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Wild Card

Apr 25, 2003
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This article is horrible, and if you aren't very curious to what it contains, I suggest you don't read. He says we are going to deal Lowell, Lee and MAYBE even Castillo. If he thinks Castillo has less a chance of leaving than Lowell, he isn't too bright.

Trade season: We'll take the player, you keep the salary?
June 26, 2003
By Scott Miller

Memo to: Travel agents.

From: A guy with not enough frequent flier miles.

Re: Heads up.

So Texas ran into a little hitch this week in attempting to unload Juan Gonzalez. The elementary lesson here -- and we can't state this clearly enough -- is that players request no-trade clauses for a reason.
Go ahead and debate Gonzalez's apparent lack of desire to win -- the Rangers practically are 0-for-June and he still declines to join a playoff race? -- but whatever the reason, if you give a guy a hammer, you shouldn't be surprised when he uses it (either to nullify a trade or simply to extort more cash before accepting it).

The other lesson to be gleaned from the stifled Texas-Montreal trade: For many players, moving day is at hand.

The annual midsummer shopping spree is closing in, and five weeks before the July 31 trade deadline, the positioning already is under way.

Even though Kansas City has moved into a tie for first place with Minnesota in the AL Central, general manager Allard Baird has told associates that he will deal center fielder Carlos Beltran, according to industry sources.

Jose Hernandez maybe wasn't the Chicago Cubs' first choice at third base but, with Florida dragging out the Mike Lowell talks until after the All-Star Game, the Cubs didn't think they could afford to wait much longer and took what they could get for now. They will continue to monitor the Lowell situation.

Meanwhile, less than 24 hours after their bullpen was torched for five runs in one inning in Tampa Bay, the New York Yankees scooped up reliever Dan Miceli and outfielder Karim Garcia from the Cleveland Indians. No matter that Garcia likely will not outlast the 90-degree days in New York this summer, and no matter that Miceli isn't exactly the second coming of Jeff Nelson or Mike Stanton.

"George couldn't wait," one major league executive said, offering a quick, concise analysis of Wednesday's deal. "That's ridiculous.

"Miceli is looking better than he has in a year, but he's not the answer."

For contenders (and for those who will use the next three weeks to decide whether they are contenders), the search for answers is heating up.

For bloated-payroll clubs who are out of it, the search for a clean landing strip for high-salaried players already has heated up.

The Rangers were praying that Gonzalez's old pal, Expos GM Omar Minaya, could romance him into accepting the deal. Texas also is looking to unload closer Ugueth Urbina and outfielder Carl Everett and, yes, even 500-homer club designated hitter Rafael Palmeiro.

The New York Mets also are, to borrow a Wall Street phrase, intent on divesting.

Second baseman Roberto Alomar is their first priority, but several sources say the market for him ranks somewhere between thin and barely existent. No small part of that is because clubs with even passing interest are demanding the Mets sweeten the pot by absorbing a significant amount of his salary, which will be about $3.5 million for the rest of the season.

The Mets also are offering closer Armando Benitez (St. Louis? Boston?), infielder Rey Sanchez and outfielders Jeromy Burnitz and Roger Cedeno (good luck).

Few clubs are willing to take on additional salary, which gives clubs like the Mets and Rangers little option but to suck it up and absorb the salaries of departing players. That, or continue to suffer through a miserable year, hang onto their dead weight and delay the rebuilding/retooling process.

This is a new day. Complex contracts (many replete with no-trade clauses) make dealing difficult. And the wild card makes things even more vague.

Antsy clubs looking either to improve or divest are ready to move by June, but clubs on the fringe of the wild-card race make things unsteady as they decide which direction to move (and, in some cases, how to save face in front of their fans).

At any rate, the old rule that a club couldn't pay more than $1 million of a departing player's salary in deals after June 1 apparently has gone the way of the metal Charlie's Angels lunch boxes.

In today's world, it no longer fits.

The commissioner's office signed off on last summer's deal sending Raul Mondesi from Toronto to the Yankees, and the Blue Jays ate more than a mil then. It likely will happen again this year.

The question is, today, tomorrow or next week? Everybody will tell you it's a little on the early side, and it is. There are more clubs trying to decide whether they're in or out of the race than there are clubs who definitively know they're in.

Bartolo Colon's name was popping up a week ago, but the White Sox made a mini-move this week and are within 5? games of first-place Kansas City in the AL Central. They need more time to figure their future -- and, as such, whether it's worth keeping the free-agent-to-be Colon.

"They're not going to run the white flag up again," one league source predicted, a reference back to the White Sox's infamous 1997 White Flag trade with San Francisco.

Toronto? GM J.P. Ricciardi was planning to deal outfielder Shannon Stewart and pitcher Kelvim Escobar -- and, probably, Cory Lidle, who will be a free agent this winter -- but with the Jays as hot as anybody, now they may be looking to fortify their bullpen.

"There will be a lot of teams looking at setup and middle relief," one NL executive predicts. "I think any setup guy will be fair game if he's at the end of his contract. It looks like there will be a real emphasis on relief pitching."

Baltimore, which has interest in Beltran but maybe not the parts (the Royals want at least two young, major league-ready players, according to sources), has a whole flock of pitchers priced to sell, including starters Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson and lefty relievers Buddy Groom and B.J. Ryan.

Beltran and Lowell are two keys toward kick-starting the entire process -- particularly Lowell, who is leading the NL with 24 homers.

The Marlins are another in the group of clubs attempting to decide whether to go for it. At least, that's what they're telling clubs now. But many expect Lowell, first baseman Derrek Lee and even second baseman Luis Castillo to go.

"They're going to be sellers," one industry source says of the Marlins. "That team is in such disarray. There is a lot of acrimony surrounding that club. It's not going to be pretty, believe me.

"They can't get a stadium passed, their attendance is miserable. I think Derrek Lee is going and some of those pitchers may go, too. Dontrelle Willis is an indication that they're going to get younger, not older."

Lowell is a certain All-Star, and the thinking is that, among other things, Marlins GM Admin Beinfest wants to hang onto him at least until after mid-July. That way, he can wear a Marlins uniform in Chicago, and demand for him as races take form will only go up.

Along those lines, if this week has proved anything, it is that, out west, Los Angeles needs to add a bat sooner rather than later.

The Dodgers, with a pitching staff that could send them deep into October, mustered only three runs combined in winnable games Tuesday and Wednesday in San Francisco before finally supporting Hideo Nomo with six runs in winning Thursday's series finale.

They are averaging an NL-worst 3.5 runs per game, they rank last in the league in runs scored, home runs, walks, total bases, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. And Arizona suddenly is charging hard, climbing right back into the race thanks to an eight-game winning streak.

So the Dodgers remain very interested in Lowell, according to sources.

Los Angeles would be happy to send third baseman Adrian Beltre Florida's way, but the Marlins are said to want reliever Guillermo Mota included in any deal, too (or, if not major leaguers, then two or three top pitching prospects).

There are those who believe the Yankees will end up with Beltran, who is making $6 million this year and is arbitration eligible this winter -- and likely to command somewhere close to $10 million in salary for 2004, before becoming a free agent. The Mets, Texas and Baltimore also have been in frequent contact with Kansas City's Baird.

But again, it comes back to pieces. The Royals must address holes at third base and left field, because odds are against Joe Randa and Raul Ibanez returning next season (both are free agents).

There are several others who either have been out there or will be out there.

St. Louis and the Mets discussed a Fernando Vina-for-Alomar swap earlier this season, and the Cardinals will have a decision to make when Vina returns from knee surgery in late July. Has Vina, on whom the Cardinals own a $4.5 million club option in 2004, run his course in St. Louis? Rookie Bo Hart is tearing it up in his place at second base (Hart was called up when Miguel Cairo was injured), batting .500 after just one week in the majors.

By late July, the Cards will have a pretty good idea of whether Hart is for real and what they can expect from him.

Those in search of offensive help could do worse than San Diego outfielder Rondell White. For those needing pitching, the Pirates have hinted that they are losing patience with Kris Benson.

There are only two certainties as July 31 moves closer and closer on the calendar:

Many things will change as teams position themselves over these next few weeks.
And travel agents handling some of these accounts should have a very nice winter in, say, Tahiti.?

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