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Original Issue

Decision Time

As Opening Day nears, teams weigh tough choices on deals, rotations and where to send their top prospects

Heading into the final fortnight of spring training, a trio of established free-agent pitchers remain unsigned, a superstar hasn't received his contract extension, holes remain open in several top rotations and a handful of spring phenoms aren't sure in what city they'll start the 2010 season. How will all this get sorted out? Here's a look:

• The Pitchers

Pedro Martinez, 38, the No. 2 starter on the World Series runner-up, may be hurt by ageism: Randy Wolf, who signed with the Brewers, was the only free-agent starter over 32 to get a multiyear deal. Martinez is looking for a one-year contract, and agent Fern Cuza says he is healthier now than when he signed with the Phillies last July. "Pedro wants to wait for the right opportunity,'' Cuza says (translation: a high-profile winner in the East). Meanwhile, another Cooperstown-bound righty, John Smoltz, would leave his new TV gigs with Turner Sports and the MLB Network for the right fit—the Cardinals are his preference—and the Mariners want to bring back Jarrod Washburn if they can work out the dollars.

• The Contract

Joe Mauer signed an extension with the Twins on Sunday (box), but Josh Beckett is still in limbo. The 2011 free agent is open about his desire to re-sign with the Red Sox, who badly want him back. He's seeking a slightly better deal than teammate John Lackey's $82.5 million over five years and is likely to get it.

• The Rotations

Phil Hughes (2.08 ERA in his first 8 2/3 innings this spring) has the lead for the Yankees' fifth spot over disappointing Joba Chamberlain and surprising Sergio Mitre (14 K's in 14 innings). In Philadelphia soft tosser Kyle Kendrick (1.29 ERA) has lost the edge to an even softer tosser, aging wonder Jamie Moyer. And Dontrelle Willis (0.90 ERA) is in a spirited fight for the Tigers' fifth spot with Nate Robertson (3.48).

• The Phenoms

The Nationals' brilliant righthander, Stephen Strasburg, demoted last week to Double A Harrisburg, is said by a source to likely get "six to eight'' minor league starts—even though scouts believe he's ready now. "He was ready last fall,'' one says. Another says it would be a "waste'' having Reds lefty Aroldis Chapman (1.29 ERA, 10 K's in seven innings) pitch in the minors; he may be headed for Double A or Triple A. The Cuban defector hit 100 mph and has a slider that is "Randy Johnson--like,'' the scout says. There is one certainty in these final days: At 20, powerful, disciplined Braves wunderkind Jason Heyward, the biggest hit of spring, will be Atlanta's rightfielder on Opening Day.

Now on

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TAKING THE FIFTH Hughes (far left) has the upper hand over Chamberlain for the last spot in the Yankees' rotation, while Beckett (inset) wants a five-year extension from the Sox.



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