Monday, January 09, 2006

NEW SEASON, NEW PROSPECTS, REFRESH HOPES

The World Baseball Classic is just around the corner and the sport's ultimate honor could be highlighting some of the finest closers in Major League history. Roster transformations continued over the holidays, the most notable being the Rangers signing free agent starting pitcher Kevin Millwood to a four-year, $60 million contract. On the coming Tuesday, 29 Hall of Fame candidates will finally come to know whether they will be enshrined in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Nearly half of the candidates listed on the ballot mailed to more than 550 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America in mid-December are eligible for the first time. The 14 newcomers include former Cy Young Award winners Dwight Gooden and Orel Hershiser and RBI leaders Albert Belle and Will Clark. But former premier closers Bruce Sutter (13th year on the ballot), Rich "Goose" Gossage (seventh year) and all-time saves leader Lee Smith (fourth year) are the leading candidates to get at least 75 percent of the votes. Sutter, who transformed the split-finger fastball, was listed on 66.7 percent of the record. The only other players named on at least half the ballots were former American League Most Valuable Player Jim Rice (59.5), Gossage (55.2) and former National League MVP Andre Dawson (52.3).

Players with at least three years of MLB experience and are not "officially" signed for the 2006 season or beyond, exchange salary arbitration figures with their respective clubs. Avoiding salary arbitration can be prove to be expensive because it has become a part of the baseball dictionary. Players with between three and six years of MLB service, plus the most senior 17 percent of those with between two and three years, are eligible for salary arbitration.

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