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In need of closer, Rangers open search for Lee Smith

The Texas Rangers decided not to exercise the option on closer Tom Henke's contract, which leaves them with a roster that has one pitcher (Cris Carpenter) with as many as seven career saves (earned in 24 opportunities).

Orioles closer Lee Smith is a free agent.

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Texas manager Johnny Oates had an excellent working relation ship with Smith, never using him more than one in nine, almost never using him in a non save situation.

Rangers general manager Doug Melvin felt jilted when the Orioles hired Phil Regan as manager, preventing Regan from interviewing for the Rangers' managing vacancy. It was Melvin who first mentioned Regan as a via ble managerial candidate when Mel vin was working for the Orioles.

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Smith indicated at the AllStar Game that he might want to sign with a club closer to his home in Castor, La., so that he could spend more time with his ailing father.

At this point, Melvin has made only preliminary contact with Smith's representatives, Chicago based Speakers of Sport. But Melvin has a $35 million budget for 1995, needs a closer and would like noth ing better than to help his team by hurting the Orioles.

The Orioles want to re-sign Smith to anchor what could become the league's best bullpen, considering that they would have Armando Ben itez for a full season to team with fellow hardthrowing Alan Mills in a setup role.

Despite uncertainty regarding the economic rules that govern the game, the New York Yankees acted swiftly in retaining Paul )) O'Neill, their most important free agent.

The Orioles allowed Smith to test the market, gambling that they won't lose him.

Oates restoring order

Oates will have a more conventional setup for his coaching staff than fired predecessor Kevin Kennedy, the new Boston Red Sox manager.

Kennedy's bullpen coach, Perry Hill, spent games in the dugout, working with infielders. Meanwhile, Rangers pitchers sometimes warmed up pitchers and Jose Canseco's infamous relief appearance included an unsupervised warmup in which he threw as hard as he could, then blew out his elbow in the game.

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Oates' bullpen coach, Larry Hardy, will be stationed in the bullpen. Imagine that.

The Rangers led the American League in blown saves (20) and had the league's fourth highest bullpen ERA (5.28).

Oates said of the previous ar rangement: "That might have caused problems getting relievers ready to pitch in a ballgame. Larry will make sure our pitchers are prepared mentally and physically to get people out."

Orioles make key move

Lost amid the caterwauling and insolence of a wild week at Camden Yards was a significant front office move, a four-year contract extension for scouting director Gary Nickels.

The backbone of any organization is the scouting department, and the backbone of any scouting department is stability.

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Slow market

Colorado Rockies general manager Bob Gebhard summed up the reason for the scant activity on the free agent front.

"There has been $600 million drawn out of the sport [by strike-lost revenues]," he said. "You'd like to get things done, but what are the numbers going to be? The players will want to build off what they made last year. I don't know, in light of the lost revenues, that the owners will be prepared to give that kind of money."

Thomas joins elite group

Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas became the 11th player and second first baseman to win back-to-back MVP awards. The others, by position:

Catcher: Yogi Berra, New York (AL), 1954-1955; First base: Jimmie Foxx, Philadelphia (AL), 1932-1933; second base: Joe Morgan, Cincinnati, 1975-1976; third base: Mike Schmidt, Philadelphia, 1980-1981; shortstop: Ernie Banks, Chicago (NL), 1958-1959; outfield: Roger Maris, New York (AL), 1960-1961; Mickey Mantle, New York (AL), 1956-1957; Barry Bonds, Pittsburgh-San Francisco, 1992-1993; Dale Murphy, Atlanta, 1982-1983; pitcher: Hal Newhouser, Detroit, 1944-1945.

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By the way, one day after Thomas won his second AL MVP Award, Philadelphia Phillies GM Lee Thomas informed special assignments scout Jay Hankins that he wouldn't be offered a contract for 1995.

Hankins was the scouting director in 1989 when the Phillies used the fourth overall pick to take outfielder Jeff Jackson from Chicago's Simeon High School. Jackson batted .177 at Double-A Reading last year and was dropped from the 40-man roster after the season.

Three picks after Jackson was taken, the White Sox chose Thomas. Turns out, Jackson was No. 1 on the White Sox's list, Thomas No. 2.

Hankins was replaced by Mike Arbuckle as scouting director after the 1992 season but remained with the organization until last week. Hankins' four drafts yielded only three players who have made it to the majors: shortstop Kevin Stocker, right-hander Mike Williams and catcher Mike Lieberthal.

Indians replace Regan

The Cleveland Indians again rehired a coach they had fired a few years before.

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Last year, hitting coach Charlie Manuel was brought back four years after he was fired in favor of Jose Morales. Last week, the Indians hired Mark Wiley as pitching coach three years after they demoted him to special assignments scout.

Wiley, 45, replaces Regan on Mike Hargrove's staff.

The finalists for the job that went to Wiley: former Los Angeles Dodgers pitching coach Ron Perranoski, former Red Sox pitching coach Bill Fischer, former Houston Astros pitching coach Bob Cluck, former San Diego Padres pitching coach Pat Dobson and highly regarded Padres minor-league pitching coach Dan Warthen.

Angels pursue The Mick

The California Angels hope to land free-agent power hitter Mickey Tettleton and make him their starting first baseman, as well as a back up outfielder, backup catcher and No. 5 hitter. The Angels' $23.3 million payroll was the lowest in the AL last season.

Wouldn't Tettleton be a nice fit if the Orioles do not re-sign designated hitter Harold Baines? Tettleton could serve as DH, third catcher and emergency outfielder.

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Cards to seek pitching

The St. Louis Cardinals, eager to return to contending status, are willing to spend money to get there. They are expected to be among the most aggressive spenders on the freeagent market and are seeking to beef up a shoddy starting rotation.

New general manager Walt Jocketty is believed to be interested in pursuing either White Sox right-hander Jack McDowell or Rangers left-hander Kenny Rogers. Thanks to the strike, both pitchers fell just short of the required six years needed for free agency under baseball's old Basic Agreement. Should the service time be negotiated back, and the new agreement calls for similar free-agent rules, the Cards likely will end up with one of the aces.

The Cardinals also could improve their pitching depth by trading one of their four outfielders. They are intent on seeing how Brian Jordan could handle daily duty, and then so would be able to trade either Bernard Gilkey, Ray Lankford or Mark Whiten.

Around the horn

Montreal Expos president Claude Brochuon the proposed United Baseball League: "Oh, you mean the Union Baseball League? What makes me laugh is that I understand they're going to have a salary cap. I wonder what Donald Fehr thinks of that.". . . Bert Blyleven, hired last month as the Angels' pitching coach at Single-A Cedar Rapids, re-signed to become the director of sports ministry at his church. "This just came up," Blyleven said. "I know the Angels were surprised, but this is God's way of telling me I shouldn't leave. I still eventually want to manage in the minor leagues, and one day go to the major league level. But not now, I have two boys, 12 and 11, and I just don't want to go six months without seeing them." . . . The Athletics' 308 relief appearances tied Boston for the league lead, making it four years in a row Tony LaRussa has made the most pitching changes in the AL. Oakland's bullpen led the AL with 370 innings.... The Padres, in the market for a third baseman, have an interest in Tim Wallach, whose proposal of a one year, $2.65 million deal, plus an option year, was rejected by the Dodgers. Wallach is scheduled to meet with the Padres on Thursday. The Padres also might have an interest in trading for Houston third baseman Ken Caminiti and one of the Astros' shortstops, Andujar Cedeno or Orlando Miller, by giving up outfielder Derek Bell.... Davey Lopes, not retained by the Orioles as first base coach, is a candidate for a similar vacancy with the Padres.



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