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Sunday, December 05, 2004 - Page updated at 12:33 A.M.

M's face big decisions this week with free agents

By Bob Finnigan

Arizona slugger Richie Sexson is high on the Mariners' wish list, but the Yankees could also have interest.
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It may not reach the level of make-or-break for the Mariners — in 2005 and beyond — but the week ahead is at the very least crucial to them.

Over the next seven days, club officials will:

• Tomorrow, make a final decision on whether to offer salary arbitration to catcher Dan Wilson, the last of the 1995 miracle makers, and pitcher Ron Villone;

• Tuesday, try to make a lasting impression on visiting free-agent pitcher Carl Pavano;

• Wednesday through Sunday, at the winter meetings in Anaheim, try to talk the agents for Richie Sexson, Carlos Delgado, Jaret Wright, Corey Koskie — and likely one or two others — into having their clients play here.

Seattle will work on a stage that has grown exceedingly more competitive since the A's obtained catcher Jason Kendall, the Angels reputedly want to be involved in bidding for Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez and, especially, since news broke this week that Jason Giambi of the Yankees used steroids.

Baseball dates

Monday-Friday: League Baseball Players Association executive board meeting, Phoenix.

Tuesday: Last day for teams to offer salary arbitration to their former players who became free agents.

Dec. 10-13: Winter meetings, Anaheim, Calif.

Dec. 19: Last day for free agents offered salary arbitration to accept or reject the offers.

Dec. 20: Last day for teams to offer 2005 contracts to unsigned players.

Whether or not the Yankees can shed the $84.5 million they still owe Giambi, the indelible impression is that he can no longer take the field even if his recent health issues clear up.

"If Giambi comes back to New York," agent David Sloane said, "it will make what Ed Whitson faced look like the Rose Parade." (After he signed with the Yankees, a struggling and much-booed Whitson once fainted before a start in Yankee Stadium.)

Sloane is not a casual observer. As Delgado's agent, he can expect New York to follow up on previous calls, and quite possibly overwhelm offers from Baltimore, Texas and Seattle.

Of the Giambi mess, he said, "While I am reluctant to comment on the record when it comes to negotiations, it would be disingenuous of me to not at least acknowledge that it could have some potential (for Delgado)."

Word in New York has the same being said for Sexson, who reportedly has rejected a second offer to return to Arizona and is said to want greatly to bring his big bat home to the Northwest.

Talk is that Delgado, although said to like Seattle/Safeco Field, could prefer to stay on the East Coast, closer to his beloved Puerto Rico.

Wright's situation could be the reverse. He is a West Coast kid, son of former pitcher Clyde Wright, and could look well on playing out here.

Yet, speculation from New York has the Yankees possibly after him and Jon Lieber, another pitcher in whom Seattle has considerable interest. The Yankees have said they no longer have interest in Randy Johnson because Arizona demanded a lot of money, multiple prospects and a major-league pitcher in return.

"When you see a team lay out harsh demands the way the Yankees did with what the D-backs were after," an American League scout said, "you have to suspect an effort to get Randy angry and demand a trade, which wipes out Arizona's hole card."

If the Yankees turn to Wright, whom the Mariners seemingly have offered about $9 million for three years, not the $15 million previously reported, the price could go up. "He's interested in the Mariners," a source said, "but he's waiting to see how all the negotiations go."

While Mariners officials do not comment on negotiations, they could be reaching a point of seeking some specific feedback to their offers to the likes of Delgado, Sexson and Wright.

The widespread feeling is that agents, especially Scott Boras, have been holding off until the twin events of Tuesday, when teams must choose whether or not to offer arbitration to their free agents, and the winter meetings, with the chance teams' offers could be played against one another.

Seattle could have concerns about a repeat of what happened last year when they focused on Miguel Tejada, who ultimately agreed to the Orioles' blowout offer.

Carlos Delgado is at the top of the Mariners free agency wish list.
Going after both Delgado and Sexson — Delgado for first base, Sexson for left field — the Mariners could easily overspend the $16 million reportedly available for outside free agents, which might necessitate trading the likes of Randy Winn or Raul Ibanez.

But focused on them, they worry about missing others. Thus, there is a whisper from the Seattle club that it will inform agents this week that the current offers could come off the table while the club goes in a different direction.

One Mariners official suggested the club could turn to the likes of third baseman Adrian Beltre (a Boras client who is not likely a simple signing), Lieber, Troy Glaus for first base or Jeromy Burnitz in the outfield. Burnitz is intriguing as he played some center field in Colorado this season.

"Beltre has changed his swing and is a better hitter," a scout said. "You worry about Glaus' shoulder (he reportedly refuses to sign a contract waiver against re-injuring his shoulder) but if you sign him for first base that might not be a concern; and Burnitz is on Seattle's list, too, even if he's down a bit."

Meantime, there are the plays to be made on Wilson and Villone, both wanting to be back but seemingly with better offers than they have heard from the Mariners — reportedly a two-year guarantee in Villone's case.

Seattle wants both back, but is faced with a decision that might expose them to arbitration and bigger salaries than it is offering, or losing further chances to negotiate contracts with either.

"If you don't offer (arbitration) you're done," Seattle GM Bill Bavasi said. "If you offer, you have to be willing to risk the expense."

One way around the dilemma is to reach a side agreement with a player, in which the team offers arbitration and the player promises to reject it (decision due on Dec. 19), which leaves the team with no big salary risk and gets it an extra pick in next June's draft.

"Rumor has it that has happened," Bavasi said. "I personally would not comment on that."

It would seem Wilson, a longtime Mariner, might be more amenable. But Boras could agree in Villone's case as well. In the case of Wilson, a Type B free agent, it would be a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds of the draft.

While Wilson might wind up in a backup role with the Mariners or anywhere else, Villone has drawn interest from Oakland. However, the Yankees' strong need for the left-hander could be diminished because they brought back lefty Mike Stanton in a trade with the Mets.

A man familiar with the Wilson discussions said last week, "It will get worked out."

The Mariners are hoping the same for a handful of other free-agent situations as well, Delgado first, then Sexson, Wright, et al.

Bob Finnigan: 206-464-8276 or

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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