Around the Horn: the NL West

Padres counter the Giants move

The NL West is heating up. With the San Diego Padres quickly countering the San Francisco Giants in grabbing the top catchers available via trades, it may be only a matter of time before the Arizona Diamondbacks make their own trade and the Dodgers and Rockies make moves of their own.

Arizona Diamondbacks:

The Diamondbacks enter an important week as they try to land a slugger while securing spots for their top prospects on their 40-man roster, which must be finalized by Thursday (Nov. 20).

A multiplayer deal for Milwaukee slugger Richie Sexson would free up more roster spots. The Diamondbacks have considered dealing second baseman Junior Spivey, infielder Craig Counsell, right fielder Danny Bautista and pitcher John Patterson for Sexson. Milwaukee has financial concerns and might want the Diamondbacks to pick up some salary money, which could upset their plans.

Talks involving Curt Schilling and the New York Yankees also are under financial consideration because of compensation for Schilling's $12 million salary and the fact he's entering the final year of his contract.

"It affects it in the sense that that's part of the negotiation, part of the decision-making process, and ultimately if we were presented with those kinds of alternatives, then it falls back to us to decide, OK, which way can we go?" general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. said in weighing fair market value vs. financial flexibility. "I didn't come in with any specific yardstick in terms of what needs to be accomplished. But in terms of both disseminating and acquiring information, this has been a very successful week."

Colorado Rockies:

The Rockies are looking for long-term stability with the expectation it will eventually bring a consistent contender. The process began 18 months ago with the promotion of Keli McGregor to club president and continued in April with Charlie Monfort, 43, moving into the role of managing general partner. Now the Rockies have eliminated any uncertainty about the status of general manager Dan O'Dowd and manager Clint Hurdle.

The Rockies extended O'Dowd's contract for two years, through the 2006 season and exercised options in Hurdle's contract for both the 2005 and 2006 seasons.

The Rockies were 74-88 in 2003, Hurdle's first full season, the fifth time in six years they finished below .500, but they were above .500 (56-55) as late as July 31.

"The team we had was not working," Monfort said. "We had to make changes. Dan has taken some hits for decisions that, quite frankly, were ownership-driven."

The Rockies have begun to explore third base options, including left-handed-hitting Robin Ventura and the possible return of a Rockies original, Vinny Castilla. Both have filed for free agency. The Rockies remain interested in retaining Chris Stynes, their primary third baseman a year ago, and could re-sign him even if they signed Ventura or Castilla. Stynes can also play first, second and the outfield, and if Ventura were to wind up with the Rockies, Stynes would provide a right-handed-hitting alternative at third base.

"I hear the Rockies might be interested, but I don't know for sure," Castilla said. "It would be great to come back and play for the team that gave me a chance to establish myself in the big leagues."

With arbitration leverage hanging over right-handed pitchers Shawn Chacon and Justin Speier, second baseman Ronnie Belliard and outfielder Jay Payton, the Rockies figure to see what type of interest one of those four can create in the trade market.

Los Angeles Dodgers:

Frank McCourt's $430 million offer was accepted by News Corp. in October but McCourt has yet to submit paperwork to Major League Baseball to move forward with the approval process.

There are private concerns that McCourt has failed to raise funds through the recruitment of minority investors. McCourt insists through third-party sources that he has the wherewithal to finance the purchase himself, though he is not listed on Forbes' list of the wealthiest Americans and his net worth is believed to be less than $500 million.

McCourt officially has until Dec. 31 to finalize the process. He appears determined to make the deal succeed, but his transition team cannot move forward until his offer is approved by MLB owners.

Dodgers GM Dan Evans continues to move forward with offseason plans, though he has no figures on a payroll budget for 2004. The Dodgers figured to have about $25 million to spend this winter, but there are no guarantees the payroll will remain at previous levels if McCourt takes control.

LHP Tom Martin agreed to a two-year, $3.3 million contract to remain with the Dodgers. Martin, who signed a minor league contract during spring training, appeared in a career-high 80 games. He led all major league relievers in stranding inherited runners (88.1 percent) and first-batter efficiency (.100 OBA).

The Dodgers are interested in retaining Wilson Alvarez. The team figures to be active on the trade and free-agent front, spending most of its resources on hitters, but the ownership situation leaves much up in the air.

San Francisco Giants:

The Giants' acquired catcher A.J. Pierzynski in a trade that sent reliever Joe Nathan and former No. 1 pick Boof Bonser from the Twins.

Yorvit Torrealba, who some had thought was in line to take over as the starting catcher, will have to settle for being a part-timer again.

"He's an all-around catcher and a young, left-handed-hitting catcher, and that made him attractive," GM Brian Sabean said. "There was a lot of interest in Pierzynski and rightfully so."

Pierzynski, 26, batted .312 with 11 homers and 74 RBIs last season and is a career .301 hitter. The Twins gave up on him to make room for young Joe Mauer.

"I feel great. It's a challenge coming to a new league. ... The Metrodome was getting stale," Pierzynski said.

Nathan was 12-4 with a 2.96 ERA in relief. He had 83 strikeouts in 79 innings. He's a candidate to be the Twins' closer.

Barry Bonds' decision to become the first baseball player to refuse to sign the Players Association's group licensing agreement means fans will not be able to buy official Giants jerseys with Bonds' name on the back.

Ace pitcher Jason Schmidt and closer Robb Nen aren't expected to be 100 percent by spring training. Schmidt underwent elbow surgery after the Giants were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Nen missed the entire 2003 season and had three shoulder surgeries.

Sabean said of Nen, "It's a black hole. (Trainer) Stan Conte's on top of that situation. We won't know until he starts pitching games in spring training, and likewise with Schmidt. You have to hope for the best and expect you'll have setbacks. If you can pick two guys who could do it and should do it, my money's on both of them as to how their bodies will respond."

Sabean isn't ruling out signing an elite free-agent hitter. The list includes OFs Vladimir Guerrero and Gary Sheffield, C Ivan Rodriguez and SS Miguel Tejada. But Sabean said he won't pursue any high-priced pitchers, preferring to save money by acquiring end-of-the-rotation starters.

"Everybody will be at or under the budget from the previous year, so it'll be difficult to predict what the demand is going to be with some of these free agents," Sabean said.

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