Whoa! Nellie close to returning to Seattle

  • LARRY LaRUE / The News Tribune
  • Friday, December 1, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By LARRY LaRUE

The News Tribune

When Seattle made reliever Jeff Nelson part of its 1995 trade with New York – a deal that made Tino Martinez a Yankee and Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis Mariners – it was in large part because they couldn’t afford him.

On Monday, they’re set to announce Nelson’s return, at a price tag that shows once again that baseball salaries continue to spiral upward.

“We’ve been talking and we’re close,” Mariners general manager Pat Gillick said Friday.

Asked when he hoped the deal would be completed, Gillick responded: “Probably next week some time.”

For three years and about $10.5 million, the Mariners will get free agent setup man Nelson, continuing a bullpen rennovation that began last winter.

“The way this works out, our late-inning guys will be Kazuhiro Sasaki, Arthur Rhodes, Jeff Nelson and Jose Paniagua,” one Mariners executive said. “That’s four pretty good arms to have at your disposal in the seventh or eighth or ninth innings.”

In essence, the Mariners lose veteran Jose Mesa and gain Nelson, a 34-year-old right-hander who last season was 8-4 with a 2.45 earned run average in 73 relief apperances for the Yankees. At 6-foot-8, the side-arming Nelson is a formidable challenge – especially to right-handed batters. Signed by the Mariners in 1986 and developed in their farm system, Nelson, his wife Collette and their family live In Issaquah.

An intense, competitive player, Nelson at times had conflicts with Yankees manager Joe Torre last season, and turned down last week a three-year, $9 million package offered by the Yankees. Instead, he’s agreed in principle to a contract with the Mariners, though details were still being discussed late Friday.

A hard-throwing reliever with a rubber arm, Nelson has become one of the more consistent – and durable – setup men in baseball. Three times since his ‘95 trade Nelson has appeared in more than 70 games, and last season he struck out 71 batters while walking 19 in 69 2/3 innings. A fastball-slider pitcher, Nelson underwent elbow surgery in ‘99 but returned in time to pitch five shutout innings in the post-season. Since leaving the Mariners, he hasn’t added pitches but has built up a nice jewelry collection of four World Series rings.

Nelson broke into the big leagues in ‘92 with the Bill Plummer-managed Mariner team that lost 98 games, and in four seasons in Seattle appeared in 227 games – eighth on the all-time franchise list. Should Nelson match last season’s total of 73 appearances, he’ll jump from eighth to second on that Mariners list.

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