Off-Season News and Notes: Free Agency

Inside, updates on free agents Richie Sexson, Orlando Cabrera, Barry Larkin and Magglio Ordonez.

1B Richie Sexson's prospects of returning to the Diamondbacks appear to be dwindling. The Diamondbacks were scheduled to meet with the slugger's agent face to face in Phoenix in what many in the organization believed could be the club's last real chance to strike a deal. There were no indications that anything was close to coming to a head on the negotiating front, however, as both sides appeared to have totally different philosophies about how a new contract could be reached.

Sexson wants a multiyear deal at a salary at least consistent with the $8.6 million he earned last season, when he missed most of the year with the Diamondbacks following a left shoulder injury caused by a checked swing. He had surgery to repair a torn labrum and expects to be ready for action come spring training, but the Diamondbacks have some concerns. They aren't sure the injury won't reoccur and, as a result, have asked Sexson's agent, Casey Close, to consider a salary structure that would include pay based on games-played and performance, at least during the 2005 season.

SS Orlando Cabrera could be a free-agent target of the Angels if the Red Sox don't attempt to re-sign him. He said the idea of playing with ex-teammate Vladimir Guerrero might entice him to sign with Anaheim. The Angels haven't committed to bringing David Eckstein back next year, and Cabrera is one of the game's premier fielders. He also hit .297 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs in Montreal in 2003, though he slumped through most of this season.

Cabrera is so close with Guerrero, he travels from his home in Colombia to the Dominican Republic to visit him every winter. "His mother is like my mother. She's really close in my life," Cabrera said. "We talk about playing together, me and Vladdy. That would be awesome. But right now there are a couple of teams that will need a shortstop next year, so we'll see."

LHP Eric Milton led the Phillies with 14 wins last season and can be a free agent. Milton has told the team he doesn't want to negotiate until he knows who the next manager and pitching coach are going to be. He could attract interest from the Yankees and Red Sox.

LHP Rheal Cormier has reportedly told closer Billy Wagner that he's likely to return to the Phillies next season. Cormier, 37, can be a free agent and also talked about retiring at the end of the season.

Barry Larkin, who lives in the Orlando area, could be a perfect fit for the Devil Rays. The Rays are looking for an established veteran hitter to add production to their lineup and help their young players. Larkin is not the big power bat the Rays want to add to the middle of their order, but he could be significant addition if he were willing to accept a limited role. The Rays could use him to fill in around the infield and to DH. Plus they would welcome his experience and professionalism to a clubhouse that at times has been short on both. He would be a perfect mentor for young rising star B.J. Upton.

RHP Derrick Turnbow, claimed on waivers from the Angels, is a hard thrower, but many people in the Angels organization lost patience with him after he failed a steroids test at the U.S. Olympic tryouts.

Rangers left-hander Brian Shouse might be arbitration eligible. Shouse has 2 years, 133 days of service. The top 16 percent of players with two-plus seasons also become arbitration eligible. It could make a significant difference in his salary if he's eligible, which could jump from the $500,000 vicinity to close to $1 million. The team expects the cutoff to fall right in between 2.133 and 2.134.

Derek Lowe's postseason performance has sparked the interest of the Texas Rangers. Lowe, an extreme groundball pitcher, might be the best fit for the Rangers among potential free agents on the market. He is a Scott Boras client, however, and the Rangers have backed off dealing with Boras. Lowe's substandard 2004 season gave the Rangers hope he might fall into their salary range, but his strong start against the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS might take him right out of that range.

Chris Woodward, who failed to keep the job each of the last two seasons because of his injuries and lack of production, declined an outright assignment to Triple-A Syracuse and became a free agent. Woodward, who hit .235 this season, played in only 69 games because of a hamstring injury and a bout with colitis. The Blue Jays cut him loose because they would have had to offer him arbitration, and Woodward already was making $750,000.

Texas' Alfonso Soriano, who is arbitration eligible and could be on the trading block or non-tendered, is still reportedly having trouble with a hamstring problem that sidelined him for the final two weeks of the season. Soriano is not expected to make the MLB All-Star trip to Japan as originally planned. In the last three years, the Rangers have had two players with similar hamstring injuries where the muscle runs into the knee. Both players -- Ricky Ledee and Doug Glanville -- ended up having surgery.

Atlanta starter Horacio Ramirez underwent arthroscopic surgery October 15 in Los Angeles to clean up his left shoulder. He is expected to be ready to pitch by spring training. The surgery was performed by Dr. Lewis Yocum.

Aubrey Huff needs to become more of a team leader, according to Lou Piniella, and the manager plans to address the subject before the start of spring training.

"Huff basically needs to take over this club," Piniella said. "I don't think that's his nature. He's more happy-go-lucky. I'll tell you this, he plays hard, he plays every day, he's productive -- I've got nothing but good things to say about him in that regard. But he's the big guy here. ... I want him to step up a little bit in that regard. I haven't said anything over the first two years, but this guy has put up some pretty good numbers and he's respected in this clubhouse, and he's got to start showing this a little more."

Seattle's Bret Boone had laser surgery on his eyes, and he came out of it with 20-20 vision. He had problems last year with his contact lenses fogging up, and while he doesn't attribute his poor season to that, he hopes that being able to go without contacts will lead to better things in 2005.

Baltimore's Jay Gibbons had successful lasik surgery and said he was seeing more clearly than during most of last season -- better, even, than before his vision began to diminish. He is also resting for at least another month before beginning any rehab for the hip flexor that limited him late last season.

Orioles 2B/OF Jerry Hairston is walking comfortably but not yet running after surgery to repair his right ankle, forcing him to the DL for the final month of the season.

OF Joe Borchard was doing very little in winter ball to ease the concerns the White Sox have about his offense. The switch-hitting former first-round pick started off 2-for-22 in Mexico after hitting just .174 for the Sox in 1004 and fanning 57 times in 201 at-bats.

LHP Randy Johnson is still high on the wish list of Sox general manager Ken Williams. As soon as the hot stove season begins, the GM is expected to pick up right where he left off before the July 31 trade deadline passed, talking to Arizona about acquiring the services of the left-handed ace for the 2005 season.

Sources have indicated that Williams made at least four different calls to the Diamondbacks over the last season, throwing out different scenarios in an attempt to acquire Johnson. Even better news was that Johnson actually had the Sox on his original list of teams to which he would consider going to.

OF/DH Carl Everett will begin work this offseason getting himself in shape to be an everyday outfielder for the Sox in 2005. With the departure of RF Magglio Ordonez expected with free agency, Everett is being tabbed as the logical replacement for Ordonez.

"That's what I'm supposed to be playing anyway," Everett said. "I always prepare myself to be an outfielder." Everett hit .287 with 28 home runs and 92 RBIs in 2003, but injuries and being out of shape kept him at .260 with just seven homers for the Sox this year.

3B Joe Crede is getting the benefit of the doubt for several reasons, but the Sox are also looking at what happened to Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Adrian Beltre, who took off this season as a National League Most Valuable Player candidate, as the biggest reason why they have to stick with Crede.

"There's too much talent there," Williams said of Crede. The Sox believe that Crede has a legitimate chance to hit .280-.290 next season with 25 to 30 home runs and can't fathom giving up on him yet. The emergence of CF Aaron Rowand this year offered even further evidence that it is too early to pull the plug on Crede.

LHP Damaso Marte had what was considered a down year for him in '04 as he went 6-5 with a 3.42 ERA and finished tied for fourth in the AL with 21 holds. But GM Ken Williams still likes what Marte brings to the table, and the club will start grooming him to be more of a closer entering this year.

"Damaso will be the first to tell you that he didn't have a Damaso-type year," Williams said. "But if you look at the numbers of all the lefties around the league, I'll take him over most that are out there."

OF Jason Kubel, who was expected to contend for the right-field job next spring, is expected to be sidelined for at least most of next season after suffering "extensive ligament damage" to his left knee last week. Kubel, who was injured in a collision during an Arizona Fall League game, has a torn anterior cruciate ligament and other damage to the knee. He was to have surgery this week at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic in Los Angeles.

C Joe Mauer, who missed all but six weeks of his rookie season this year because of a knee injury suffered in the second game of the season, was cleared to resume rehabilitation activity and games in Florida after undergoing another exam in the Twin Cities last week and consulting with a specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. Mauer stopped playing and returned to the Twin Cities to see doctors after experiencing pain and "clicking" in the knee. He's expected to be full strength at spring training.

RHP Joe Mays was shut down late in the season after numerous setbacks during rehabilitation following 2003 Tommy John surgery, but is to resume a throwing program in December in anticipation of being at full strength for spring training. Mays is entering the final year of a four-year, $20 million contract that pays him $7.25 million next season. He has not been healthy for a full season since signing the contract.

Bill Mueller, who committed three errors in Game 2 of the World Series which the Red Sox won, 6-1, was asked about playing in two famous baseball cities, Chicago and Boston.

"You are missing another city which I was also in, San Francisco," he said. "And I'm from St. Louis, so I've really been spoiled with being in great baseball cities."

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