Originally created 03/14/97

Justice stays a Brave

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - After hearing rumors of his departure all winter, David Justice didn't give himself much chance of remaining a Brave when he arrived at spring training.

Now he can't believe he's still here.

"You still never know just because somebody said something," he said. "We've still got two weeks of spring training left."

General manager John Schuerholz has said it's unlikely Justice or Fred McGriff will be traded this spring. There doesn't appear to be any team willing to pick up the $12.5 million left on his five-year, $28 million contract, though Schuerholz left open the possibility of a trade during the season.

"Right now my expectation is that we're not going to make a deal involving those guys," Schuerholz said.

A month ago Justice would have figured the odds of him being with the Braves at the start of the season at 100-1. One of the first things he said on arriving in camp was, "I no longer feel that this is my team. I feel like I'm getting ready to leave. I could be gone in a week."

Yet, he's still here. Schuerholz has discovered the market for high-priced, power-hitting outfielders has dried up. Whether it's because of economics or an inability to maneuver their rosters, other teams are not clamoring for Justice.

That's not to say the situation might not change before opening day or even a month or two into the season. Schuerholz said if a deal comes along that feels right, he'll pull the trigger.

"If I agree on a deal, it's a deal that will make the club stronger or keeps it as strong as it is now," he said.

Justice says he's put trade talk out of his mind and is focusing on getting ready for the season. So far, he's proven his right shoulder is healthy, but his swing is rusty.

Justice is hitting .143, the worst average among the regulars with the exception of Ryan Klesko, with no homers and three RBI in nine games.

"I'm this close to being ready," Justice said, holding two fingers about an inch apart. "Right now I'm chasing bad pitches. If I get my pitch selection right, I'm raking. I'm just saving my hits for opening day."


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