|  Baseball Index  |  Peter Gammons Bio


Cubs' future rests in decision on Sosa

Special to

June 17

Should the Cubs trade Sammy Sosa or should they keep him?

Cubs general manager Ed Lynch and team president Andy MacPhail have to figure out if the Cubs will be better over the next five years with Sosa, or better without him.

They are in the process of sifting through their potential offers from the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Diamondbacks and whomever else may call. They are also weighing Sammy's monstrous popularity and its impact on the Tribune Company's television programming versus the potential rebuilding of a team constructed more in in the selfless style that manager Don Baylor prefers.

Contract trades
As we wait to see what happens with Sammy Sosa and Juan Gonzalez, here are a number of high-profile players traded in the past due to contract-related issues:
Player Acquired by

Pedro Martinez Boston
Montreal got: RHP Carl Pavano and RHP Tony Armas
Chuck Knoblauch N.Y. Yankees
Minnesota got: LHP Eric Milton, SS Cristian Guzman, OF Brian Buchanan and OF Danny Mota
Roger Clemens N.Y. Yankees
Toronto got: LHP David Wells, LHP Graeme Lloyd and 2B Homer Bush
Mark McGwire St. Louis
Oakland got: RHPs T.J. Mathews, Blake Stein and Eric Ludwick
Mike Piazza N.Y. Mets
Florida got: OF Preston Wilson, LHP Ed Yarnall and LHP Geoff Goetz
Ken Griffey Jr. Cincinnati
Seattle got: OF Mike Cameron, RHP Brett Tomko and SS Antonio Perez
Mike Hampton N.Y. Mets
Houston got: Derek Bell's contract, plus RHP Octavio Dotel and OF Roger Cedeno
Juan Gonzalez Detroit
Texas got: LHP Justin Thompson, RHP Francisco Cordero, LHP Alan Webb, INF Frank Catalanato, OF Gabe Kapler and C Bill Haselman (Detroit also got P Danny Patterson and C Gregg Zaun)
Jim Edmonds St. Louis
Anaheim got: RHP Kent Bottenfield and 2B Adam Kennedy
Randy Johnson Houston
Seattle got: RHP Freddy Garcia, LHP John Halama and INF Carlos Guillen
Kevin Brown San Diego
Florida got: RHP Rafael Medina, LHP Steve Hoff and 1B Derrek Lee
Al Leiter N.Y. Mets
Florida got: LHP Jesus Sanchez, RHP A.J. Burnett and OF Robert Stratton
Matt Mantei Arizona
Florida got: RHP Vladimir Nunez, RHP Brad Penny and OF Abraham Nunez
Carl Everett Boston
Houston got: SS Adam Everett and LHP Greg Miller
Robb Nen San Francisco
Florida got: RHPs Mike Villano, Joe Fontenot, Mick Pageler
Fred McGriff Atlanta
San Diego got: OF Melvin Nieves, OF Vince Moore and RHP Donnie Elliott
Gary Sheffield Florida
San Diego got: RHPs Trevor Hoffman, Andres Berumen and Jose Martinez
Todd Stottlemyre
Royce Clayton
St. Louis got: 3B Fernando Tatis and LHP Darren Oliver
Moises Alou Houston
Florida got: RHPs Oscar Henriquez, Manny Barrios and Mark Johnson
Frank Viola N.Y. Mets
Minnesota got: RHP Kevin Tapani, RHP Rick Aguilera, LHP David West and RHP Tim Drummond
Mike Boddicker Boston
Baltimore got: RHP Curt Schilling and OF Brady Anderson
Tom Seaver Cincinnati
N.Y. Mets got: OF Steve Henderson, OF Joel Youngblood, INF Doug Flynn and RHP Pat Zachry

"This is entirely the Cubs' call," says Sosa's agent Adam Katz, who doesn't rule out the possibility that MacPhail could decide to either re-sign Sosa or let it play out a little while longer.

One NL GM says, "The problem with trading for Sosa is that it could cost a team four players and $150 million. That's a lot to weigh here. It's complicated by the fact that you have Juan Gonzalez on the market at the same time, and there are teams interested in Moises Alou.

"But all three of those deals are complex. The player cost on Gonzalez may not be as high as on Sosa because Sosa is two years away from free agency, but he can still pick his spot, and Alou has a no-trade which means he'd probably want his contract restructured."

"There's one more factor," says another GM. "Most of the players in these high-stakes games are also on the lookout for pitching. So they have to hedge all kinds of bets."

George Steinbrenner's deal with MSG is up at the end of this season and he is threatening to start his own cable network with the Yanks, Nets and Devils and thus money to sign Sosa is no issue. Mets co-owner Fred Wilpon desperately wants to win, as does John Harrington in Boston, and Jerry Colangelo in Arizona not only wants to win, but also wants to retain his audience. But what can each team offer the Cubs for Sosa?

"The names that are being thrown around are strictly speculation," says Lynch. "We're a long way from exchanging names." Lynch does aknowledge that if the Cubs were to deal Sosa, they would have to get a potential impact player in return as a starting point. The first question that comes to mind then centers on Alfonso Soriano. Is he -- as a second baseman or center fielder -- a potential impact player? And can the Yankees use him as a bargaining chip in a Sosa or Gonzalez deal without having to also acquire Ismael Valdes or Hideo Nomo?

The Mets' speculative package, which includes outfielder Alex Escobar, right-handed pitchers Grant Roberts and Pat Strange, all minor leaguers, along with outfielder Jay Payton is not going to happen. Boston doesn't have an Escobar, but the Red Sox have a number of good prospects, starting with minor league catcher Steve Lomasney.

"What we don't know is how much of the Mets' and Red Sox' interest in Sosa is to drive up the Yankees price, knowing they are struggling and Steinbrenner isn't thrilled," says a GM. "The theory that Dan Duquette is playing in the Sosa thing to drive up the price on Sosa and clear the dock for him to go after Gonzalez and Nomo makes a lot of sense, especially given Dan's history with Gonzalez's agents (Speakers of Sports) and Juan's relationship with the Martinez brothers since Ramon hooked him up with their trainer (Nao Presinol)."

These are, after all, star players and while Sosa loves the limelight and Gonzalez shies away from it, they are run producers sought -- in the case of the Yankees and Red Sox -- by teams in the bottom half of the American League in runs scored.

But sometimes teams can think too much. For example, rewind back to July 1998 and the Randy Johnson situation. Mariners GM Woody Woodward had reached the point where he had to move Johnson. There were three teams interested in making a deal for Johnson: the Indians, Yankees and Astros.

"If you'll put Brian Giles in the deal (along with Paul Shuey and Enrique Wilson), I won't get off the phone, the deal's made," Woodward told Indians GM John Hart. The Indians' staff then debated the offer. They thought perhaps they could substitute someone for Shuey, but they also thought Giles had the potential to become the All-Star that he's become. The Indians backed down, just as they had backed down from trading Jaret Wright to Montreal for Pedro Martinez the previous winter, thus opening the door for Duquette to get Pedro in exchange for young pitchers Tony Armas Jr. and Carl Pavano.

The Yankees had put a package together that included first baseman Nick Johnson and any number of combinations of two other players, but really stayed in just to ensure that the Indians didn't get him. After all, remember in 1998 the Yankees were on their way to 114 wins in the regular season and their second World Series title in three years.

Other deals
This gun's for hire
David Cone trades:

  • From Royals to Mets for C Ed Hearn, RHP Goose Gozzo and RHP Rick Anderson
  • From Mets to Blue Jays for IF Jeff Kent and OF Ryan Thompson
  • From Blue Jays to Blue Jays for RHP David Sinnes, IF Chris Stynes and IF Tony Medrano
  • From the Blue Jays to Yankees for RHPs Marty Janzen, Mike Gordon and Jason Jarves

    Matt Williams trades:

  • From Giants to Indians for 2B Jeff Kent, IF Jose Vizcaino, RHP Julian Tavarez, RHP Joe Roa
  • From Indians to Diamondbacks for 3B Travis Fryman, LHP Tom Martin and cash

    Rickey Henderson trades:

  • From A's to Yankees for OF Stan Javier, RHPs Jay Howell, Jose Rijo, Eric Plunk and LHP Tim Birtsas
  • From Yankees to A's for OF Luis Polonia, RHP Eric Plunk, LHP Greg Cadaret
  • From A's to Blue Jays for RHP Steve Karsay and OF Jose Herrera
  • From Padres to Angels for for 3B George Arias, RHP Ryan Hancock, RHP Stevenson Agosto

    Prospects acquired

  • Astros got Jeff Bagwell from Red Sox for Larry Andersen
  • Expos got Moises Alou from Pirates for Zane Smith
  • Braves got John Smoltz from Tigers for Doyle Alexander
  • A's got Jason Isringhausen from Mets for Billy Taylor
  • White Sox got Jon Garland from Cubs for Matt Karchner
  • Red Sox got Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek from Mariners for Heathcliff Slocumb
  • Red Sox got Tony Armas Jr. and Jim Mecir from Yankees for Mike Stanley

  • So the Astros acquired the Big Unit for Freddy Garcia, John Halama and Carlos Guillen and had their best chance to get to the World Series since they fell just short in 1986. Think about it, would Houston be better off now with Garcia and Halama? Sure, but Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker took his shot and thought he might be able to sign Johnson, only to have him pitch so well (10-1, 1.28 ERA) that his value skyrocketed.

    "It all sounds very simple," says an NL GM. "But there are a lot of factors you have to weigh, and the first is going to ownership, explaining the ramifications of taking on the extra payroll while dealing potential low-cost talent that you'd have under $500,000 apiece the next three years. What stares you in the face is the realization that only one out of 30 teams is going to win, and the at-all-costs approach is tough to take unless you're the Yankees, Mets or Dodgers."

    That is what happened in 1997 to the Angels when the A's had to put Mark McGwire on the market. Oakland wanted to deal McGwire for Jim Edmonds and either Scott Schoeneweis or Jarrod Washburn, and talked about expanding the trade to include Scott Brosius. Angels ownership thought that while McGwire wanted to play in Anaheim, his price (approximately $9M per year) was too high and backed out. The Indians backed off as well. That left the Cardinals as the only interested team. The rest, well, is history.

    It was asked this week where the Yankees would be if they still had David Wells and Eric Milton, two of the league's best left-handed pitchers, in their rotation. In the Wells case, there is a logical debate over dealing him for Roger Clemens. But while Eric Milton and Cristian Guzman have turned out to be fine players for the Twins, Chuck Knoblauch, for all his current problems, was an invaluable part of two World Series championship teams.

    These hold 'em/fold 'em dilemmas began when the Messersmith Decision created free agency in 1976. On June 15 of that year, Orioles GM Hank Peters dumped his potential free agents -- Doyle Alexander, Ken Holtzman, to name just two-- onto the Yankees in a 10-player deal that helped the Yankees get to the World Series but also brought Baltimore a big chunk of two pennant winners later on in Scott McGregor, Tippy Martinez and Rick Dempsey. But when the Mets were faced with a similar situation the following season with Tom Seaver, they traded their franchise pitcher for four warm bodies.

    Sometimes, as was the case when Montreal ownership forced then-GM Kevin Malone to dump Marquis Grissom, John Wetteland and Ken Hill within 72 hours of the end of the strike in the spring of 1995, a GM has no chance. Randy Smith understood that when his Padres owner, Tom Werner, forced him to move Fred McGriff and Gary Sheffield in separate deals in 1993, although Smith was able to extract Trevor Hoffman from Florida in the Sheffield deal. MacPhail rebuilt the Twins by trading Frank Viola to the Mets and ended up winning another World Series title, which the Mets did not do.

    No one can ever question the Mets for acquiring Mike Piazza in May 1998 from the Marlins, even if Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall and Geoff Goetz all blossom. Or of them moving A.J. Burnett and Jesus Sanchez for Al Leiter. And the risk of not signing Mike Hampton was certainly worth going after a 22-game winner.

    The Marlins, who have a shrewd GM in Dave Dombrowski and one of the best scouting staffs around, have defined this risky process. They rebuilt their system by dealing away Piazza, Leiter and Matt Mantei (as did getting shortstop Pablo Ozuna, right-hander Braden Looper and lefty Armando Almanza from St. Louis for Edgar Renteria), but the deals for Kevin Brown (to San Diego), Moises Alou (to Houston) and Robb Nen (to San Francisco) didn't bring in much help.

    "One of the keys is knowing your own personnel," says Duquette. "We work very hard from the end of the draft to the trading deadline evaluating our own players. You don't want to trade what might be a key part of your club for years to come for a second-tier player."

    Duquette looks at Boston's history and sees that while the 1988 trade for Mike Boddicker got the Sox into the playoffs, the front office's lack of knowledge about its lower minors needlessly meant including Curt Schilling in that deal. And in 1990, desperate for a reliever when Jeff Reardon had back surgery, the evaluation that rated Scott Cooper better than Jeff Bagwell cost the club for years. On the other hand, Duquette changed his franchise in 10 summer days in 1997, when he traded Heathcliff Slocumb to Seattle for Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek and Mike Stanley to the Yankees for Armas (who, in turn, helped get Martinez). Reliever Jim Mecir also was chosen by Tampa Bay took in the expansion draft, which allowed Boston to pull back Trot Nixon.

    Probably the most creative trading-deadline stunt ever pulled off was done last July by Oakland's Billy Beane. He confidently traded Kenny Rogers to the Mets for Terrence Long because he trusted player personnel director J.P. Ricciardi's evaluation skills. He also moved his closer at the time, Billy Taylor, for Jason Isringhausen and then traded six young players for Kevin Appier, Omar Olivares and Randy Velarde. "We wanted to stay competitive in the race and still make ourselves better for (the 2000 season)," says Beane.

    If Beane were in a better market, he could get into the Sosa/Gonzalez wars because his farm system is loaded, but he doesn't of course, and thus can't. The White Sox could get involved in the Sosa/Gonzalez discussions because they may have the deepest warehouse of potential top starting pitchers in either league. While it is doubtful they will go after Sosa/Gonzalez, they are expected to be players elsewhere in hopes of improving their club before the July 31 deadline passes.

    "This is high stakes stuff," Steinbrenner said this week. "It's not for the feint of heart."

    But it is for those who can do the single most important thing -- evaluate talent. "You have to be able to evaluate the talent you trade," says Duquette, "evaluate the impact of the player you're getting, evaluate your financial situation and evaluate whether you can sign the player long-term. That's a lot of evaluation."

    News and notes

  • The Braves privately were hoping that Andy Ashby wouldn't pitch well against them Saturday, as they think they know Ashby would fit into their rotation and are one of the teams interested in acquiring him. Toronto, Arizona and Cincinnati are the other three clubs. "We couldn't tell the difference between his split and a BP fastball," says one scout who saw Ashby recently. "He doesn't have the same stuff as he has had in the past."

  • There is some feeling that the Braves may have rushed things by bringing John Rocker back as quickly as they did, especially considering that not only did he have control problems, but he was aiming the ball. His fastball was clocked at 90 mph on Wednesday by the same gun that the next night had the Pirates' Kris Benson at 96.

  • While the Mets are cautiously involved in the Sosa/Gonzalez sweepstakes and still looking at B.J. Surhoff, they first want a reliable pitcher. They've pretty much written off Ashby and Ismael Valdes because of makeup, but are interested in Kevin Tapani, whom the Cubs might deal. Tapani threw very well against the Mets this week, and would be insurance behind Al Leiter and Mike Hampton next season if they cannot re-sign Rick Reed.

  • The Royals seem to have hit a wall in negotiations with Johnny Damon, and now must decide whether or not to wait until the end of the season and make another run at trying to sign him or trade him now. The Dodgers, who could offer pitcher Eric Gagne, are one of many teams, including the Mets, who are interested in Damon.

    But it's hard for Kansas City to move him now because he's such an integral part of the team's improvement. Tony Muser has set a style for the Royals, and Damon fits it. When Carlos Beltran didn't run a ball out in a recent game, he got benched. When prospect Dee Brown didn't play the way they wanted him to in Triple-A, they shipped him to extended spring for a refresher course. And when Mark Quinn didn't do it the way they wanted, he found himself back in Triple-A, as well.

  • The Orioles were close to a deal with Seattle to trade Surhoff (where the Mariners wanted him to play third base), but his no-trade list includes Seattle so Mariners GM Pat Gillick didn't push for the trade. Surhoff wants to stay in Baltimore for a number of reasons and it would seem as if he'd be the type of person they'd want to build around. But Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift is shopping both Surhoff and Charles Johnson. If he gets a taker for Johnson, he'd then like to trade for Padres catcher Carlos Hernandez.

    While there is a lot of interest in Scott Erickson, Thrift is reluctant to trade him. Owner Peter Angelos may be softening his stance in the Mike Mussina negotiations, and you have to figure that if the O's have Mussina, Erickson, Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson the next four years, they have a chance to be competitive. On a sour note, highly-touted left-hander Matt Riley has gone so far south that his velocity is down to 88 mph and he's been taken out of their Double-A team's starting rotation.

  • How about the Indians picking up of all people, Jaime Navarro? Reports out of Colorado Springs were that he was throwing 91-96 mph, so he's been slotted right into Cleveland's rotation. At one point this past week, the Indians used six pitchers in one game that had started the season at Triple-A Buffalo. It's gotten to the point where assistant GM Mark Shapiro is signing anyone and everyone that breathes, including reliever Jim Poole, whom Cleveland has released three times already.

    They are, in fact, even trying to sign pitcher Julio Santana, who got out of his contract with Boston's Triple-A club in Pawtucket. "We're trying to patch things together until the first of July, when we start getting Paul Shuey, Sean DePaula and Charlie Nagy back," says Shapiro. Right now, Hart will not entertain offers for Richie Sexson. But come July 31, he may have to.

  • Twins new CEO Chris Clouser made another attempt to get Brad Radke signed this week, and if by July 1 nothing is worked out, the Twins may finally put him on the market.

  • The Twins are also trying to trade Todd Walker, with the Mariners (where they want him to play third base, making David Bell a utilityman), Yankees (second and third) and Red Sox (third base) all in the bidding.

  • Boston had called the Astros about Ken Caminiti before he hurt his wrist Thursday, but talks on that front went nowhere.

  • With his starting pitching in shambles (0-8 since June 3 through Friday night's loss that made them 1-7 on their current road trip), Cincinnati GM Jim Bowden has been trying to deal for one or two starters. Bowden is willing to trade a couple of relievers -- Scott Sullivan and Dennys Reyes -- and an outfielder like Dmitri Young to get that pitcher. But there are big-time concerns about Sullivan, as he's on track for his third straight 100-inning season, and that Scott Williamson and Danny Graves could wear down as well. Bowden is on the Reds current road trip, and faces a tough call on Jack McKeon, who could go from manager of the year to first manager fired this year.

  • The A's have talked to several teams in an attempt to move Omar Olivares so they can bring up young lefty Barry Zito. But there has been mo market thus far for Olivares because he has a $4 million option for next season. Another factor that could hurt his trade value is that he left Friday's game against the Royals after straining his right shoulder.

    Around the majors
  • John Hart has always been adamant in his contention that it is a huge financial risk to pour long-term, $6+ million deals into closers. "They live on an edge that's tough to maintain," says Hart, who was able to have success with Jose Mesa and Mike Jackson.

    In time, Steve Karsay can certainly close, but what worries the Indians is that he isn't getting any help in the seventh and eighth innings with Paul Shuey, Ricardo Rincon and Sean DePaula all hurt. But when you look around at Billy Wagner, who has temporarily lost his job as the Astros' closer after having blown eight of his 14 save opportunities, Matt Mantei essentially losing his role to Byung-Hyun Kim with the Diamondbacks and the occasional struggles of Billy Koch, Troy Percival and Robb Nen, you see why there is a growing school of thought that suggests that perhaps teams should pull away from one closer and employ a number of pitchers in that role.

    For instance, when the Mariners get Freddy Garcia back in the rotation, they eventually may use Kazuhiro Sasaki, Arthur Rhodes, Brett Tomko and Paul Abbott to finish games. The White Sox are using a two-man system with Keith Foulke and Bobby Howry. "Teams put so much stock in one guy that when he hits a wall, the team hits a wall," says one scout.

    Then there are the Cardinals, who every third or fourth day are running Matt Morris out there to close games. He's got two saves in two opportunities and has allowed just one run in 9.2 innings. "I was hoping to be like Dennis Eckersley," says Morris. "Ten and 10 (10 years starting, 10 years closing)." Tony La Russa says Morris' future is as a starting pitcher, "but for now, his 85-pitch limit would catch up to him. He's something to deal with, whatever he does."

  • Anyone who makes light of Chuck Knoblauch's throwing problems has no concept what a dreadful mind game it really is to not be able to throw a baseball accurately.

  • Yankees pitching guru Billy Connors on prospect Adrian Hernandez, who is currently struggling at Double-A: "He is a breaking-ball pitcher, and he's got to learn a few things, such as not to throw sidearm breaking balls to left-handed batters. But he can pitch, he's got touch, and he throws hard enough to be effective. He's touched 90. He's just got some adjusting to do."

  • Ramiro Mendoza is probably worth more to the Yankees than any other team because of his versatility and the age of the team's staff (only one team in history has won with two 37-year-olds making 30 starts in a season, the '84 Phillies with Jerry Koosman and Steve Carlton). But Mendoza has changed to more of a breaking-ball pitcher rather than a sinker-ball pitcher, and his groundball/flyball ratio has dipped accordingly from 2.25 last season to 1.22 this year.

  • Will Colorado spring for the money to sign Manny Ramirez? Their projections off last year's stats were that if Manny had played at Coors Field, he would have hit .367 with a .467 on-base percentage and a .769 slugging percentage. They also projected he would have had 198 hits, 59 homers and 192 RBI.

  • If you wonder why the Braves need another starter consider this: They've had to overtax their bullpen to the point where Rudy Seanez was used 23 times in 43 games before blowing out his elbow and Mike Remlinger is on pace to appear in 90 games this year.

  • Walt Weiss still has severe thumb problems and may soon bat exclusively from the right side. Everyone on the club, meanwhile, has tried to bolster the spirit of youngster Rafael Furcal, who they say was embarrassed after his DUI arrest. There is no need to worry about Furcal, however, as he is not a problem whatsoever.

  • The Mets will not include right-hander Pat Strange in any deal. The 21-year-old, compared to the Orioles' Sidney Ponson, was 8-0 in the Florida State League before being brought up to Double-A Binghamton for one emergency start on June 18, and is considered the club's best pitching prospect.

  • "If you think George Steinbrenner is worried about paying Derek Jeter to be the Yankees' leader while dabbling in Sammy Sosa," says an agent, "then why did he give Derek a copy of General George Patton's biography?"

    Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories

  • Gammons: 2000 column archive

    Apolitical blues

     ESPN's Bob Ley discusses loyalty in major league sports.
    RealVideo: 28.8 Help | Advertiser Info | Contact Us | Tools | Site Map | Jobs at
    Copyright ©2000 ESPN Internet Ventures. Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and Safety Information are applicable to this site.