NASHVILLE, Tn., Dec. 13 (UPI) -- The annual gathering of Major League Baseball executives kicked off Friday in Nashville, Tn.
The meetings are being held at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center. They likely will center on future feature labor certainty, but they are being held with the new luxury tax on team payrolls in place.
After a relatively slow six weeks, general managers are being pressed into action with most pointing to the next three or four days as a time to get deals done.
On the player front, this offseason has seen the market crawl, with only a few big names, Jim Thome and Tom Glavine, getting deals worked out. Many of the 30 teams here will discuss free agents ranging from multiple Cy Young Award winners like Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux to offensive threats like Cliff Floyd and Jeff Kent.
However, the number of teams that can spend at will could be counted on one hand and much of the attention here figures to revolve around teams looking to swap salary headaches.
This offseason already has seen a couple of deals based primarily on salary and, given the current economic climate in the game, that trend figures to carry over right up to spring training. With so many teams looking to slash payroll, getting under a proposed salary ceiling, and avoiding the luxury tax, it has become a buyers' market.
One of teams that has made no secret of their direction are the Montreal Expos. Owned and operated by Major League Baseball, Montreal could slash its payroll by up to $10 million.
To do that, the Expos may have to shop one of their immensely talented young offensive players or pitching aces Bartolo Colon or Javier Vazquez. Other teams possibly looking to rid themselves of high-priced players include Colorado, Boston and the New York Yankees.
New York, which made the big splash at last year's meetings with the signing of superstar Jason Giambi, has been relatively quiet this offseason but has some issues to address before the start of spring training.
Many teams that figure they are one or two players away, and will be counting on their general managers to be able to trade for talent while not adding to payroll. That has sparked a number of blockbuster rumors and names like Cincinnati's Ken Griffey Jr., Colorado's Larry Walker, Toronto's Carlos Delgado and Kansas City's Mike Sweeney have been bandied about.
The meetings also will serve as a clearing house for many of the unsigned free agents, who have the opportunity to shop their services to all 30 teams at one venue. Players like Ugueth Urbina, Edgardo Alfonzo, Omar Daal and Paul Byrd will have the chance to finalize offers and decisions.
The meetings also serve as the host for the Rule 5 draft, which takes place Monday. Major League Baseball also uses the meetings to discuss rules initiatives and minor league matters.
Rockies ink two
DENVER, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- The Colorado Rockies Friday signed backup catcher Bobby Estalella and infielder Greg Norton to one-year, non-guaranteed contracts.
Financial terms of the deals were not disclosed.
Estalella, 28, played in 38 games in 2002 before undergoing season-ending surgery on his left shoulder on July 24. He hit .205 with eight homers and 25 RBI, and heads to camp with a chance to serve as the backup to newly-acquired Charles Johnson.
Norton, 30, is coming off a season in which he hit just .200 with seven homers and 37 RBI in 168 at-bats. He tied for the major league lead with 13 RBI as a pinch hitter.
Norton is a seven-year veteran with a .247 career batting average.
Miami teammates vie for Heisman
The winner will be announced Saturday night at a ceremony at the Yale Club in Manhattan.
Dorsey and McGahee have led the defending national champion Hurricanes to an unbeaten record and the nation's No. 1 ranking. The other contenders are Southern California quarterback Carson Palmer, running back Larry Johnson of Penn State, and Iowa quarterback Brad Banks.
"Whatever happens, happens," McGahee said. "I ain't going to get my hopes up high. We'll play it cool."
The closest vote for the Heisman was in 1985, when Bo Jackson of Auburn edged Chuck Long of Iowa by 45 points. With over 900 votes distributed nationwide, the race could come down to how those voters the term "most outstanding player."
Some voters will point to how McGahee and Dorsey have helped defending national champion Miami extend its winning streak to 34 games. They are the first Heisman Trophy finalists from the same school since Ki-Jana Carter and Kerry Collins of Penn State in 1994. Those two finished second and fourth, respectively, in the voting.
Johnson warned that voters need to look beyond the won-loss record.
"I don't care if they vote for me," Johnson told the New York Daily News. "Just look at all the players. "Just because you're on the No. 1 team doesn't mean you're the No. 1 player."
Dorsey was third in last year's voting after guiding the Hurricanes to an unbeaten season. He is halfway there this season, with only the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State standing in Miami's way.
In improving to 38-1 as a starter, Dorsey has completed 194-of-350 passes for 3,073 yards, with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season.
"The awards now are people's opinions," Dorsey said. The only opinions that matter to me right now are my teammates and how we do in the Fiesta Bowl (against No. 2 Ohio State)."
McGahee wasn't even supposed to start at tailback this year, but he can become the first sophomore to win the award. He set the school record for touchdowns (27), yards rushing (1,686), total yards (2,036) and 100-yard games (10).
McGahee may have helped himself last Saturday, when he ran 39 times for a career-high 205 yards and a school-record six touchdowns in a win over Big East rival Virginia Tech.
Having two candidates from the same team undoubtedly could split votes. Nebraska's Mike Rozier is the last player to win the Heisman Trophy and have a teammate finish in the top five in voting. He did it in 1983, with Turner Gill finishing fourth.
Palmer, a senior finally living up to expectations, is trying to become the first Heisman winner from a West Coast school since USC's Marcus Allen in 1981. He has completed nearly 63 percent of his passes for 3,639 yards with 32 scoring passes and 10 interceptions this season.
He finished the regular season with 425 yards passing, the most ever allowed by Notre Dame, and four scores in a 44-13 rout. He will lead the fifth-ranked Trojans into the Orange Bowl against Iowa.
Johnson became only the ninth player in Division I-A history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season, amassing 2,015. He has added 341 yards receiving, a school record for running backs, and 2,575 all-purpose yards, the ninth-best total in NCAA history.
The case against Johnson is that he ran for fewer than 80 yards in losses to Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State.
History indicates that 2,000 yards gets you a Heisman Trophy if you play for an elite school such as Penn State. Rozier, USC's Marcus Allen, Colorado's Rashaan Salaam and Texas' Ricky Williams all gained 2,000 yards and took home a Heisman., but LaDainian Tomlinson of TCU and Texas Tech's Byron Hanspard each rushed for 2,000 yards once, and Iowa State' Troy Davis did it twice and failed to win the award. Barry Sanders won a Heisman at Oklahoma State, but had to gain over 2,600 yards to do it.
On Thursday, Johnson won the Maxwell Award as best all-around player, the Doak Walker Award as top running back, and the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award.
Banks is the sleeper of the five, having come from nowhere to lead No. 3 Iowa to its first 11-win season and a berth in the Orange Bowl after never starting a Division I-A game. The senior from Florida has completed 155-of-258 passes for 2,369 yards,with 25 scores and four interceptions. He also has ran for 387 yards and five scores.
One his best performances came in a 42-35 overtime win over Johnson and Penn State, when he threw the game-winning pass in the extra session.
Last year's race also was tight as Eric Crouch of Nebraska edged Florida's Rex Grossman by 62 points, the fourth-closest ever.
1-AA playoffs continue
LAKE CHARLES, La., Dec. 13 (UPI) -- The Division 1-AA playoffs continue Saturday with two games on the docket in the semifinal round.
Villanova quarterback Gordaon will try to play with a broken right thumb when the Wildcats visit top-seeded McNeese State. Western Kentucky (10-3) visits Georgia Southern (11-2) in the other semifinal.
Gordon broke the thumb on his throwing hand when he was sacked in the first quarter last week, but still completed 26-of-30 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns in last week's 24-10 win over Fordham.
Villanova (11-3) advanced to its first-ever semifinal and now sets its sights on McNeese State (12-1), which knocked off defending national champion Montana. Gordon needs 64 yards to become Villanova's first 4,000-yard passer, and has thrown for 34 touchdowns.
"It's going to take a lot for me to come out, but at the same time, I'm not going to keep trying to go out there if it's not helping our cause," Gordon told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Ryan Corcoran threw for 197 yards and two touchdowns as McNeese State rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat Montana. Corcoran replaced the ineffective Scott Pendarvis and threw scoring passes of 35 and 17 yards to B.J. Sams in the second half.
McNeese State (12-1), whose only regular-season loss came to Division I-A Nebraska, is the top seed in the playoffs for the second time. In 1995, McNeese went undefeated in the regular season and reached the semifinals, losing to eventual national champion Marshall.
Western Kentucky advanced with a surprising 31-28 win over second-seeded Western Illinois. No. 3 Georgia Southern, seeking its record seven national title, easily defeated Maine, 31-7, last week.
Jermaine Austin carried 27 times for 143 yards and a touchdown for Georgia Southern, which has won 10 straight games. Georgia Southern won the only two meetings between the schools in 1986 and '87.
The championship game is scheduled for Dec. 20 at Chattanooga, Tn.
Orlando activates Oyedeji
ORLANDO, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- The Orlando Magic Friday activated Olumide Oyedeji from the injured list.
Oyedeji, a native of Nigeria, has spent two stints on the injured list with a low back strain. The center-forward played limited minutes in eight games for the Magic, averaging one point and 1.9 rebounds per contest.
Oyedeji, a second-round pick of Seattle in 2000, signed as a free agent with the Magic last July.
New job for Matsakis
SAN MARCOS, Texas, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- Manny Matsakis Friday was named coach at Division I-AA Southwest Texas State.
Matsakis was the assistant coach and special teams coordinator at Texas Tech the last three seasons. He replaces Bob DeBeese, who was removed as coach on Nov. 25 after posting a 27-39 mark in six seasons, including a 4-7 mark this year.
Prior to his stint at Texas Tech, Matsakis was offensive coordinator at Wyoming. He was the coach at Emporia State University from 1995-99.
Matsakis also had stints as an assistant at Kansas State and Hofstra.
Romberg wins Rimington
NEW YORK, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- Brett Romberg of Miami Friday was named the winner of the Dave Rimington Trophy, given to the top center in college football.
Jeff Faine of Notre Dame was second in the voting and Bruce Nelson of Iowa was third.
The 6-3, 297-pound senior was a Rimington finalist in 2001, and has made the blocking calls for teams that have won 34 straight games.
The Hurricanes (12-0) seek their second straight national title when they face Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3.
The three-year-old Rimington Award is determined by a consensus of four All-America teams. Nebraska's Dominic Raiola and Ohio State's LeCharles Bentley were the first two winners.
Jeff Faine of Notre Dame was second in the voting and Bruce Nelson of Iowa was third.
Morgan to IR
CHARLOTTE, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- The Carolina Panthers Friday placed linebacker Dan Morgan on injured reserve, ending his 2002 season.
Morgan is scheduled to have surgery on Dec. 16 on his dislocated left shoulder.
"It is supposedly about a 6-8 week recovery time," said Coach John Fox. "I don't know the exact medical procedure other than they tighten the shoulder back up that was dislocated and they tighten the ligaments back up so it doesn't dislocate again."
The former Miami star has been injury prone in his two NFL seasons.
"It is frustrating," Fox said. "He didn't have a big history of that in college. It is obviously frustrating for him, but sometimes that is just the way it goes. It comes in clumps. He has got to keep sawing wood and get healthy. This is the last thing for him this season. Hopefully, he will get rehabbed and be ready for next season, and get away from that bad luck of string of injuries."
Team doctors say Morgan should make a full recovery by training camp next summer.
In nine games this season, Morgan, who was Carolina's No. 1 pick in 2001, had one sack, two interceptions, and 54 tackles this season. He missed five games in his rookie campaign with a broken leg.
To fill Morgan's roster spot, the Panthers elevated cornerback Brad Franklin from the practice squad.
Redskins dump Jackson
ASHBURN, Va., Dec. 13 (UPI) -- The Washington Redskins Friday released veteran wide receiver Willie Jackson.
It marks the second time this season Jackson has been waived. He caught just seven passes for 58 yards in four games with Washington, and was inactive for last week's loss to the New York Giants.
Jackson signed with the Atlanta Falcons on July 31, three days after signing as a free agent. He caught 18 passes for 199 yards in seven games with the Falcons but often complained that he was not getting the ball enough. That did not sit well with Atlanta Coach Dan Reeves.
Last season, Jackson enjoyed a breakout campaign with the Saints, establishing career highs with 81 receptions for 1,046 yards to go along with five touchdowns. He also has played with Jacksonville, Dallas and Cincinnati during his career, which started in 1995.
Washington's Steve Spurrier, who coached Jackson at the Florida from 1991-93, became the latest receiver to be cut by his college coach in the pros. Spurrier pushed for the free agent signings of former Gator receivers Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green and ended up waiving both of them.
Anthony did not even make it past the preseason and Green was released last month.
Chris Doering, another free agent signing, is the only former Florida receiver still on the Redskins roster.