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Blue Jays balk at cost of buyout

(ran SS edition of Metro & State)

City Manager John Lawrence said he expects spring training to continue in Dunedin at least a little while longer.

He said a top Toronto Blue Jays official told him Monday that the team either would stay until 2000, when its contract expires, or would find a replacement team. The Blue Jays, Lawrence said, are no longer interested in buying out the 2{ years left on the contract.

Blue Jays executives, however, said Lawrence didn't hear what he thought he heard.

The team still wants out early if the price is right, said Ken Carson, director of Florida operations.

What Lawrence was told Monday by Bob Nicholson, the team's business vice president, was that "we weren't interested in buying at the (tentative) number he threw at us," Carson said. "We would prefer to leave next year if we can."

So the standoff continues.

"It's been confusing since Day 1," Carson said.

Blue Jays executives told city officials last month that the team will leave the only spring training home it has ever had at the end of the current contract. That contract will expire in the middle of the 2000 spring season.

The team would like to move to Sarasota before next season if it can get out of its contract with Dunedin, officials said. This year's spring training will end Sunday.

The Chicago White Sox are leaving Sarasota, which has its stadium, clubhouse and training fields at one site, something Dunedin can't provide.

The Blue Jays do not have a deal in Sarasota, Carson said: "We can't visit that option until we find out what it will cost us to get out of here."

Carson said the team's executives would help the city try to get a replacement team if that is what the city wants.

But Blue Jays executives have not approached other baseball executives, Carson said, because they have been waiting for the city to come up with a price to buy out the contract.

City officials say it is up to the Blue Jays to make an offer.

It is not in the city's best interest to come up with a figure quickly, commission members said Tuesday.

"We could be developing information that may be used against us," Commissioner Jack St. Arnold said.

Mayor Tom Anderson said he, too, prefers moving slowly.

"I just have a feeling this thing will be taking a lot of twists and turns," Anderson said. "I'd like to wait and see how this plays out over the next few weeks."

Lawrence said he told Nicholson and Carson last week that he is sure the city would at least expect the Blue Jays to cover the $1.6-million it has not recouped on stadium renovations.

And, he said, the city would want to recover the $300,000 a year it would cost to maintain the baseball facilities. The Blue Jays now handle the maintenance.

Carson said the Blue Jays don't want to pay anything close to $1.6-million.

That, Commissioner Tom Osborne said, may simply be strategy.

"If I were negotiating for the Blue Jays contract," he said, "the first thing I'd say is, "That's too much. We'll stay.'