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Trading deadline all about the rich

Special to

August 1

The trading deadline passed with B.J. Surhoff being the biggest name to move on Monday. But there was nearly a four-team blockbuster that transpired. The trade that almost was took work and creativity. "And," added a fifth general manager who wasn't in on the entanglement, "it took the usual suspects -- Jim Bowden, Billy Beane, Dan O'Dowd and Gord Ash. They, Steve Phillips, Brian Cashman, Doug Melvin and one or two others are in on everything."

Rolando Arrojo
How did the Red Sox get Rolando Arrojo? Well, they were willing to take on Mike Lansing's contract.

First, Toronto's Ash was going to send Chris Carpenter to Oakland for Kevin Appier to give the Jays another battle-tested starter. Then Oakland's Beane and the Rockies' Dowd got together on a deal that would have sent Carpenter, Ariel Prieto and slugging second base prospect Jose Ortiz to Colorado for Pedro Astacio.

Astacio in Oakland? No, of course not; he makes $6.3 million this year, $6.85 million in 2001, $9 million in 2002, and even if the A's do have one of the four best records in the American League, they wouldn't have been able to afford him. But Beane then worked out a deal to send Astacio to Cincinnati for Scott Williamson. Bowden believed Astacio would have been a No. 1 starter for the Reds the rest of this season -- a big need since they trail the Cardinals by four games -- and then he could have dealt him in the offseason for four more prospects.

But Cincinnati ownership wouldn't take the chance on the $19 million remaining on Astacio's contract. End of deal, end of work. When Beane got back to Ash to talk about the Appier-for-Carpenter trade, the Blue Jays decided to pull the plug and take Steve Trachsel for a terrific second-base prospect named Brent Abernathy.

In the end, the Reds couldn't get a No. 1 starter for the stretch. Oakland couldn't get Williamson, whom they envisioned in the rotation of the decade with Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. All because of money.

The Yankees, Indians, Braves and Mets all helped themselves considerably in the countdown to the trading deadline. To John Hart's credit, he was able to take on the salaries of David Segui, Wil Cordero and Bob Wickman because he'd already moved David Justice's $7 million to the Yankees. To John Schuerholz's credit, he got the right people for the Braves in Andy Ashby and Surhoff; the latter is a terrific hitter who comes with character above the backboard. Leo Mazzone has already restored Ashby to his proper arm angle and away from the drop-and-drive, uphill style he somehow adopted in Philadelphia, thus losing his power sinker stuff.

Granted, the Mets got the right shortstop in Mike Bordick and two very useful players from Tampa in Rick White and Bubba Trammell. Granted, the Yankees struck first, and right down to the end were working the phones trying to get better. Granted, the Diamondbacks were able to trade four players to get Curt Schilling to try to win now and halt their declining attendance, even if it left them precious little in the farm system.

Money drives the trading
But what happened at the trading deadline was baseball as it is today. Who got the players? The same teams that have gotten the players the last five years -- the Yankees, Indians, Braves and Mets. What's so smart about being able to spend $3.5 million on a utility infielder like Jose Vizcaino?

Granted, the Yankees and Braves have deep farm systems, but if the Yankees hadn't invested more than $25 million in high-impact foreign free agents the last four years, they couldn't have gotten Denny Neagle, let alone nearly pull off a three-way deal Monday night that would have netted Surhoff, Matt Clement and Donne Wall. How many teams could have signed Drew Henson? As for the Braves, they are one of the model organizations, but they can afford to invest huge dollars in scouting and development, dollars small- and medium-market clubs can't.

The Red Sox got Rolando Arrojo. Oakland wanted him, and so did several other teams including the Indians, but no other market could afford to swallow the $7.25 million owed to Mike Lansing after this season. That's what that deal came down to: take Lansing's contract and you get Arrojo. How many teams other than the Dodgers could afford the $20 million owed to Tom Goodwin and Devon White? Even the Mariners have extra revenues that allowed them to swallow the $5 million owed next year to Al Martin. If you don't think this is all about money then you don't appreciate how happy the Padres are to be out from under more than $8 million owed next season to Martin and Carlos Hernandez.

If you took $20 million away from the Dodgers or Yankees and gave it to the A's, Oakland would have the two rich franchises in its rearview mirror. That raises yet another tedious question about revenue-sharing, salary caps and a strike in 2002, but then, isn't this whole sport bordering on the tedious when the same country clubbers are in the final four, year after year after year?

Baseball is becoming Nantucket, a place where people spend $8.7 million on houses and $1 million on golf club memberships, but the laborers who work at the houses and clubs can't afford to live on the island, so they're flown back and forth every day from the mainland by the rich.

There are some who point to the Orioles and Dodgers as classic examples of teams that spend $75-to-$100 million on payroll without a lot to show for their investments. But, let's face it, there are a lot of trust funders living high off the hog on Nantucket, drowning granddaddy's money every night in drink at the local watering hole, The Chicken Box.

That four-way deal would have been great. So would have another Astacio deal that would have sent the veteran right-hander to Toronto for Carpenter, Abernathy and center fielder Vernon Wells; that deal would have set the Rockies in the middle of the field for years, but someone up above in Colorado got nervous and killed it. (By the way, Ash could afford this deal because he had scrimped and saved months earlier and had cash stuffed away in his mattress).

Tigers GM Randy Smith has denied that he had a Juan Gonzalez deal done with the Mariners only to have it quashed, but he is being a loyal soldier to owner Mike Ilitch. The Mariners and even sources in the Tigers organization insist Smith had a deal with Pat Gillick that would have brought his rising team what it needed -- John Halama and two more pitchers, effectively more than he gave up for the enigmatic Gonzalez in the Texas deal. But it got killed.

Peter Angelos has been blamed for killing the three-way deal with San Diego and the Yankees, but that's not really fair. When Syd Thrift agreed to send Surhoff to San Diego for outfielder Eric Owens, Hernandez (a Thrift favorite) and minor-league OF Jeremy Owens, he didn't know that Surhoff was then being passed on to the Yankees in a deal that would have sent Surhoff and pitchers Matt Clement and Wall for Alfonso Soriano, right-hander Adrian Hernandez and three more players. The O's wanted Soriano for Surhoff, and while the three-way deal gave the Yankees pitching they couldn't get from Baltimore, the O's weren't going to allow Surhoff to go to the Yankees if they couldn't get the multi-dimensional Soriano.

The rise of the White Sox franchise was evidenced by the fact that they were willing to rent Charles Johnson and Harold Baines, which adds about $2 million to their payroll the rest of the year. But they were unwilling to get off their long-range plan, and thus refused to part with Jon Garland or Kip Wells to get Astacio; Jerry Reinsdorf happily would have spent the money, but Ron Schueler wasn't going to break up his path to becoming the Braves of the 2000s.

The Cardinals got what they had to get -- two relievers (Mike Timlin, Jason Christiansen), Will Clark in case Mark McGwire doesn't come back and Hernandez. GM Walt Jocketty got the O's to take half Timlin's salary and pawned off Heathcliff Slocumb to fray some of the Hernandez expense. But one of the reasons the Cards can spend is because Jocketty changed the franchise with the McGwire trade and because McGwire doesn't care about his own paychecks, only the team's place in the standings.

But that's St. Louis, and it's an unusual situation. Otherwise, the trading deadline is all about the rich guys. Baseball's no different from Nantucket. The guys who fly in from New Bedford and Bourne aren't playing the 16th hole with Wayne Huizenga, Warren Buffett and the boys at the golf club.

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Gammons: 2000 column archive

 The crew from Baseball Tonight breaks down baseball's deadline trades.
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