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Expect flurry of deals during expansion draft

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The real action at the expansion draft Tuesday might come exactly one minute after the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays finish picking their players.

That's when stars like Gary Sheffield, Pedro Martinez, Matt Williams and Kevin Brown may start moving in a hurry.By the way general managers are talking, a lot of big trades are on the brink. Only one problem - baseball rules prohibit any deals from being announced until the draft is completed, and that's not expected until about 11 p.m. EST.

"It wouldn't surprise me if we made three or four trades immediately after the draft," Marlins GM Dave Dombrowski said. "It's not like we have to move everyone, but there are no untouchables, and enough clubs are interested that there's competition."

That could mean Sheffield to the New York Mets, Brown to the St. Louis Cardinals and Robb Nen to the Boston Red Sox.

The World Series champion Marlins, having already traded Moises Alou to Houston, are chopping their payroll and making everyone available. Sheffield and his $61 million, six-year contract is a prime trade target, and the Mets are looking to add power.

"I would suspect his name will continue to come up in our discussions," Mets GM Steve Phillips said.

Dombrowski estimated 15 teams have inquired about Brown. The Cardinals, coming off their trade for Cincinnati reliever Jeff Brantley, seem to be in the best position to get the Marlins' No. 1 starter.

The Red Sox covet Nen as their stopper. Boston, as expected, still could sign free agent Dennis Eckersley to bolster their bullpen.

Martinez, the NL Cy Young Award winner, is attracting a lot of feelers, but there's a catch. So far, Montreal GM Jim Beattie will not allow teams a 48-hour window to negotiate with the high-priced pitcher, meaning a club may not know how long Martinez intends to stick around once he's eligible to become a free agent after the 1998 season.

"You'd like to have some idea of how long somebody will be with you," Red Sox GM Dan Duquette said. "Sometimes, teams give you that. But when there's a lot of interest in the player, they don't feel they need to."

At the last expansion draft, there were seven trades made in a one-hour span after the Colorado Rockies and Marlins finished picking. It was so hectic that team officials were literally lining up at the podium, much like airplanes stacking up waiting to take off on the runway, to announce their deals.

Once again, the two new teams might be involved in many of the trades.

The Diamondbacks would like to get Williams, who played in Phoenix as a minor leaguer before he was a star third baseman for the San Francisco Giants.

The Cleveland Indians supposedly have talked to Arizona about such a trade. In it, the Diamondbacks would draft Tim Naehring from Boston, then trade him and whomever they pick from the Indians back to Cleveland for Williams.

The Mets, meanwhile, may want to add Eric Karros. To do it, they would have either expansion team draft to draft the first baseman from the Los Angeles Dodgers, then work out a trade.

Often times, such trades are prearranged. Back in November 1992, the Marlins agreed to draft Oakland catcher Eric Helfand and send him back to the Athletics for Walt Weiss.

The Cincinnati Reds raised speculation they might do something like that when they recently sent outfielder Mike Kelly to the Devil Rays and pitcher Felix Rodriguez to the Diamondbacks, both for players to be named. Those players could turn out to be whomever Arizona and Tampa Bay draft from Cincinnati - in effect, the Reds would be deciding whom to lose.

The Seattle Mariners are still deciding what to do with Randy Johnson. They said last week they did not intend to offer their ace a contract extension beyond 1998, prompting talk that a trade was forthcoming.

The New York Yankees would love to have Johnson, though any package for the lefty would likely include relief ace Mariano Rivera.

The Yankees may also be working on a deal for Minnesota second baseman Chuck Knoblauch. The Twins might be interested in Bernie Williams, stuck in a contract stalemate with the Yankees, though Minnesota possibly could then send the center fielder to the Dodgers for prospects.