Stocking expansion teams may cut free-agent moves

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It has nothing to do with the glacier-like pace the Orioles have established in negotiations with Cal Ripken, but activity involving potential free agents will be slower than normal this year.

The reason? Outwardly at least, collusion doesn't appear to be a factor -- but the 26 existing teams will do their dealing with an eye toward stocking the National League expansion teams in Miami and Denver. And the players who might be eligible in those drafts don't figure to be in any hurry to reach a salary agreement before knowing where they are going to play.

Each team will be allowed to protect 15 players. Any player who would have to be protected from the Rule V draft (those with three years or more experience in the minor leagues) will be eligible for the expansion draft.

All 10-and-five players (players with 10 years in the majors, at least the past five of those with one team) and those with no-trade clauses in their contracts must be included among the 15 protected players.

But free agents won't figure into the equation, reducing the overall number available to the expansion teams in the stocking process. The flip side, of course, is that those players will be eligible to sign with any of the 28 teams.

"I think teams will weigh in the factor they can protect only 15 players," said Michael Maas, associate of Ron Shapiro, who represents many players who figure to be involved. "The other approach would be to sign free agents and leave them unprotected -- exposing them to two teams rather than 28.

"But generally, I agree that you'll probably see a little less action on some free agents. You also won't see many call-ups in September among players not on the 40-man roster."

Anybody on the 40-man roster, naturally, will be eligible for the expansion process. That would preclude, for instance, the nTC Orioles bringing up Mark Smith, last year's No. 1 draft choice, because such a move would throw him into the pool of players who had to be protected or exposed to the expansion teams.

It also means that players selected in the amateur draft next month won't be tendered major-league contracts.

You will recall that was the hang-up between last year's No. 1 pick, Brien Taylor, and the New York Yankees, who didn't want to have to protect a 19-year-old prospect.

This numbers game, however, won't affect the top players, such as Ripken and Kirby Puckett. It would make no sense for the Orioles and Twins to let those two become free agents merely for the sake of being able to protect an extra borderline player.

Of course, a lot of people might argue that it hasn't made any sense for the Orioles to let the Ripken negotiations drag on this long, but what do we know?

Only that the clock is ticking -- and the point where Ripken has nothing to lose by testing the market is rapidly approaching.

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Does Tram stop here?: There is increasing speculation in Detroit that Alan Trammell's career as an everyday position player may be over. It is not completely disputed by Trammell, who could, but probably won't, become a free agent at the end of the season.

He is on the disabled list with a fracture of the same ankle (right) that he severely sprained a year ago and isn't due back until July.

Trammell has never played a position other than shortstop as a professional, but how the Tigers use him when he comes back could depend on how Scott Livingstone performs at third base.

If Livingstone hits, Trammell could be relegated to designated hitter. If Livingstone doesn't hit, the Tigers may want to use Trammell at third. Travis Fryman has emerged as a forceful player and has reached the point where shuttling between the positions could be risky because of the different throws involved.

In any event, Trammell is aware of his uncertain status. He doesn't think any other teams would be interested in him as anything other than an everyday player, meaning shortstop.

Even if they did, he's indicated he has no desire to leave Detroit.

"If the Tigers want me, in whatever role, I want to stay," said Trammell. "I want to help this club. I hope they give me another chance."

Trammell's salary is $2.4 million, the biggest contract of his career. He may have to take a pay cut, but don't expect the Tigers to force him out.

"He'll get as fair a shake as a man can get," said manager Sparky Anderson, who won't do the negotiating, but presumably will carry some clout with the club's new owners, assuming the sale of the Tigers is completed.

"If you give people a fair shake, you usually get one in return," said Anderson, referring to the fact that Trammell has remained loyal to the Detroit organization.

Trammell broke his ankle while running to first base -- not when he stepped on the bag (he touched that with his left foot) -- leading to some suspicion he may actually have incurred a fracture with his injury a year ago.

Injuries have hampered Trammell since 1987, the last time the Tigers won a division, slightly diminishing an otherwise Hall of Fame career. This will be the fourth time in five years he will play fewer than 130 games, a figure he exceeded in each of his first 10 years.

With 2,050 hits, 1,077 runs scored, 876 runs batted in, 212 stolen bases and 162 home runs to go with his unquestioned skills at shortstop, Trammell is a strong candidate for the Hall of Fame. But he may have to punctuate his credentials as a DH or role player, or both, in the next few seasons.

Time flies when you're having fun: Since ex-Oriole Mike Boddicker pitched a complete-game shutout for the Red Sox on July 25, 1989, Roger Clemens has 11 such gems.

No other Red Sox pitcher has pitched a shutout in the interim. And Boddicker? He got the first save of his career in a mop-up role the other night for the Royals.

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Rose knows Howe: Since Steve Howe joined the Yankees last year, he has given up two home runs. Both have been pinch-hit jobs by the California Angels' Bobby Rose, who has five for his career.

Howe hasn't allowed a home run to a left-handed hitter since Jose Cruz connected July 4, 1983. But then, Howe has pitched only sporadically since 1983. The left-handed reliever has given up only three runs this year.

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The ineffective Mariners (cont'd): Right-handed starting pitchers for the Seattle Mariners were 3-15 going into play this weekend. That's half as many victories as Bill Swift, traded for Kevin Mitchell last winter, had for the San Francisco Giants.

Seattle right-handers had lost 11 in a row, and one of their three wins was posted by Rich DeLucia, now in the minor leagues. Meanwhile the Mariners had 18 former pitchers elsewhere in the

big leagues.

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Hitting the wall: Through 20 games and 1,484 batters, nobody had hit the right-field scoreboard at Camden Yards until Randy Milligan did it Friday night. With the wall only 318 feet away and 25 feet high, why did it take that long?

There's no logical answer, but there does appear to be a lack of left-handed power hitters in the American League. In 1987, there were 11 left-handed hitters who hit 27 or more home runs. Since then, only two (Fred McGriff when he was in Toronto and Detroit's Lou Whitaker) have hit that many.

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