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GM Bowden never waives chance to work

He looks too young to be taken seriously. Opie Taylor wearing a badge. But James G. Bowden IV ranks second to none among baseball general managers for aggressiveness.

Bowden, 33, must be attached to the waiver wire. Work stoppage? What work stoppage? The Cincinnati Reds' GM hasn't stopped working long enough to miss the opportunity to call nearly every agent about nearly every released player in baseball. He calls them, then he signs them.

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Consider Bowden's busy off-season, though off-season isn't an appropriate term for the busiest man in a sport that doesn't exist.

He trimmed $15.15 million from last season's payroll by not re-signing Tom Browning ($3.5 million), Kevin Mitchell ($3.5), Erik Hanson ($2.7), Joe Oliver ($2.5), Rob Dibble ($2.45) and Tony Fernandez ($500,000).

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A nice start.

His most significant additions: reliever Xavier Hernandez (two years, $1.6 million), starter Pete Smith ($500,000) and catcher Damon Berryhill ($500,000).

Bowden also signed minor-league free agents Rick Reed, Blaine Beatty, Kurt Stillwell, Scott Scudder and former Orioles third baseman Craig Worthington. Other minor-league contracts went to catchers Adam Brown and Mike Knapp and pitcher Travis Buckley.

Bowden also claimed right-hander Larry Luebbers off waivers from the Chicago Cubs, swapped outfielders, getting the Pittsburgh Pirates' Danny Clyburn for Jacob Brumfield, claimed Gary Mota on waivers from the Philadelphia Phillies and signed Los Angeles Dodgers first-round bust "Wild" Bill Bene.

Bowden has kept so busy he even released a player, watched him tour the NL, then re-signed him.

First baseman Jamie Dismuke was waived by the Reds, then claimed by the Atlanta Braves, waived by the Braves, then claimed by the Dodgers, then waived by the Dodgers, then claimed by the Reds, who designated him for minor-league assignment.

There's no room on the 40-man roster for Dismuke, as Hal Morris, Brian Hunter and Tim Belk, all first basemen, stand above him.

Bowden's stockpiling style creates wicked competition in spring training, which begets a winning atmosphere. Sure, it's not easy to root for a guy who would name his dog Brianna, but there is no denying Bowden has shined since becoming the youngest NTC GM in major-league history when he underbid the competition for the job on Oct. 16, 1992.

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Instant gratitude unwise

Baseball owners don't always take the wisest path to reach out to fans to thank them for supporting the local team. For example, Colorado Rockies owner Jerry McMorris, moved by the incredible attendance figures of 1993, instructed his front office to acquire veteran pitchers.

Rockies GM Bob Gebhard responded by trading pitchers Andy Ashby and Doug Bochtler and catcher Brad Ausmus to the San Diego Padres for pitchers Greg Harris and Bruce Hurst. July 29, 1993, became known as the day McMorris proved his love for the fans of Colorado.

Hurst was forced out of the game by a bum shoulder. Harris, released last week, went 4-20 with a 6.60 ERA for the Rockies.

Elsewhere, Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane made a big splash when he signed free agents Doug Drabek and Greg Swindell after purchasing the club from John McMullen, who didn't have the money to go after free agents.

Now, McLane is trimming costs in a big way. The first major move in that direction came when the Astros traded Pete Harnisch ($3.25 million) to the New York Mets.

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"There were financial considerations that went into this trade," Astros GM Bob Watson acknowledged. "The bottom line is we feel the rules are going to change and we felt that he would be at the limit on the dollars we were going to have to spend."

Said Harnisch: "It had become pretty obvious that they want to get rid of as much payroll as they can and whatever happens, happens. We kept hearing the last few years [from McLane] that we "want to be a champion, be a champion, be a champion. We heard that so much. Now it has become apparent it was not as important as it was stressed to us. Money is the bottom line.

"The organization was a lot better off with John McMullen in charge. I think it's going to be a rough situation in Houston. It's kind of a shame. We had a team that was pretty close to being a winner and now no one knows who's coming back next year."

Watson insisted that the Astros have not run up the white flag and pointed out that they have the nucleus of Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Drabek intact.

"Believe me, we're going to put a team out there we think is going to contend," Watson said. "We're not going to go the route we did in 1991."

Dismantling a winner?

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Free agent Bill Swift does not think the San Francisco Giants have any intention of maintaining their recent winning ways, which would mean Barry Bonds would be on hand to witness the dismantling of a contender yet again.

"It's too bad," Swift told the San Francisco Examiner. "We're going somewhere unless they blow our socks off, which I don't think will happen. I don't think they will make any more offers, to tell you the truth. If they are going to make cuts, it's not going to happen. If they want to win, they've got to sign me back.

"The reason they signed [Mark] Portugal was to have three quality starters. Not signing me and possibly not signing [Mike Jackson] and now releasing Bryan Hickerson and Rich Monteleone, they're not going to have a bullpen, let alone a starting rotation. This team is real close to winning it all and it looks like they are going to tear it all apart."

Swift predicts that the Giants will enter 1995 with a starting rotation of Portugal, John Burkett, William VanLandingham, Salomon Torres and Trevor Wilson. Portugal shredded a knee ligament shortly before the strike. Burkett could become a restricted free agent in the new system. VanLandingham has only 14 games of major-league experience. Wilson didn't throw a pitch because of shoulder problems.

Angels stay after Lee Smith

The California Angels remain hopeful of signing Orioles free-agent closer Lee Smith, who earned a $500,000 incentive bonus for winning the Rolaids Relief Man Award.

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"A number of teams are interested," said Smith's agent, Brian David. "There is a potential for this to move forward quickly, but you never know. . . . Lee enjoyed Baltimore, but I wouldn't say there is any clear preference. He wants to get the right deal in the right situation."

The best guess as to what the Angels will offer is somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million plus incentives for two years for baseball's all-time saves leader, who has been on the verge of being washed up since he was a rookie, it seems.

Around the horn

If Carl Everett, acquired in a trade last week with the Florida Marlins, is the Mets' regular center fielder, that will give them eight in eight seasons. Counting backward: Everett, Ryan Thompson, Joe Orsulak, Howard Johnson, Vince Coleman, Keith Miller, Mookie Wilson, and Len Dykstra. . . . Texas Rangers general manager Doug Melvin needs arms and has an interest in Kevin Gross, Todd Stottlemyre and reliever Jim Gott. . . . The AL hit .314 against free-agent right-hander Kevin Brown, who is strong and healthy. Why did he do so poorly? Because he refused to develop an off-speed pitch. If the chance to cash in on a big season was not enough incentive to make Brown listen to advice, does anyone believe the security of a long-term deal will make him more eager to improve?

TOP YOUNG O'S

Top Orioles prospects, according to the current edition of Baseball America:

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TOP 10 PLAYERS

No. ...Player .. .. .. .. .. ..Pos.

...Armando Benitez .. .. .. .RHP

2. ...Alex Ochoa .. .. .. .. .. .OF

3. ...Jimmy Haynes .. .. .. .. .RHP

...Curtis Goodwin .. .. .. ...OF

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5. ...Rocky Coppinger .. .. .. .RHP

6. ...Manny Alexander .. .. .. ..SS

7. ...Jay Powell .. .. .. .. ...RHP

...Tommy Davis .. .. .. .. ...3B

...Brian Sackinsky .. .. .. .RHP

10. ..Calvin Maduro .. .. .. ...RHP

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TOP TOOLS

* Best hitter for average, best outfield arm: Ochoa

* Best power hitter: Davis

* Fastest base runner, best defensive outfielder: Goodwin

* Best fastball: Benitez

* Best breaking ball: Rick Krivda

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* Best control: Scott Klingenbeck

* Best defensive catcher: Greg Zaun

G; * Best defensive infielder; best infield arm: Alexander



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