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Brown Narrows Field to Four

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The Dodgers were among four teams remaining in the Kevin Brown sweepstakes Friday, and the coveted free-agent pitcher is expected to make his decision before the winter meetings end here, possibly as early as today.

Dodger General Manager Kevin Malone said he “discussed the parameters of a deal” with Brown’s agent, Scott Boras, during an afternoon meeting at the Opryland Hotel, and Malone and Boras were scheduled to meet again today. The Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles, St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Padres appeared to be the strongest contenders to sign the all-star right-hander.

The Padres, seeking to re-sign their staff ace, reentered the picture late Friday when they overcame their reluctance to offer Brown the six years he has demanded.

Brown is seeking a six-year deal in the $80-million-plus range. Boras said the teams still in contention had made six-year offers, and that he and Brown would review the packages today.

“We’re getting down the road about market definitions, and he’s going to make a decision soon,” Boras said. “I’m excited for Kevin in the sense that he’s going to get what he wants out of these negotiations.”

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The Angels, reluctant to commit to a six-year offer, dropped out of the race. The Colorado Rockies offered Brown a five-year contract worth $13.5 million annually, baseball sources said, and discussed adding an option year, but that wasn’t enough to keep them among the contenders.

Angel General Manager Bill Bavasi refused comment, but having already closed a six-year, $80-million deal with Mo Vaughn, sources said the Angels were unwilling to make a similar commitment to a power pitcher who will turn 34 in March.

However, the Angels remained in negotiations with the Toronto Blue Jays involving a possible trade for Roger Clemens, the sources said, and continued to talk with Boras about another of his free-agent pitchers, Tim Belcher.

Malone remained optimistic about the Dodgers’ chances, though he acknowledged that Brown’s desire to work as close as possible to his home in Macon, Ga., would be a factor.

“We’re right there in the thick of it, and I think we’ll be right there until the end,” Malone said. “I’m optimistic, but I’d say it’s reserved optimism because there are just so many factors involved in making a decision like this.

“Every club has an attractive feature, and the money is going to be about the same for everyone, so that’s when players start considering other factors like being closer to their families. It’s not frustrating, but it’s a challenge, because there are factors that are out of your control.”

Brown would prefer to pitch in Atlanta, but the Braves are not believed to be pursuing the Georgia native.

“When a player and his family come close to making a decision, the reality of distance becomes a real issue,” Malone said. “He’s got two young boys and he’s building a house in Macon.

“His family is very important to him and I respect that. I still like our chances, but I understand his family will be a big part of his decision.”

Boras reaffirmed that point.

“Kevin is a Macon, Ga., resident, and there is an issue of seeing his family,” Boras said. “The convenience of that is a major part of the negotiations, and the ability of a team to compete long term is another major issue for Kevin.”

Malone is also speaking to clubs about deals involving shortstops Jose Vizcaino and Mark Grudzielanek, but he doesn’t anticipate completing a trade for either before the meetings end. Malone hopes to trade one of the shortstops in the next few weeks.

The Angels made room on their 40-man roster for pitcher Jack McDowell, whom they re-signed last week, by designating pitcher Allen Watson for assignment.


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