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Braves-Rockies Contemplate Trade

After falling short again in the playoffs, the Atlanta Braves are ready to shake things up.

The team overhauled its coaching staff Monday and rumors were circulating among general managers and agents of a possible trade with the Colorado Rockies. According to one scenario, the Braves would send pitchers Denny Neagle and Odalis Perez to Colorado for outfielder Larry Walker.

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Atlanta outfielder Ryan Klesko and Colorado reliever Curtis Leskanic also have been mentioned as possibilities if there's a Braves-Rockies deal. Fueling speculation was the hiring of former Colorado manager Don Baylor as the Braves hitting coach on Monday.

As usual, Braves general manager John Schuerholz declined to comment on trade talks.

"I never comment on rumors because they are usually started by people who do not know," Schuerholz said Tuesday. "If you use our track record over the last several years, it would be a fair assumption for anyone to make that we may be likely to do something. But there are no assurances of that."

A year ago, Atlanta signed first baseman Andres Galarraga and shortstop Walt Weiss as free agents from the Rockies. In 1995 and '97, the Braves made spring training trades that brought in outfielders Marquis Grissom and Kenny Lofton.

Walker was the National League MVP two years ago and led the NL in hitting this past season with a .363 average, despite injuries that limited him to 454 at-bats. He would add a fiery presence to the Braves clubhouse, long accused of being too blase.

With a pitching rotation that already includes Cy Young winners Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, the Braves might be tempted to deal Neagle, who was 16-11 with a 3.55 ERA last season.

Kevin Millwood was a 17-game winner and top prospect Bruce Chen, who went 2-0 with a 3.98 ERA in late-season duty, appears nearly ready to join the rotation.

The status of Walker and Neagle is being closely watched by other teams and agents, since it could unleash a chain reaction involving free agents Bernie Williams, Kevin Brown and Rndy Johnson.

Walker is entering the final year of a contract that will pay him $5.075 million in 1999. He had discussions with the Rockies over the summer about a $50 million, five-year extension, but the price tag will clearly rise after Mike Piazza signed a $91 million, seven-year deal with the Mets.

Neagle is set to receive $4.75 million a year for the next two seasons. He has a $5.25 option for 2001 and would receive $500,000 if the team doesn't exercise it.

The Braves have made an unprecedented seven straight postseason appearances but captured just one World Series championship during that time. The last two seasons, they were beaten in the NL championship series, including a six-game loss to San Diego last month.

On Monday, the Braves overhauled a coaching staff that had gone through only one change since 1991.

In addition to Baylor's hiring, Glenn Hubbard was promoted from the minors to first-base coach. Batting instructor Clarence Jones and bench coach Jim Beauchamp were dropped from the staff and offered minor-league coaching positions.

Hubbard replaces Pat Corrales, who will move into the dugout from first base to take the place of Beauchamp. Bobby Dews and Ned Yost are switching jobs, Dews moving to the bullpen while Yost takes over at third base.

Just one member of manager Bobby Cox's staff, pitching coach Leo Mazzone, will be in the same position in 1999.

"We thought it would create a new, invigorated environment," Schuerholz said. "I think we've got an exciting new staff."

Schuerholz said Beauchamp has accepted a job as coordinator of minor-league outfield instruction. Jones will take a coaching job at Triple-A Richmond if he doesn't get a major-league position with another team.

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