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Continuing battle

New York teams chasing same big-name free agents

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Posted: Saturday October 28, 2000 8:39 PM
Updated: Monday October 30, 2000 1:49 AM

  Mike Mussina Mike Mussina is expected to draw bids from the Mets and Yankees, among others. Matthew Stockman/Allsport

JERSEY CITY, New Jersey (Ticker) -- The Yankees and Mets may not be through competing.

After battling each other hard in the World Series, the two teams could be fighting it out to sign some of the same big-name free agents this winter.

Pitcher Mike Mussina, outfielder Manny Ramirez and shortstop Alex Rodriguez are the three biggest names on the free agent market and both the Yankees and the Mets are likely to be in the bidding for at least two, and possibly all three of them. Mussina and Ramirez officially filed for free agency on Friday, the first day players were eligible to file.

Mussina, although he struggled this season with an 11-15 record, still posted a respectable 3.79 ERA and struck out 210, only eight short of his career high. Even though Mussina is said to be seeking a seven-year deal worth $105 million, the Yankees are certain to make an offer for him. The Mets will, too, but only if they lose left-hander Mike Hampton to free agency.

Hampton was instrumental in helping the Mets to the National League pennant, but it is believed he longs to play in a warm-weather city and could be headed for Atlanta or back to Houston.

"We've told Hampton we'll make a determined effort to keep him and we consider him a top priority," Mets general manager Steve Phillips said.

The player the Mets most likely will give high priority to is Rodriguez. The All-Star shortstop, who has spent his entire six-year major league career with Seattle, may be the best all-around player in the game.

The Mets have a Gold Glove shortstop in Rey Ordonez under contract for three years, but he missed most of the season with a broken arm and is a liability at the plate. Mike Bordick, whom the Mets acquired from Baltimore to fill the shortstop hole when Ordonez went down, is a free agent and is expected to go back to the Orioles.

Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner is always attracted by big-game stars, and there has been some speculation that he will get in the bidding for Rodriguez. However, it is a longshot because either Rodriguez or Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter would have to shift positions. Even though Rodriguez and Jeter are best friends, it is unlikely either would agree to that because they are both in their prime years.

Still, there aren't many teams who will be able to afford Rodriguez, whose asking price is expected to be about $20 million a season for five years.

The Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers have been mentioned as possible suitors, but Atlanta already has a promising shortstop in Rafael Furcal, who had a solid rookie campaign and comes at a bargain-basement price. The Dodgers are committed to re-signing pitchers Darren Dreifort, a free agent, and Chan Ho Park, a free agent after the 2001 season, and the team's payroll is already over $100 million. There may not be enough money left for Rodriguez.

Testing the Waters
Players who filed for free agency
Pos.  Player  Team 
Sandy Alomar  CLE 
SS  Mike Bordick  NYM 
UT  Shawon Dunston  STL 
OF  Jeffrey Hammonds  COL 
OF  Todd Hollandsworth  COL 
Todd Hundley  LA 
Tom Lampkin  SEA 
3B  Dave Magadan  SD 
RHP  Mike Mussina  BAL 
OF  Manny Ramirez  CLE 
List of 157 potential free agents

Although Rodriguez says he is not ruling out returning to Seattle, it is unlikely he will be back with the Mariners.

Ramirez has said returning to Cleveland is his first priority, but he has already turned down a five-year, $75 million offer from the Indians. Surely, Steinbrenner can make a better offer for a player who hit .351 with 38 homers and 122 RBI despite missing a full month of the season. Besides, Ramirez grew up in Washington Heights in the shadow of Yankee Stadium.

The Mets, too, might be interested in Ramirez because they can use another power-hitter and their right-field situation is uncertain. Derek Bell, who manned that position most of the season before being injured in the playoffs, is a free agent and is not likely to return.

Timo Perez, a singles-hitting speedster who took over at that spot in the postseason, had several weaknesses exposed by the Yankees in the World Series and may not have the ability to be an everyday player. Darryl Hamilton, a former starter, was injured for much of this season and can't play every day anymore because of an arthritic big toe. He is said to be contemplating retirement.

Neither the Yankees nor the Mets are going to have the same look about them next season. The Yankees have six players eligible for free agency -- pitchers David Cone, Denny Neagle and Jeff Nelson, infielders Luis Sojo and Jose Vizcaino and outfielder Paul O'Neill -- and another three who can become free agents if the club does not pitch up their options: Jose Canseco, Glenallen Hill and Luis Polonia. All will not return.

The Mets have nine players eligible for free agency, including three-fifths of their starting pitching rotation. In addition to Hampton, Rick Reed and Bobby Jones are free agents. Jones may not be back.

Before the Mets can do anything they have to resolve their general manager and manager situation. Neither GM Steve Phillips or manager Bobby Valentine are signed for next season. Those matters are expected to be resolved next week, although Valentine is free as of November 1 to talk to other teams.

One thing is certain: both teams should be in the hunt for a repeat October showdown next season.

"I like the nucleus of this team," Phillips said. "We got to the postseason two consecutive years with it. We have some important decisions to make this offseason, but no matter how it goes, the core of this team will remain."

Brian Cashman, general manager of the Yankees, was even more direct.

"There's never any rebuilding with the Yankees, never any thought to taking a step back. I'll get the staff together soon, talk about what we need to do and we'll go for the jugular again in 2001."

Related information
Yankees think ahead to four in a row
Giuliani: Let kids have parade day off
Ramirez, Mussina file for free agency
Yankees are sure to have new look in 2001
CNNSI's Cellini, Smith analyze the World Series
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