Series foes to cash in on success differently Marlins to trim payroll, Indians eye free agents


MIAMI -- This is baseball in the '90s. The Florida Marlins and Cleveland Indians had not even taken the field for the final game of the 93rd World Series when the talk turned to the possible makeup of both clubs for 1998.

The Marlins are in danger of being dismantled. Owner H. Wayne Huizenga put the club up for sale last summer and -- even though the Marlins reached the World Series -- figures to decrease the payroll this winter.

The Indians are looking in the other direction. General manager John Hart confirmed yesterday that they are interested in signing a front-line starting pitcher and acquiring a premier second baseman, but probably will wait until after the expansion draft to decide how to go about it.

"Our position players are pretty much intact and we have a number of key players who are signed through the turn of the century," Hart said. "We have an organizational meeting coming up to decide how we'll proceed. We have some good young major-league pitchers and some good young players in the organization.

"However you cut the cake, we have a chance of getting stung by expansion. Once that is over, we'll decide what route to take as far as trades and free agency."

If the Indians decide to pursue a deal for a front-line second baseman, there are certain to be rumors about Orioles All-Star Roberto Alomar, who would seem like a natural choice to join his brother Sandy in Cleveland, but Orioles officials already have indicated that he is not available.

The Indians are one of the few teams not talking about cost control, because Hart has made a habit of tackling his payroll from the front end. He saved the club millions by signing many of the club's top young stars to long-term contracts in the early 1990s, and recently locked up veterans David Justice, Marquis Grissom, Jim Thome and Matt Williams to long-term extensions.

Not every move has turned out right, but Hart doesn't figure to back off after reaching the World Series two times in the past three years. The club can't be happy with the money that was spent on free-agent pitcher Jack McDowell two years ago -- or the outcome of the midsummer acquisitions of John Smiley and Jeff Juden -- but Hart appears likely to pursue Montreal ace Pedro Martinez.

McDowell, in the second year of a two-year deal, made just eight appearances this year before undergoing arm surgery that kept him out the rest of the season. The Marlins also had a high-priced pitcher go down, losing $35 million Alex Fernandez to a torn rotator cuff during the postseason.

"What happened to Jack McDowell doesn't change our pursuit of a starting pitcher," Hart said, "but you recognize that it is a very vulnerable position. Both Jack McDowell and Alex Fernandez were guys who made every start, which usually is a good sign, but it's always a roll of the dice."

Marlins general manager Dave Dombrowski was not quite so forthcoming, probably because he is far less certain which direction his club is going to go. Huizenga probably will sell the team to a group headed by Marlins president Don Smiley, which likely will lead to an economic pullback.

The Marlins don't even know for sure whether manager Jim Leyland will return for the second year of his five-year contract. He has a clause in that contract that allows him to opt out if there is an ownership change, though he refused to comment yesterday on speculation that he might resign if a sale is finalized.

"I wouldn't discuss something like that during the seventh game of the World Series," he said.

Neither would Dombrowski.

"I'm sure it will be addressed in the next couple of weeks," Dombrowski said. "I've known Jim for a long time. We're friends. When the time is appropriate, we'll deal with everything."

Marlins front-office officials will meet the next couple of weeks to map out their expansion strategy and discuss possible deals, but Dombrowski acknowledged that little could be accomplished before the ownership situation is settled. "We'll sit down and listen to what Wayne and Don decide," he said, "and then go from there."

Pub Date: 10/27/97

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