NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The rumors will not die.
The Philadelphia Phillies continue to insist that they are not interested in trading pitching ace Curt Schilling, but speculation resurfaced again recently that he might be made available to a contending team willing to put together a package of quality prospects.
The talk is not entirely unfounded. Schilling recently let Phillies officials know that he might be amenable to a deal to a National League contender, which prompted rumors of a possible trade to the Atlanta Braves. But the Phillies appear committed to keeping him at least until in-season trade talks heat up in June and July.
When that time comes, the Orioles figure to be one American League team on Schilling's wish list, but the composition of both organizations makes a deal virtually impossible. The Phillies are looking for big-time prospects, and they already are set at the positions where the Orioles have good young players in waiting.
The Phillies have Scott Rolen entrenched at third and are committed to $8 million prospect Pat Burrell at first and promising Marlon Anderson at second. That leaves Orioles outfield prospect Darnell McDonald -- the cornerstone of the club's future -- as the only player who might be of serious interest to the Phillies front office.
The Orioles have added a number of dynamic personalities to last year's underachieving club, leaving room to wonder just what kind of chemistry will develop in the clubhouse in 1999.
Will the addition of super-intense Albert Belle and hard-edged Will Clark create friction or stimulate the remnants of last year's docile lineup to reclaim the club's place among the top teams in the American League?
Manager Ray Miller, who is charged with molding this disparate group into a cohesive team, does not seem concerned.
"Chemistry comes from success," he said. "You've never seen a team that won that didn't have great chemistry. Chemistry comes from each guy having respect for each other guy on the team."
Miller recognizes that the arrival of a volatile personality such as Belle could have a dramatic impact on the atmosphere in the clubhouse. But in the wake of a 1998 season in which the club played with seemingly little passion, he feels the potential for improvement far outweighs the risk.
"When you have a club like this, you're going to have a few chairs banging together early in the season," Miller said. "Then, when you start to win, you form a bond. It has nothing to do with how nice somebody is or how affable. It's a matter of respect. That's why I'm happy to get guys like Belle and Clark and Charles Johnson. That intensity tends to rub off on everybody else."
Tampa Bay bargain
The acceleration of salaries has made it nearly impossible to find a bona fide offensive star for a decent price on the free-agent market, but the Tampa Bay Devil Rays did just that when they signed slugger Jose Canseco to an incentive-laden contract.
Canseco always has to be considered a gamble because of his injury history, but his numbers last year with the Blue Jays (46 home runs, 107 RBIs) leave little doubt that he can still be a huge offensive force as long as he stays healthy.
If he plays regularly, he could hit 50 home runs at cozy Tropicana Field and create some excitement for fans who have no realistic hope of seeing the club contend for a wild-card berth this year.
The contract guarantees only the first year at a base salary of $2 million (plus $2 million in incentives) but could extend through the 2001 season if Canseco gets at least 500 at-bats in each of the next two seasons. If he realizes every incentive and stays all three years, the deal could be worth $16 million. Still a bargain if he hits 30-plus home runs a season.
Realignment plan revisited
Cincinnati Reds general manager Jim Bowden is getting a lot of attention for his proposal that baseball realign to create separate divisions based on the economic strength of each team.
If he got his way, every team would have a chance to reach the playoffs, regardless of payroll, which sounds nice in theory. But in reality, it would be impossible to administer.
The promise of an easier road to the playoffs would be a huge incentive for clubs to hide revenue and exaggerate losses, and any large improvement in the circumstances of a small- or middle-market club -- i.e. a new stadium, an upgraded local television contract -- would be cause for another round of realignment.
What baseball needs more of is not realignment but common sense.
The new economic order in baseball -- which some say has already eliminated 18 teams from playoff consideration -- has forced some teams to temper their expectations, and the Reds are one of them.
"Our goal is to beat every team that is within a $10 million range of us," Bowden said.
Now, if he can just get the Cincinnati Enquirer to begin printing a separate set of standings listing just those teams, the Reds will be playing in a league of their own.
Poor choice of words
Boston Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette was trying to reassure local fans that the club is still in good shape after the departure of free-agent first baseman Mo Vaughn, but he probably didn't choose the right words.
"You can't go anywhere else to see Nomar Garciaparra play," Duquette said. "You can't go anywhere else and see Pedro Martinez and the Rolaids man [top AL reliever Tom Gordon]."
That's true, of course, but Red Sox fans are likely to look at a statement like that from both sides, because they do have to go somewhere else to see the popular Vaughn and back-to-back Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens. They've got to be wondering whether to get too cozy with Garciaparra and Martinez, too.
Lest anyone need more proof of the chasm between the big-revenue and small-revenue teams, the Oakland Athletics didn't feel they were in a position to give popular outfielder Rickey Henderson more than $1.5 million for 1999.
The A's declined to offer Henderson arbitration after they were unable to compromise on a one-year deal. They figured an arbitrator would have stuck them for up to $4 million because of the upsurge in comparative salaries, so they bailed out at the arbitration deadline and are not eligible to re-sign Henderson until May.
Instead, he'll probably sign a one-year, $2 million deal with the New York Mets.
When Toronto Blue Jays general manager Gord Ash revealed that an unnamed team had made an acceptable offer for Clemens, a lot of people assumed it was the Cleveland Indians.
But Indians GM John Hart continues to deny that his club is seriously involved.
He told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he has a "philosophical problem" with the logistics of the trade talks, since the club trying to acquire Clemens will have to make the deal fly with his agents as well as the Blue Jays.
'I'm wrestling with it philosophically," Hart said.
That could mean one of two things. Either Hart sincerely believes that there is something unseemly about the situation, or he has been informed that Clemens has no interest in playing in Cleveland. Probably the latter.
Pub Date: 12/13/98