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Secret's out: Deep bullpen needed in October

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The Yankees are willing to trade off their entire system for what might be their final hour. They got Denny Neagle for the maximum. They got David Justice, and their offense has exploded. They got Glenallen Hill. Now they'll make one, two or three more deals before the deadline. But with Schilling in Arizona and Rolando Arrojo perhaps going to Cleveland or Boston, there isn't much quality pitching on the market unless the Rockies decide to shop Pedro Astacio. If the O's were capable of decisions, Scott Erickson would have been gone long ago, but they aren't and now he may have elbow problems.

That raises the question: Isn't John Wetteland worth a lot more than a mediocre starter? In the postseason, no question, and St. Louis, Oakland, Seattle, Cleveland, the Mets, Boston, Atlanta and Toronto could all be interested. In the postseason, fourth and fifth starters aren't important, but a second and sometimes third reliever capable of closing is invaluable.

The Giants' Brian Sabean understood it when he had Roberto Hernandez and Rod Beck in '97. Look at the '90 Reds, who won the World Series with their pen of Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble, Randy Myers and not much in the rotation behind Jose Rijo. Look at the '92-93 Jays, with Duane Ward and Tom Henke, the Yankees and the '97 Marlins, who had a brigade around Robb Nen.

Put Wetteland alongside Dave Veres, Jason Isringhausen, Kazuhiro Sasaki or Armando Benitez and see how better those clubs' bullpens would become. "The at-bats are totally different in the postseason," says Melvin. "You seldom see starters get through the seventh inning." The Braves last year had to try to close with Greg Maddux, Smoltz and Kevin Millwood, while Houston may have lost to the Braves because when Billy Wagner's elbow started to go, they had no alternative.

"The great bullpen gets you through three October series," says Joe Torre.

He would know.

Seeking relief
Expanding on the theory that with the paucity of starting pitchers on the market that teams have to remember that deep bullpens are needed to win in October, here are 10 contenders that need bullpen help.

1. Atlanta. The lack of faith in John Rocker has reached such depths that either they have to get him five appearances of work in Richmond or -- as some believe could be discussed -- trade him. Kerry Lightenberg, Miike Remlinger, Scott Kamienecki are solid, but they need a John Wetteland or Roberto Hernandez to win three postseason series.

2. Oakland. Their starters may be young, but they are very good, and Gil Heredia is the most under-appreciated good pitcher in the American League. But give them someone like Jim Mecir and another dominant 7th-8th inning guy who could close if Jasoin Isringhausen has worked two straight days and they are serious contenders.

3. Seattle. The M's have excellent starters and bullpen depth with Kazuhiro Sasaki and Arthur Rhodes, but they could use a Wetteland, Hernandez or the like. These postseason series get too protracted and Sasaki hasn't proven he can withstand them.

4. Anaheim. If they are going to persist in attempting to move Ken Hill and Kent Bottenfield, one or two more steps to Troy Percival could help the young starters and give the Angels a chance.

5. Cleveland. At least one more veteran is needed to join Steve Karsay and Paul Shuey. In September, you might see the two giant lefties come out of the minors -- 6-7 C.C. Sabathia and 6-7 Roy Padilla. The latter, acquired in the minor-league draft from Boston, has been clocked at 100 mph in Akron.

6. Toronto. Paul Quantrill's back is bothering him, and there isn't much help getting to Billy Koch.

7. New York Mets. The 4th-5th starter thing really applies here, for they have Mike Hampton, Al Leiter and Rick Reed in the playoffs. But they have some worn arms in the pen, and need more help around closing time. Wetteland would be perfect here.

8. St. Louis. They have built a terrific season around a solid six innings of starting pitching and Dave Veres, but they need support for Veres.

9. Los Angeles. The Dodgers pen has improved in the last month, but if Darren Dreifort won't pitch there, they need another proven 8th-9th inning guy.

10. San Francisco. What you'll probably see is Russ Ortiz move into the pen when Joe Nathan returns, but with Alan Embree and John Johnstone disappointments thus far, they need help.

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