Around the Horn: The NL West

One team in the NL West could be in line for a blockbuster trade or two as their name keeps creeping up in the rumor mill, another team is in Phoenix this week, but remains in limbo on its future. Not to mention a team that has had its best player the talk of rumors and another team that seems to be mum on what moves it will make. All this in the NL West and we haven't even begun talking about the San Diego Padres.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The Diamondbacks could be sellers and buyers at this week's general managers' meetings in Phoenix. Their most attractive pawn is RHP Curt Schilling, although Schilling has a no-trade clause. The New York Yankees are believed to be interested in Schilling in an effort to revamp a pitching staff that lost Roger Clemens to retirement and could lose LHP Andy Pettitte to free agency. The Diamondbacks would love to land a power-hitting first baseman, such as Milwaukee's Richie Sexson. But they would need to make salary space since Sexson will make $8.6 million next year.

"It's a matter of club policy never to comment one way or the other on supposed discussions about other players," general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. said. "You can safely assume that we are talking to a lot of clubs about a lot of players. The other 29 general managers will be here Monday for meetings, and hours and hours will be devoted to trade talks.

As for Schilling, "I'm not going to characterize any conversations I've had with Curt," Garagiola said.

The Diamondbacks already have earmarked $65 million to 10 players, including Schilling. They don't want their 2004 payroll to exceed $80 million.

If they want to deal Schilling to the Yankees, they could ask for 1B Nick Johnson in an effort to solve their power problems. But landing Johnson could be difficult because Yankees 1B Jason Giambi has a bad knee.

LF Luis Gonzalez will start a strength program next week after he returns from a fishing trip. Gonzalez has no intention of undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a Grade 2 tear of his right throwing elbow.

Colorado Rockies:

Put to rest the speculation that the Rockies are looking to trade first baseman Todd Helton and/or center fielder Preston Wilson.

"People are misconstruing the fact we have financial limits on what we can do on the open market with a need to unload contracts," Monfort said. "We made our payroll paring last year. We are where we need to be."

"Helton is our cornerstone," said Monfort. "I see us building our offense around him. He and Wilson, at their age, are two guys who give us a head start in getting to the level we want to reach."

The Rockies are projecting a payroll of slightly more than $60 million and already have $53.1 million committed to six players, including the $2 million portion of Mike Hampton's salary that Colorado will pay for Atlanta. But that also includes the $9 million due Denny Neagle, who after undergoing reconstructive left elbow surgery isn't expected to pitch in 2004, which means insurance will pick up half of his paycheck.

A year ago, manager Clint Hurdle and O'Dowd both proclaimed that the roster had no untouchables, not even Todd Helton, and Hurdle was quoted as saying the same thing again this week. That erroneously was characterized in some media circles as the first time the Rockies had ever alluded to the fact they could listen to offers for Helton.

"Clint was 100 percent accurate in saying we would listen to anything, but for certain players we would have to be overwhelmed and even that might not be enough," said O'Dowd. "And to be honest, we haven't had any conversations at all regarding Todd Helton. We haven't even had any internal discussions of 'what if' because it's not something we have even considered."

Los Angeles Dodgers:

The wait-and-see approach continues to be the order among employees at Dodger Stadium, where the team remains in an ownership limbo.

Frank McCourt is rallying investors to his flag but reportedly has not finalized the financing plan for his $430 million purchase of the team from News Corp. Major League Baseball officials continue to express confidence that the sale will go through, but McCourt can't do it by himself. Even if he had the resources to absorb the entire purchase price himself, he isn't wealthy enough to absorb operational losses in excess of $40 million per season -- what the Dodgers averaged under News Corp.

A date has not been set for owners to review and vote on the purchase, though a conference call is expected to take place no sooner than Nov. 20. The date could be pushed back if McCourt and his financing group, Game Plan LLC, needs more time to recruit investors.

The unsettled situation could have an adverse effect on the Dodgers as they attempt to improve their league-worst offense. Unlike many teams that are cutting costs, a list that includes the NL West-rival Giants and Diamondbacks, the Dodgers figured to have at least $20 million to spend on free agents.

But GM Dan Evans left for the general managers' meetings in Phoenix still waiting to hear about his 2004 budget. Evans and his staff identified the free agents they want to pursue and trade targets they want to discuss.

Evans also could be on the way out once the sale goes through. If allowed to continue, it's likely he will pursue a trade for Milwaukee first baseman Richie Sexson and make a hard run at Japanese shortstop Kazuo Matsui.

The first of what could be many departures from the Dodgers front office came Friday (Nov. 7) when Dodgers farm director Bill Bavasi was named GM of the Seattle Mariners. Evans said replacing Bavasi was not a top priority because the role is largely administrative during the winter.

San Francisco Giants:

The Giants had 15 days after the World Series to negotiate exclusively with their own free agents.

And all they did was re-sign Alberto Castillo, a reserve catcher. That means a vanload of Giants are now on the open market.

The list: Benito Santiago, J.T. Snow, Rich Aurilia, Jose Cruz Jr., Marvin Benard, Eric Young, Jeffrey Hammonds, Sidney Ponson and Tim Worrell.

There's a good chance most, if not all, will not return. That leaves general manager Brian Sabean with another busy winter ahead. Last year, he had to replace four players from the lineup, and it could be ditto this winter.

"I hope things can work out. I enjoyed playing in San Francisco," Cruz said. "The ball's in their court."

Aurilia and Santiago are free agents. Snow and Cruz also are free agents after the Giants chose not to exercise the players' options for 2004. Snow's was for $6.5 million, Cruz's for $4 million.

"I don't know what's going to happen. I'll see what happens," Snow said. "No one's called and said what they're thinking."

"It hasn't been hard. I think something good will happen," Snow said. "There's not much you can do. I've never been through it. I'll stay optimistic. You can't take things personally in sports. I want to be with a team that has a chance to win. That's my only thought."

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