MLB Insiders: National League East Update

The Phillies continue to search for a starting pitcher. Part of their gaze has turned toward Arizona, where the Diamondbacks are willing to move Curt Schilling for the right package of young players. One of those young players that the Diamondbacks admire is Brett Myers. Will the Phillies part with Myers to bring back Schilling? Plus, we make stops in 29 other clubhouses to see what's happening around Major League Baseball.


The Phillies are looking for a starting pitcher. The Arizona Diamondbacks have announced they will cut their payroll next season. Curt Schilling has said on the record he would love to finish his career in Philadelphia.

Put it all together and it's inevitable that the rumor that Schilling will be the Phillies' Opening Day starter in 2004 won't go away.

Don't pencil him into your scorecard just yet.

For one thing, the Diamondbacks are currently asking for a package of major league players topped by right-hander Brett Myers, a rising star. The Phillies won't do that.

For another, the 37-year-old pitcher has indicated he'd want at least a one-year contract extension to waive his no-trade clause.

Finally, Schilling has also said he'd been willing to accept a deal to the Yankees under the right conditions.

The Philadelphia Inquirer interviewed Schilling at his Paradise Valley, Ariz., home during the general managers' meetings.

"As it stands right now, there are only two phone calls that would interest me," he said. "One would be (Phillies general manager) Ed Wade saying, 'We have 72 hours to strike a deal.' The other would be (Yankees GM) Brian Cashman saying the same thing."

To go to New York, he hinted he'd want a three-year extension.

Boston has also been a rumored destination, but Schilling quickly shot down that notion. "I'm not going to Boston," he said. "I'm a right-handed flyball pitcher. In Fenway Park, that's not a tremendous mix."

Despite limiting the number of teams he'd accept to two, he still expects to be traded.

"If I had to bet, I think the only thing I'd probably bet on is I probably won't be in a Diamondbacks uniform when the (2004) season starts," he said. "I've said it before. If it's impossible for me to finish my career (in Arizona) I'd like to do it in Philadelphia because that's my home and it's comfortable. That team has a chance to win the World Series. There's a new park. I love the fans there. The chance to pitch in that environment would be cool."

He admitted, however, that he could well end up in the Bronx.

"New York is more realistic, but it's not as cut-and-dried as people make it out to be," he said. "It has nothing to do with money. If that was the case I'd say 'Yankees' no matter what. I love Joe Torre, but his situation could change quickly. He's a guy I'd want to play for. Will Andy Pettitte be back? Every team needs an Andy Pettitte."

Things you need to know:

--The Phillies have had preliminary discussions with Mitch Frankel, the agent for free agent RHP Bartolo Colon. "This is one of the top pitchers in the game," said general manager Ed Wade. "We're not trying to raise anyone's expectations. But we need to explore all possibilities and make a right decision from there."

--Could the Phillies' handling of former closer Jose Mesa -- who didn't come close to finishing the 55 games needed to vest his $5.95 million option for 2004 -- impact their chances of signing free agent RHP Bartolo Colon? Interestingly, both players are represented by Mitch Frankel.

--Crews completed laying the natural grass for new Citizen's Bank Park in the middle of November, about two weeks after the job was supposed to be finished. Still, team officials insist the park will be ready when the Phillies play their first exhibitions there against the Reds on April 3 and 4.

--Manager Larry Bowa noted that there will be significant differences between playing on artificial turf, as the Phillies had at Veterans Stadium since 1971, and real grass at Citizen's Bank Park. For example, he mentioned that if the Phillies are starting a groundball pitcher, he'll ask the grounds crew to water the dirt in front of home plate.

--Manager Larry Bowa is in favor of the tougher rules for steroid testing that will go into effect next season. "If it's a problem, the quicker it's taken care of the better for the sport and for the athletes," he said. "Later on in your life, steroids are supposed to affect you big-time. Maybe these guys will realize that your health is a lot more important than maybe trying to get one contract."

The Numbers Game: 6.71 Average runs per game scored by the Phillies when LHP Randy Wolf started, the most for any member of the rotation.

He said what? "The depth of the market and the economics are leading a lot of clubs to take their time." -- Phillies general manager Ed Wade, on why he doesn't expect many free agents to be signed quickly.


General manager John Schuerholz challenges anyone who sees the Braves' 12 division titles as a bad thing rather than an achievement. But the team's failure to win more than a single World Series title in its decade-plus run of success bugs him enough that he reportedly solicited Gary Sheffield's view on the subject.

Sheffield, you may recall, is flying without a net as a free agent -- he dropped agent Scott Boras during the season, reasoning that free-agent money would be tighter this offseason and Boras couldn't change that.

Schuerholz and assistant GM Frank Wren visited Sheffield in Tampa to ask, among other things, why the Braves' bats go silent in October. Sheffield was reportedly blunt in his assessment, saying that the team lacked emotion, that the clubhouse had no playoff atmosphere.

That's the way manager Bobby Cox does it, keeping an even keel, mostly by banning music in the clubhouse. It works over the long haul, but when the Braves need to gear up, as the Marlins did, they can't.

Sheffield cited John Smoltz as an appropriately emotional leader. But Smoltz is in the bullpen, not the dugout. Sheffield likes infielder Mark DeRosa's intensity, too. But DeRosa spent the season backing up the infield positions, hardly a position of leadership.

Smoltz made similar remarks the night the Braves' postseason died. That night he criticized players who don't deliver in October but then don't come out and face the media, either. Smoltz refused to name names at the time, but the only player who fit that description was Chipper Jones.

Things you need to know:

--LF Chipper Jones was upset to hear speculation that he might be traded. "What more do you have to do to please somebody?" he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Jones, a 10-and-5 player, can veto any trade. He drove in more than 100 runs for the eighth consecutive season.

--1B Robert Fick cleared unconditional waivers and has been released.

--RF Gary Sheffield's early suitors include the Braves and the Yankees.

--RHP Russ Ortiz came in fourth in the NL Cy Young voting.

--Manager Bobby Cox was third in the NL Manager of the Year voting.

The Numbers Game: 44 Percent of Braves' postseason roster (11 of 25) that has declared for free agency.

He said what? "I have no hard feelings toward [GM John] Schuerholz or Bobby [Cox]. They treated me great. It's cool." -- 1B Robert Fick, on his release.


Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has promised to bring back the core of his championship roster instead of dismantling. But team president David Samson said the Marlins won't engage in bidding wars with other teams seeking their 10 free agent players.

Second baseman Luis Castillo is being targeted by the New York Yankees, who want to move second baseman Alfonso Soriano to the outfield. Catcher Pudge Rodriguez is reportedly being targeted by the San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles.

"We will not sign anyone to a long-term contract that will have a negative impact on the ability to operate this team going forward. I don't care if it's from our 25th man to our ace in the bullpen to our starting pitchers. We will not be put in a position that other teams have found themselves in where they're robbed of their ability to be flexible," Samson said.

The Marlins have made multiyear offers Castillo and third baseman Mike Lowell, who is entering his final year of arbitration.

Castillo reportedly was offered $15.5 million over three years -- less than the $6 million per season he is expected to receive on the open market. But that could be enough to keep him because Castillo enjoys South Florida.

The Marlins reportedly offered Lowell a one-year deal with at least three additional years possible contingent on the club getting a new stadium.

The team has 10 free agents and 15 arbitration-eligible players but has targeted Castillo and Lowell as its priorities. Next is free agent catcher Pudge Rodriguez, who is seeking a multiyear deal of at least $10 million annually.

While the team hopes to wrap up deals with Castillo and Lowell within the next week, Rodriguez may take longer.

Also high on the team's list is Gold Glove first baseman Derrek Lee, who made $4.25 million in 2003 while setting career highs with 31 homers and 92 RBI.

Things you need to know:

--LHP Dontrelle Willis, who won the NL Rookie of the Year award, has begun a weight-training program aimed at adding more strength to his legs. Willis is trying to work on improving his pitches.

Willis worked effectively out of the bullpen during the NLCS and World Series, but the team plans to use him strictly as a starter next season.

--The team hopes to replace third base coach Ozzie Guillen by Thanksgiving. Guillen left to manage the White Sox. The rest of the coaching staff will return.

--RHP A.J. Burnett will throw on flat ground next month and throw off a mound in January. He underwent Tommy John surgery April 28 and is hoping to rejoin the rotation by May 2004.

--Manager Jack McKeon was named NL Manager of the Year for taking over a Marlins team that was 16-22 on May 11 and then guiding them to a 75-49 record and World Series victory.

McKeon used part of his press conference as a forum in support of GM Larry Beinfest. McKeon didn't criticize San Francisco GM Brian Sabean, who was named The Sporting News Executive of the Year.

"Larry Beinfest should have been Executive of the Year, no question in my mind," McKeon said. "What he did was outstanding."

"When you come to the trading deadline and you look at all the deals that were made, the players he acquired for our push were the key players who were out there," said McKeon, who was known as Trader Jack in his days a general manager in San Diego.

"He got the best players, and the players he acquired fit right in with our situation here and enabled us to go right to the top, and I think it's a mistake not to have him Executive of the Year."

--McKeon acknowledged that he considered retiring after the Series but decided to accept a one-year contract for 2004. He turns 73 on Nov. 23 and is the third-oldest manager in baseball history. He'd like to catch Casey Stengel (75) but joked that Connie Mack (88) may be out of his reach.

"I had people tell me, why don't you bow out now when you're on top of the world. That's not my nature," he said. "I'm not going to go home and sit in a rocking chair and drive that tractor. I enjoy what I'm doing. As long as I keep enjoying it and as long as they want me, I'll stay at this thing. Looking down at Casey, I only got two more years."

He said what? "Larry Beinfest should have been Executive of the Year, no question in my mind." -- Manager Jack McKeon.


There is some interesting bookkeeping ahead as the Expos move into the 2004 season.

With free agent RF Vladimir Guerrero seemingly certain to sign a multiyear, megabuck contract that is far out of the Expos' reach, the team will have a fair chunk of change to give to some other players.

There is the matter of looking after a few arbitration cases that may run into a few dollars. For instance, SS Orlando Cabrera, the Expos' player of the year for the second time in three years, will be in line for a handsome increase.

Though he missed much of the season after surgery, RHP Tony Armas Jr. is in line for an increase. RHP Rocky Biddle, an unknown quantity at spring training, wound up with 34 saves and surely earned a raise.

But the greatest need for money will involve the signing of four key players who will be eligible for free agency at the end of the 2004 season. Those players are 2B Jose Vidro, RHP Javier Vazquez, RHP Livan Hernandez and Cabrera.

Don't think the Expos will wait until late in the season to settle those cases. The Expos weren't able to get RF Vladimir Guerrero to sign a contract last year and now will have to settle for draft picks from whichever club signs him this winter.

Team president Tony Tavares vows that won't happen to the team again next year.

"Our first priority will be to sign those players," Tavares said. "If we can't do that we would hope we will be able to make deals earlier rather than later, but certainly we're not going to put ourselves in the position where we are waiting until somewhere around the trade deadline and then wind up just getting draft compensation. We'll make trades before that."

Things you need to know:

--GM Omar Minaya is in discussions with Frank Robinson about having Robinson return for a third season as manager. Team president Tony Tavares is confident the pair will have it worked out soon.

--Vice president business Claude Delorme is talking with three major companies in regards to a new playing surface for Olympic Stadium.

--The Montreal media coverage of local boy Eric Gagne winning the NL Cy Young Award was huge. The Journal de Montreal, besides a full front-page picture and four pages in the sports section, had an insert supplement.

He said what? "We hope we'll be able to do deals early." -- President Tony Tavares on efforts to sign four key players -- 2B Jose Vidro, SS Orlando Cabrera, RHP Javier Vazquez and RHP Livan Hernandez -- who will be eligible for free agency at the end of next season.


He has been described as the Japanese Nomar Garciaparra. But Kazuo Matsui does appear to be one significant weakness in his game.

He might not want to play in the United States after all.

"Little Matsui" has yet to choose an agent or announce whether he even wants to play in majors. His name went almost unmentioned during the general managers' meetings in Phoenix.

Mets general manager Jim Duquette said teams expected to hear Matsui's intentions by now. A decision was expected in early November.

"We're still monitoring his situation," Duquette said.

Part of Matsui's reticence is reportedly his desire to play for Japan in the Olympics, something he would not be able to do if he signed with a team in the majors. Other media reports in Japan speculate that he will sign with the Yomiuri Giants.

Matsui, 27, hit .304 for the Seibu Lions last season. The 5-foot-9, 183-pound defensive wizard was on the shopping list of several teams -- including the Mets, Yankees and Red Sox.

Part of the problem may be that Matsui is determined to play shortstop and several of his suitors would want him to convert to second base. The Yankees would not shift Derek Jeter to accommodate a newcomer, and the Mets would be foolish to tinker with phenom Jose Reyes.

Things you need to know:

--Bill Singer, hired earlier this month as a special assistant to new general manager Jim Duquette, apologized for racially insensitive remarks he made to Dodgers assistant general manager Kim Ng during the general managers' meetings. According to the New York Daily News, Singer mocked Ng's Chinese heritage when he approached her at a hotel bar.

In a statement released by the Mets, Singer was quoted as saying, "I am embarrassed by what I said when I met with Ng on Tuesday evening. My comments were truly inappropriate and I'm truly sorry. I have apologized to her and hope she will forgive me."

--Duquette interviewed former White Sox GM Ron Schueler for a spot on his staff. Duquette also plans to hire an assistant GM in the coming months.

--3B prospect David Wright went 30-for-87 (.345) with 15 RBI in 26 games in the Arizona Fall League.

--Reliever Mike Stanton on baseball's mandatory steroid testing next season: "I know that management and the players worked in conjunction on this, and the results don't lie. Now everybody will be tested and everything will be in the open."

--OF Prentice Redman hit over .300 in the first two weeks of the Venezuelan winter league. He and his brother (Pittsburgh OF Tike Redman) are both in the league.

--Mets officials laughed off a report by Newsday that C Mike Piazza planned to ask for a trade to an American League team.

The Numbers Game: $25,000 Amount of money pitcher Al Leiter contributed to the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation scholarship fund. He gave $1,000 for each of his 15 wins and an additional $10,000 from his foundation.

He said what? "We've made a lot of progress in the last two weeks. In talking to Art (Howe) and the coaches and the other people in the organization, we know what players we want to pursue." -- Mets general manager Jim Duquette.

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