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SPRING TRAINING Baseball enters season of change



Published: Sat, February 12, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



More steroid testing, the Nationals and free-agent moves top the list.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The trophy has toured New England, the prized possession of the Boston Red Sox, who finally ended The Curse.

As spring training camps open next week from Vero Beach, Fla., to Peoria, Ariz., there are 29 teams ready to knock off the remarkable Red Sox.

"We have a slogan around here: 'Any group of schlemiels can win once,' " Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said. "We've got to win more than once."

A lot has happened since Keith Foulke flipped the famous ball to Doug Mientkiewicz for the final out at Busch Stadium last Oct. 27, giving the Red Sox their first World Series title since 1918. The fallout is ongoing -- the Red Sox and Mientkiewicz, traded this month to the New York Mets, still haven't figured out who owns the ball.

When Boston last defended the title, baseball sunk to a low. The White Sox won the AL pennant as the Red Sox dropped to sixth place, and Chicago then lost to Cincinnati 5-3 in the best-of-nine World Series. Afterward, eight White Sox players -- the notorious Black Sox -- were banned for life for throwing the Series at the behest of gamblers.

Talk of steroids

Baseball has different problems these days. Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield start spring training under unusual scrutiny, with the federal investigation of illegal steroid distribution still hanging over them. Players and owners have agreed to more frequent testing for steroids and harsher penalties, but the deal still hasn't been put in writing.

"As a sport, we have done everything that we could at this point," commissioner Bud Selig said. "There are immediate penalties, random testing, a player gets publicly named if heaven forbid he does test positively."

That deal isn't the only new thing this spring, there's even a new team. After years of trying to move, the Montreal Expos finally did. After 36 years in Quebec as Les Expos, the team was reborn in December and christened the Washington Nationals, the first major league baseball team in the nation's capital since the expansion Senators became the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season.

"It'll be fun to go down to spring training and see all the new faces and put on the new uniforms and stuff," closer Chad Cordero said.

Mets chase free agents

Other teams lavished fortunes on free agents during the off-season, with Omar Minaya making the biggest splash. Adding a Latin flair to New York's No. 2 team, he lured three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez from Boston for $53 million over four years, then signed Carlos Beltran to the biggest contract of the off-season, a $119 million, seven-year deal that convinced the All-Star center fielder to leave the Houston Astros.

"I call it the new Mets because this organization is going to a different direction, the right direction, the direction of winning," Beltran said.

Across town, the Yankees were still stunned from last October, when they not only lost to Boston in the AL championship series but became the first team in major league history to take a 3-0 lead in a best-of-7 series and lose.

Revamping their shaky starting staff, New York signed free agents Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, then acquired five-time Cy Young Award winner Randy Johnson from Arizona for Javier Vazquez, minor leaguers and $10 million.

New pitchers for Red Sox

Boston, trying to win back-to-back titles for the first time since 1915-16, added David Wells and Matt Clement to replace Martinez and Derek Lowe, who signed with Los Angeles, and stole shortstop Edgar Renteria from St. Louis. The Dodgers brought in outfielder J.D. Drew and shipped Shawn Green to Arizona, trying to rebound from a 111-loss season. Under new ownership, the Diamondbacks spent $45 million on third baseman Troy Glaus and $33 million on pitcher Russ Ortiz.

Seattle, which lost 99 games, took first baseman Richie Sexson from the Diamondbacks for $50 million and third baseman Adrian Beltre from the Dodgers with a $64 million deal.

Anaheim, which tasted success when it won the 2002 World Series, also made some moves. Owner Arte Moreno renamed the franchise the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, even though it's about 30 miles from Tinseltown, and brought in shortstop Orlando Cabrera and outfielder Steve Finley.

Florida, coming off the 2003 World Series title, missed the playoffs last year and went into the market to sign first baseman Carlos Delgado and pitcher Al Leiter.

Sammy Sosa was another big name to move, accepting a trade to the Baltimore Orioles from the Chicago Cubs, where he had worn out his welcome after bolting early on the last day of last season. Even with Sosa, it's hard to envision the Orioles overtaking New York and Boston in the big-money AL East.

"All the problems I had in Chicago, it's in the past. What happened, happened," Sosa said. "Just like a marriage, sometimes you just have to get a divorce. We're all smart guys. We know it was time to move on."




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