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Plethora of names flood market
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
OK, let's just say that some of these rumors are nuts.
Giants general manager Brian Sabean, whose team is very much in the NL West race if it survives the current road trip through St. Louis, Houston and Colorado, wouldn't have even discussed trading Estes before the enigmatic lefty came down with a tired arm Thursday.
Boston hasn't called about Alou in more than a month, and even then it was just a passing question about his no-trade clause after they had a longer discussion about Ken Caminiti.
But while the Yankees clearly will end up with Gonzalez, Sosa or someone sometime soon, general managers' constant denials about the duststorms of rumors are a tad overprotective.
"I can't ever remember so many players being on the market and so many teams wanting to talk before July," says one NL GM who is trying to be active. "There is a lot that could happen even before the trading deadline. For instance, don't be surprised if (Scott) Erickson is in Atlanta by the first of the week. Syd Thrift and Peter Angelos are on the same page, Syd loves this sort of thing and he's really good at it. When he makes one trade, he wants to make two or three more, and he could do it fast. Charles Johnson is going somewhere (Cincinnati?) as could B.J. Surhoff and Mike Bordick."
The GM goes on to point to some of the other active talkers: Detroit trying to move Tony Clark and one of its contingent of starters in Nomo, Dave Mlicki and Brian Moehler; Philly dumping Andy Ashby when he gets healthy (forget Curt Schilling, "he ain't going nowhere," to use one of Bob Dylan's great phrases); the Dodgers shopping Darren Dreifort ("If Scott Boras won't sign him with Kevin Malone, as fair as he is, how can we sign him?" says a Dodgers source); Milwaukee talking about moving pitcher Steve Woodard; Pittsburgh shopping Francisco Cordova; Houston looking to just make a deal; Tampa Bay marketing its many useful relievers; Montreal letting people know that Hideki Irabu can be had when he's activated from the disabled list; and the Cubs listening to offers for both Kevin Tapani and Valdes.
"There's a lot out there," says another GM. "It's just hard to know what's real and what isn't. Deals can be difficult to do because we naturally value players differently from other teams because everyone's thinking money and thinking steals."
The Yankees made one significant move by picking up Jose Vizcaino to ensure second base against future Chuck Knoblauch meltdowns, and will in all likelihood get a slugger and pitcher before it's over. The Blue Jays reportedly have talked to the Cubs about Sosa, and have also made inquiries to Pittsburgh about acquiring Cordova as well as Philly about getting Ashby.
The Red Sox have dabbled in big names, but GM Dan Duquette is not going to pay a corner outfield bat like Gonzalez or Sosa $14-to-$20 million per year and says he has no intention of renegotiating Alou's contract (not with Alou's medical history). Duquette also says he hopes to soon address Boston's offensive problems at third base, left field and first base/DH. Names such as Giants shortstop Rich Aurilia or the released Sean Berry filling the hole at third have been mentioned as has someone from their own system in Pawtucket, outfielder Israel Alcantara, who is leading the International League with 21 home runs.
And there's more in the American League as the Indians are shopping for a couple of relievers and a starter, the Mariners want a bat, preferably to play third base, while the A's are looking for a power reliever to fit in with closer Jason Isringhausen and set-up man Jeff Tam.Over in the National League, the Braves want a starter and eventually may add a veteran reliever. The Mets are looking at shortstops to replace Rey Ordonez (if Bordick is too expensive, Melvin Mora may get a shot to be the regular with the club looking to possibly get a backup like Mike Benjamin from the Pirates) as well as a starter and a reliever to keep the bullpen from being blown out. The Cardinals want a reliever, as their starters have all but four of their wins. The Reds, meanwhile, are looking for a starter and some juice in their lineup, and could do possibly do something with Arizona, Baltimore or virtually anyone soon as long as Jim Bowden can continue to work 23 hours a day. One reason for all the activity is there are so many teams still in the playoff race at this point. In the National League, there are two teams in the East (Braves and Mets), two in the Central (Cardinals and Reds) and four in the West (Diamondbacks, Rockies, Dodgers and Giants) with legitimate dreams of making the postseason. In the American League, there are three in the East (Blue Jays, Red Sox and Yankees) two in the Central (White Sox and Indians) and at least two in the West (Athletics and Mariners), and that's with full appreciation that the Angels are one of the stories of this season and the Rangers will not pack it in.
But while the Yankees, Reds and Red Sox clearly want to get something done and the Indians need to retool even as Charles Nagy and Paul Shuey are close to returning, the market could expand after the All-Star break.
"Who goes where on July 31 could depend on what teams drop out between the break and the deadline," says Mariners GM Pat Gillick, who everyone knows will do something to help his club get to the postseason.
These are the teams to watch:
1. San Francisco: The Giants' opponents in the NL West fear them as much as ever, with the feeling they are better than they've played and that if they turn themselves around on this current road trip and get Russ Ortiz throwing strikes again and Estes healthy, they could win the division. But if they struggle, Sabean will have difficult choices to make come July 31. On the one hand, they want to keep a good product on the field for the crowds at Pac Bell Park -- especially with the talented A's across the water -- yet Nen, Burks and Kirk Rueter are free agents and all are extremely marketable. If they decide to deal, it is unlikely there would be a package, such as what the Giants acquired in '97 from the White Sox. "That sort of deal happens once every 20 years," says Sabean, speaking in hypothetical terms.
2. Texas: If the Rangers fall far behind the A's, Mariners and Angels, GM Doug Melvin will have to make a decision on free agents John Wetteland and David Segui. Wetteland has been a stabilizing influence on the young Texas bullpen, but has character and value that Atlanta very much covets, as does Cleveland and a number of other contenders. Pitchers like Wetteland, Nen and Roberto Hernandez could dramatically impact the races if they land with a contender. Segui, meanwhile, is a very talented player, but if Melvin decides highly regarded prospect Carlos Pena is close to ready for next season, Segui could move on to a contender.
3. Cincinnati: The Reds have been a major disappointment, but they can turn it all around as they start a stretch of 16 consecutive games against teams over .500 on Monday. But if they don't play well during this upcoming stretch, Bowden will have to think about marketing free agent pitcher Denny Neagle.Meanwhile, Brad Radke's agent Ron Simon is asking for outs after the first and second years of a future contract, which could force Radke onto the market in a short period of time. If -- and we're stressing a huge if in this circumstance -- some combination of Radke, Neagle, Rueter, Cordova, Dreifort, Rolando Arrojo or Erickson are made available, it could sure make for a wild July 31.
News and notes
"Wohlers was 94-95 (mph) in his last outing and (is) getting close," says Bowden. But Scott Williamson's control problems (42 walks in 52 1/3 IP) have to get straightened out, along with the problems of Dennys Reyes and Scott Sullivan.
Baird will not trade Johnny Damon during the season and instead will wait until the end of the season and work with owner David Glass on a long-term extension. Next, he has to work on the pitching as he waits for some kids like lefty Chris George and right-hander Mike MacDougal and hopes righty Kyle Snyder gets healthy. With Baird, Brett and manager Tony Muser, the Royals have the best possible team of leaders intact to deal with the small-market parameters that Kansas City is faced with.
But there are a lot of interesting names on the current list, such as Padres third baseman Sean Burroughs and left-handed pitcher Mike Bynum, Mets right-hander Pat Strange, Rockies outfielder Juan Pierre, Tigers catcher Brandon Inge and several second basemen, including Toronto's Brent Abernathy, Baltimore's Jerry Hairston and Houston's Keith Ginter.
Maybe it's because you have to watch the Baseball Tonight re-airs to know how they did each night, or maybe it's just that recent history dicates an Eastern superiority complex. But now that the White Sox are accepted, isn't it about time to take Oakland and Seattle seriously? After all, through Friday they had the second- and third-best records, respectively, in the AL.
Oakland is first in the AL in runs scored and fifth in team ERA, while Seattle is third in runs scored and fourth in team ERA. Run differential is usually a validation of performance, and the Mariners (plus 94), White Sox (plus 89) and A's (plus 80) are 1-2-3. By the way, Boston's plus 50 is the next best.
Here are a few observations from respected sources:
For debate, if either Radke or Neagle are on the market come the final days of July, Oakland could be in the best position to trade for one of them because the A's have one of the two or three deepest and most talented farm systems in the league. So, while the Yankees, Blue Jays, Indians and Red Sox dabble in the mega-names, watch out for the West and feel fortunate that Oakland can't add much to its $30 million payroll.
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