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Clemens, Brown the Hot Topics at Winter Meetings

From Associated Press

Baseball plopped itself Friday into the land where country music and college football are king, reviving the winter meetings after a six-year absence. Next up, the main attraction: deals, lots of deals.

So instead of talking about the top-ranked Vols or Vince Gill, the main topics at the Opryland Hotel were Roger Clemens and Kevin Brown.

No trade yet for Clemens--probably none until at least Monday--but there was one big change. New York Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman, who had been told by owner George Steinbrenner not to attend, was now expecting to arrive this weekend.

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The World Series champions are among five teams interested in trading for the five-time Cy Young Award winner. Toronto General Manager Gord Ash spoke to all of those clubs Friday, and the phones were ringing off the hook in the Blue Jays’ suite by late afternoon with questions about Clemens.

“You have to learn to be patient,” Ash said. “This meeting has traditionally brought about some action.”

That could mean another ace, Brown, signs a free-agent contract in the next few days.

“I think there’s a very good chance,” agent Scott Boras said, adding that five teams were still in the bidding. “We’re starting to narrow the proposals.”

There was some action on opening day.

Free agent Tony Phillips agreed to terms with Oakland, leaving former Oakland leadoff man Rickey Henderson to decide between the New York Mets and Seattle. Also, Cincinnati signed free-agent pitcher Steve Avery, 10-7 for Boston last season.

“I like hitting and I like the NL cities,” Avery said. “That’s not a knock on the AL. But I think if you’re a pitcher, you like the NL. If you’re a hitter, you like the AL. And I’m no different.”

Cincinnati Manager Jack McKeon, who partly built his reputation as “Trader Jack” during swaps at Opryland meetings in 1983 and 1989, seemed pleased.

“I haven’t been to Nashville without acquiring a pitcher,” he said.

But it might take a while before there are a lot of trades this time, be it deals for Barry Larkin, Greg Vaughn or Ryan Klesko.

“We’re all out of winter meetings practice,” Ash said.

And, general managers faced one other problem in the majors’ first winter meetings since December 1992: finding each other.

The Opryland is the largest hotel in the United States outside of Las Vegas, a sprawling expanse that includes 2,884 rooms, scores of shops and restaurants, multiple lobbies and a man-made river running through the middle.

It’s a layout even more difficult to understand than baseball’s complex waiver rules. So overwhelming that it was a winding, 20-minute walk just from Toronto’s suite to the press room where any trade would be announced.

“I’m going to stay right here because I can’t find my room,” Ash said. “There’s too many numbers.”

Commissioner Bud Selig was not planning to attend, leaving former Oakland A’s president Sandy Alderson as baseball’s top-ranking executive at the meetings. Alderson traveled from New York to Nashville on Friday morning.

Among the planned items on the agenda of the five-day session: a discussion Saturday by team doctors and trainers about androstenedione, the over-the-counter supplement used by Mark McGwire, and Monday’s draft of players left off the 40-man rosters.

Along with a huge trade show, where items such as tarpaulins, infield dirt and batting cages can be bought, the meetings offer opportunities.

There’s a job seekers branch, where many come hoping to land a position somewhere in baseball, often in the minors. A few of the open spots posted on the bulletin board: an announcer on the Spanish radio station of the El Paso Diablos, a picnic management trainee for the Lansing Lugnuts and a mascot for the Carolina Mudcats.


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