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Bowden: Larkin to Mets, but that's it

Special to

July 22

Jim Bowden says that "trading the one guy I said I'd never trade is the worst thing I've ever had to do in this job." But as he sat in his office Saturday, awaiting the results of the 72-hour window Mets GM Steve Phillips has to negotiate with Barry Larkin, he added, "The only good thing is that after those 72 hours, Barry will either be a Met or a Red. There is no other deal. This is it."

It never should have come to the point where Bowden, representing owner Carl Lindner, and Larkin, represented by agent Eric Goldschmidt, so entrenched themselves in their foxholes. There should have been some compromise between $18 million and $27.9 million on a three-year extension, but there wasn't, and it's all blown up.

Barry Larkin
Barry Larkin must decide if he wants to stay home or head to New York.

Bowden has said nothing about Larkin's motives. Larkin's friends, however, have suggested that Bowden is deflecting the blame for a disappointing season by changing the focus to 2003 and the new park. No one knows for sure.

What we do know are two things:

  • Larkin will get that $27.9 million to $30 million on the open market. "No doubt about it," says Bowden. "Who are the shortstops out there other than Alex Rodriguez?" Actually, there are two more, Mike Bordick and Toronto's Alex Gonzalez. Bordick is expected to re-sign with the Orioles and Gonzalez, while a superb defender, has not yet produced offensively. So, if Larkin doesn't get an extension from the Mets, that leaves him to collect the profits after the Mets, Mariners, Rockies, Dodgers, White Sox and others are done mud-wrestling for A-Rod. How about Larkin in Seattle?

  • No matter what one thinks about Bowden dumping Denny Neagle and Larkin, give him credit for making out like a bandit. How good is 21-year-old outfielder Alex Escobar, whom the Reds will get from the Mets if Larkin accepts the trade? One American League team rates him the best prospect in the game, period.

    The Mets have him as the second-best prospect in the game. The Reds don't have him that high. They rank two players in all the minor leagues higher than this potential .300-hitting, 40-homer, 40-steal, Gold Glove-caliber defense with the arm to play right field, if necessary. Escobar, Jackson Melian and Drew Henson are three of Baseball America's top prospects, and instead of getting four draft picks (if he lost Neagle and Larkin to free agency), who would command around $5 million in signing bonuses, Bowden has three potential star players. Bowden also got four good young pitching prospects -- seven players in all for two players he could not keep.

    And he isn't done dealing yet.

    He's talking to the Rockies about Steve Parris, the A's and others about Pete Harnisch and several teams about Dmitri Young and Michael Tucker.

    The Mets need Larkin, and Phillips, John Franco, Al Leiter and Larkin's good friend Lenny Harris are trying to convince him that they need him to get into the postseason. If Robin Ventura is down for an extended period of time, he leaves a huge void in the Mets lineup and in the clubhouse. Ventura is the real captain of that team. He's intelligent, tough, and one of those persons everyone gravitates toward.

    Phillips wanted to have the option open to re-sign Larkin, because owner Fred Wilpon lusts for Rodriguez and there is the matter of the last three years on Rey Ordonez's contract. Granted, they'd just as soon rid themselves of Ordonez, but it's a hefty contract for the production they get from him. And, yes, believe it or not, even middle infielders get paid on how they hit.

    In the meantime, Larkin would give the Mets badly needed offense at the top of their order, as well as presence, experience and character. Phillips stood up from the beginning and said the future is 2000, and hasn't been afraid to take chances -- and trading Escobar is a chance he had the courage to take.

    Until Friday night, if you called the Reds switchboard, you got a recording that began, "Hi, this is Barry Larkin." If you called Saturday morning, you got a recording of a woman's voice.

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