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Braves face salary crunch, but Indians sitting pretty

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz just smiles a tight smile when asked whether he'll be able to keep the main 'D elements of this Braves team together, and says, again, that's a question he will address after the season.

But the financial reality of the matter is that the Braves will have a very hard time holding their core together. The Indians, on the other hand, are in a tremendous position to dominate the AL Central for years to come.

Atlanta first baseman Fred McGriff, who made $4.25 million in 1995, is a free agent after this season, and it seems unlikely the Braves will keep him. He is 32, and, although he is the centerpiece of the Braves' offense, they have more pressing matters to address. They can fill one void easily by moving Ryan Klesko to first base, a position he played all through the minors.

The Braves will attempt to keep left-hander Steve Avery ($4 million salary for '95) and center fielder Marquis Grissom ($4.9 million), both eligible for arbitration. They must decide whether to hang onto second baseman Mark Lemke, who made $1.25 million.

"It's very challenging to maintain consistency," Schuerholz said, "with the economics aspects of baseball. For instance, how high would our payroll have gone if we kept our team together from 1991?"

Pretty high. Higher than the $45 million the Braves spent this year.

"The Indians are facing that now," Schuerholz said. "If they do what we've tried to do, if they keep the team together, the financial cost could be prohibitive."

But the Indians are in relatively good shape, having signed their young players to long-term contracts. Carlos Baerga is signed through 1998, Albert Belle through next year, Kenny Lofton through 1997 and Jose Mesa through 1998. The costs are fixed.

The one matter the Indians must address is their starting pitching, which has relied on aging veterans. Cleveland's farm system is rich; nonetheless, the club's major-league starters are older, with Orel Hershiser and Dennis Martinez. The Indians will have to rely on free agents for the next year or two, as they did when they signed Hershiser.

The Braves should remain a good team, because their primary pitchers -- Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz -- are locked into contracts. But the Indians . . . start talking dynasty.

Murray here in '96?

* Eddie Murray has told friends he thinks he'll be with the Orioles next year. Assuming he and Baltimore can agree on a salary, there's no reason to think it won't happen. But it's hard to imagine that, given all their other needs -- second base, the bullpen, one outfield spot -- the Orioles would give their designated hitter much more than $1.5 million next year. That would represent a large pay cut for Murray.

* Should the Braves choose to let McGriff go as a free agent, the St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Padres are expected to be among those teams that will bid on the Crime Dog.

* The Dodgers have interest in hiring Phil Regan, the Orioles' ex-manager. "Phil's going to need a little time to sort some things out," said Los Angeles GM Fred Claire, "and then we'll see what he wants to do. We'll be talking." Look for Regan to be hired as a special assistant to Claire. He also may get a chance to be pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers as soon as Buck Showalter becomes manager there.

No deal for Giants' Williams

* San Francisco general manager Bob Quinn is adamant in his denial of trade rumors involving third baseman Matt Williams. "Matt Williams -- how can I put this? -- is not going to be traded," Quinn said. "Matt Williams is untouchable. We are not initiating phone calls nor entertaining any calls regarding Mr. Williams. That's as plain as I can make it."

Quinn did confirm that Mets GM Joe McIlvaine asked about Williams' availability in August.

One question: Why wouldn't Quinn entertain offers? Williams is a terrific player who will be paid $20 million over the next three years, by a team that wants to cut its annual payroll to about $20 million -- per year, not per player. A $7 million-per-year contract is going to be an incredible burden for the Giants in a year or two, and dealing Williams would provide San Francisco with some good, young talent in return, and the financial flexibility that becomes more critical each year.

* The holdup on the hiring of Ray Knight as Cincinnati's next manager involves money. Knight wants about $350,000 per year, and owner Marge Schott doesn't want to pay him that much. Cincinnati general manager Jim Bowden reportedly wants out of his five-year contract because of Schott's insistence that he slash the payroll. Unfortunately, Bowden already is committed to $29.6 million for 11 players.

The unknown coach

* John Stearns, likely to get a job as part of Davey Johnson's coaching staff, was a coach for the Reds last season. Unofficially, anyway. He was supposed to manage a Rookie-level team in the organization, but Johnson wanted him to work with the catchers in the big leagues. Knowing that Schott wouldn't allow another coach on the payroll, Bowden didn't tell the owner. Stearns traveled with the team all season, and during games he wore a jacket without his name on the back. He asked local media not to quote him, and became known among the writers as the "unknown coach."

* Edgar Martinez hit like Dennis Martinez in the AL playoffs, which has him feeling the blues. "I feel some . . . guilt," Edgar said, after the Mariners lost to the Indians in the playoffs. Martinez batted .087, going 2-for-23. "I feel responsibility for not doing more. I feel if I had produced more runs our chances to win would've been so much greater."

Saving the Astros

* Locals in Houston already are stepping up to keep the Astros from moving to Northern Virginia. The Greater Houston Partnership promised it would sell 12,000 season tickets to keep the Astros around. "People have to realize how important the Astros are to Houston," said Randall Orstead, part of the partnership. "I was in shock even thinking about losing the Astros."

* The bet here is that the Orioles, who must decide whether to pick up the $1.3 million option on Doug Jones by the end of this week, will cut loose the reliever. Because Jones relies on a changeup, he's the type who must grow on his bosses over a period of time. It's hard to see a new GM moving into Baltimore and choosing to rely on a closer whose best pitch is a changeup.

* Who, then? Well, the Orioles could go after Chicago left-hander Randy Myers, who would either be loved or hated by the Camden Yards faithful for his tendency to court disaster before saving -- or, occasionally, blowing -- leads.

La Russa deal fishy?

* The Cardinals' expensive purchase of Tony La Russa as manager has cynics believing they did so just to make the product more attractive to potential buyers. Former St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog, never bashful in his opinions about the Cardinals, criticized them for giving La Russa the $1.5 million contract he wanted.

He said, "Something is fishy when they paid $1.5 million for a new manager. I can't believe that. I did both jobs [manager and GM] for $100,000 15 years ago. How are you actually going to finish last two years in a row [actually, La Russa's Athletics finished last two of the last three years] and get $1.5 million? How can a manager make $1.5 million?"

Says here the Orioles made a great decision picking Johnson, who will be paid about one-third of what La Russa is being paid. Maybe that extra million bucks saved will be used toward signing a right-handed set-up man.

* The Philadelphia Phillies probably aren't going to bring back third baseman Charlie Hayes, who has made a habit of frustrating employers with his work habits.

* Oakland owner Steve Schott, whose wish came true when La Russa left for St. Louis, is serious about his desire to reduce his payroll. His words can't exactly thrill his employees.

This about injury-prone first baseman Mark McGwire: "People come out to see their favorite players in the lineup, and how can you count on McGwire all the time? If he's only in there a third, half the time, how can you count on him?"

On catcher Terry Steinbach: "What are we paying him, $3.5 million? And he hit, what, .260, .270? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that's not what you want."

On Rickey Henderson: "We have to figure out how hard Rickey wants to play. We'll have to see how many games he'll be in day to day, find out what we can live with."

By the numbers

* Greg Maddux gave up a total of one run in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings combined during the regular season. Then he allowed two runs in the sixth inning of Game 5.

* When Ryan Klesko homered in Game 5, he became the first player to homer in three straight World Series games since Lonnie Smith in 1991.

* Of Atlanta's last 17 World Series games -- through Game 5 -- 13 were decided by one run. The Braves were 4-9 in those games.

* Going into this weekend, teams that have trailed the series 3-2 and gone on the road for games 6 and 7 have won six World Series in 22 opportunities.

* When Maddux gave up two walks and a homer in the first inning of Game 5, it was the first time he had done so since July 14, 1990.

* When Marquis Grissom singled in the fifth inning of Game 5, it was his 24th hit of the postseason, tying a record set by Boston's Marty Barrett in 1986 (Grissom has the advantage in that he was able to participate in an extra round of playoffs).

* Through Game 5, Grissom had hit in all 13 postseason games.

* Orel Hershiser has eight career postseason victories, tied with Jim Palmer for fourth all-time. They are behind Whitey Ford and Dave Stewart (10), and Jim Hunter (9).

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