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BASEBALL / ROSS NEWHAN : Royals’ Dealings Leave Gibson in Limbo

A year after leaving the Dodgers as a free agent, Kirk Gibson has been caught in a squeeze play. The aggressive restructuring of the Kansas City Royals might leave Gibson without a position--or without a team.

“I think it’s obvious that no one is safe in Kansas City except George (Brett),” Gibson said from his Detroit office less than 24 hours after the Royals had traded their pitching ace, Bret Saberhagen, to the New York Mets.

“I have a contract and no control over what happens, but it looks like I might be traveling,” Gibson said. “I hope they send me somewhere that I have a chance to win.”

The Royals think they have such a chance after a series of moves created the possibility that they will open the 1992 season with five new starters: Wally Joyner at first base, Keith Miller at second, Gregg Jefferies at third or in left field, Kevin McReynolds in right or left, and Chris Gwynn in left.

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“We now have the offense we wanted,” Manager Hal McRae said. “We still need another starting pitcher and left-handed reliever, but we’re close enough now that, with a little luck, we can win (the American League West).

“I hate to have made as many changes as we have, to give up a No. 1 starter, but when you finish sixth for two years in a row, you have to stop the bleeding. We were taking gas.”

McRae said the signing of Joyner provided a foundation for the Gwynn trade with the Dodgers and the Saberhagen stunner with the Mets, in that it put the Royals back on even footing once it was clear that free-agent outfielder Danny Tartabull did not plan to return.

McRae said that Gibson is still in the left-field equation, but club sources said they are not eager to create a situation leaving the sidelined Gibson nothing to do but prowl the dugout and clubhouse.

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There is already speculation that he will end up with the Toronto Blue Jays, who were interested when he was a free agent, or that the Royals will simply release him, swallowing the final two years of his contract.

“If they put me in a bench role, I think they’re misusing me, and if they give up on me, I think that would be a mistake,” said Gibson, who at 35 batted .236 in 132 games, with 16 home runs and 55 runs batted in. He stole 18 bases in 22 attempts.

“I was disappointed,” he said of his debut with the Royals. “I didn’t do what I wanted to do, but I felt certain aspects of my game could have been exploited more. It didn’t happen, and that wasn’t my decision.”

The implication seemed to be that he might have scored more if he had been allowed to run more. The revamped Royals could give him a green light soon.

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Fallout: Saberhagen and McReynolds, traded with multiyear contracts, can demand that their new teams trade them after one season, but McRae said: “A big trade is defined by the risk and reward, and this definitely was a big trade.”

Megabucks: The Mets had a total payroll of about $32.5 million in 1991 and are already committed, in 1992 salaries alone, to paying nine players $28.15 million, with a 10th, pitcher David Cone, certain to take it to the $32-million level.

The Mets also seem certain to break the Oakland Athletics’ 1991 record of $38.5 million and become the first team with a payroll of more than $40 million, widening the schism between big and small TV markets.

Carl Barger, president of the Florida Marlins and former president of the Pittsburgh Pirates, said: “Every year, I predict some financial sagacity, and every year I’m wrong. Tragically, I don’t see much evidence that anything is going to change until teams start going in the tank.”

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The nine Mets making $28.15 million in 1992: Bobby Bonilla, $5.5 million; Dwight Gooden, $4.25 million; Eddie Murray, $3.5 million; John Franco, $3 million; Vince Coleman, $2.9 million; Saberhagen, $2.75 million; Tim Burke, $2.1 million; Howard Johnson, $2.1 million, and Sid Fernandez, $2.05 million.

Why play? On the addition of Saberhagen to a rotation that includes Cone, Fernandez and perhaps a physically sound Gooden, Baltimore Orioles executive Frank Robinson shook his head and said: “All I want to know is, who finishes second in the (National League) East?”

Oh, brother: Lost amid the Saberhagen news late Wednesday night were the emotional ramifications of the Kansas City deal that sent pitcher Storm Davis to the Orioles for catcher Bob Melvin.

The trade reunites Storm and Glenn Davis, who refer to themselves as half-brothers. They are not actually related.

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A victim of an abusive and traumatic childhood, Glenn Davis was taken in by the Storm Davis family when both were high school teammates for three years at Jacksonville, Fla.

Wednesday night, Glenn Davis was working on a family budget when Storm’s wife called with the news.

“My wife picked up the phone and started jumping up and down screaming, ‘Storm’s coming, Storm’s coming,’ ” Glenn Davis said. “I threw the pen in the air and started dancing around the floor. I mean, we’ve been talking about this forever.”

Said Storm Davis: “I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling. To say I’m pretty excited is an understatement.”

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Politics: Concerned about a bill that would legalize betting on professional sports in Florida, organized baseball has hired two Tallahassee lobbyists to work against it.

Security: Pitcher Jim Abbott of the Angels was married in Orange County Saturday. Whitey Herzog, the club’s senior vice president, is prepared to deliver a four-year contract as a gift.

The contract would enable Herzog to wrap up the three left-handers he considers the club’s foundation--Chuck Finley, Mark Langston and Abbott--in multiyear deals, and eliminate Abbott’s first year of free agency, 1995.

The only three-year player ever to have signed a four-year contract is Will Clark of the San Francisco Giants, who agreed to a total of $15 million.

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“I think it’s very flattering, and I’d like to do it,” Abbott said when reached from the winter meetings. “I’d sit and listen to anything. I think it could be a smart move for both sides, but I’m looking at it with only one eye right now. I’m getting married Saturday, then going on my honeymoon.”

Irony: In acquiring outfielder Kevin Mitchell, Seattle General Manager Woody Woodward boldly acquired the right-handed power hitter that might have made a difference for the Mariners in the 1991 American League West race and, at the same time, would have forced the Mariners to retain Jim Lefebvre as manager.

Lefebvre’s inexplicable firing, some believe, had a lot to do with his privately voiced frustration over the failure of the club to provide a right-handed hitter.

“If we’d had Mitchell, we’d have won,” said Lefebvre, who now manages the Chicago Cubs. “There’s no telling how many home runs he’ll hit in that park.”

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There’s no telling how long the Mariners will continue to play in the Kingdome, but Cincinnati Reds Manager Lou Piniella agreed with Lefebvre.

“He’ll make that place look smaller than it already is, and I don’t care how far they move the fences back,” Piniella said. “I also don’t think going from the NL to the AL should be any problem. I mean, the pitchers will have to adjust to him .”

Said Mitchell, referring to Bud Black, the Giant pitcher and former American Leaguer: “Bud told me I’d hit 70 home runs in the Kingdome. Let’s get it on. I may hit one through the roof.”

Opportunity: By acquiring Darrin Fletcher and John Wetteland in trades at the winter meetings, the Montreal Expos reunited the former Dodger farmhands and roommates. With a friend to lean on, Wetteland’s adjustment to Montreal and the opportunity to become the Expos’ closer might be easier.

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He has another supporter in manager-in-waiting Kevin Kennedy, director of minor league operations for the Expos and former manager of the Dodgers’ farm club in Albuquerque, where Wetteland made the transition to relief pitching last year.

“What made it easier was that John seemed to want to do it,” Kennedy said. “I think he realized that with the kind of resilient arm he has, he can carve out an area for himself. I think he knew that a hard-throwing young relief pitcher would find his way into the majors.

“His opportunities in Los Angeles were limited, but he can develop into a dominating closer with us.”

Blueprint: After meeting with fellow National League owners in Miami Beach, President Peter O’Malley of the Dodgers said he favors league realignment in 1993, when Denver and Florida begin play.

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“I think there’s majority support for it, but it can’t be done in a vacuum,” O’Malley said. “There’s a lot of history and tradition. You can’t drag a team kicking and screaming into the other division.”

The proposed change would send Atlanta and Cincinnati to the East with Florida, while St. Louis and the Chicago Cubs would join the West with Denver.

The Cubs are the team most adamantly opposed because their cable-TV scheduling would be significantly affected by more late-night starts in the West.

League owners probably will vote on realignment and a new scheduling concept, based on teams playing 120 games within their division and 42 games outside it, during their spring meeting.

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Settlement: Attorney Richard Moss acknowledges that his negotiations with the Minnesota Twins and Toronto regarding free agent Jack Morris have been complicated by the pitcher’s ongoing divorce proceeding.

Morris is looking for a deal based on easily made incentives, reducing the guaranteed income, which is at risk in a settlement.

The color of money: Before Otis Nixon returned to the Atlanta Braves, the Angels were hoping that his relationship with Manager Buck Rodgers, formed when both were in Montreal, might influence him to accept their offer, but as Rodgers noted: “I think the big thing is that the greenbacks were there. That’s a lot more important than this Buck.”


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