Originally created 03/03/03

Roster decisions loom large

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Bobby Cox won't make his final roster choices until the end of the month, and it will take that long to make his decisions.

If he carries 12 pitchers, as he's apt to do, he may have to decide between first baseman Julio Franco and infielder Ramon Castro for the 25th spot. His decision becomes immeasurably easier if he goes with 11 pitchers, allowing him to carry two catchers, four outfielders, and eight infielders.

In any scenario, Darren Bragg is the fourth outfielder. Cox said Sunday that the versatile Matt Franco and infielder Mark DeRosa could also play the outfield, if needed.

"We're paying those three (Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, and Gary Sheffield) so much they can't come out," Cox joked of his three outfielders. "They've got to play."

SPEAKING OF BOBBY: Cox has never wanted to manage anywhere else.

He will remain the Atlanta Braves manager, at least through the 2005 season, when he signs a two-year contract extension this week.

Cox, who is in the final year of his contract, will be paid between $1.5-$2 million per year, significantly less than the game's best-paid managers.

"I really want to stay here," he said. "(The contract) is basically done and everything is fine."

Cox, 61, has been managing under a series of option years on his contract. If he chose to follow Cubs manager Dusty Baker (four years, $14-16 million) and Devil Rays skipper Lou Piniella (four years, $13 million) into free agency next winter, he could command a similar deal. But he's not interested in breaking the bank.

"The money is fine," he said. "It's not a big deal to me."

Cox has said he wants to manage at least three more years. This contract ensures that he will.

"I'm happy with it," he said. "This is where I want to be."

STILL SITTING: Chipper Jones doesn't expect to return to the lineup for a few days. His sprained left thumb remains sore and he won't swing a bat until the pain has subsided.

'It's still sore to the touch," he said. "If I have a bat in my hand and get jammed it's going to aggravate it. I'm not going to get back in there until it's not hurting. I'm swinging good right now and I don't want to mess it up by getting into bad habits."

Jones spent Sunday in the trainers room receiving treatment. He's not even shagging fly balls in the outfield because he can't squeeze a glove.

"I don't want him to hit if it's sore," Cox said. "There's not much sense in that. I don't want to push it."

BUM WHEEL: Shortstop Rafael Furcal came out of Sunday's game after spraining his left ankle sliding into second base after doubling in the first inning. He is expected to miss several days.

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com.


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