Baseball's Gears Are-A-Turnin'

So many free agents and only a few teams with money to sign the major ones.

Albert Belle, Mo Vaughn, Bernie Williams, Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, Roberto Alomar, Brian Jordan, Jose Canseco, Ken Caminiti are all out on the marketplace. An All-Star team -- but only for teams with cash, a lot of cash.

So who will go where?

Belle probably will wind up leaving the Chicago White Sox. Under a special clause in his $55 million, five-year contract, which has three years remaining at $35 million guaranteed, Belle can explore the free agent market and still return to his deal with Chicago, as long as he decides by Dec. 2.

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  • Baltimore, which needs to revamp its roster, might go after the temperamental outfielder, who hit .328 with 49 homers and 152 RBI despite his second straight mediocre April.

    If Mo Vaughn leaves the Red Sox, Belle could wind up in Boston, which will need a second bat to fill the lineup next to Nomar Garciaparra and a second star to fill the Fenway Park seats.

    Although there haven't been rumblings yet, why not the Dodgers for Belle? Los Angeles needs to shake up its roster, Hollywood loves surly stars and Davey Johnson, the team's new manager, tolerates difficult personalities.

    Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has spoken with Belle's agent, Arn Tellem, but New York's interest isn't thought to be serious at this point, instead intended as a ploy in the negotiations with Williams and his agent, Scott Boras.

    Williams, the AL batting champion with a .339 average to go along with 26 homers and 97 RBI (despite missing five weeks because of a sprained right knee), is thought to be wanted by the Colorado Rockies. The Arizona Diamondbacks, managed by former-Yankees manager Buck Showalter, have said they want to bring Williams in for a visit after they can discuss money on Nov. 6. The Texas Rangersalso appear interested in having Williams play center field for them.

    Vaughn, who hit .337 with 40 homers and 115 RBI, on some days never wants to see Boston manager Dan Duquette and owner John Harrington again and on others wants to re-sign with the Red Sox.

    Baltimore, which apparently will lose Rafael Palmeiro, might be a good fit for him. Los Angeles appears to be interested, and the New York Mets seem to have an outside interest.

    Palmiero appears headed back to the Texas Rangers after batting .296 last season with 43 homers and 121 RBI.

    Jordan's fate is tied somewhat to that of Belle and Williams. Jordan hit .316 with 25 homers and 91 RBI and could be the replacement for Williams in the Bronx, the power hitter the Mets are looking for or the replacement for the departed Ellis Burks in Colorado.

    Roberto Alomar, apparently not wanted back in Baltimore, is another possibility for the Mets, who don't want Carlos Baerga back. Alomar hit .282 last season and had just 14 homers and 56 RBI.

    Canseco is a wild card. He hit just .237 for Toronto but had 46 homers and 107 RBI, his best power numbers since 1991.

    Caminiti might be looking for a short deal, since he's considered damaged goods because of a variety of injuries he played through since winning the NL MVP award two years ago. He slumped to .252 with 29 homers and 82 RBI this year but still helped San Diego win its first NL title since 1984.

    Brown, another Padres leader, seems to be wanted most by St. Louis, which had a good relationship with the pitcher's agent, Boras (who gave the Cardinals J.D. Drew and tried to work out an Andy Benes deal even after the deadline was passed last off-season).

    Brown, 18-7 with a 2.38 ERA, also could attract interest from the Mets and Orioles. San Diego wants him back, too.

    Johnson is another candidate to remain where he is. He went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA in 11 starts for the Astros after they acquired him from Seattle on Aug. 31. Arizona, offering him the opportunity to drive from his home to games, also is interested in Johnson, as are the Yankees, who tried to get him from the Mariners earlier this year.

    New York also appears to have some interest in acquiring Roger Clemens, a favorite to win his record fifth Cy Young Award. Clemens, 20-6 with a 2.65 ERA and 271 strikeouts, wants to stay in Toronto only if the Blue Jays are prepared to challenge for a postseason berth.

    Al's bounty

    Al Leiter is getting a $9 million signing bonus as part of his $32 million, four-year contract with the Mets. But he won't see any of that bonus for a while.

    Leiter gets $3.5 million Oct. 15, 1999, $1.5 million July 1, 2000, $2 million July 1, 2001, and another $2 million July 1, 2002.

    In addition, he gets salaries of $3 million next season, $5.5 million in 2000, $7.5 million in 2001 and $7 million in 2002.

    Playing nice

    Ron Shapiro, the agent for Cal Ripken, Kirby Puckett and many others, has a new book out, "The Power of Nice."

    Shapiro, who has begun to give corporate lectures on negotiating techniques, explains his philosophy, which involves preparation, probing and proposing.

    "Most people are not prepared," he said. "Preparation may be the only aspect of a negotiation you have control over."

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