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Baseball's hot stove sizzles with moves

Big Unit on verge of joining Yanks, Hudson to Braves, Beltre to Seattle

Posted: Friday, December 17, 2004

On a day of big movement in baseball, the New York Yankees are on the verge of claiming the biggest prize of all.

The Yankees closed in on completing a blockbuster three-team trade that would send Randy Johnson to New York, Javier Vazquez to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Shawn Green to the Arizona Diamondbacks, two sources told The Associated Press.

''It is going to happen,'' a source familiar with the negotiations said on the condition of anonymity. Another team source said the principals were in place for the trade to be completed.

Earlier Thursday, the Atlanta Braves made another huge pitch for success, getting Tim Hudson in a trade from Oakland, and the Seattle Mariners signed another slugger, agreeing to a contract with All-Star third baseman Adrian Beltre.

After blowing a 3-0 lead in the AL championship series to Boston last season, the Yankees set out in the offseason to upgrade their starting pitching. They are close to finalizing contracts with free-agent pitchers Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, but the Big Unit is the player they coveted most to match up against the Red Sox and his former teammate, Curt Schilling.

The five-time Cy Young Award winner is in the final year of a contract that will pay him $16 million next season. He has a no-trade clause and it was unclear if the Yankees had to agree to extend his deal to make the deal go through.

Johnson, 41, wanted out of Arizona so he could pitch with a contender. He went 16-14 with a 2.60 ERA and 290 strikeouts last season for the Diamondbacks, who finished 51-111. Johnson has 246 career wins and is third all-time with 4,161 career strikeouts.

Fox Sports and Newsday reported on their Web sites that the other players involved in the deal are Yankees prospects catcher Dioner Navarro and third baseman Eric Duncan, who are going to Los Angeles, and Dodgers pitchers Brad Penny and Yhency Brazoban, who would be sent to Arizona.

None of the teams would confirm the deal.

''We're still in conversations with a lot of different clubs about a lot of different possibilities,'' Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta said. ''We have talked about some three-way deals and some four-way deals. I don't know if it's going to happen or not.''

Green, who is also owed $16 million in the final year of his contract, hit 91 homers in 2001-02 but dropped to just 47 over the last two seasons. He batted .266 with 28 homers and 86 RBIs in 2004.

Vazquez, 28, struggled in his one season in New York, going 14-10 with a 4.91 ERA. He is owed $35.5 million over the next three years.

Penny, acquired in the middle of last season from Florida, was shut down with a shoulder injury down the stretch for the Dodgers. The 26-year-old right-hander has a 49-44 career record. Brazoban, 24, went 6-2 with a 2.48 ERA in 31 games for Los Angeles last season.

Earlier Thursday, the Braves swooped in and acquired Hudson for outfielder Charles Thomas and pitchers Juan Cruz and Dan Meyer.

The Braves have won 13 straight division titles. Last Saturday, they got All-Star closer Dan Kolb from Milwaukee - a move that allowed them to move John Smoltz back into the rotation.

''This winter, we have set our sights on going back to sort of the old-fashioned Braves' way of building championship teams with dominant pitching,'' Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz said. ''That's what we think we have done.''

After finishing at the bottom of the AL West and winding up last in the league in runs and homers, the Mariners reached agreement with Beltre on a $64 million, five-year deal Thursday, the AP learned.

Beltre's contract was subject to him passing a physical, a person close to the third baseman said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The deal could be announced as early as Friday. Seattle did not comment on the agreement.

A day earlier, the Mariners finalized a $50 million, four-year contract with free-agent first baseman Richie Sexson.

Also, Kansas City traded catcher Benito Santiago to Pittsburgh for right-handed prospect Leo Nunez. The Royals also must pay about $1 million of Santiago's $2.15 million salary.

In another deal, Atlanta sent outfielder Eli Marrero to Kansas City for right-hander Jorge Vasquez. The Braves began the day by reaching agreement with Smoltz on $20 million, two-year contract.

With the A's facing yet another payroll crunch, general manager Billy Beane finally broke up his ''Big Three'' starting pitchers of Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito.

The trade was finalized around midday Thursday, a day after Beane was talking to three teams about the 29-year-old Hudson.

The Georgia-born Hudson posted 81 wins from 2000-04, tied for the most in the AL over that span.

''I always wondered how it would be to put on a Braves uniform and play in Atlanta,'' Hudson said. ''Now I get to see. Hopefully I'll do what all the Braves pitchers had done.''

Hudson was 12-6 with a 3.53 ERA in 27 starts this season. Earlier this month, Hudson set a March 1 deadline for the A's to offer him a contract extension, or he planned to leave as a free agent following the 2005 season.

Beltre, 25, led the majors with 48 home runs for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He hit .334 with 121 RBIs, and finished second behind Barry Bonds in the NL MVP voting.

The Dodgers wanted to keep Beltre. But Los Angeles recently gave itself some protection, signing free-agent Jeff Kent and saying that he could play third base, along with his usual spot at second.

''We're disappointed. It hurts,'' DePodesta said. ''Obviously, we would have loved to have him back.''

Beltre made $5 million last season, and figured to cash in after a career year in which he led the Dodgers to the NL West title and their first postseason spot since 1988.

AP Sports writers Bob Baum in Phoenix, John Nadel in Los Angeles and Ben Walker in New York contributed to this report.



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