ATLANTA -- The Toronto Blue Jays will have little time to savor their World Series triumph. The brute realities of baseball in the 1990s will hit them quicker than a Canadian cold front.
The Blue Jays are being saluted by the city of Toronto for bringing Canada its first major league championship. For several on the 24-man roster it will be a farewell party.
In less than two weeks, seven players will file for free agency. Several others on the club and throughout the organization have been left unprotected for next month's expansion draft. In short, the Blue Jays will not be the same club a year from now.
'That's baseball,' Blue Jays Manager Cito Gaston said. 'People come and go. There's a lot of people I've been around as far as a player, as far as a coach, as far as a manager -- and that's just baseball life.
'As much as you might love these people or care for these people, you can survive without them. Next year, I think if we can keep this pitching staff together and fill in with a few young kids, I would suspect that we would have another opportunity to be right here again. Other teams are going to lose players, too.'
Of the seven unrestricted free agents, the biggest names are pitchers David Cone, Jimmy Key and Tom Henke, shortstop Manny Lee and outfielder Joe Carter.
The Blue Jays will go out of their way to sign Carter, who finished second in the American League in RBI (119) this season. They'll also make a substantial offer to Cone, who has narrowed his choices to Toronto and the New York Yankees. But, with owners tightening budgets, what is a fair offer to a pitcher who made $4.2 million last season?
Key, who won two games in the Series, and Henke, the club's top closer, may be allowed to go without a fight.
Key has been an integral part of the staff for nine seasons, but he's 31 and the Blue Jays may not want to lock him up to a longterm contract. Henke has lost some bargaining power with the emergence of Duane Ward. Henke made $3.3 million last year and will want a substantial raise after leading the club in saves. The Blue Jays may let Henke go and make Ward the closer.
Lee was probably a bargain at $1.1 million. He hit .263 and played a fine shortstop. But he'll want a big raise, too, and there will be interest from other clubs. The Blue Jays have Eddie Zosky in the wings and may decide they can't afford Lee.
Dave Winfield, who got the winning hit in Game 6, and Candy Maldonado also can become free agents if the Blue Jays do not offer them salary arbitration. That is unlikely. Winfield is 41 and Maldonado 32. Derek Bell, 24, is ready to assume a regular outfield spot, making Maldonado expendable. The Blue Jays got what they wanted from Winfield. He won't be back. Baseball is a business, after all.
Catcher Ed Sprague, the Game 2 hero, is expected to be taken in the expansion draft and the Blue Jays could lose a couple more prospects, too.
Don't cry for the Blue Jays, though. Their organization is one of the strongest in baseball. They have several bluechip prospects in the minors such as Zosky, Canadian outfielder Nigel Wilson and pitcher Rich Trlicek.
'This organization works real hard at developing players within the organization,' Gaston said. 'At one time we had a lot of players that did not go through the organization. A lot of them were Triple A drafts. George Bell was one of them. Fred McGriff was another.
'But we've also had some kids come up from this organization. They (the front office) would like to build from within this organization or go out and draft a Double A player to the major league roster. They work hard to know all the kids in baseball and to know what they can do. And they spend a lot of money doing it. We have had a lot of our kids, especially pitchers, come through this organizaion and do well for us.'
Gaston expects to play a key role in the decision-making.
'This organization listens to everyone,' he said. 'When I say everyone, I mean coaches, scouts, minor league staff, whatever. They'll put all that together and come up with the best plan.
'That's about how much a role I'll play in that, too. I'll give them what I think about it. Of course, it's up to them how they want to do it.'
The Braves, one of baseball's youngest clubs, have no key players eligible for free agency. However, players such as pitcher Tom Glavine, outfielder Ron Gant and outfielder David Justice are eligible for arbitration.
There is speculation that owners will cut their payrolls by millions of dollars by releasing players eligible for arbitration. However, it is unlikely the Braves would part with the likes of Glavine, Gant and Justice.
The Braves are not expected to retain free-agent outfielder Lonnie Smith or reliever Jeff Reardon. Smith has been a valuable reserve for four seasons but at 36 is expendable. Reardon was acquired in August and helped down the stretch. If the Braves don't offer him arbitrattion he becomes a free agent. Reardon showed in the World Series he is no longer the dominating reliever he once was, and at age 38 may have trouble finding a job.
Like the Blue Jays, the Braves are stocked throughout their farm system. And the frustration of two successive losses in the World Series is tempered by the feeling they can return.
'We felt we could win until the last out,' third baseman Terry Pendleton said. 'We'll be back next year.'
'This club is tough and will come back next year and have a good season,' said pitcher Charlie Leibrandt, the loser of two games during the Series. 'We played hard every game and simply lost four one-run games.'
A spine-tingling game that lasted four hours and seven minutes ended on a bang-bang play at first when Otis Nixon was thrown out by relief pitcher Mike Timlin while trying to beat out a bunt that would have tied the score dramatically for the second time.
It was Nixon who had delivered a tying single with two out in the ninth with the Blue Jays just one strike away from victory.
A two-out hit by Winfield put the Blue Jays ahead to stay in the 11th. With one out, Devon White was hit by a pitch by Charlie Leibrandt and Roberto Alomar singled. After Joe Carter flied out, Winfield hit a 3-2 pitch into the left-field corner to chase home both runners and put the Blue Jays ahead 4-2.
It was only Winfield's fifth hit in 22 at-bats in the Series and his first extra-base hit in 44 lifetime Series at-bats.NEWLN: (more)
The Braves weren't through, however.
Jeff Blauser led off the Braves' 11th with a single and raced to third when shortstop Manny Lee kicked Damon Berryhill's grounder. Rafael Belliard sacrificed pinch runner John Smoltz to second and pinch hitter Brian Hunter scored Blauser with a grounder to first.
Timlin then replaced winning reliever Jimmy Key to pitch to Nixon, who tried to score the tying run on a drag bunt. Timlin, however, bounced off the mound quickly, pounced on the ball and fired to first baseman Joe Carter to barely beat the speedy Nixon.
Nixon had come through with two outs in the ninth to knock home the tying run against Toronto relief ace Tom Henke. Blauser also started that comeback with a single and was sacrificed to second by Damon Berrhill.
After pinch hitter Lonnie Smith coaxed a walk, pinch hitter Francisco Cabrera hit a vicious line drive to left field that nearly fooled left fielder Candy Maldonado. Maldonado, whose homer had put the Blue Jays ahead 2-1 in the fourth, misjudged the ball but reached up to make the catch at the last second. Henke then ran the count to 0-2 on Nixon, who bounced a single to left field to score Blauser with the tying run.
With the crowd of 51,763 in a frenzy, Henke bore down and got Ron Gant on a fly to center to end the game.
Toronto took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when White singled, stole second, advanced to third on an infield out and scored on Carter's sacrifice fly, a ball that was misplayed by right fielder David Justice for a two-base error.
Atlanta tied the score in third when Deion Sanders doubled, stole third and scored on a sacrifice fly by Terry Pendleton.
The Blue Jays' defense also played a big part in the victory. Winfield made a diving catch in right field in the eighth, second baseman Roberto Alomar made a spectacular diving stop of Blauser's hard grounder in the fourth and threw him out and catcher Pat Borders, voted the Series MVP, threw out Nixon attempting to steal in the seventh after the Braves had run him ragged throughout the Series.