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Yankees Close on Gonzalez

June 23, 2000|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers reached a tentative agreement Thursday night on a trade that would send left fielder Juan Gonzalez to the Yankees, baseball sources confirmed.

The trade, however, hinges on 1) Gonzalez's willingness to waive a limited no-trade clause--the Yankees are among the 10 teams Gonzalez would reject--and 2) reach a contract extension with New York within a 72-hour window, providing he agrees to the trade.

In Toronto, where the Tigers lost to the Blue Jays, 7-4, Thursday night, Gonzalez said he had decided on his course of action but refused to reveal it. Asked what his choice location would be, he said, "A quiet place. A nice place."

New York isn't the quietest of places, but the two-time American League most valuable player--who also said that "playing on a winner is very important"--may decide that the Yankees are the one team that can best meet his contract demands as a potential free agent at the end of the season.

Gonzalez, who makes $7.5 million this year and was acquired by the Tigers from the Texas Rangers in November as a drawing card for the new Comerica Park, has reportedly rejected an eight-year, $140-million offer from the Tigers, although many in baseball doubt whether the 30-year-old slugger would be offered that much as a free agent, particularly since he has been a bust with the Tigers--hampered some by injuries and the spacious dimensions of Detroit's new park.

Gonzalez is batting .260 with only 13 home runs and 30 runs batted in, but the Yankees, who have also been talking with the Chicago Cubs about Sammy Sosa, have been struggling both offensively and in the win column, prompting owner George Steinbrenner to say recently that something had to be done.

Neither the Yankees nor the Tigers would confirm that a deal is in place, but sources indicated that Detroit will receive at least three players. They are believed to be left fielder Ricky Ledee, a replacement for Gonzalez; third baseman Drew Henson, who will be the Michigan quarterback this fall and a potential hometown favorite for the Tigers, providing he is serious about a baseball career, and highly regarded double-A pitcher Randy Keisler.

According to the sources, the Cubs wanted far more for Sosa, including touted shortstop Alfonso Soriano, who may now be marketed in a Yankee deal for pitching help. If the Yankees land Gonzalez, the Cubs may be left with only the Boston Red Sox as a serious suitor for Sosa. In that case, they may have to lower their trade requirements unless they are willing to give Sosa a contract extension that would probably make him baseball's highest salaried player, a step the Cubs have seemed unwilling to take.

Both Gonzalez and Sosa could prove to be defensive liabilities in Yankee Stadium's treacherous left field (which includes a distant power alley that Gonzalez may conclude is no better for his home run potential than Comerica Park), but the Yankees have been disappointed with their run production from the left field and designated hitter positions, and both Gonzalez and Sosa would bring proven bats and another well-known name for the Bronx marquee. It is Gonzalez, however, who will get the first opportunity to decide if he wants to hear an offer from a team whose payroll is already in the $90-million range and still has to reach a multi-year agreement with Derek Jeter among other significant financial obligations.

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