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Yankees again dealing with Strawberry

Special to

February 24

TAMPA, Fla. -- It's not a baseball story, per se. Darryl Strawberry has hit 65 homers in eight years, and if you lined up the Yankees' 25-man roster with Darryl, his value would rank somewhere in the 23-24-25 area.

Darryl Strawberry
Darryl Strawberry is still popular with his teammates, manager and George Steinbrenner.
The Yankees won the World Series and were 13-11 with Strawberry in the lineup. Hey, DH wasn't even important to them -- they got 84 RBI from the position last season, 11th in the league.

Sure, the Yankees started calling around Wednesday after the Strawberry news hit the fan, because if you're Brian Cashman and your boss is George Steinbrenner, you cannot survive without checking every alternative. But the general feeling is Cashman doesn't want to get rid of Ramiro Mendoza no matter what Steinbrenner says. If the ideas about Darin Erstad or Jim Edmonds don't work with Anaheim, fine -- the Yankees can get a bat in July, at which time they'll likely be 60-40 and in first place. The July possibilities: Matt Stairs or Matt Lawton, Dmitri Young or Dave Martinez. But for now Cashman is trying to get Daryle Ward or Lance Berkman from Houston -- which isn't going to happen.

It appears for now that unless the Yankees move Mendoza and prospects for Edmonds, they will monitor the middle of their order, at least for a while. Manager Joe Torre does not want to get rid of Mendoza, and Torre is usually right. Stienbrenner has made noises in the organization about moving Mendoza and keeping the payroll well below the $100 million level, but in most trades it would be hard to move the reliever and not have to take on more salary for a bat.

"Brian clearly does not want to deal him, but has to call around," another club official says. "If he could get a young, low-cost bopper, he'd do that. But who's going to do that?"

Cashman called on Ward.The Astros are not going to move their best young hitter. They can figure out his position later.

Torre can use Ricky Ledee in left field against right-handers. He can give Shane Spencer at-bats to see if he can hit righties. Tim Raines and Jim Leyritz are alternatives. He can also use Roberto Kelly in left with Spencer and Leyritz splitting DH time.

There are some who feel that Paul O'Neill is aging at 37 and Tino Martinez might be on the decline, but O'Neill is in his usual Herculean shape, and Martinez has earned the right to disprove doubters. There are going to be a lot of bats available after June 1. Since the Expos want to alter their deal with New York because of the bone chip in Hideki Irabu's elbow, they could ask for a hitter (Jose Vidro? Fernando Seguinol?) instead of right-hand pitcher Jeremy Powell as the player to be named later.

The Yankees right now are the favorites to be back in the World Series. Why? Every day they take the field thinking they can win because of their starting pitching. If one were to break down, Mendoza is the ideal guy to step in for six weeks. He already has shown his soul under pressure -- his two performances against Boston in the ALCS probably were the difference in that series.

Strawberry's is a sad story, because -- unlike Steve Howe -- fellow players, his manager, his coaches and the owner genuinely care about the man. "I didn't want him here in '96," Torre says. "But I was wrong. He's a good person. He's easy to manage. He's always on time."

Straw has worked hard to get out from under millions of dollars in debt, although he reportedly still owes $300,000 -- with interest -- in back taxes. Steinbrenner, with the influence of former Drug Enforcement Agency director Jack Lawn (one of Steinbrenner's closest allies), has been convinced that drug addiction is a sickness from which one in seven addicts recover.

"I've learned that you can't threaten a person into giving up drugs," Steinbrenner says.

The Players Association and Commissioner's Office knew about Strawberry's Jan. 19 positive test for cocaine Feb. 8, when the court signed off on continuing his after-care program, rather than punishing him further. Why did it take two weeks for Selig to summon Strawberry?

It's almost as if people are exhausted from the whole thing. "I know it's fair to ask 'how many chances does one get?' " Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch said. "But knowing Darryl, I know he needs baseball, and I hope he gets to rehabilitate and has another chance."

News and notes

  • While John Rocker awaits an arbitrator's ruling on his suspension, the feeling around the players' association is that he will get it reduced. The guess is that the arbitrator will continue to keep him out of spring training and reduce the in-season suspension to 10-14 days from the current May 1 ban.

    Even Rocker's friends think he will be traded. Tampa Bay (for Roberto Hernandez) is one possibility. The Braves are never big into adding $6 million in payroll, but it might be worth it to rid themselves of the Rocker problem. Also, they have insurance on Andres Galarraga, so if he makes it back -- as they think he could -- the Braves would have a great team, and if he doesn't, Hernandez's contract is paid off.

    The rumor that doesn't go away involves Rocker and Bruce Chen for Montreal's Ugueth Urbina. It has been denied, but not denied enough.

  • The Reds presently are the most aggressive suitor for Minnesota's Brad Radke. GM Jim Bowden has his assistant, Tim Naehring, in Fort Myers, Fla., to pursue the Twins ace, who's a free agent at the end of the season.

    But while Radke and the Twins have yet to work out a three-year extension, Twins GM Terry Ryan has told other teams -- including the Mets and Rockies -- that he wants to see if he can sign Radke and that he'll call if and when he's ready to trade.

    The Reds wouldn't give prime young players for Ken Griffey Jr., -- can they alter their Dmitri Young/Rob Bell package for Radke? The Mets organization is tapped. Colorado has the best package right now, but when and if Ryan shops around, he could get a very nice package for his pitcher.

  • The Phillies have again changed their minds and will allow rookie slugger Pat Burrell to only work in left field this spring, even though first baseman Rico Brogna is coming off arthroscopic knee surgery. The decision to stick to the original left field plan indicates the Phils believe they can find a trade for Ron Gant.

  • The Dodgers' attempt to change their focus to setting a defense that can support their pitching is best exemplified by the fact they're virtually handing the shortstop job to 24-year old former Miami star Alex Cora, who had only 22 extra base hits in Triple-A. The Dodgers believe he has hands of gold.

  • The Mariners pulled out of the bidding for Al Martin in the days after the Griffey deal, so the Pirates couldn't find anyone to take his full contract. Instead, Pittsburgh settled for John Vander Wal's contract, and the Padres get a hard-nosed player with a new start. And the Bucs can put Wil Cordero in left and Chad Hermansen in right -- and let them play.

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  • Gammons: Rocker-less Braves are in focus

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