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Belle Meets With Red Sox

Albert Belle has already met with the Boston Red Sox, and the New York Yankees are up next. The Chicago White Sox? Not even in the ballpark.

Belle met with Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette Thursday, and will sit down with the Yankees next week, the slugger said Friday.

But the White Sox, the team that made him the richest player in baseball two years ago, has made no overtures to re-sign him.

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    Forum: Where should Belle go?

  • "These teams are really making the decisions easy," Belle told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his home in Tucson, Ariz. "They want to pay you well and they want to put you in a situation where you can win, what more could you want?"

    Belle, one of baseball's most consistent power hitters, had a unique clause in his $55 million, five-year contract that allowed him to demand the White Sox keep him as one of the three highest-paid players in baseball. When the White Sox refused his demand for an additional $4.25 million raise over the next three years, he became a free agent.

    After one of the best seasons in his career, Belle is the top outfielder in a class that also includes Bernie Williams of the Yankees. Belle hit .328 with 49 home runs and 48 doubles, and he led the AL in slugging percentage (.655) and total bases (399). He also set club records for homers, doubles, total bases, extra-base hits (99) and RBI (152).

    The Red Sox coveBelle as a replacement for Mo Vaughn, who spurned a $62.5 million, five-year deal Thursday. Belle said he came away from his meeting with Duquette impressed with his commitment to win. The Red Sox want to make it further than their AL wild card spot this year, and they're proving it by signing free agents like Jose Offerman, who agreed to a $26 million, four-year deal Friday.

    The Red Sox also are interested in Robin Ventura, Belle's teammate in Chicago.

    "Duquette's letting it all hang out to win," Belle said. "He's not going to be happy until he wins the World Series."

    The Yankees are interested in Belle as a possible replacement for Williams. Belle said owner George Steinbrenner wants to meet him, and he also will sit down with manager Joe Torre.

    While Belle said he and agent Arn Tellem haven't discussed numbers with any team, he expects whatever deal he gets would make him the highest-paid player in baseball again. New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza has that distinction now, with a $91 million, seven-year deal.

    Asked if he had a preference between the Yankees and Red Sox, Belle said he doesn't know.

    "That's hard to say because I haven't had a chance to sit down and talk with the Yankees," Belle said.

    "It just depends upon which challenge you want," he said. "Do you want to be the underdog that's not too far from knocking the king off the hill? Do you want to be the longshot underdog? Or do you want to be the king that's already on the hill?"

    Playing in either Boston or New York, known for their tough fans, doesn't bother him, either.

    But if Belle really had his choice, he said he'd like to stay in Chicago. That, however, isn't likely to happen. Chicago GM Ron Schueler told the Sun-Times for Friday editions the White Sox have no plans to renegotiate his contract.

    That's no surprise, Belle said.

    "I don't think they want me or Robin to return," he said. "It just shows me there's no commitment to winning. It frustrates you because you look at what we established in the second half. To be able to take the next step forward, maybe in the eyes of some people it's a giant step, but I consider it a baby step."

    Belle has until Dec. 2 to return to the White Sox under his current contract.

    "I don't have a particular deadline. When the timing is right, the decision will be made," he said. "I'm sure by the time I go home for Thanksgiving, a decision will be made."

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