Weekly American League East Report

The Yankees won't be the only active players in the AL East during the offseason. Though the Bombers have won the division for five straight years, the other teams aren't going to take it sitting down. The Insiders have the scoop on what's going on around the division.<br><br> <i>Free Preview Of Premium Content</i>

Baltimore Orioles

When anyone talks about the changing times of the Orioles organization, it has nothing to do with moving the clocks back an hour for the resumption of standard time.

Considering some of the rumors coming out of the club's B&O Warehouse offices, the changes may be much more significant than losing an hour of daylight.

With the main interviews of managerial candidates having been concluded -- it's possible that another prospect or two may get the call from Orioles vice presidents Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan -- there has been minimal activity in Baltimore. Both VPs spent the week at the World Series, where they undoubtedly were connecting with the peers from other organizations.

Beattie has been silent on his feelings about the manager interviews but said he hoped to come to a decision by Saturday (Nov. 1). In the meantime, the VP has stayed busy signing minor leaguers and keeping close tabs on the free agent market.

The Orioles have been talking about their free agent wishes for the last few months: RF Vladamir Guerrero, SS Miguel Tejada and maybe even LHP Andy Pettitte. But the personnel duo has been working on getting a deal with a lesser-known name -- Kazuo Matsui.

Matsui, a 27-year old shortstop known in Japan as "Little" Matsui in deference to the Yankees' Hideki Matsui, who was a slugger in Japan, has been an all-star in Japan in each of the last seven seasons. Kaz Matsui declared his intention to play in the United States last week, and the Orioles were quick to get to the head of the line of teams pursuing his talents.

On another front, Beattie indicated he was close to decisions on whether to exercise the options on the contracts of RHP Pat Hentgen ($4 million), RHP Kerry Ligtenberg ($1.2 million), SS Deivi Cruz ($1.5 millioin) and C Brook Fordyce, who has an unknown option.

Hentgen, 7-8 with a 4.09 ERA, finished 2003 pitching very well, and Ligtenberg, a mainstay out of the bullpen, mostly as a setup man, who was 4-2 with a 3.34 ERA in 68 appearances, are likely to be retained.

The Orioles are expected to decline the options of Cruz, who hit only .250 and committed 16 errors in the field, and Fordyce, who hit .273 but was unable

Boston Red Sox

After their crushing Game 7 loss to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, about the only debatable point for Red Sox fans was whether manager Grady Little's decision to stick with RHP Pedro Martinez in the eighth inning merited the lynch mob that had gathered around their radios prepared to attack upon command.

Indeed, with a 5-2 lead and Martinez coming off a seventh inning in which the Yankees hit him fairly hard, to many it seemed as if Little's perception of his bullpen reverted to two months ago, when he had all but given up on the idea of trusting anyone at any time in any game situation.

The standard postseason method of operation -- starter, RHP Mike Timlin and/or LHP Alan Embree, followed by RHP Scott Williamson -- achieved near perfection, with two assists from RHP Derek Lowe in the Division Series against Oakland.

The bottom line for Little, which the Red Sox announced this week, is that he will be employed elsewhere in 2004. Speculation already has begun as to who might replace the man who won 188 games in his two seasons managing Boston, with Bruce Bochy, Bobby Valentine, Jerry Manuel and Bud Black among the names most mentioned.

New England fans seem determined to remember Little for one decision. The Red Sox had a chance to win the American League pennant, dancing atop the mound at Yankee Stadium. They blew it, in large part because of a stunningly poor decision by the manager.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

The Devil Rays soon will have a better idea who's on first and who's at shortstop.

The Rays and first baseman Travis Lee had until the end of October to decide whether to exercise a $2.5 million mutual option.

Lee said at the end of the season he liked playing in Tampa Bay, but he might opt to seek a longer-term deal and/or to get back to the West Coast.

Lee played Gold Glove-caliber defense, but there has been some talk that the team, which is desperately seeking to upgrade its offense, might prefer to spend the money to acquire another first baseman with more power, or move Aubrey Huff to first and add another outfielder or DH.

The shortstop situation is even more muddled. The Rays hold a $1.75 million mutual option on Julio Lugo, who played well after resolving off-field legal matters at the All-Star break. Lugo went on to hit .275 with a career-high 15 home runs and 53 RBI.

But the Rays are also exploring the possibility of re-signing Rey Ordonez, who was having a career year offensively and defensively before injuring his left knee. Ordonez had surgery in June and is expected to resume running and doing baseball drills in November.

Ordonez made $6.25 million in 2003 in the final season of a bloated multiyear deal he signed with the Mets, though the Rays paid only $2 million of it. Their interest in re-signing him likely would be limited to a deal with a low base salary and significant games-played incentives.

Toronto Blue Jays

While signing free agent RHP Kelvim Escobar is the No. 1 item of the Jays' offseason agenda, deciding whether catcher Greg Myers will return for another season is just as important. Myers, a former No. 1 pick of the Jays, batted .307 with 15 homers and 52 RBIs. And he provided protection for MVP candidate Carlos Delgado.

Myers started hitting from the time he got out of the car in spring training upon his arrival, and he never stopped. He established career highs in average, home runs and RBIs.

How much better was his year than what the Jays expected? Well, he received $100,000 in bonuses this year on top of his base salary of $800,000. Myers received blocks of $25,000 each for appearing in 50, 60, 80 and 90 games.

"He's hit like we thought he would when we drafted him," Jays vice president Bobby Mattick said.

In 2001, Myers had four homers with the Baltimore Orioles, then was released and was signed by the Oakland A's. He hit five more and then admitted he had a case of the double-figure jitters.

"I was kind of nervous. I'd never been in double figures before and wanted to get there at least once," Myers said.

While the Jays gush about Kevin Cash as a glowing prospect, at age 27 he has yet to show he can hit major league pitching. He hit .142 in 106 at-bats with the Jays.

The team's best prospect might be catcher Guillermo Quiroz, who hit .282 with 20 home runs at Double-A New Haven.

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