A rotation that includes Johnson, Stottlemyre, Andy Benes, Reynoso, Omar Daal and Brian Anderson would be deeper--and better?--than any in the division, particularly if San Diego loses Brown.
1. Boston: The Curse continues. The Red Sox refuse to go beyond five years and $63 million for bellwether Vaughn, then drive up the market for Williams by offering seven years and more than $80 million--only to end up with neither.
Is this a strange operation, or what?
The Red Sox give Pedro Martinez $75 million for six years, sign Jose Offerman for four years at $26 million (no other signing has caused as much industry consternation this winter) and make a big deal of their multiyear commitments to players like Troy O'Leary, Reggie Jefferson and Jeff Frye, but it's adios to the popular Vaughn and Roger Clemens, who has won two straight Cy Young Awards since Duquette said he was in the twilight of his career.
At least Williams remembered to say thanks and that the Red Sox had impressed him before he re-signed with the Yankees. "We impressed him?" Duquette said sarcastically. "That's nice to hear."
2. Baltimore: The Orioles are one of baseball's richest teams but have been encountering a difficult time getting anyone to take their money.
They did sign a potential closer by going to $16 million over four years for Mike Timlin, but Alomar went to Cleveland, Davis to St. Louis and reliever Alan Mills to the Dodgers. Jordan snubbed their five-year offer to sign with Atlanta, and outfielder B.J. Surhoff may leave to join the Mets or Pirates.
The result is that the Orioles likely will overpay to retain Rafael Palmeiro and threaten clubhouse sanity by signing Belle for $13 million per over five years. Belle is not exactly the athletic type that new General Manager Frank Wren had hoped to rebuild the outfield with, but he could challenge Mark McGwire's home run record in Camden Yards.
The Orioles also could escape the loser list if they sign Brown. Money should be no object.
The Orioles had baseball's highest payroll last year and owner Peter Angelos, who recently made a $500-million offer for the Washington Redskins, reportedly will receive a $600-million minimum fee for representing Maryland in its $2.4-billion legal victory over the tobacco industry.
3. Houston: The Astros added a gamer and strengthened an already strong lineup by reacquiring Ken Caminiti as a free agent, but any team losing a No. 1-caliber pitcher who was 10-1 in half a season in a new league has to feel the loss. The Astros offered Johnson three years in the range of $33 million to $36 million but bowed out when the Diamondbacks, Rangers, Angels and Dodgers went to four years.
General Manager Jerry Hunsicker says the Astros will not try to replace Johnson with a big-ticket pitcher, relying on the pre-Johnson unit of Shane Reynolds, Mike Hampton and Jose Lima.
"We were on our way to winning a division championship without Randy," Hunsicker said. "Certainly he added excitement and a significant piece to our club. But as we all found out in the postseason, one person does not make the difference between winning and losing."
Not everyone in Houston, however, is shutting their mind to the addition of a big-ticket pitcher. Should Toronto decide to trade Clemens for financial reasons, his hometown Astros will be on the phone, which is why Caminiti, who wore No. 21 in San Diego, chose No. 29 in Houston, leaving No. 21 for the possible acquisition of the Rocket.
Whether it's the uniform or paycheck, baseball is strictly a numbers game.
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Free-Agent Market in Major Leagues
REMAINING FREE AGENTS
The 109 remaining free agents (x-club option for 1999; y-player option for 1999; r-may revert to previous contract through Wednesday:
* ANGELS (7)--Mike Fetters, rhp; Gregg Jefferies, of; Chad Kreuter, c; Jack McDowell, rhp; Craig Shipley, ss; Randy Velarde, 2b; Trevor Wilson, lhp.
* BALTIMORE (5)--Doug Drabek, rhp; Jimmy Key, lhp; Rafael Palmeiro, 1b; Pete Smith, rhp; B.J. Surhoff, of.
* BOSTON (6)--Steve Avery, lhp; Dennis Eckersley, rhp; Butch Henry, lhp; Mark Lemke, 2b; Tim Naehring, 3b; Pete Schourek, lhp.