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Baseball
Tom Verducci
November 25, 2002
Bronx-Bound BomberAs the Yanks closed in on a deal with Hideki Matsui, other teams whined and unloaded big contracts
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November 25, 2002

Baseball

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Greg Maddux, who turns 37 in April, wants a five-year contract, by the end of which his projected win total of 358 would make him seventh on the alltime list. That expectation is part of an 82-page, statistic-based prospectus that Scott Boras, the agent for Maddux, is presenting to interested teams. Boras compared the arc of Maddux's career to that of Hall of Famer Warren Spahn, who won more games from age 36 to 40 (106) than he did from 31 to 35 (95).

For further evidence that players can thrive as they close in on 40, check Maddux's contemporaries. This year's NL Cy Young Award winner ( Randy Johnson) was 39 and MVP ( Barry Bonds) was 38. The biggest success story from last winter's free-agent class (19-game winner David Wells of the Yankees) turned 39 during the season. Six of the 28 pitchers who won 15 games last year were 36 or older. (Only four between 31 and 35 won that many.)

Says Boras, "That old idea in baseball, that when a guy gets past 35, he's over the hill, is gone." Adds Gregg Clifton, the agent for free-agent lefthander Tom Glavine, "People knocked Randy Johnson's contract, and it will go down as the greatest free-agent deal ever—four Cy Youngs with an option to win a fifth." Johnson was 35 when he signed a four-year, $52.4 million deal; with his option picked up for next season, it became a five-year, $64.4 million contract.

The cream of the free-agent crop this year is a council of elders. Glavine, who turns 37 in March, already has three-year offers from the Phillies and Mets for about $10 million per year. Other pitchers available are Roger Clemens, 40, Jamie Moyer, 40, Chuck Finley, 40, and Kenny Rogers, 38. Steve Finley will be playing centerfield for somebody next year at 38. Jeff Kent will be playing second base for a new team at 35.

Today's ballplayers benefit from better training and nutrition, and they have the wealth to avail themselves of the best resources in those areas. Only days after the season ended, Finley began working out with a personal trainer he has retained since 1998—and he's already drawn interest from the Cubs, Diamondbacks, Giants, Mets and Rangers. Asked if his age had been an issue in negotiations, Finley said, "Zero. That has never been brought up. They know me, and they see what I can do."

The Purge in Colorado
Get a Piece of The Rockies

The G.M. meetings in Tucson last week had the feel of a lousy flea market: too many vendors peddling overpriced, unwanted goods, though in this case a 7-15 pitcher due $845 million was the equivalent of your basic velvet Elvis. This off-season market is one of the slowest in recent memory because so many teams are trying to dump bad contracts (box, right).

"A few years ago there was a rush to do [long-term] deals, and now you see a lot of teams trying to get out from under them," Brewers G.M. Doug Melvin says.

No G.M. was scrambling more than Dan O'Dowd of the Rockies, who was trying to unload $160 million due lefthanders Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle and rightfielder Larry Walker. O'Dowd did succeed in moving Hampton and most of the $84.5 million remaining on his contract. In a prototypical trade based more on the players' contracts than on their playing abilities, O'Dowd sent Hampton, centerfielder Juan Pierre and $11 million to Florida for reliever Vic Darensbourg, second baseman Pablo Ozuna and the Marlins' own pricey tchotchkes, catcher Charles Johnson and centerfielder Preston Wilson, who are owed a combined $52.5 million. Florida then pulled off a deal that sent Hampton and $38 million to the Braves for reliever Tim Spooneybarger and minor league pitcher Ryan Baker.

O'Dowd still hopes to persuade Arizona to take Walker (for Matt Williams, Erubiel Durazo, Bret Prinz and David Dellucci) and the Mets to accept Neagle (for Rey Ordo�ez and Jeromy Burnitz).

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