Maddux, Rodriguez remaining picks of the litter

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 14, 2004

NEW YORK - Now that most of the top stars have signed, Greg Maddux and Ivan Rodriguez are the biggest names left on the free-agent market.

Maddux, a four-time Cy Young Award winner, has been talking with the Chicago Cubs, his original major league teams. Following seven seasons with the Cubs, Maddux spent the last 11 years with the Atlanta Braves.

''We're continuing to negotiate with about four, five teams,'' Maddux's agent, Scott Boras, said Tuesday. ''There's a possibility something can happen this week, but a lot of Greg's considerations involve meeting owners of clubs personally, and he's taking a very methodical approach to this.''

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It's unclear what teams Rodriguez is talking to. After earning $10 million last year with Florida and leading the Marlins to the World Series title, the team let him go after he asked for a four-year deal.

''We're talking to a couple of clubs,'' said Boras, who also represents the 10-time All-Star catcher. ''We're making some headway.''

Several players agreed to contracts Tuesday.

Center fielder Jay Payton, cut loose by the Colorado Rockies last month, agreed to a $5.5 million, two-year deal with the San Diego Padres.

''I've always been a big Jay Payton fan, going back to my scouting days,'' Padres general manager Kevin Towers said. ''I turned him in higher than Nomar Garciaparra when they were at Georgia Tech. He was a better hitter then.''

Payton hit .302 last year, hitting 15 of his 28 homers and half of his 32 doubles away from Coors Field. He was eligible for salary arbitration and would have earned about $3.5 million, but the Rockies failed to offer a contract by the Dec. 20 deadline.

Catcher Gregg Zaun agreed to a minor league contract with Montreal and would get a $500,000, one-year contract if he's added to the Expos' 40-man roster. Right-hander Rick Helling agreed to a minor league contract with Minnesota, and reliever Mike Williams agreed to a minor league deal with Tampa Bay.

Infielder Matt Franco agreed to a $750,000, one-year contract with the Lotte Marines of Japan's Pacific League, who will be managed this season by Bobby Valentine.

Franco, 34, played for Valentine on the New York Mets from 1996 to 2000. Franco has a career .267 average with 22 homers and 117 RBIs in 661 games over eight major league seasons. He shared first base with Julio Franco and Robert Fick with the Braves last season, hitting .246 with three homers and 15 RBIs.