BELLE COULD BE FREE AGENT: Albert Belle could be back on the free-agent market after the season, and he has Gary Sheffield to thank.

In order to get Sheffield to waive his no-trade clause and accept a trade from Florida to Los Angeles on May 15, the Marlins and Dodgers gave him $7.5 million in secret payments, The Associated Press has learned.Each team gave Sheffield $2.5 million. In addition, the Marlins agreed that Sheffield wouldn't have to repay a $2.5 million loan from the team.

Those payments, not announced at the time of the trade, were contained in a contract addendum recently filed with the National League, a synopsis of which was examined by the AP.

Under a special covenant in Belle's $55 million, five-year contract, signed with the Chicago White Sox when the outfielder was a free agent in November 1996, special provisions kick in if his contract isn't among the top three by average value (not including option buyouts) among players with deals three years or longer.

In order to prevent Belle from becoming a free agent, the White Sox must give him a $1.42 million raise for each of the remaining three seasons in his contract.

Belle, who has 23 homers since the All-Star break and a White Sox-record 42 this season, could become the top available outfielder in a free-agent class that already includes Bernie Williams of the New York Yankees and Henry Rodriguez of the Chicago Cubs.

The additional money increases Sheffield's contract to $68.5 million over six seasons, an average annual value of $11,416,667.

With the addendum to Sheffield's contract, under the definition in Belle's contract, the Chicago outfielder falls to a tie for fourth with Sammy Sosa at $10 million. He trails Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez ($12,083,333), Atlanta pitcher Greg Maddux ($11.5 million) and Sheffield ($11,416,667).

Belle refused comment in Baltimore on Wednesday after the White Sox beat the Orioles 3-2. But on July 4, in a rare conversation with reporters, he was asked if he would leave the White Sox if he had the opportunity to become a free agent.

His response was, "I told (manager) Jerry Manuel that I'm going down with the ship. I made the choice to play for the Chicago White Sox when I signed the contract."

PADRES' PICK AGREES TO TERMS: Third baseman Sean Burroughs, the San Diego Padres' first-round pick in the June amateur draft, agreed Wednesday night to terms of a deal that includes a $2.1 million signing bonus.

Burroughs, the son of former AL MVP Jeff Burroughs, led Long Beach to Little League World Series titles in 1992 and 1993.

The Padres had set a noon deadline Wednesday, the day Burroughs was scheduled to enter Southern Cal. Had he gone to class, he wouldn't have been eligible to re-enter the draft for three years.

Padres general manager Kevin Towers said the club had made a few minor changes in its offer, mainly dealing with the club's agreeing to pick up the cost of Burroughs' college education, estimated at around $120,000.

"We got the impression from the very beginning that he wanted to play professional baseball," Towers said.

GALARRAGA SITTING: Atlanta first baseman Andres Galarraga, who charged the mound Aug. 22 against Los Angeles, began serving a three-game suspension after NL president Leonard Coleman turned down his appeal.

Coleman made the decision after hearing Galarraga's case Tuesday during a closed-door hearing in Atlanta. Galarraga, who felt he was justified in charging the mound after being hit twice by Dodgers pitcher Darren Dreifort six days apart, was noticeably upset by Coleman's decision.