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MLB focusing on next free agents

The Associated Press

While Cleveland closed in on a deal for Chuck Finley, many in baseball turned their attention to next year’s free-agent class.

Thursday, December 16, 1999

While Cleveland closed in on a deal for Chuck Finley, many in baseball turned their attention to next year’s free-agent class.

The New York Mets said Wednesday they were pretty much dropping their trade pursuit of Ken Griffey Jr., the star of next year’s group. Meanwhile, Mike Hampton told the Houston Astros he won’t sign an extension and will become a free agent after next season.

Houston made the announcement after dealing outfielder Carl Everett, also eligible for free agency next year, to Boston for a pair of prospects.

As for this year’s group, Jeff Conine returned to Baltimore, agreeing to a $5.75 million, two-year contract, the Chicago Cubs finalized their $5.5 million, three-year contract with catcher Joe Girardi and Colorado agreed to a one-year deal with infielder-outfielder Terry Shumpert.

In minor trades, Arizona sent outfielder Dante Powell to the St. Louis Cardinals for infielder Luis Ordaz, and Florida dealt outfielder Todd Dunwoody to the Kansas City Royals for infielder Sean McNally.

Pittsburgh acquired right-hander Roberto Manzueta from the Arizona Diamondbacks to complete Monday’s Brad Clontz trade.

Two days after Griffey rejected a trade to the Mets, New York general manager Steve Phillips seemed to have given up acquiring the 10-time All-Star center fielder.

”I think it’s likely that it’s a dead issue,” Phillips said. ”I don’t have enough level of hope to wait and see if it changes. We put it aside. If it comes back to us, it does. If not, we proceed accordingly.”

Last month, Griffey told Seattle he wanted to be traded to a team nearer his home in Orlando, Fla. The Mariners, wanting to get something in return rather than have him leave as a free agent next fall, said they would try to work a deal. Griffey told Seattle the Mets were one of the teams he would accept a trade to.

”My sense is that as every person has a right to do, he has changed his mind as to what he’s willing to consider. That’s OK,” Phillips said. ”It could be he didn’t want to play in New York or he’d rather play in Cincinnati or Seattle. I’m not sure it was a statement about New York or a statement about what his preference would be.”

In a deal driven by payroll, Houston sent Everett to the Red Sox for shortstop prospect Adam Everett – no relation – and left-hander Greg Miller.

Carl Everett made $2.5 million last year, is eligible for a big raise in arbitration next year and can be a free agent after the season.

”We had some preliminary talks, but we never got very far down the road,” Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker said. ”I had a sense of where that might end up and with our payroll situation, we felt it would be in our best interest to make a deal.”

Hampton, 22-4 with a 2.90 ERA, might be the next to go.

”By no means is this an indictment of the Houston Astros, the city or the front office,” said the pitcher’s agent, Mark Rogers. ”It’s about the curiosity of a 27-year-old wanting to know what is out there in the rest of baseball. Realistically, who among us if given overwhelming options about their future wouldn’t at least be curious about it?”

That didn’t please Hunsicker.

”This throws another monkey wrench into our plans,” Hunsicker said. ”Mike is signed for one more year. We have to decide if playing him another year makes more sense than trying to trade him.”

Finley, who has spent his entire career with the Angels, arrived in Cleveland on Tuesday night and met with Indians general manager John Hart, manager Charlie Manuel, outgoing team owner Dick Jacobs and Larry Dolan, who has an agreement to buy the Indians.

”I’m optimistic we can get a deal done,” Finley’s agent, Tim Shannon, said Wednesday night. ”It’s getting close with the Indians and getting close with a few other teams.”

Conine, though, is staying put. The utilityman hit .291 in 139 games with Baltimore and gets $2.5 million in 2000 and $3 million in 2001. There is a club option for $3.5 million in 2002 and a $250,000 buyout.

”Jeff wanted to do the deal, and I think it’s best for him,” said Michael Watkins, Conine’s agent. ”There were other clubs that expressed an interest, but he honestly felt that with what the club is doing to upgrade itself, he’s got a real good chance to be in a World Series with Baltimore.”