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  Wed, August 4, 2004


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Replacing Delgado will take some time

OMAR VIZQUEL has seen sluggers come and go. The nine-time Gold Glove shortstop for the Cleveland Indians watched Albert Belle leave for the Chicago White Sox after the 1996 season. Belle was coming off a 48-homer season in which he knocked in 148 runs.

Vizquel saw Manny Ramirez walk the free-agent walk, taking his 38 homers and 122 RBIs with him to sign with the Boston Red Sox following the 2000 season.

And in 2002, he watched first baseman Jim Thome leave after hitting 52 homers and knocking in 118 runs to join the Philadelphia Phillies as a free agent.

Coming off a 99-win season in 1996, the departures of Belle, Ramirez and Thome saw the Indians win total drop to 86 and 89; then back up to 97, 91 and then 74 in 2002 and 68 in 2003.

Now the Indians, under general manager Mark Shapiro, after last night's 7-6 loss to the Blue Jays, are 6 1/2 games behind the Texas Rangers in the American League wild-card race. The Indians had five players in the all-star game at Houston and lead the AL in runs scored.

The Blue Jays will be looking at the departure of Carlos Delgado -- their best player the past 10 seasons -- this off-season.

While the first baseman's 2004 numbers don't approach the outgoing totals put up by Belle, Ramirez or Thome, the previous seven seasons Delgado has averaged 38 homers and 119 RBIs.

In the final year of a four-year, $68-million US contract Delgado, 32, a career .284 hitter, is hitting .223 with 16 homers and 48 RBIs. He missed 33 games with a rib-cage injury.

"Carlos has a swing people come to the park to see," Vizquel said. "Every time he's at the plate you have a chance of seeing a home run."

And last night the 15,025 on hand saw Delgado hit a two-run, game-tying homer in the eighth off Indians reliever Rafael Betancourt.

"Replacing a guy like that takes two or three years," Vizquel said. The Indians are in contention two years after Thome left.

They are what they are, because of a healthy left fielder Matt Lawton; second baseman Ronnie Belliard; third baseman Casey Blake and DH Travis Hafner.

"You have to wait for young players to develop," Vizquel said. "It's awfully rare to see a rookie break in and hit 30 homers."

Lawton was hitting .290 with 16 homers and 55 RBIs. The Indians picked him up when they sent Robbie Alomar to the New York Mets.

Belliard, a free-agent signing from the Colorado Rockies, has a .299 average with five homers and 48 RBIs.

Blake, an ex-Jays farmhand, is hitting .264, with 57 RBIs and his career-high 18th homer, off Miguel Batista last night.

Hafner owns a .319 mark with 18 homers and 80 RBIs. The Mighty Men of the Cuyahoga acquired Haffner and Aaron Myette of Surrey, B.C., in a December 2002 trade with the Texas Rangers, giving up righty Ryan Drese and catcher Einar Diaz.

"The big difference for our young guys has a lot to do with (hitting coach) Eddie Murray," Vizquel said. "I think we're all fortunate to learn from a Hall of Famer."

While Delgado loves Toronto, a hometown discount would be difficult under terms of the Basic Agreement since the most the Jays could cut his salary is 20%. That would leave the Jays on the hook for $15.76 million.

A bad 2004 season notwithstanding, it will take a long time to replace Delgado.

FINALLY

The commissioner's office upheld the Jays claim that righty Jayson Durocher's elbow injury was a pre-existing condition and that the Jays were right to veto his $60,000, minor-league contract. The Milwaukee Brewers now are on the hook for his salary. Durocher, 29, pitched four games for the Jays this spring. He underwent Tommy John surgery on June 18.