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Mets, Indians build for October

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July 29

Game show host: "That's it, Mrs. Wilson, you've won. You've won a brand new Ferrari."

Mrs. Wilson: "Cripes. My husband already has a small car."

-- From a George Carlin game show routine

In the previous 20 hours, Mets general manager Steve Phillips had acquired an All-Star shortstop, an invaluable bullpen horse and an insurance bat for a couple of prospects and one useful utilityman. These were critical parts to the puzzle that already included most of the necessary big pieces.

Phillips had taken care of those big pieces last winter, acquiring Mike Hampton -- for 33-35 starts, not 12-15 like Denny Neagle and Curt Schilling will do for their new clubs -- and Derek Bell, while also replacing John Olerud with Todd Zeile.

Rick White
Rick White adds another arm to an already deep Mets bullpen.

And still the talk shows wanted more. "He should have gotten (Juan) Gonzalez or (Sammy) Sosa," moaned an early-morning caller on WFAN radio in New York. "There's got to be more," implored another. Phillips, in fact, hadn't done anything that morning.

There is no downplaying the significance of Arizona's acquisition of Schilling and the Yankees' trade for Neagle. Each significantly changed his new club's landscape, in the Yankees' case a landscape that will be honed, pruned and transplanted until the Monday trading deadline.

But as contenders traded their way toward the 4 p.m. ET bell Monday, races have been changed.

Oakland should be a far better team with Jim Mecir setting up Jason Isringhausen, even if the A's fail to get John Wetteland. Boston swallowed $7.25 million in salary for next year in Mike Lansing to get a few months out of the arm of the enigmatic Rolando Arrojo. But before the Sox even worry about the additional $2.5 million Lansing may make next season in arbitration, they have added a high-ceiling veteran starter (Arrojo's Cuban baseball card says he is 35) behind Pedro Martinez and Ramon Martinez.

But as everyone waits for each new trade -- especially involving the Yankees, Braves and Red Sox -- it is clear that while a week ago many Mets and Indians fans worried that their teams would not make it into the playoffs, the deals made by Phillips and John Hart have brought those clubs back into the October fold.

With Rick White added to the Mets' bullpen and perhaps another arm coming aboard, along with Bordick and Bubba Trammell and a (if?) healthy Robin Ventura, the Mets can go into any postseason series with Hampton, Al Leiter and Rick Reed with a chance to win. For instance, can they win four out of seven with Hampton, Leiter and Reed against Randy Johnson, Schilling and Brian Anderson? Yes, if they win the games in the bullpens, where a lot of those matchups will be decided.

Here we were a week ago asking if Manny Ramirez would get traded, and now the Indians are a healthy lineup away from the wild-card favorite's role and perhaps the deepest offensive team and pitching staff they've had in their spectacular six-year run.

Even before adding Bordick, Tony La Russa's all-time favorite player, the poster boy for "character" and perhaps the surest-handed shortstop in the game (a far better everyday defender than the more spectacular Rey Ordonez, and, yes, Bordick's Baltimore teammates do claim he didn't bobble a ball all last season), what is interesting about what Phillips has done with the Mets is to add players who play the game much like Bordick does.

Thursday afternoon, after Grant Roberts was shelled and taken out in the second inning of the first game of a doubleheader against the Expos, who was sitting next to the rookie in the dugout helping him deal with the shock? It was Leiter.

Because New York is so obsessed with star players and Mike Piazza is every bit the matinee star, it is sometimes overlooked that the Mets are a remarkably resilient team with exceptional character. They got crushed in one heartbreaker after another in a September series with the Braves last year, and then came within a break or two of ending up in the World Series.

They've had all kinds of adversity this season, but keep crawling from under the wreckage. Piazza has matured into the ultimate gamer. Ventura is perhaps one of the most important persons in any clubhouse. Zeile is a rock. And Edgardo Alfonzo is a star player with a professor's mind. Phillips kept a lot of the right people, and he got a lot of the right people. How many other GMs have three lefty starters (Leiter, Hampton and Glendon Rusch) -- two of whom are in their 20s (Hampton and Rusch) -- with close to 30 wins between them? Armando Benitez, Turk Wendell, Dennis Cook, Pat Mahomes and White are all Phillips acquisitions, as are Piazza, Zeile, Bell, Ventura and Darryl Hamilton.

"We really like Trammell," says one AL executive. "He takes walks, has good at-bats and can hit home runs."

Oh yes. The Mets still have their best prospects: Alex Escobar, Brian Cole, Pat Strange and a raft of arms in Port St. Lucie -- in case someone calls with a name that'll make Brian from Bayside happy.

Cleveland was faced with two problems before Hart swapped 11 players Friday. First, they had to steady a starting staff that had used 29 bodies -- including two erased in a rainout -- and had essentially been the New York Thruway Follies. Second, they had to tinker with the roster to make it October-friendly, something they never did last year. From a strategic standpoint, they'd like to have waited until Monday so other clubs wouldn't react to them, but they couldn't wait.

It cost them the 40-homer potential of Richie Sexson, but they did it, so now Hart has traded off Sexson, David Justice and a couple of extra men who were never of use in Cleveland to get two veteran starters, a proven reliever, two good young pitchers out of the Yankees stable and two experienced situational hitters in Wil Cordero and David Segui.

If Segui plays first and Jim Thome DHs, they and the Mets have the best infield defense in the game. Hart has long-loved Segui, and considers him one of the best bats on the market. And now they can platoon Russell Branyan and Cordero any way they want. Enrique Wilson is a good player, but it was time for him to move on and get a chance to play somewhere else. One of the Indians' top pospects, John McDonald, is a Bordick on the rise, such a superb defensive shortstop that nearly a dozen teams have inquired about him.

As for the trade of Ricky Ledee to Texas for Segui, Cleveland feels that Jacob Cruz is a better player than Ledee. And the Indians believed they had to make a move quick because they were afraid that Texas would have dealt Wetteland and Segui to Oakland for Matt Stairs and prospects, a trade that was on the table.

The Indians thought long and hard about Sexson. At one point, they thought they would trade him to Montreal for right-hander Dustin Hermanson and outfielder Milton Bradley, but apparently Expos GM Jim Beattie talked them off the ledge. They tried to make a deal with Tampa Bay that would have sent Sexson and a couple of young players for Albie Lopez, Jim Mecir, Trammell and White.

For a week, Milwaukee had offered Steve Woodard and Bob Wickman, but when they finally added Jason Bere to the deal the trade quickly got completed. Woodard and Bere give Cleveland two reliable starters. Wickman, meanwhile, joins Steve Karsay -- whom he's supplanted as closer -- and Paul Shuey in the bullpen. The Indians have looked at lefties like Felix Heredia, but they may stick with Cam Cairncross (the only pitcher whose hometown is named after him) and in September may go with 6-foot-7 hard-throwing left-hander C.C. Sabathia and 6-5 lefty Roy Padilla (clocked at 101 mph pitching for Double-A Akron this week). Kudos to whoever thought of drafting Padilla in the Rule V draft out of the Red Sox organization, as if the Sox couldn't use him now.

Of the five players acquired by Hart on Friday, only two -- Bere and Segui -- aren't signed for next year. The Indians' goal is to win now and worry about signing Ramirez later.

The Indians' moves likely will push the Yankees into further action. The Yanks have to look at Cleveland, see that they can trot out Chuck Finley, Bartolo Colon and Dave Burba in the playoffs with a deep bullpen and a very talented, deep team, and have to keep trading to improve their team.

The White Sox probably don't have to worry about making the playoffs because at this point they're basically in, but can they win with young pitchers? They have inquired about getting Pedro Astacio from Colorado, but the price for him starts with Jon Garland, which is a steep one indeed.

Red Sox
No matter what happens with these guys, they find ways to win big games, as they did in Oakland on Thursday and Friday. Arrojo probably helps, and if Lansing comes back -- hey, the Red Sox's .232/4 homer/30 RBI third-base production is far below the league average of .268/14/57 -- he should be an upgrade at one of their weakest positions. GM Dan Duquette always liked Lansing. In fact, when Duquette was the assistant GM in Montreal, he wanted then-GM Dave Dombrowski to buy him from the Miami Miracle for $40,000, which Dombrowski didn't. Less than an hour after Duquette took over as GM in Montreal in 1991, he went out and bought Lansing. But this may not be the same Lansing, who is hitting just .206 out of Coors Field the last two seasons.

Duquette will either get Rico Brogna, Dmitri Young or another bat before the deadline. But he doesn't want to give up infielder Donnie Sadler, who is hitting .156 at Triple-A Pawtucket, or his prized pitchers. The Rockies were so eager to rid themselves of Lansing that they originally asked for Paxton Crawford, then asked for Tomo Ohka and Chris Reitsma before settling on Jeff Tagliente.

Look, as long as the Sox have Pedro, they are contenders. Hey, the D-Backs were two under .500 in games not started by Randy Johnson until Schilling won Friday.

The feelings between Duquette and Jimy Williams get cooler each and every day, but it doesn't impact the performance on the field. Duquette, in fact, asked Williams not to use Mike Stanley so much last September so that his 2000 option wouldn't kick in, but Williams played him anyway and when Duquette thought Stanley was done two weeks ago, the GM hit the fan. Duquette had told Williams that he didn't want to bring up Izzy Alcantara unless he was going to play because he couldn't be sent back without losing him on waivers. Twice, Duquette talked the manager out of bringing Alcantara up, but Williams said he wanted him and thus called him up. Williams then played him and was disgusted by his lack of effort and then wanted to get rid of him.

If Oakland could have pulled it off with Mecir, Wetteland and Segui, they'd be right out front with Seattle, Cleveland, Boston and Toronto in the five-team race for the final two playoff spots. They absolutely love Todd Belitz, the lefty they got with Mecir from Tampa Bay, who gets lefties out as well as righties. The questions now for Oakland are: 1) are they deep enough in the pen?; and 2) will they ever get that right-handed bat; and 3) are the kid pitchers too young to perform down the stretch?

"I'll take talent and makeup over experience," says A's GM Billy Beane.

Tim Hudson is already a 1-2 starter while Barry Zito and Mark Mulder will soon be. Gil Heredia, meanwhile, is the unknown 12-game winner and Kevin Appier isn't bad as the No. 5 starter. They have five regular position players of potential star quality, who are all 24 or younger. In some ways, they're like the 1970 A's -- on the cusp of big-time success. Just think what they could do with $10 million more added on to their $30 million payroll?

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Gammons: 2000 column archive

Mets don't fall short, trade for Orioles' Bordick

Indians deal Sexson, acquire Cordero, Segui

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