Hot Stove: Many remain unemployed

Many remain unemployed

As the clock ticks towards the start of Spring Training, some well-known Major League players remain unemployed.

Not that the Hot Stove League has run out of fuel, but 21 of the 30 MLB organizations have their 40-man rosters already filled and seem more focused on getting ready for the camp openings in Florida and Arizona in mid-February than pursuing (publicly at least) the likes of free agent starting pitchers Roger Clemens, Jeff Weaver, Pedro Astacio and Kevin Brown; catchers Mike Piazza and Bengie Molina; infielders Alex Gonzalez, Daryle Ward, Royce Clayton and Rafael Palmeiro; and outfielders Sammy Sosa, Richard Hidalgo, B.J. Surhoff and Juan Gonzalez.

Surely, some of those players will find new baseball homes -- sooner or later.

This much is known about Clemens, the biggest fish remaining in what had been a small pond: The Astros can't discuss a contract with him until May 1 and the upstate Rangers are eager to negotiate ASAP. Rangers' owner Tom Hicks has sent a letter to Clemens' agent, Alan Hendricks, outlining possible financial parameters of a deal. Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, has yet to decide if he'll pitch beyond the World Baseball Classic this season.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Piazza is nearing a decision as to which team he'll play for in 2006 -- and it apparently won't be the Orioles. The organization reportedly hasn't had much contact with the 12-time All-Star and is perfectly satisfied starting the season with Ramon Hernandez and Javy Lopez behind the plate.

Lopez, the team's starting catcher for the past two seasons when healthy, figures to be a backup this season, prompting team executives Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette to visit Lopez in the Dominican Republic to explain the team's plans.

"We spent a couple of hours talking to him about the club and where we are going," Flanagan said. "It was a very productive conversation."

Where the 37-year-old Piazza eventually goes remains at hot Hot Stove topic.

The New York Daily News reported Thursday that some Yankees officials believe the chances of him signing with the Bronx Bombers are "remote," but a final decision has not been reached.

"I have not made a decision," general manager Brian Cashman told the paper. "We're still going through it. I'm obviously evaluating Mike and seeing if he fits where we're at this point in time. I don't have a need for anything, but that doesn't mean you don't constantly evaluate what's available and the price they're available at."

The exact price it would take to sign Piazza remains a mystery, but the Daily News reported that the Angels "could get interested at Piazza's price, which is believed to be around $2 million for one year."

As for Molina, the best offer he apparently has received so far is a one-year, $4 million deal from the Blue Jays. That is $1 million more than Molina made last season with the Angels, but $2 million less than he wants, and he has promised to sit out the '06 season if he doesn't get at least $6 million.

In other Hot Stove developments on Thursday:

Mariners: The Mariners avoided salary arbitration with right-handed starter Gil Meche, signing him to a one-year, $3.7 million contract. He had requested $4.2 million while the club offered $3.35 million.

The 27-year-old right-hander, the organization's last player in arbitration and a first-round draft choice in 1996, was 10-8 with a 5.09 ERA in 26 starts and three relief appearances last season, when he made $2.535 million. He has a 44-36 career record with a 4.70 ERA.

Twins: The Twins gave the Reds permission to interview assistant general manager Wayne Krivsky for the vacant GM position in Cincinnati.

The interview specifics were not announced but will be held between Krivsky and Reds chief executive officer Bob Castellini some time next week in Cincinnati. The club released no other candidates' names.

Krivsky has been an assistant GM for Minnesota under Terry Ryan since 1994 after spending 14 years in the same position with the Rangers. He was a candidate in 2003 for the Reds' GM post, which eventually went to Dan O'Brien, who was dismissed from those duties on Monday.

Interim GM Brad Kullman, Cincinnati's director of baseball operations, is the only other known candidate besides Krivsky. Former Expos and Orioles GM Jim Beattie, who became Castellini's special advisor Tuesday to evaluate the pitching program, is believed to also be a contender.

Castellini has said he planned to interview six to eight candidates for the job with the process taking up to three to four weeks.

Devil Rays: The Rays are close to finalizing a Minor League contract with third baseman Russell Branyan, according to the St. Petersburg Times. Branyan was released by Milwaukee after the Brewers acquired Corey Koskie from the Blue Jays.

Branyan has 93 home runs and 238 RBIs in 586 games with the Indians, Reds and Brewers during his big league career. But he also has struck out 597 times in 1,464 career at-bats.

Red Sox: The stalled trade that would send Indians outfielder and two other players to the Red Sox for three players has cooled considerably, according to ESPN, which reported Thursday that the Indians now are having second thoughts about dealing Crisp. Regardless, the Indians and Red Sox were still discussing ways Thursday to rework the six-player trade that collapsed over concerns about the health of Red Sox reliever Guillermo Mota, who apparently failed a physical administered by the Indians on Tuesday.

Mota, third-base prospect Andy Marte and catching prospect Kelly Shoppach were going to be traded to Cleveland for Crisp, reliever David Riske and catcher Josh Bard. In a related trade, the Indians were going to send left-handed reliever Arthur Rhodes to the Phillies for outfielder Jason Michaels. That deal also is on hold.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.