By John Kruk
Page 2

In case you haven't heard, the Royals traded Carlos Beltran to Houston on Thursday.

This wasn't your usual situation with a guy who wanted to leave his team. The sign-and-trade option wasn't even on the table. See, Beltran and his agent, Scott Boras, want to test the free agency waters. So even though he's with the Astros now, he's pretty much a two-or-three-month rental. Maybe four, if Houston makes it to the playoffs.

I'm sure the Astros will want to sign him and keep him around. But will he stay?

That's just the first question you need to ask. What if you roll out the red carpet for the guy so he'll stick around? That could ruffle some feathers in the clubhouse -- whether he stays or not.

Chemistry if more important than you think. If you think the best team always wins, take a look at last season. Did anybody think Florida was the best team?

What would have happened if the Yankees had got Beltran? Someone would have had to tell Kenny Lofton and Bernie Williams that one of them would have to go. Even the Yankees don't get extra roster spots.

What about other teams? There will be plenty of other big names who are going to be on the trading block for the next five weeks. Do you go and get a guy just to prevent your competition from getting him?

Absolutely. The Red Sox were in the hunt for Beltran, and they already have Johnny Damon in center field. But they didn't want Beltran slugging away for the Yankees the rest of the summer, so they were throwing all sorts of scenarios at the Royals.

The one question that everyone seems to think long and hard about at this time of year is trading minor leaguers. Do you mangle your future by giving up prospects for a guy who may or may not help you get to the playoffs now?

The answer to that one is actually easier than you think. If you can win right now by adding a guy like Beltran, you do it.

Carlos Beltran
Who cares if Beltran stays? Houston wants to win now.

Prospects are just what they are -- prospects. Potential. Outside of Bonds, Griffey and A-Rod, there hasn't been a can't-miss prospect over the past two decades. What's your prospect going to be like against major league pitching? You don't know. Sure, there's the potential that he will be great. But there's also the potential that he'll stink.

That's what the Royals wound up with in the Beltran trade: three prospects.

Back in 1987, the Tigers traded prospect John Smoltz to the Braves for Doyle Alexander. Smoltz turned out to be a great pitcher, but Detroit couldn't bank on that back then. And Alexander helped them get to the playoffs that year.

Mission accomplished.

So if you have the chance to win now, you do what you have to do. You do what the Astros did. A proven perfomer at the major league level wins out over potential every time.

With all this talk this early, there's plenty of chaos going on as the trade deadline gets closer.

If you tuned in to SportsCenter a week ago, you'd think there was a fire sale going on in Seattle.

Freddie Garcia was on the block. Jamie Moyer was on the block. Now, after going 6-5 in their last 11 games, the Mariners think they're back in it. They think they can win with what they have, so those guys aren't going anywhere.

Hey, I know the GMs don't ever want to admit that it's over in June. But I hate to tell you, Seattle: It's over.

The players know -- I can tell you that much. I just don't know why it takes so long for the GMs to figure it out.

Sometimes, they just don't want to admit that they can't make a deal, so they tell the fans they're happy with what they have.

Well, this one is for you Mariner fans -- are you happy with what you have? Someone should show the standings to Seattle's management. They need to shake things up.

I tend to follow the Phillies quite a bit, and they are definitely in it in the NL East.

Still, they lack one thing, and it's going to stop them cold at some point. They have no killer instinct.

Derek Jeter
Forget the smile -- Jeter is out for blood.

What's a killer instinct? It's when you go up against a lesser team and you pound them. You pound the other team so bad in the first game of a series that they are intimidated to show up for the rest of the weekend.

Look at a guy like Derek Jeter. He's the all- American guy. Good looking. Says all the right things. Everyone loves this guy. But on the field, he is an assassin. You better believe that when he is going off in the clubhouse, he isn't saying all that nice stuff you see in the papers. When it's the Yankees vs. anyone -- it's no mercy, as far as Jeter is concerned.

The Phillies? They don't rip anyone's heart out. They never go for the jugular. As a result, they aren't feared by anyone. So when they take the field against the Marlins, the Brewers or the Rockies -- everyone thinks they have a chance to win.

Jeter isn't alone. Look at Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Those guys never quit. They pour it on to the end. They want to bury you.

Same with Pudge and Bonds. If you're gasping for air, those guys will step on your throat. You think Bonds isn't trying to hit a home run everytime he gets up? Even when the Giants have a five-run lead, he's not up there chasing Hank Aaron. He's trying to deliver the knockout blow to his opponent.

And it isn't just when they're performing on the field. Sure, everyone's in a great mood when he goes 3-for-3, or when he strikes out 10 guys.

Last week, Esteban Loaiza gave up a big lead to the Indians. Later on in extra innnings, Jose Valentin won it for the White Sox on a homer. Who's top-stepping it the whole time in the dugout? Who's the first guy in the scrum when Valentin gets home?

Right, Loaiza.

Most pitchers would be icing their arms, pouting and feeling all sorry about their performance. With this guy, it's all about winning. Who cares what he did? That's a guy you want around.

There's plenty of time to be nice to your opponents in the offseason.

The killer instinct. It's what makes good players great, and great players winners.

Isn't it amazing that Gary Payton, the guy who wanted out all year when he wasn't playing well or playing enough, is going to be the guy who comes back to the Lakers next season?

It gets even better over there in L.A. GM Mitch Kupchak, toeing the owner/company line, is saying that if he has to pick between Kobe Bryant and Shaq -- he's going with Kobe. Which means he'll be showing Shaq the door pretty soon.

Well, Kobe. You're getting what you want. You're going to be able to make the Lakers your team.

That's another thing I have never understood: the whole "my team" thing.

You think Michael Jordan and Larry Bird ever had to tell people it was their team?

When you seek it or have to announce it -- yeah, that's a little tough. Best of luck.

I've seen that some NBA guys are getting heat for turning down invitations to Athens to play in the Olympics.

Richard Hamilton
Fatigue, security -- you name it. Rip has every right to stay home.

I can't say that I blame them. First of all, Richard Hamilton and Ben Wallace just got done playing a season that started in October. I don't care how much you work out -- you're pretty damn tired when that's all over.

Now if you're on the Wizards or the Raptors, you've been done for a while; so I don't know why you wouldn't go.

Well, there is one reason -- security.

Anyone who has those fears, that's legit. You want to talk about guys with targets on their backs, look no further than the 2004 edition of the Dream Team. They'll be the most famous people there.

No offense to the synchronized swimmers, but I can't see anyone trying to single them out to make waves.

Even if a bunch of guys turn down invites, I think the U.S. is still in great shape. We don't have send our top 12 guys to win. So Shaq doesn't go. Fine. Send Tim Duncan. Not a bad trade-off.

Now a team like Germany is probably finished if Dirk Nowitzki decides to stay home. So when those guys talk about playing for love of country, I'm sure they mean it. But they also know they're the heart of those teams.

Whomever goes, let's just hope that nothing happens -- and that the U.S. wins the gold.

John Kruk is an analyst for ESPN's "Baseball Tonight."