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Plethora of names flood market

Special to

June 24

Every day, the big wheel spins. Juan Gonzalez talks. Sammy Sosa waits.

One day, the Yankees were reported to be acquiring Gonzalez, Hideo Nomo, Sosa, Ismael Valdes, Ellis Burks, Shawn Estes, Robb Nen, Moises Alou, Jose Lima, Craig Biggio and even Curt Schilling.

OK, let's just say that some of these rumors are nuts.

Juan Gonzalez
Juan Gonzalez is among a long list of players who could get traded by July 31.

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.

"Someone reported that we were trading John Franco to the Cardinals for Ray Lankford. That's right. John Franco for Ray Lankford," says a Mets official.

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

  • Bowden has been right out front during the past week of craziness. "When the team isn't playing well, it's my responsibility to let people know that I realize I bear a lot of the responsibility," says Bowden, who adamantly denies that manager Jack McKeon is on the verge of getting fired. Bowden is working hard to get a starter -- as the Reds starters are a combined 20-26 with a 5.02 ERA heading into the weekend -- but hopes that by June 30 he will get Pete Harnisch back in his rotation and hopefully Mark Wohlers in his bullpen.

    "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.

  • The promotion of Allard Baird to the GM role in Kansas City was greeted with unanimous enthusiasm in the organization. Baird has a tremendous reputation throughout the game, and his installation means the return of George Brett and scouting legend Artie Stewart to positions of authority within the organization.

    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.

  • While Braves players are, indeed, sick and tired of the entire John Rocker circus -- and they did not appreciate his cry for attention by suggesting he would take the No. 7 train to Shea Stadium before this upcoming Thursday's game against the Mets -- they are more concerned about the impact his wildness has on the rest of the bullpen. Mike Remlinger and crew are worn down to start with, and every time Rocker comes into a game, manager Bobby Cox has to get two more pitchers warmed up in case Rocker can't throw strikes. Getting up and down can be as taxing as pitching in a game. Ask some of those Mets relievers what it's like to go through that all the time. Case in point: Dennis Cook, who let off a little frustration after getting the final out Thursday night against the Phillies by throwing the ball over the fence.

  • On Friday's Olympic team conference call, most of the retired major league names who were hoping to make the team -- like Chili Davis, Wade Boggs and Tim Raines -- were scratched off the club's list. Terry Steinbach remains a possibility, but the committee is now moving to realistic possibilities, including one collegian -- Georgia Tech star third baseman Mark Teixeira. They expect that some of the best pitchers will be in the majors come September, such as Seattle's Ryan Anderson, Oakland's Barry Zito, Milwaukee's Ben Sheets, the Royals' George and the White Sox' Jon Garland. The committee also does not plan to even discuss going after any Yankees prospects, knowng the Yanks will not cooperate with the Olympics effort.

    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.

  • Caminiti insists he will be back before the end of the season, but if he hadn't been hurt, the 'Stros would likely have dealt him to either Seattle or Boston.

  • Even though Greg Vaughn is hurt, his impact on the Devil Rays has been nothing short of sensational. And you can bet his energy and militaristic leadership has been sorely missed in Cincinnati -- and the Reds players know it.

  • Joe Torre and Don Zimmer went out of their way to sing the praises of Jimy Williams when they were in Boston this week. The story they like is the one where Williams said he took Nomar Garciaparra and Carl Everett out of a game they were losing 11-1, only to come back to have the tying run on base in the ninth inning. Much was made of Williams admitting that he managed after being ejected from that game, but the fact was that bench coach and interim manager Buddy Bailey made the decision to remove the two stars from the game. Williams took the heat, however, because he didn't want the Boston media coming down hard on Bailey.

  • As Kris Benson pitches his way onto the All-Star team, the Pirates have begun negotiations to ink their young ace to a four-year deal. But what happens with Jason Kendall and his contract this winter will be interesting, with threats that the Bucs might have to trade him. Don't count on it happening, however.

  • Less than 24 hours after being ousted as Houston's pitching coach, Vern Ruhle had already been contacted about another job. He's that well-respected.

  • The Blue Jays took over first place in the AL East on Friday night, but Jim Fregosi remains a potential free agent manager.

    Around the majors
    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:

  • "Oakland has the one pure No. 1 starter in the division in Tim Hudson," says one AL scout. "But then, last winter we ran down the list of potential No. 1's and Hudson, Gil Meche and Freddy Garcia were 1-2-3. The only pitcher mentioned out of the East was Chris Carpenter in Toronto. That's an indication of the rising power in the West."

  • So is this fact: The A's have five players 24 or younger who are on pace to hit 25-30 home runs and knock in at least 100 runs in Eric Chavez, Miguel Tejada, Ramon Hernandez, Ben Grieve and Terrence Long. Have you noticed Long's ascent? He's scored 48 runs in his first 50 games, his bat is lightning quick and he's crept up from .220 to over .275. It's interesting, don't you think, that they have the league's best road record at 24-12. But when crowds came to the Coliseum this week, the young players began lighting it up. "They needed to play in front of good crowds," says A's general manager Billy Beane. "It brings out the best in them."

  • "When Garcia comes back (July 1), with Jamie Moyer, Meche, John Halama and Aaron Sele, Seattle has pitching that can beat anyone in a short series," says a scout. Lou Piniella believes that a combination of Arthur Rhodes, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Paul Abbott and Brett Tomko can close games, although many feel that Gillick will add a reliever at the deadline.

  • As for Oakland's pitching, Gil Heredia wins ("The guy has good stuff, and he knows what he's doing. He might be the most underrated good pitcher in our league," says Paul O'Neill), Kevin Appier is a solid 200-inning, 15-18 game winner and Hudson is on the verge of stardom.

    And Seattle's hitting? There is no better stretch of situational hitters than Alex Rodriguez, John Olerud and Edgar Martinez.

    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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