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Is Torre planning to leave Dodgers?

First came Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre's plea last fall for the addition of a quality starting pitcher for the 2010 season. It wasn't answered.

Then came initial talks about extending Torre's contract, which expires at season's end. They were put on hold.

And finally, Torre made well-traveled, troubled right-hander Vicente Padilla the Opening Day starting pitcher. The result wasn't pretty.

Is there a message to all this?

The word in Arizona during the spring was that Torre was frustrated at the team failing to retain left-hander Randy Wolf, then doing nothing to fill rotation voids created by the free-agency losses of Wolf and right-hander Jon Garland. Then came reason to wonder if the team finances are about to further tighten because of the ongoing legal battle surrounding the ugly divorce of owner Frank McCourt. And now, Torre is positioning himself to distance himself from the Dodgers.

Torre, who turns 70 on July 18, isn't making retirement plans. He enjoys managing and he loves the healthy paychecks.

He also has an intriguing option.

He could return to finish his managerial career where he began it - with the New York Mets.

He would be the conquering warrior returning home, the perfect solution in the eyes of Mets ownership to the public relations blunders that have been haunting the franchise, and an ideal way to finally steal some back-page thunder from the Yankees.

For Torre, it would be a financially rewarding move, a way to get back to the East Coast, where he enjoys living more than SoCal, and a way to tweak the Yankees, where there are still hard feelings from the way he was ushered out of town after the 2007 season.

And what if he could spark a bidding war between the Mets and Yankees, who are in the final year of their contract with Joe Girardi, who replaced Torre in 2008 when he left the Yankees in a snit over a one-year, $5 million offer, and went to Los Angeles?

The Mets? Well, manager Jerry Manuel is in the final year of his contract, and the natives are restless with an aging, high-priced team that has not shown it knows how to handle the late-season pressures of a pennant race.

With an ownership that is overly sensitive to fan reactions, which means the priority is short-term fixes instead of a long-term plan to create a strong foundation for success, Manuel is high on the list of managers on a hot seat, although ownership could try to survive as long as possible with Manuel this season to make sure nothing interferes with the pursuit of Torre come November.

Short timers Torre and Manuel are among 15 big-league managers - that's half of the managerial force - who are in the final year of their contracts.

Nowhere is there more potential for change than in the NL Central, where first-year Houston manager Brad Mills, signed to a two-year deal, is the only manager with a contract beyond 2010. Milwaukee, with Ken Macha, and Pittsburgh, with Bill Russell, do hold options on their managers.

The other three NL Central managers are going to be intriguing stories as the season plays out - Lou Piniella with the Cubs, Dusty Baker with Cincinnati and Tony La Russa in St. Louis. The first question is do any of the three want to return? La Russa and Baker both report to different general managers today than when they were hired, and Piniella has a new owner.

Atlanta's Bobby Cox already has announced his retirement, and Cito Gaston of Toronto has made sounds that he would like to walk away of his own volition this time.

Others in the final year of their deals include Bob Geren of Oakland, Ron Washington of Texas, Trey Hillman of Kansas City, Dave Trembley of Baltimore, Joe Girardi of the Yankees, and Buddy Black in San Diego.

Mike Scioscia of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, signed through 2018, is the only current manager with security beyond 2012.

Don Wakamatsu of Seattle, Jim Leyland of Detroit, Ron Gardenhire of Minnesota, Terry Francona of Boston, Fredi Gonzalez of Florida, Charley Manuel of Philadelphia, Jim Riggleman of Washington, Bruce Mills of Houston and Bruce Bochy of San Francisco are guaranteed through 2011.

There are four managers signed through 2012 - Ozzie Guillen of the White Sox, Joe Maddon of Tampa Bay, A.J. Hinch of Arizona and Jim Tracy of Colorado.

The splits Milwaukee is looking for Jeff Suppan to make one rehab start - he threw 105 pitches in a camp game last weekend - and then join the rotation during next week's series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Manager Ken Macha wants to insert Suppan between lefties Randy Wolf and Doug Davis. He said it is not about breaking up Wolf and Davis, but rather creating a way to make sure veteran catcher Gregg Zaun gets proper rest.

Zaun, who turns 39 on April 14, and George Kottaras are going to share the catching duties with Zaun getting more of the playing time. Macha's plan is to have Kottaras catch Wolf and Davis because the two veterans have a good idea of how they want to pitch hitters, and can help Kottaras learn along the way. Splitting the two of them in the rotation will ensure Zaun never catches more than back-to-back games, allowing him to stay fresher.

Keep an eye on ... The talk of spring training in Arizona was Cuban refugee Aroldis Chapman, and fellow Cincinnati pitcher Mike Leake, who will make his professional debut on Saturday by starting for the Reds.

Chapman has been making headlines ever since he signed a deal worth more than $30 million, richest ever given a Cuban player, and Leake is about to become only the 11th pitcher since the advent of the draft to go directly from high school/college competition to the big leagues.

Lost in all that hoopla, however, was the potential of Kansas City right-hander Aaron Crow, who worked only 5 2/3 big-league spring-training innings, but didn't allow a run, gave up five hits and a walk, struck out six, and wowed scouts.

``Leake is what Leake is,'' said one scout. ``He has a feel for pitching, but he's a back-end rotation guy. Crow has the ability to be a dominant No. 1 in a rotation and he could be ready real quick. The Royals just want to be careful.''

Crow is 23, but his work load the last two years has been minimal. He was a No. 1 pick of Washington but didn't sign, resulting in the Nationals getting a comp pick which became Drew Storen last June. Crow pitched three games in the summer of 2008 for the independent Fort Worth Cats. Having finished up eligibility at Missouri, his only competitive time this past summer was three more starts for the Cats - he was 3-0 with a 1.06 ERA - so scouts could see him in advance of last June's draft. The Royals wound up selecting him 12th overall, and then waited until mid-September to get a deal done.

Traveling man Matt Stairs pinch-hit for San Diego on Monday, becoming the fourth player in big-league history to play for 12 different teams, the first position player since catcher/first baseman Deacon McGuire, whose career stretched from the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884 to the Cleveland Indians in 1910. In between he played with the Detroit Wolverines, Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Blues, Rochester Hop Bitters, Washington Statesmen, Washington Senators, Brooklyn Dodgers, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

The more recent 12-team players were pitchers Mike Morgan and Ron Villone. Villone, released this spring by Washington, could still find a lucky No. 13 during the course of the coming season, considering how anxious teams are to find left-handed relievers.

Morgan's odyssey began in 1978 when he was drafted by Oakland and went directly to the big leagues. It ended with Arizona in 2002, and included time with the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers.

Villone, originally signed by Seattle as a first-round draft choice, appeared in the big leagues with the Mariners, San Diego Padres, Milwaukee Brewers, Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals and Washington.

A Canadian, Stairs debuted with the Montreal Expos in 1992 and has since played for the Boston Red Sox, Oakland A's, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, Philadelphia Phillies and now the Padres.

FYI Kansas City's 3-2, 11-inning win against Detroit on Wednesday night - thanks to Alberto Callaspo's two-run home run - was the first time the Royals won an extra-inning game in which they trailed in the 11th inning or later since July 25, 1994 when Bob Hamelin's three-run home run gave the Royals a 6-4, 12-inning victory over the Chicago White Sox.

With their back-to-back late-inning victories against Boston on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Yankees have now won 17 games in a row in which they were tied after seven innings, the longest such streak since 1900, according to Elias Sports Bureau. The 1906 New York Giants won 16 in a row.

Surprised that the Mets opened the season with first baseman Daniel Murphy (knee), center fielder Carlos Beltran (knee) and shortstop Jose Reyes (thyroid) on the disabled list? Don't be. The Mets led the majors last year with players spending 1,788 days on the disabled list. Second was San Diego at 1,564 days.

Philadelphia left-hander Jamie Moyer, who turned 47 in November, is the oldest player on a big-league roster -- for the third consecutive season.