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Teams shoot blanks for top gun Clemens Main item at meetings spurs interest, no deal


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Toronto Blue Jays continue to

search for the combination of players that will persuade them to part with superstar pitcher Roger Clemens, but they apparently will exit the winter meetings today without completing the blockbuster deal that has been the dominant topic of baseball's off-season convention.

"Clubs are still formulating their offers, adding and subtracting players," Toronto general manager Gord Ash said yesterday. "We're not satisfied with any proposals from any clubs. The clubs are not satisfied with our proposals."

The Blue Jays negotiated well into Sunday night with the Texas Rangers, but were unable to agree on a package. The Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros, Colorado Rockies and even the New York Yankees still are believed to be in the hunt, and the complex trade talks could stretch through the end of the week. Perhaps even longer.

What will it take? No one is saying, but the Blue Jays apparently feel that they can fall back on a solid package of players offered by the Indians that includes All-Star outfielder Manny Ramirez, catching prospect Einar Diaz and second baseman Enrique Wilson. Indians officials insist that they are not seriously involved, but the Clemens sweepstakes has become a cloak-and-dagger affair in which nothing seems to come at face value.

The Astros, for instance, called a news conference on Sunday to announce angrily that they had dropped out of the hunt, but reports persist that owner Drayton McLane continues to negotiate with Clemens' agents, Alan and Randy Hendricks.

The Rangers still have to be considered the front-runner, but their attempt to hammer out a deal Sunday night apparently was complicated by Ash's desire to check back with other clubs before committing to anything.

The Indians' offer remains on the table, according to a club source, but Cleveland GM John Hart apparently does not want it on the street that he is willing to deal All-Star right fielder Ramirez. The Yankees have been conspicuous by their absence at the winter meetings, but likely will step in at some point with a package that could feature pitcher Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and/or fifth starter Ramiro Mendoza.

One thing now appears certain. The Orioles are on the outside looking in, and they are not interested in paying what it would take to sign Clemens even if they had the right players to make the trade.

"They know we're looking for starting pitching," said Orioles GM Frank Wren, "but we're just not interested in pursuing that contract as it has been portrayed."

The price to sign Clemens could be staggering. His agents told the Astros over the weekend that they were looking for a one-year contract extension that would cost the club $27 million -- on top of the $16 million remaining on Clemens' current contract. The asking price could go as high as five years at $75 million for a team that isn't within driving distance of Clemens' Houston-area home.

Ash had hoped to get a deal done before the winter meetings. Now, with the convention drawing to a close, there is room to wonder if there would have been more activity had the Clemens issue not dominated the agenda.

"I think it had to put a crimp in what's going on here," said Anaheim Angels general manager Bill Bavasi. "It seems like that either that or these are just lousy meetings. I can't see anything else holding things up."

Wren isn't sure that Clemens is the reason, but he agreed that some clubs seemed reluctant to finalize anything in Nashville.

"I don't know the reason behind their not being ready to pursue things, but there has been some of that," Wren said. "People are telling us, 'We're not ready to do anything.' They want to talk, but they don't seem to want to get it done today."

Pub Date: 12/15/98

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