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Wednesday, January 15
Updated: March 13, 4:56 PM ET
Three-way deal includes Yanks' Hernandez to Expos

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Bartolo Colón got traded Wednesday, but not to the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees.

Instead, Colon went to the Chicago White Sox in a three-team deal that included the Yankees and provided New York with the fringe benefit of keeping Colon away from the Red Sox.

Wed., January 15
The Yankees' underlying motivation for this deal, I believe, is they were afraid Bartolo Colon might end up with Boston. Had the Red Sox acquired Colon, the dynamic of the AL East would have shifted. Imagine a Boston rotation featuring the formidable threesome of Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Colon? I'm sure New York's front office imagined that as well -- and didn't want that imagination to become a real-life nightmare.

For the White Sox, who filled perhaps their greatest need, this is a tremendous trade. The deal places Chicago, a disappointing club last season, squarely in the mix in the AL Central. With Colon, the White Sox now have the second-best starting rotation in the AL Central (behind the Twins).

This is a decent deal for the Expos, but I believe it ends their hopes of contending in the NL East in '03. With Colon, the Expos had a chance to challenge the Phillies, Braves and Mets. Without Colon, that chance evaporates.

Jeff Liefer holds the key to this deal for Montreal. Some observers believe that if he gets 500 at-bats, he could produce some big numbers. A left-handed batter with power potential, Liefer is the wild card. If he blossoms, this will be a good trade for Montreal. More ...

In the three-way swap, the Yankees sent pitcher Orlando Hernandez and $2 million to Chicago for reliever Antonio Osuna and minor league pitcher Delvis Lantigua. Then the White Sox packaged Hernandez with right-handed pitcher Rocky Biddle, outfielder Jeff Liefer and cash to Montreal for Colon and minor league infielder Jorge Nunez. In all, the Expos will only have to pay a minimal amount of Hernandez's 2003 salary.

The architect of the deal was White Sox general manager Ken Williams, who pursued Montreal GM Omar Minaya once it became clear that the Expos would be trading either Colon or pitcher Javier Vazquez to reduce payroll.

"Early on, I was probably the most aggressive guy," Williams said. "As soon as the end of the season hit, I was trying to launch a pre-emptive strike in that direction. You kind of selectively pick and choose your spots. You don't want to go away and allow this thing to develop.

"You kind of go in and out of this situation. Really, there were so many twists and turns to how this evolved. If I were to make a chart, it would probably look more like a chart of my stocks than anything."

The Yankees and Red Sox were believed to be in the best position to get Colon, who won 20 games last season for Cleveland and Montreal. But when the Yankees added Cuban free agent Jose Contreras and re-signed Roger Clemens, it created a logjam of eight starting pitchers.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman was looking to ease that glut and reduce payroll while also trying to shore up a bullpen that lost free agents Mike Stanton to the New York Mets and Ramiro Mendoza to Boston. He approached Williams, offering Hernandez and asking about Osuna and Lantigua.

"Ken Williams rejected that proposal," Cashman said. "In the last few days, he called back and said if he was able to do a three-way deal he might revisit it. We didn't make this decision to prevent Boston from getting better. It was right for our organization."

And if it hurt their chief division rival, well, that was a fringe benefit for the Yankees.

Williams wasn't particularly interested in the Boston vs. New York rivalry. He came away from the deal with a front-line starter after adding closer Billy Koch in a six-player trade with Oakland last month.

"It makes us better," Williams said. "We've made what is a significant addition to what I believed was a pretty good club to start with."

Williams said Colon brings the White Sox a presence and some consistency. "We're better off to stave off some of the slumps that develop over a season," he said.

Colon went 20-8 with a 2.93 ERA last season, but the Expos -- run by Major League Baseball -- were under orders to keep their payroll at about $40 million. He will earn $8.25 million this season, the final year of a five-year, $17.25-million contract that he signed in 1999.

So Minaya shopped Colon, who went 10-4 for the Indians and had the same record for the Expos with eight complete games and 149 strikeouts in 33 starts.

"I don't think it's a fire sale," Minaya said. "It's a payroll reduction. When you say fire sale, I think of giving players away. We're not in the process of giving players away."

Colon's credentials are substantial -- 20 victories, eight complete games, 149 strikeouts.

The Yankees and Red Sox both expressed interest, although Cashman said New York backed off because of its crowded starting staff. "That situation didn't fit with us given the personnel we have and the payroll situation," he said.

Instead of Colon, the Yankees came away with two other pitchers: Osuna, a reliever who was 8-2 in 59 games with a 3.86 ERA for the White Sox last season, and Lantigua, 7-7 with a 4.38 ERA at Triple-A Charlotte and Double-A Birmingham.

"We traded from strength," Cashman said. "Osuna will help us now and Lantigua in the future. It reduces payroll as a fringe benefit."

With Osuna to make $2.4 million in 2003 and the Yankees giving the White Sox $2 million, New York reduced its payroll by about $600,000 in the trade. Hernandez is arbitration-eligible and expected to earn about $5 million.

Hernandez, a Cuban nicknamed El Duque, was 8-5 with a 3.64 ERA for the Yankees last season but spent considerable time on the disabled list.

Hernandez pitched for three World Series winners in New York, compiling a 9-3 postseason record with a 2.51 ERA. He leaves the Yankees one victory short of the team's postseason record for wins shared by Hall of Famer Whitey Ford and Andy Pettitte.

Biddle was 3-4 with a 4.06 ERA in 44 games for the White Sox, and Liefer hit .230 with seven home runs and 26 RBI in 76 games.

Needing a backup outfielder after parting with Liefer, the White Sox agreed to terms on a one-year, $450,000 contract with Armando Rios.

Rios, a free agent, batted .264 with a homer and 24 RBI in 76 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season. He hit .377 over his final 26 games. Nunez batted .291 at Triple-A Ottawa last season.

Rios is a .276 career hitter with 34 homers and 156 RBI in five seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco. He's played 242 games in right field, 59 in left and six in center.

Minaya may not be done.

"I still have to cut payroll," he said. "My goal is to get to budget by Opening Day."

The Expos could still trade catcher Michael Barrett, who avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $2.6 million contract Wednesday.

Barrett, who made $1.15 million last year, hit .263 with 12 homers and 49 RBI as the Expos starting catcher last season.

"We're not quite there," team president Tony Tavares said. "People shouldn't assume us making another major move."

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