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AROUND THE HORN ROSS NEWHAN

Contraction Plans Keep on Moving

June 02, 2002|ROSS NEWHAN

First the news, then the views....

News: The Tampa Bay Devil Rays would replace the Minnesota Twins on the contraction hit list if the Twins are saved from the 2003 guillotine.

Views: If Major League Baseball was unable to foreclose on the Twins, who had only one year left on their Metrodome lease, how is it going to shut down a team that has 25 years remaining? Besides, isn't Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has already lost one anti-trust court fight with baseball, itching for a rematch?

It was during an April 9 contraction grievance hearing that Commissioner Bud Selig reportedly said the Devil Rays would replace the Twins if it came to that, which was at odds with February comments by MLB Vice President Sandy Alderson, who said the Devil Rays were not a candidate for elimination because of "reasonably healthy" local revenues (21st among the 30 teams).

Deciphering the truth is difficult when two baseball officials are talking at the same time, but it's even harder to believe that baseball would foreclose on a franchise that is only five years old, even though the Devil Rays have one of the worst records, the American League's poorest attendance and an ownership structure that has been characterized by in-fighting.

Managing general partner Vince Naimoli, reacting to the latest rumors, said he still considers contraction a good thing because "there are some markets where I just don't think baseball works" but "we are not on a list right now and we will not be on a list in the future."

News: A tentative out-of-court settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission against baseball and the Twins is expected to save the team from elimination, in 2003 at least.

Views: The whole business of ticketing the Twins for elimination was aimed at pressuring the legislature to provide a stadium funding package. Now that funding is tentatively in place, Selig pushed for a settlement in the stadium suit because it removes a legal impediment to finding a local buyer, it saves baseball from having to turn over thousands of revealing financial and contraction documents and it eliminates the risk of baseball sustaining its losing streak against Judge Harry Crump in the suit, in which the commission claims contraction illegally prevented negotiations on a new lease with the Twins.

News: Representatives of the owners and players, having spun their views from coast to coast, return to New York for five bargaining sessions this month.

Views: Big deal. There is little chance for movement until arbitrator Shyam Das delivers a decision on the union's contraction grievance in July or August and/or the union sets a deadline in the form of a strike date. Das could hand either side a major bargaining chip in the negotiations, but speculation among people who participated in the hearings is that he will deliver a split decision, giving owners the right to eliminate teams without union approval but ruling that all effects of contraction must be bargained with the union.

News: Jerry Colangelo, the Arizona Diamondbacks' managing general partner, holds a second meeting with four of his players to discuss labor issues.

Views: It's possible that no owner has a closer relationship with his players. Then again, they've needed one another. Colangelo's core veterans have deferred more than $60 million in salary to help with the Diamondbacks' cash flow and debts, enabling management to maintain the roster that produced a World Series title last year. Pitcher Brian Anderson, the club's union representative, described the labor exchanges with Colangelo as "a breath of fresh air" in the context of owner/player relationships and added, "You just wish we had another 29 of him, and we'd probably have a deal done."

News: The Oakland Athletics have seven of the first 39 picks in Tuesday's annual draft of amateur players.

Views: The departures of Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen hurt, but each was ranked as a Type A free agent, meaning the A's got two compensation picks from each of the signing clubs and a chance to rebuild from within, their small market hallmark.

"We're very excited about it," General Manager Billy Beane said. "When you've got that kind of influx in one year, if it works out, it can have an impact for decades."

Beane will approve all of the choices, but the man on the spot is first-year scouting director Eric Kubota. In 18 years with the A's, Kubota has advanced from a media relations assistant to the tough assignment of succeeding Grady Fuson, whose staff scouted and signed Big Three pitchers Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, among many other key A's, and whose departure last fall to become assistant GM of the Texas Rangers led Beane to file a tampering charge that resulted in the Rangers being fined $550,000.

Part of that was for the hiring of Fuson and part for violations in the hiring of General Manager John Hart, whose Rangers started the weekend 12 games behind Seattle in the West and whose free-agent signings last fall contributed to the fact that the Rangers will not have a selection in the second through fifth rounds Tuesday.

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