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Hot Stove: Agent denies Big Unit rumor

Hot Stove: Agent denies Big Unit rumor

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New York has been abuzz with rumors about left-handed pitching coming to both clubs and perhaps going from one.

Mets executives planned to visit Barry Zito in California on Tuesday while the Yankees apparently have targeted the Pirates' Mike Gonzalez for their bullpen in a trade that may or may not also involve the Braves.

A report in the New York Post also speculated that Randy Johnson could want out of the Bronx, although a strong denial came from the Big Unit's agent, Alan Nero.

Following a Los Angeles Times report that the Angels were no longer part of the Zito sweepstakes, the New York Post noted that the Mets' main sparring partner for the former Cy Young Award winner is Texas, the only club believed willing to go over $100 million for a multi-year deal. The Post said the Mets still see Zito in the $75-million range and hope that having a pitcher's park in a league without the designated hitter are intangibles that can sway him, not to mention the presence of pitching coach Rick Peterson, Zito's former guru in Oakland. There is also the possibility that Mets general manager Omar Minaya may persuade ownership to open the coffers wider.

Talk outside New York views a three-way deal among the Yanks, Bucs and Bravos unlikely. Although the Pirates are anxious to land the left-handed bat of first baseman Adam LaRoche (32 home runs and 90 RBIs in 2006), involving the Yankees toward that end may prove fruitless.

The three-way talk goes like this: LaRoche to Pittsburgh, Gonzalez to the Bronx, and left fielder Melky Cabrera to Atlanta. But the Braves aren't as interested in Cabrera as are the Pirates. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Pirates expressed strong interest in Cabrera last season in trade talks with the Yankees that resulted in pitcher Shawn Chacon coming to Pittsburgh in exchange for first baseman-outfielder Craig Wilson.

The Pirates' interest may be just as keen, certainly more so than the Braves, who are also said interested in solving their leadoff hitter needs by going after the Angels' Chone Figgins. Cabrera's availability has grown since last summer when his presence in the Yankees' outfield was vital because of the injuries to Hideki Matsui and the since-departed Gary Sheffield. But with Matsui healthy and Bobby Abreu in right field, Cabrera has become expendable.

A straight-up deal between the Pirates and Yankees makes more sense, but Cabrera alone for Gonzalez won't get it done, according to Post-Gazette sources. The Pirates also want a pitching prospect, unless the Yankees are willing to part with reliever Scott Proctor, which at this juncture they are not.

Conjecture about where Roger Clemens may pitch sometime in 2007, perhaps at Yankee Stadium, has fueled whispers that Johnson might not be crazy about sharing the same clubhouse with his fellow multiple Cy Young Award winner (together, they have won a dozen). But the 6-foot-11, Hall of Fame-bound left-hander has a no-trade clause and is due $16 million next year, a salary off-putting for someone who turns 44 on his next birthday.

Other left-handers in Yankees news are Andy Pettitte, who was expected to take a physical Monday or Tuesday and be announced Thursday, and Japan's Kei Igawa, who reportedly has agreed to a five-year, $20 million deal.

Bernie Williams' future with the Yankees is tied to whether Cabrera is traded. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has been mum about Williams, who proved to be a valuable fourth outfielder a year ago but would have no role if Cabrera is still on the Yankees' roster.

Another left-hander drawing attention is free agent Mark Mulder. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that six teams are still in the hunt for Mulder, who is coming off rotator cuff surgery and isn't expected to be ready to join a staff until June. The Cardinals, Padres, Diamondbacks and Rangers appear to be front-runners in the hunt for Mulder, the paper reports, but the Indians and Giants also have interest. The Tribe, however, already has three lefties -- C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Jeremy Sowers -- in its rotation, so it's hard to gauge Cleveland's level of interest in Mulder.

The Boston Herald reported that neither general manager Theo Epstein nor J.D. Drew's agent, Scott Boras, would confirm a report in the Boston Globe that the outfielder was getting a second opinion on his shoulder. There has been a delay in finalizing the five-year, $70 million contract since Drew took his original physical in Boston last week. The Herald reported that indications are that Sox officials are not overly concerned, which would indicate the unspecified issue is not a deal-breaker.

After getting his feet wet in Boston, Daisuke Matsuzaka headed back to Japan on Monday, and held a news conference there on Tuesday upon landing. The new Red Sox ace has reportedly cut endorsement deals with Coca-Cola and Toyota in addition to his deal with Nike. The right-hander is expected to return to Boston with his wife within the next month to start looking for a place to live.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the Twins backed off a package of outfielder Denard Span and right-handed pitchers Matt Garza and Scott Baker to the Rockies for pitcher Jason Jennings, who was dealt instead to the Astros for center fielder Willy Taveras and right-handers Jason Hirsch and Taylor Buchholz. Club sources told the Star Tribune that Taveras is basically Span in three years, Hirsh's Triple-A numbers were comparable to Garza's, and that scouts view Buchholz, like Baker, as a back-of-the-rotation starter. The Twins considered the trade too much of a risk when they were assured of getting only one year out of Jennings, a potential free agent next fall. The Twins needed to stay close to the vest with their pitchers, considering the expected retirement on Tuesday of Brad Radke and the rotator-cuff surgery on Francisco Liriano.

Trade talks that would have returned reliever Armando Benitez to Miami broke down over the weekend, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The Giants and Marlins couldn't come to terms on the player to be dealt to San Francisco. Also, the Marlins expected the Giants to pick up a substantial portion of the $7.6 million due Benitez in 2007. Florida has allotted $2 million for a closer, which limits its free-agent and trade options.

Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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