Notes from around the majors
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
Mets manager Bobby Valentine insists Melvin Mora is more than adequate at shortstop, and so while the Mets dabble in the shortstop field, there seems to be more urgency to find a left-handed bat and bullpen help. Right-hander Bobby Jones has pitched well lately, so their next concern is Robin Ventura's health. He's their only legitimate lefty bat, one of the game's best third basemen and an invaluable presence in the clubhouse.
|Damon has stolen 36 bases, tops in the AL.|
The Mariners continue to hunt for bats, and GM Pat Gillick this weekend has his eye trained on Kansas City and Johnny Damon, although the Diamondbacks' Travis Lee is still on the radar screen. "They worry too much about Travis's laid-back personality in Arizona," former teammate Lenny Harris says. "Sure, he'll give you that 'I'm going surfing, dude' thing,' but he can hit, he's a good outfielder and he's a good guy. If they trade him, he'll come back to haunt them even worse than Tony Batista."
Red Sox GM Dan Duquette says, "I feel our pitching will be fine. We have enough pitching. We have to get a bat and upgrade our offense." While Boston's starters after Pedro Martinez may cause one to debate Duquette, he is confident that Bret Saberhagen will be back for the stretch drive (he begins his rehab this week in the New York-Penn League). Scrolling through the AL offenses, the Red Sox are right near the bottom, next to Minnesota, Detroit and Tampa Bay.
Arizona has been offering Omar Daal for pitching or a power outfielder. The D-Backs tried to pry Kevin Tapani away from the Cubs, but he made it clear that he wants to stay there and would not waive his no-trade clause.
Moises Alou apparently will waive his no-trade clause, but one GM says, "The Astros want a lot for him, and you'll have to redo his contract, as well."
The Blue Jays were concerned when prized center fielder Vernon Wells had to leave the Futures Game in Atlanta with a sore shoulder, but he is apparently all right. This will allow them to keep shopping for a couple of pitchers -- one of which is Esteban Loaiza of the Rangers -- with Jose Cruz Jr. and prospects as trade bait.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman talked to the Orioles this week about B.J. Surhoff now that Shane Spencer is out for the year, but O's GM Syd Thrift asked for Alfonso Soriano and another top prospect. The Yankees are more prone to go with a fill-in, someone in the mold of a Chad Curtis or the like. Thrift is working hard to change the atmosphere around that Baltimore club as he is shopping Charles Johnson (one Marlins scout insists they're interested), Scott Erickson and others.
The names of pitchers being mulled about -- Ismael Valdes, Hideo Nomo, Steve Trachsel and Pat Hentgen -- are the same names being considered by at least 10 contending teams, which only drives up the price. Scott Erickson is a great idea, but absurdly expensive in terms of the prospects the Orioles are demanding in return. The Red Sox, meanwhile, would love to go after Kirk Rueter of the Giants, but after winning 10 of their last 11 games heading into Saturday the Giants are quickly turning into the favorites in the NL West.
Several teams keep sniffing around the Expos to make sure that if Rondell White and/or Dustin Hermanson is available that they don't get caught. "We talked to one Expo party and they said White might be available," says one GM, "but Jim Beattie says he isn't."
Tigers manager Phil Garner is telling reporters that he doesn't see his club making any major moves before the July 31 deadline. Detroit has started to play as most thought they would before the season, and if they could finish over .500 it would be a major step for the organization to help convince Juan Gonzalez and prospective free agents that this is a franchise on the way up. There were several inquiries about Dean Palmer, but he doesn't want to waive his no-trade clause unless the club simply doesn't want him, and GM Randy Smith wants him. So that should end that talk.
What a year it's been in Houston
People keep asking Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker about what he'll do to shake up his team that incredibly still had the worst record in baseball heading into the second half of the season.
"We've gone 'round and 'round asking ourselves the same thing," says Hunsicker, who for three straight years had the playoff team with the smallest payroll. "It's very hard to see what we do here right now. The equations this team were built on have been out of whack."
Hunsicker and his staff were asked by owner Drayton McLane to accomplish a near-impossible task -- drop $12 million to $15 million in payroll while moving into Enron Field and hope to win. That forced Hunsicker to trade Mike Hampton and Carl Everett for Roger Cedeno and Octavio Dotel and a shortstop of the future, Adam Everett. He had to let shortstop Ricky Gutierrez walk as well.
While players weren't happy about the offseason moves, they never thought they'd be this bad. Oh, they miss Carl Everett, the outfield defense isn't quite as good, and shortstop also has been a problem. Ken Caminiti got hurt as well and some feel that Mitch Meluskey is learning on the job about handling pitchers. A pitching staff that had been raised on The Dome has had to change its game to a home run derby field.
Which brings it all down to the pitching. "We just don't have the wherewithal to afford a lot of high-priced middle relievers and pitching depth," Hunsicker says. "That caught up with us. We were used to our starters getting us deep into games, then our middle relievers having to get two or three outs before getting to a dead certain closer in Billy Wagner. We're not getting the innings from our starters, we lost Wagner and the whole thing is skewed." Last year, Astros starters averaged nearly 6 2/3 innings a start. This year, they're averaging less than six. Jose Lima went from a 20-game winner to Fireworks Inc. And you don't need to hear any more about Wagner's problems and breakdown.
Then came some backbiting in manager Larry Dierker's direction. "I don't worry about that stuff, because I played and I know what happens when you start losing," Dierker says. "I look at this team and think, 'we're not too far from being pretty darned good again.' "
"The biggest questions are whether or not Wagner can get back to normal next season and what Lima's future is," Hunsicker says. "We probably won't know either until next spring." But, for now, they know that Shane Reynolds is as reliable as it gets, and that Scott Elarton is coming fast as is Chris Holt. Dierker also likes rookie right-hander Wade Miller very much. The 'Stros have a lot of arms in their organization, and moving Dotel into the bullpen could develop a closing option.
They also hope McLane will sign Jeff Bagwell to a new contract rather than let him leave him in a walk position after 2001, which might force a watered-down trade this winter since Bagwell soon becomes a 10/5 man. "It's sometime this month," Hunsicker says. "But I don't know exactly when, and don't care. I want him here."
Teams are calling on Alou, who has a no-trade clause in his contract, and if Bagwell stays, with Richard Hidalgo, Lance Berkman, Cedeno and Daryle Ward, there is a young bat to trade for a young pitcher or two. Adam Everett, the co-leader with Toronto's Felipe Lopez for the shortstop berth on the Olympic Team, may be ready to step in next spring.
"I can't believe what's happened to us," Dierker says. "But I honestly know that we're a lot better than we've played, and can get better in a hurry."
This and that
Alex Rodriguez says he is very fortunate he didn't get more sertiously injured in his collision with the Dodgers' Alex Cora. "The doctors said what saved me was being knocked unconscious," he says. "They said that because I was unconscious, my body went limp, and if it hadn't, I'd have done some serious damage to my neck, back and knee. If all those injuries would have occurred I'd have been out for two years at the minimum."
OK, the Rockies came out of the All-Star break averaging 9.4 runs per game at home and 3.6 on the road. Jeff Cirillo has an explanation. "We all know how great a hitters' park Coors is, because of the way the ball travels and the fact that curveballs don't break very well. But I think the biggest factor in our home/road problems is that at Coors you don't get that late movement on fastballs. So at home, we're hitting straight fastballs. On the road, it's hard in five or six days to adjust to that late movement, which is the difference between a line drive and a popup."
How can Darren Dreifort be 1-6 with a 9.17 ERA since May 17 with Kevin Brown-type stuff? It's certainly not a good way to hit the free agent market.
L.A. Times esteemed writer Jason Reid reported Friday that Dodgers president Robert Daly is pleased with Kevin Malone's work as GM and wants him back next season, which is only fair. Malone inherited several problems, then has been hit with penalties for international intrigues that weren't his fault. The problem with the Dodgers isn't talent, so if Malone is indeed safe, the focus will now turn to Davey Johnson if the Dodgers continue to underachieve. But, why did they fire Glenn Hoffman in the first place?
Asked when Steinbrenner will announce the three-year, $27 million extension for Chuck Knoblauch and the $27 million, two-year extension for Roger Clemens, one source says, "at a more opportune time. But, yes, they've been done for a long time."
Mike Piazza has grown to the top of the giant list among men in the game, for refusing to back off facing nemesis Pedro Martinez in his first game since getting beaned by Roger Clemens. It was mentioned to Piazza that his stats are particularly remarkable since he's played in three home parks in Dodger Stadium, Pro Player Stadium and Shea Stadium that are all pitchers' parks. "The way I look at it," Piazza says, "it's tough to catch when you're playing in Colorado or one of those hitters' parks with the big scores because the games go on forever. Those parks are a major strain on a catcher."
Larry Walker has five homers and 29 RBI and it's the middle of July already.
The strain between Red Sox GM Dan Duquette and manager Jimy Williams has increased with the whole Izzy Alcantara mess being routed around a deeper issue of control. Williams is under heavy fire from the talk shows in Boston for his varied lineups, and privately he cannot understand why he has no control over his roster. But this is not a unique situation.
"There aren't many manager-general manager relationships that don't get strained at some point," the Mets' Steve Phillips said this spring. His, of course, is one of the most reported, but whether it's in Cleveland, Oakland, Detroit or Oshkosh, the growing feeling is that the GMs shop for the groceries and the managers do the cooking. "Managers sometimes get too close to a situation," one GM says. "They'll say things like, 'Hey, I've got to play this guy at second because he's good at scooping throws.' Meanwhile, the guy is hitting .200 with no power. There's a line there, and you have to work together."
Selling players to Japan can be profitable. One Japanese club asked Pat Gillick for a Mariners player, and when he said he couldn't give him up, he recommended Jon Nunnally, so the Mets got the money for him. After selling Nunnally, Phillips sent Dom Perignon to the Seattle front office staff as a means of saying 'thanks.' That, friends, is taste.
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