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BASEBALL / ROSS NEWHAN : Is Center Strawberry’s Field?

The exchange centered on the ability of Darryl Strawberry to play center field and was the liveliest of baseball’s winter meetings.

Bud Harrelson, the New York Mets’ manager, and Joe McIlvaine, the former vice president of the Mets and now general manager of the San Diego Padres, expressed doubt. Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda supported the concept and did it with some emotion.

The bottom line was that despite Lasorda’s defense and the Dodgers’ desire to test the offensive potential of an outfield that would have Kal Daniels in left, Strawberry in center and Hubie Brooks in right, it is known that the club is shopping Daniels for a pitcher and/or a second baseman.

The departure of Daniels would put Strawberry back at his natural position in right field, move Brooks to left and leave Stan Javier or a player still to be acquired in center.

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As for stationing former Met Strawberry in center, a top Dodger scout who demanded anonymity said: “It’s a last resort.”

Said Harrelson: “I’ll believe it when I see it. I still don’t believe he’s going to be their center fielder. That’s a position where you better get a good jump all the time. If you have a weakness, it’ll show up real fast there.

“I mean, wanting it is one thing, doing it another. Darryl doesn’t get a good jump. He’s more suited to right field.”

Lasorda tried to digest the statements, then said: “Does Bud Harrelson know everything there is to know about baseball? Is he willing to stake his reputation on all that?

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“It’s like when we were converting Bill Russell from center field to shortstop. Five or six scouts told me he would never play shortstop in the big leagues. Hell, all he did is play it for 17 years.

“I mean, I agree. Darryl is a better right fielder, but that’s only because it’s what he’s been playing. I can’t say he’s going to be a good center fielder, but we’re going to find out.”

Lasorda outlined a rigid spring training plan for Strawberry and said it is often forgotten that center field is the easiest outfield position because the ball isn’t hooking and slicing and is easier to see coming off the bat.

“If Bud Harrelson is an authority on center field, he should have mentioned that,” Lasorda said.

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McIlvaine pointed out that Mark Carreon of the Mets made the switch from left field to center and was suddenly an improved player.

“You see the ball much better there,” McIlvaine said, “but where Darryl is weak is in his positioning. He doesn’t study hitters and position himself accordingly. He’s going to need help there.

“Otherwise, he has the range, the speed and he certainly can reach. He played center field for us in the minors after he signed in 1980 and ’81, but he hasn’t been there in a long time. He needs to take a hundred fly balls a day.”

Does he have that kind of work ethic?

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“Depends what day it is,” McIlvaine said. “Some yes, some no.”

Make of It What You Will Dept.: The Toronto Blue Jays, who tap into the Dominican market maybe more than any other team, seem to be moving in another direction. Sixteen of the last 24 players they have traded, released or allowed to leave as free agents are Dominicans.

A feud is flowering between the American League and the National League regarding expansion income, and the ultimate pawn may be Florida.

There is growing speculation that the NL, which will add two teams in 1993, wants to put both in Florida--the choices being St. Petersburg and Miami.

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Any National League move, however, needs at least majority approval by American League owners, and the AL is unlikely to hand over that booming state without the NL sharing the $190 million--$95 million per new team--in expansion fees.

The AL first proposed supplying half of the expansion players for half of the expansion income. It has since reduced the proposal by a half, but according to NL expansion committee chairman Douglas Danforth of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the NL is adamantly against sharing any revenue with the AL.

American League President Bobby Brown argued that when his league expanded in 1977 it provided the NL with 1/26th of the expansion income, even though the NL did not contribute any players.

He said there was also a gentlemen’s agreement that the NL would share income when it next expanded.

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Commissioner Fay Vincent may have to resolve the current conflict, Brown said. In the meantime, the NL is expected to announce a “short list” of prospective owners and cities before Jan. 1.

The Chicago Cubs, having invested more than $20 million in free agents Danny Jackson and George Bell, must now attempt to re-sign shortstop Shawon Dunston, who is eligible for free agency after the 1991 season.

“I’m gone. . . . How are they going to pay $30 million for the three of us?” Dunston asked reporters in Chicago, meaning he thinks the Cubs will trade him.

The Cub payroll also includes the following 1991 commitments: $3.3 million to Andre Dawson, $2.2 million to Ryne Sandberg and $2 million to Rick Sutcliffe.

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Said deputy commissioner Steve Greenberg: “The current system is a prescription for disaster. Whether it’s around the corner or 10 years ahead, I don’t know.”

George Steinbrenner may be gone, but confusion continues to grip the New York Yankees’ front office. Who’s in charge? New Managing Partner Robert Nederlander? General Manager Gene Michael? Director of baseball operations George Bradley?

Agent Bill Goodstein said he was shuffled from one to the other and back in a futile attempt to have the Yankees negotiate on re-signing reliever Dave Righetti, who ultimately agreed to a four-year, $10-million contract with the San Francisco Giants on the same day that the Yankees were agreeing to extend the contract of second baseman Steve Sax for four years and $12.4 million.

Reflecting on those seemingly conflicting Yankee decisions as he prepared to leave the winter meetings, Michael had a similar response to each. “I’m not sure we did the right thing,” he said.

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Said Bradley, who negotiated the Sax contract with little or no input from Michael: “Steve wanted to remain a Yankee, and we decided we wanted to keep him. The market is going to escalate way out of proportion. While the contract may appear a little high now, it won’t later. His leverage was not that good, but we escape arbitration (after the ’91 season) this way.”

Asked why some of that money couldn’t have gone to Righetti, Bradley said: “There was no tie-in between the two. It’s just an organizational policy not to go more than three years for a pitcher.”

That, of course, may make it impossible for the Yankees to stay in the bidding for free-agent pitcher Bob Welch, who is already said to have received four-year offers from the Chicago White Sox, Boston and Oakland.

Attorney Dick Moss said Giant President Al Rosen “panicked” and overreacted to Brett Butler’s four-year, $15-million contract request.

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Rosen pointed Butler toward the door and promptly signed free agent Willie McGee to replace him at $13 million for four years.

Moss said he had only one conversation with Rosen and never received the chance to amend the opening proposal.

“I’ve never known Al to react like that,” Moss said. “I think it’s obvious that he had no intention of re-signing Brett, that he wanted to sign Willie McGee all along.”


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