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Original Issue

Inside Baseball

Squeeze Play
The lack of interest in Ivan Rodriguez is due to more than a
sluggish market

The book business calls them remainders, those unwanted volumes
you see in the bargain bin. One month before spring training
camps open, baseball is loaded with more remainders than at any
time in recent memory. At week's end more than 70 established big
leaguers still didn't have a job, including a 10-time All-Star and
six of the 11 outfielders who played in the World Series three
months ago.

Owners and G.M.'s have cited the luxury-tax system and a downturn
in the economy to explain the slowdown in spending. Contracts of
more than three years are nearly extinct. Agents have whispered
suspicions of collusion. "It's not collusion," one G.M. scoffed.
"It's reality--or sobriety is more like it."

The market is clogged with middling, indistinguishable starting
pitchers who in past years could count on millions of dollars.
(Consider Dave Mlicki, a back-of-the-rotation pitcher who earned
$6.2 million last year, when he won four games; last Friday he
took a deal with the Brewers that guarantees him $750,000.)
Likewise, World Series outfielders Reggie Sanders, Kenny Lofton,
Shawon Dunston, Tom Goodwin, Alex Ochoa and Orlando Palmeiro
haven't been in demand. The Blue Jays cut outfielder Jose Cruz
Jr. rather than pay him about $5 million in arbitration; they
spent the money on three players: outfielder Frank Catalanotto,
infielder Mike Bordick and pitcher Tanyon Sturtze.

The best player caught in the downturn is 31-year-old catcher
Ivan Rodriguez, who has made 10 All-Star teams, won 10 Gold
Gloves and hit .300 in each of the last eight seasons. But each
of his past three seasons was shortened by injury, including a
herniated disk in 2002.

Only two years ago Todd Hundley also hit the market as a
31-year-old catcher coming off three injury-marred seasons.
Hundley scored a four-year, $23.5 million contract from the Cubs.
Rodriguez, a vastly superior catcher and hitter who just
completed a five-year, $42 million contract with the Rangers,
can't attract that kind of money. The Orioles reportedly offered
him $18 million over three years, and the Brewers and the Cubs
have shown some interest. Jeff Moorad, Rodriguez's agent, was so
exasperated that he said last month he was pursuing opportunities
for his client in Japan, an unlikely career move for a player
with Hall of Fame aspirations.

Lukewarm interest in Rodriguez is due to more than the slow
market, according to one American League scout. "Pitchers hate
throwing to him," the scout says. "The word's gotten around that
he doesn't sit in on pitchers' meetings, he likes to call
[fastballs] with runners on, and his skills are declining. A lot
of balls get through him. You can put up with those things when a
guy hits .310 with power, but now you don't know for sure if
he'll do that."

COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE (TOP) Rodriguez, a 10-time All-Star, has elicited more questions than offers.


All-Remainder Team
The best of the unsigned free agents

Pos. Player, Age 2002 Team 2002 Salary

C Ivan Rodriguez, 31 Rangers $9.6 million
Must reconsider asking price of at least $10 million a year

1B Tony Clark, 30 Red Sox $5 million
Stock plummeted after .207, three-home-run season

2B Keith Lockhart, 38 Braves $600,000
Six-year run as Atlanta utilityman came to an end

SS Jose Hernandez, 33 Brewers $3.3 million
Sign of the times: from All-Star to All-Remainder in six months

3B Tyler Houston, 32 Dodgers $1.63 million
Platoon player has some pop (18 homers in 2000)

LF Ray Lankford, 35 Padres $8.1 million
Hit .224 in final season of five-year, $34 million megadeal

CF Jose Cruz Jr., 28 Blue Jays $3.95 million
Cut after .245 season in which ankle injury cost him 33 games

RF Reggie Sanders, 35 Giants $1.75 million
Looking for sixth team in six years despite 85 RBIs in 2002

RHP James Baldwin, 31 Mariners $1.25 million
Injury-prone starter won only seven games last year

LHP Kenny Rogers, 38 Rangers $7.5 million
Likely to take pay cut despite going 13-8 with 3.84 ERA

RP Roberto Hernandez, 38 Royals $6 million
League hit .300 against fading closer, who blew seven saves