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Starting Today, Contact Can Lead to Contracts

Times Staff Writer

Trade talks at the general manager meetings follow basic communication theory.

There is one-way contact -- an executive makes a trade proposal to another executive, who listens and politely moves on.

There is two-way contact -- the executive making the proposal elicits a response and the dialogue continues.

Beginning today, a third element is introduced. Instead of communication streaming strictly from general manager to general manager, it will flow from general manager to free agent. Teams were given permission to bid on the 207 free agents at midnight Thursday.

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The Dodgers and Angels are certain to aggressively pursue starting pitchers from a group headed by Carl Pavano, Pedro Martinez, Matt Clement, Eric Milton, Brad Radke and Jon Lieber.

Martinez said the Angels and Dodgers contacted his agent in recent days to express interest in signing him. General managers Paul DePodesta of the Dodgers and Bill Stoneman of the Angels would not comment on individual players, but both said that over the last two weeks they contacted the representatives of most free agents they planned to pursue.

One reason pitching is an immediate priority for the Dodgers is that it is largely unrelated to the re-signing of free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre. Filling needs at positions other than pitcher could be difficult as long as Beltre is undecided, which could be for a month or two because his agent, Scott Boras, is seeking a long-term deal.

Barring a lightning bolt offer, neither DePodesta nor Stoneman plans to make a trade before the meetings conclude today. The two general managers employ similar subdued styles, operating below the radar. Instead of negotiating in the Ritz-Carlton lobby or adjoining bar as several of their colleagues do, they prefer the privacy of their hotel suites.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t working at it. Executives from other teams say the Angels and Dodgers are in the thick of trade talk and potential free-agent bidding.

“Nothing is imminent right now,” Stoneman said. “But that’s not to say something couldn’t happen. Some things come together real quick.”

Both executives laid the groundwork this week for potential deals. Stoneman said he spoke to nearly every team; DePodesta said he talked to about half of them. Although any general manager could have talked trade before the meetings simply by picking up the telephone, there is something about gathering under one opulent roof in a balmy city that heats up conversation.

“It is good to go eyeball to eyeball with another GM,” Stoneman said. “Whether it’s a mood or sitting down to have a drink over business, I can look at him and get deeper into things.”

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Several executives from other teams said the Angels were shopping outfielder Jose Guillen, who was suspended for the last seven regular-season games and the playoffs because of his behavior after being lifted for a pinch-runner.

Guillen batted .294 with 27 home runs and 104 runs batted in last season, and he is a relative bargain with one year left on his contract at $3.5 million. But two executives said they would want to meet directly with Guillen before trading for him, an unusual request for a player under contract with another team.

“That would be a rare circumstance,” Stoneman said. “Usually that only happens when a player has the right to reject a trade.”

In addition to one or two starting pitchers, the Angels are in the market for a shortstop or a center fielder. Obtaining one could eliminate the need for the other because of versatile Angel Chone Figgins.

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Should the Angels trade for or sign a center fielder, Figgins could play second base and David Eckstein would play shortstop.

Should a shortstop be acquired, Figgins could play center field and Eckstein could move to second, at least until incumbent second baseman Adam Kennedy recovers from reconstructive surgery on his right knee.

Besides pitching, the Dodgers would like to add a catcher, a starting outfielder and, if Beltre signs elsewhere, a third baseman. DePodesta said he gained a clear enough idea of trade possibilities to delve into the free-agent market with confidence.

“I came here with certain players in mind,” he said. “I am definitely asking about those players.”

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Discussion early in the week involving Dodger first baseman/right fielder Shawn Green for New York Met catcher Mike Piazza was initiated by Met General Manager Omar Minaya. After sleeping on the proposal, DePodesta said the chances of acquiring Piazza were minimal.

Piazza, 36, caught only 50 games last season and several baseball executives said he would be better suited to playing in the American League, where he could be a designated hitter on days he does not catch.

DePodesta met with Cub General Manager Jim Hendry for a second time but cautioned against drawing any conclusions. “He’s just one of my favorite guys here,” DePodesta said.

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The general managers split, 15-15, on a vote to continue exploring instant replay. Two calls correctly overturned by umpires in Game 6 of the AL championship series took the steam out of the pro-replay movement, said Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of Major League Baseball.

“Based on that vote, it’s unlikely we’ll do anything substantive in the next year,” he said.


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