ATLANTA - Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox still wants Fred McGriff back with the National League champions next season.
McGriff, a power-hitting first baseman, has been in the middle of trade rumors since the season ended. A trade has been seen as a way to lower the team's salary structure, which ranks near the top of major league baseball at about $50 million a year.
"I don't think there's been much (trade) talk the last couple of weeks," Cox said Thursday during a conference call, which he handled from a pay phone in a noisy mall while Christmas shopping.
"Sure, we want to keep Mac," Cox said. "He hit right at hit 30 home runs, drove in a hundred and hit about .300. We feel like there's a lot of tread left on Fred McGriff. He'll look good in that lineup."
McGriff, 33, hit .295 with 28 homers and 107 RBI in 1996.
"Our intentions right now are to keep Fred," Cox said.
The Braves, intent on retaining free agent Cy Young Award winner John Smoltz, were thought to be shopping McGriff to other teams, including the Florida Marlins and Cincinnati Reds. The most consistent rumor was that the Reds would sent second baseman Bret Boone to the Braves for McGriff, if they could trade first baseman Hal Morris.
Smoltz has signed a four-year deal worth $31 million. McGriff will earn $7 million next season.
"I don't know how close those trades came." Cox said. "... We wouldn't want to trade Freddy to anybody in our division, that's for sure. He's really been a consistent guy. He's got a lot of years left, I think."
Cox said he didn't think general manager John Schuerholz was seeking other clubs to talk to about McGriff.
"I think a lot of clubs have called him," Cox said. "If there's a fit, there's a fit. If not, we certainly want to keep Fred."
Turning to his pitching staff, Cox said he doesn't expect Steve Avery to return, leaving the team in search of a fifth starter. The Boston Red Sox have reportedly been interested.
"We'd like to see him (Avery) as our fifth guy, but it doesn't look like it's going to happen now," he said.
Cox said the Braves would listen to any deals that would land them another starting pitcher. He also said it's possible the fifth starter is on the staff already - one of the long relievers or Paul Byrd, acquired in a trade that sent Greg McMichael to the New York Mets.