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AROUND THE HORN ROSS NEWHAN

Towers Checking Who's on Board

June 29, 2003|ROSS NEWHAN

It is not often that an organization will bring in a group of core players to discuss the future of the organization, as well as the future of those players, but amid complex contracts and economics and the latest illustration (i.e., Juan Gonzalez) that the inmates tend to run the asylum, San Diego Padre General Manager Kevin Towers believes he has no choice but to conduct a summit session with veterans Phil Nevin, Mark Kotsay and Ryan Klesko in anticipation of the July 31 trade deadline and next year's move into Petco Park.

"These are three players very important to our future, and we basically need to find out if they want to be part of it," Towers said from Seattle.

"If they don't, I'm going to need their approval to trade them."

Nevin and Klesko have no-trade clauses in their multiyear contracts. Kotsay's contract calls for a significant raise if he is traded, which is tantamount to a no-trade clause.

Towers said he wants the three to know that after moving into the new park the Padres will have financial flexibility they haven't had before ("There shouldn't be anybody out there we can't afford to go after," he said of potential free agents) and that there's no reason a healthier and improved team can't rebound from another last-place finish and a projected 100 losses to compete in the National League West.

"It's a tough division," Towers said, "but I don't think we're as far away as the standings would indicate. I don't look at this division and see doom and gloom.

"I don't see anyone we shouldn't be able to compete with next year, and we may be the only team in the West that will go into the off-season with some financial flexibility."

The drawback in this optimistic outlook as it applies to Nevin and Klesko, in particular, is that they are likely to be asked to play a position they're not happy with next season.

Klesko, who has rotated between the outfield and first base, said recently he would ask to be traded if moved off first again. Nevin, who has shifted from third base to first base to left field and remains sidelined by the dislocated shoulder he suffered diving for a fly ball while playing left in spring training, would prefer to play third, but the Padres consider Sean Burroughs a fixture there now.

"We're in somewhat of a dilemma," Towers said. "I don't think either Phil or Ryan want to play the outfield. If they're adamant about it, if they don't want to remain in what should be a competitive situation in the new park and contribute by playing the positions we feel will most benefit the team, then I have to think about trying to trade them."

Of course, Nevin has already exercised his no-trade clause to block an off-season deal with the Cincinnati Reds for Ken Griffey Jr., and it seems unlikely the Padres can make a deadline deal involving a player who won't be ready to play until August.

It's a puzzle, indeed, but one thing is certain:

"I'm tired of the musical chairs," said Towers, who through injuries, the force-feeding of young pitchers and an overall shortage of talent has already employed 39 players, including 22 pitchers, after employing 59 players, including 37 pitchers -- both major league records -- last year.

Adam's Rib

Cincinnati outfielder Adam Dunn, suspended for a recent altercation involving the Philadelphia Phillies, spent two games amid reporters in the press box, gaining a new perspective.

"Boy, it looks easy up here," Dunn said. "I could hit .550 from up here. No wonder you guys are always ripping us."

Dunn has 22 home runs, tied for third in the NL, but he had a long way to go to reach .550. He is hitting .207 and has been in and out of the lineup.

Does Manager Bob Boone let him know when he's going to play? "No, he never tells me anything," Dunn said. "For me, it's a joke."

Might be, if there was more of a punch line in .207.

Yardstick

It happened last weekend but retains significance.

In the week of Larry Doby's death, 56 years after Doby and Jackie Robinson integrated baseball, San Francisco Giant Manager Felipe Alou started a lineup of all Latinos and African Americans behind African American pitcher Jerome Williams.

It was believed to be a first for an organization that has been at the integration forefront.

"Right now, people don't notice those things," Alou said. "I did make a comment with Barry [Bonds] on the bench. I said, 'Look at what we have out there.' Barry just smiled. There used to be times when you had maybe five blacks or Latinos on the field, and there would be some complaints and formal letters. I know there was a time when people were careful of doing that. The country has come a long way."

Alou, of course, is not above tweaking the scales of social equality.

Managing a winter league game in his native Dominican Republic, he started nine Americans.

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