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One by one, Jays soon to fly away


TORONTO -- For once, the question isn't which players the Toronto Blue Jays might acquire, but which ones they might trade.

David Cone?

"I think it's very possible," Cone said. "Everybody keeps telling me it's going to happen."

Joe Carter?

"There's been talk," Carter said. "That is a possibility."

Roberto Alomar?

"I heard some rumors I was getting traded to Baltimore or L.A," Alomar said.

So it goes for the two-time defending world champions, a team that is certain to be broken up by the July 31 waiver deadline, and probably before then.

"I think it's better sooner than later," general manager Gord Ash said.

The Blue Jays are in last place in the AL East, 11 games behind Boston. Scalpers are asking face value for choice seats at the once-sold-out SkyDome. And Ash has all but decided to start over.

Paul Molitor? John Olerud? Devon White?

Make Ash an offer.

The first-year GM said he isn't dumping salaries, but conceded the Blue Jays are paying for all those two-for-one and three-for-one trades that depleted their farm system while producing back-to-back World Series titles.

"The difficult part of this is, if you were to put together a streak like the Yankees, you could be right back in it," Ash said before the Blue Jays' 5-0 victory over the Orioles, their second straight triumph after eight straight defeats.

"But with the number of injuries we have at key positions -- in the bullpen, for instance -- and the fact we've had erratic starting pitching, and haven't gotten the production we're used to from certain people, the signs aren't there for us to contend this year."

Ash warned, "We haven't cast that in concrete yet," but he's moving closer to that point.

"Much closer," he said.

Which is why scouts from five American League teams -- including AL West contenders Texas and California -- watched Cone strike out a season-11 high in Boston on Wednesday night.

Memo to Orioles GM Roland Hemond:


How many veterans will Ash trade?

"We're completely open-minded," Ash said. "It may be as few as one. It may be as many as four or five."

Ash said he spoke with Hemond earlier this week, "letting him know what our thoughts might be as we approach the All-Star Game."

Hemond said Ash didn't indicate he was prepared to trade his big names -- they talked about a lesser player instead.

What about it, Roland?

"They're capable players," Hemond said, "but I haven't talked to them about that at all."

Capable? Carter hit two home runs last night and Alomar one. Cone would be just a slight improvement over Sid Fernandez.

Hemond said he would visit with Ash over the weekend. He can start by inquiring about Cone, a pitcher who has twice eluded his grasp.

Carter? He has another year left on his contract, so the Orioles probably couldn't make the deal unless the Blue Jays took Brady Anderson.

Alomar? Forget it -- for now.

Ash said it would be "painful" for the Jays to trade Alomar, and Carter said they shouldn't do it unless "we get four Cy Young winners in return."

Alomar, however, is a free agent after this season. And the Orioles almost certainly would be interested then.

Do the Jays want Alomar back?

Of course.

Does he want to stay?

That depends.

"His main concern is not money or length of contract as much as it is winning," said Toronto broadcaster Buck Martinez, a former Blue Jay who is friendly with Alomar. "I don't know that he's real confident Toronto is going to win real soon."

Alomar said yesterday that he wants to return, but Ash said the Blue Jays don't negotiate during the season, and won't make a long-term investment until a new collective-bargaining agreement is in place.

The Orioles covet Alomar, and what's more, they probably could afford him. They then could move Manny Alexander to shortstop, and Cal Ripken to third base.

L Alomar is intrigued by the idea -- except for the last part.

"Baltimore is a good place to play. The fans are real supportive, the same way they are here. They have young guys that love to play the game." And, he added with a smile, "I would not mind playing with Cal Ripken."

But if Alexander was at short?

"I don't know about that. I don't know if they're going to change Ripken," Alomar said.

The problem with all this, of course, is that the Jays would be crazy to lose Alomar, their franchise player, and the best second baseman in the game.

"I'm 35 -- guys in their 30s, I don't know if it would be wise to retain us at the money we're making," Carter said. "But Alomar, he's 27. You've got to keep him. If you get rid of all the salaries, he's the guy you build around.

"He's a future Hall of Famer, a Gold Glover, a potential MVP every year. If there's one guy on this team I'd say the Blue Jays had to keep, it would be Robbie Alomar."

So, who gets traded? Not Olerud, who is batting .237, and has two years left on his contract. And probably not Molitor, who is strictly a DH, and has an option year remaining.

Cone is the leading candidate -- he's a free agent after this season. Carter is another strong possibility -- he'll be nearly impossible to trade after next May, at which point he'll have enough service time to veto any deal.

San Diego reportedly is interested in reacquiring Carter, a rumor he described as "very, very interesting." He said he'd prefer to play closer to his home in Leawood, Kan. Then again, the Padres' Tony Gwynn is one of his best friends.

Whatever, Carter is resigned to his fate, and so are his teammates. Cone jokingly referred to himself as "a hot item." Alomar said, "if it's time for me to go, it's time for me to go." And Carter was the most philosophical of all.

"There's nothing the Blue Jays could do to make anybody upset -- they're a class organization all the way," he said. "This is what they have to do. They're trying to get their future back."

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