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Notes from around the majors
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
The Olympic Committee has an important conference call Tuesday, but at this point Bob Watson and his associates have found it's a lot easier to put together a team for summer events like last year's Pan Am Olympic qualifier than the Olympic Games in Sydney in September. Before getting around to teams like the Red Sox, Yankees and Orioles, who have undermined the effort, the big problem is September callups.
The Indians, for instance, have five minor leaguers that the Olympic Committee would like to use -- shortstop John McDonald, outfielder Russell Branyan, left-handed pitcher C.C. Sabathia, outfielder Dave Roberts and first baseman Danny Peoples. Of the five, the only one that may be available is Peoples, as McDonald is Cleveland's best backup shortstop, Roberts is the one player they could use to come off the bench and steal a base and Sabathia may get a start or two as the Indians play 32 games in the 30 days of September.
The committee would like to get Giants right-hander Kurt Ainsworth and Reds shortstop Gookie Dawkins, but they may not be available. Some of the young prospects still under serious consideration are Tigers catcher Brandon Inge, Tampa Bay second baseman Brent Abernathy, Toronto shortstop Felipe Lopez, Astros shortstop Adam Everett, Astros second baseman Keith Ginter, Cubs center fielder Corey Patterson, Expos outfielder Brad Wilkerson, White Sox right-handers Matt Ginter and Jon Rauch, Mariners left-hander Ryan Anderson (if he is healthy), Brewers righty Ben Sheets, Royals lefty Chris George and Oakland reliever Bert Snow.
The U.S. is being realistic, especially in the fact that the Japanese are using several major league top-line starting pitchers. Japan and Cuba are the heavy favorites, while the U.S. will be fortunate to make it to the final round because it will have to oust either Korea, which hopes to have Boston's Sun Woo Kim, or Australia to get there.
Speaking of Cubans, third baseman Andy Morales, a two-time escapee, will head off this week to get citizenship that will get him free agency. With Morales, a 27-year-old with good hands, a strong arm and power, escaped with his cousin Carlos Castillo, a shortstop. Because Morales' in-laws live in Miami, he expects his wife and seven-month old daughter to be allowed to leave Cuba shortly. But Morales revealed that Kendry Morales, an outfielder/pitcher who may be, at 16, the best young player in Cuba, is not actually related to him. If you want to see someone get big free agent bucks, get Kendry Morales out to Costa Rica.
It's getting to the point where you wonder if players and owners 1) can ever try to get rich together and 2) agree it is a team game. The grievance that will be heard in 10 days on Carlos Beltran is an indication that the Players Association and the lawyers think the concept of team is trash.
Beltran, who had to be benched for lackadaisical play while hitting .247 with six homers this season, was sent to Florida to rehab, as is the case with all Royals players. He refused, after being convinced to do so by his agent Scott Boras and the union, who believe the individual is always greater than the team.
Relations don't seem to be getting better as a major 2002 showdown lurks on the horizon, and while traditionally the union has counted on divided ownership, bad negotiators and help from the National Labor Relations Board, the landscape may have changed to the point where ownership may pull an NBA-type lockout. The player landscape has changed, and if the New York lawyers don't understand some of the resentment, they'll be mistaken.
In 1994 the big-market coalition was around a dozen teams, but that may be down to the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers and perhaps one or two others now. And where once whoever negotiated needed complicated forms of consensus, Bud Selig will negotiate as he feels he must, and while some think Selig would never allow a second shutdown in his administration, he is more interested in changing the playing field back to the point where the small- and medium-market teams have a chance. Now, the only place the small markets can compete is for minor-league free agents, as evidenced by the fact that at the deadline after the Yankees added a pro-rated two-month total of $7.9 million to their payroll to top the $113 million mark, while the A's were able to only add a pro-rated total of $100,000.
Boras was quoted in the Boston papers as saying that he will go to arbitration if the Red Sox don't come in with a deal similar to Charles Johnson's. Varitek, who if he had signed with the Twins in 1993 would have likely been in the big leagues by the time he finally started playing pro ball in 1995, would be close to free agency and probably have already made over $10 million. Instead, after Boras rejected a long-term deal in spring training, Varitek is 29 with three years service time. And between injuries and the pressure of the contract, the diligent, intelligent and tireless catcher has had a down year this season. He also has the worst percentage of throwing out runners of any AL catcher with more than 50 attempts and a .207 average since the break. Varitek is still an All-Star catcher, when healthy and relaxed, but he hasn't been that way all year.
"Kirk kept telling me it wasn't about money," says Giants assistant GM Ned Colletti. "He meant it." Darren Oliver got $19 million for three years while Brad Radke got $36 million for four years. It's amazing what the Giants put on the field for $54 milion.
They have an innings horse in Livan Hernandez, Rueter, a former 18-game winner (Russ Ortiz) and a former 19-game winner (Shawn Estes), one of the game's best closers (Robb Nen), a Hall of Famer (Barry Bonds), a second baseman(Jeff Kent) with more 100 RBI seasons (four) than all but four players at his position in the history of the game, the best defensive first baseman in the world (J.T. Snow) who happens to hit .300. Kent at $6 million is one of the great contracts in the game. But players love San Francisco, they love the park and they love Dusty Baker.
Here are a couple more waiver items:
1. Moises Alou was claimed and pulled back.
2. Oakland was not going to claim Jose Canseco. The problem with the Yankees claim is that they now have four DHs -- David Justice, Luis Polonia, Glenallen Hill and Canseco -- and no backup center fielder. What happens if, on the fourth of October, Bernie Williams tears a hamstring? Buster Olney of the New York Times wrote that because of that, Ryan Thompson may have a better chance of being on the postseason roster than Canseco. But put nothing past Brian Cashman, because he could go find a Ryan Christenson-type of center fielder and stick him in Columbus on Aug. 31 to have available for the postseason in the event of an injury.
The whole claiming process is crazy. So, with the help of the commissioner's office, here are three suggestions to make the races more fair:
1. Set the trading deadline back to June 15, when more teams are in it and less likely to deal.
Houston, by the way, couldn't let Alou go without his permission. But look for the Astros to move him along with Daryle Ward and Jose Lima this winter (if for no other reason to get Lima away from the impressionable Octavio Dotel). Ken Caminiti, who was hitting .303 with 45 RBI in 59 games when he ruptured the tendon sheath in his ritght wrist, says right now he is inclined not to take less money to remain in Houston, which would prompt the Astros to let him go.
But that can change, especially since Caminiti has a history of being emotional, loyal and willing to take less than the market value.
This and that
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