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Cubs' future rests in decision on Sosa
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
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.
"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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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."
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