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Baseball notes

LEADING OFF

Well, it's certainly shaping up as an interesting winter for free agents.

And, no, we're not talking about players, although the talent pool could be headlined by big names like Billy Wagner, Johnny Damon, A.J. Burnett, Matt Morris, Brian Giles and Trevor Hoffman.

We're talking about the star managers who could be on the move once the season ends.

The merry-go-round might have started when the Pirates fired Lloyd McClendon this week. Owner Kevin McClatchy said the new skipper would "probably" have previous big-league experience and speculation quickly centered on two Pittsburgh-area natives: Ken Macha, who is in the last year of his contract with Oakland, and Art Howe, who last managed the Mets in 2004.

Naturally, Jim Leyland's name also popped up in rumors. He still lives in Pittsburgh and was the last manager to take the Bucs to the playoffs (1992).

But Leyland could end up in Detroit, where the sense is that good-guy Alan Trammell has lost control of the clubhouse.

Even though there have been denials all around and he has a year left on his contract with the Cubs, it wouldn't be a shock to see Dusty Baker end up with the Dodgers if Jim Tracy is let go.

There have been rumors that Jack McKeon is on the hot seat in Florida and the Orioles will be shopping for a manager if they don't re-sign interim skipper Sam Perlozzo.

It's considered a foregone conclusion that Lou Piniella will take a buyout of the final year of his contract with the Devil Rays. That would make him the front-runner to take over the Yankees if Joe Torre quits or is fired in a fit of pique by George Steinbrenner.

HOT STUFF

It took two years for Cuba's top power hitter, 26-year-old Michael Abreu, to make it to the United States. Now that he's signed with the Red Sox, it's not out of the question he could be Boston's first baseman next season.

There are reportedly three groups that have indicated a willingness to pay up to $450 million for the Nationals. A decision isn't expected until after the season.

Dan Kolb wasn't the answer to replace John Smoltz as the Braves' closer and Chris Reitsma didn't get the job done, either. But now Kyle Farnsworth, a midseason acquisition from the Tigers, is 5-for-5 in save opportunities since joining the Braves, giving the team some hope heading into the playoffs.

AROUND THE BASES

Frank Robinson has banned pregame music from the Nationals clubhouse because he doesn't care for the way the team has been playing. He also lifted starter John Halama after five batters Wednesday night because he had thrown only 11 strikes out of his first 24 pitches.

Talk about who should win the AL Cy Young Award and Bartolo Colon, Jon Garland, Mark Buehrle, and Johan Santana are the names most often mentioned. But has anybody noticed that Cleveland's Cliff Lee is 15-4? He hasn't lost since July 8.

Catcher Miguel Olivo hit .151 this year for the Mariners. He's batted .320 since being traded to the Padres five weeks ago. "I have all my confidence back," he explained. Admitted manager Bruce Bochy: "We caught lightning in a bottle."

PLAIN SPEAKING OF THE WEEK

Nationals' Brad Wilkerson on Washington's second-half slump: "I'm very surprised by the attitudes, the stuff that's happening. I just can't understand why it seems that the willingness to go out there and give it all you have to win, it's just not there."

CHEERS

For Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. After Gardenhire pulled starter Kyle Lohse after two ineffective innings Tuesday night, Lohse went ballistic. He damaged a clubhouse door, injuring his hand in the process, and then ripped the move to reporters.

Undeterred, Gardenhire yanked Brad Radke after two innings Wednesday.

"We're going to do whatever we can to try to win games, so pride can go out the window," Gardenhire said. "It's about winning. And if you don't understand that, take a hike out of the clubhouse."

JEERS

To the Baltimore Orioles. There was a time when this was one of baseball's proudest franchises. No longer. Oriole Park at Camden Yards was less than half-full for this week's 10th anniversary celebration of Cal Ripken's breaking Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games, a clear signal of how angry fans are.

And another franchise icon, Brooks Robinson, declined an invitation to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his major league debut on Sept. 17, reportedly because he feels so disconnected from the organization.