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Suzuki takes over spotlight

Special to

Nov. 8

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- At 5 p.m. Wednesday, Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd stepped to the podium in the media room at the Ritz-Carlton to announce that he had acquired left-handed starter Ron Villone from the Reds for two minor leaguers to be named.

O'Dowd was the second person in four days to step to that podium. The other was Scott Boras.

On a day when most of the discussions centered on the Florida vote count and the bidding for Japan's Ichiro Suzuki, Sandy Alderson brought the two issues together. "One team tried to bid," said Alderson, "but accidentally voted for Pat Buchanan."

While we all wondered how many votes Bush and Gore received from things at the bottom of Lake Lulu, the Great Cypress Swamp and the Orville Tribewasser House of Taxidermy -- all noted Florida spots within a two-hour ride of Yeehaw Junction -- the bidding to try to get the negotiating rights to the star Japanese outfielder were filed at 5.

Alderson explained that the bids "will remain private" for several days. The Commissioner's Office on Thursday will advise the Japanese League Commissioner's Office of the figure of the high bid, but not the bidder. "If the club (the Orix Blue Wave) accept the number as high enough by next Tuesday," said Alderson, "we will inform the clubs who had the highest bid."

Then the major league team has 30 days to negotiate a contract with Suzuki, the Johnny Damon-like right fielder who batted .387 for the Blue Wave and has won seven batting titles. If they fail to come to an agreement, Suzuki will play one more year in Japan, then become a free agent next November.

The Mariners are the favorites in this process. While no one knows exactly how many teams submitted bids, it is known that the Mets, Tigers, Red Sox and Twins are among the ones that submitted bids.

The Villone deal cuts payroll for the Reds. GM Jim Bowden is trying to do some more paring of his original list of 12 arbitration-eligible players, including Steve Parris. If he can make another deal for a pitcher, he will likely trade Scott Williamson to Oakland for Ben Grieve, who is signed to a very good ($4.3 million) contract. The A's want to put Williamson in their rotation with Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder.

Otherwise, there are few deals possible in Florida. "Mostly the talks here are exploratory," says O'Dowd. "When we get home (Thursday), we'll talk among ourselves, see what happens with free agents and go from there." Allard Baird, the Royals GM, says these meetings allowed him to figure out who is serious about Damon. "I'd say there are about three clubs," says Baird.

Another area of discussion were the happy Mets and Red Sox families. One day after pitching coach Dave Wallace quit because of his relationship with Bobby Valentine, the Mets fired Valentine's guy, hitting coach Tom Robson, and John Stearns.

The Red Sox announced that they'd hired former Yankees/Orioles/Dodgers hitting coach Rick Down to replace Jim Rice. That is yet another bone of contention between Dan Duquette and Jimy Williams, as Williams wanted to hire former Devil Rays coach Leon Roberts to replace Rice. To make things worse, Duquette then told Williams he had to hire another minority, so he fired Williams' bench coach Buddy Bailey -- who a week earlier had been assured he would return.

Oh, yes. "What they didn't know is that Leon Roberts is a full-blooded Indian," said another executive, "and counts as a minority."

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