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Notes from around the majors

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August 26

Look, does anyone expect that Jack McKeon will be back as Reds manager next season? Of course not. But there obviously is a lot of concern in GM Jim Bowden's circle of advisers as to whether or not Ken Griffey Sr. or Bob Boone would be the right man for this situation, not to mention whether or not hiring one of the two could fractionize the troops.

Bowden will wait until the end of the season and then see who is out there. It's easy to speculate with so many managers on the bubble and so many unsigned for next year. Curiously, there seems to be less of a storm around Bobby Valentine than a dozen other managers, but while he wants to stay in New York and owner Fred Wilpon seems to want him back, delaying the decision any longer only puts the Mets in a more precarious negotiating position with Valentine's agent, Tony Attanasio.

Bobby Valentine
Bobby Valentine remains a manager without a contract beyond this season.

The Players Association supposedly doesn't want agents simultaneously representing players and managers, but Valentine, Bruce Bochy and Davey Lopes are represented by Attanasio. Dusty Baker has reportedly linked up with Jeff Moorad and Lou Piniella has hired Alan Nero, all respected, big-time agents. The Giants think Baker will be back and privately claim that he has given them assurances that he will return. But a lot can happen once the season ends and there is a huge market for Baker, especially if the Giants win the NL West and go deep into the playoffs.

It appears fairly certain that McKeon, Pittsburgh's Gene Lamont and Houston's Larry Dierker will not be back.

And what happens in the final 40 days of the season will likely determine the fates of Davey Johnson, Jimy Williams, Art Howe, Larry Rothschild, Jim Fregosi, Felipe Alou, Terry Francona and the big three without contracts (Valentine, Baker and Piniella).

Francona is taking the worst and often most unfair beating, since he didn't make the trading blunders on the pitching staff, he didn't insist on keeping Desi Relaford and Marlon Anderson as his double-play combination going into spring training and he's not part of the players' cynicism best summed up by one player's words, "We've had 13 losing seasons in 14 years, and now we're rebuilding."

It appears that Tampa Bay GM Chuck LaMar understands that Rothschild had no chance from the beginning of this year when he lost his four best starting pitchers and was given a team that was inferior defensively, had no leadoff hitter and no pure middle-of-the-lineup hitter.

Alou, meanwhile, may have given his soul to Montreal, but he may be better off getting out of baseball's Desolation Row. Come to think of it, maybe they should play that great Dylan song before home games in Montreal.

Olympic team faces tall task
The committee that picked the Olympic Team knows that it would take a John R. Tunis novel of a miracle to beat the Cubans or Japanese, especially when the Japanese are sending several of their best major league starting pitchers to the Games. It may also be difficult to beat out Korea and host Australia to get to the medal round, but the U.S. team has to hope that their good young pitchers -- Milwaukee's Ben Sheets, Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia, Tampa Bay's Matt White, San Francisco's Kurt Ainsworth, Kansas City's Chris George, Houston's Roy Oswalt and 6-11 monster Jon Rauch of the White Sox -- come through. They put veteran Todd Williams on the club to close along with left-handers Tim Young (Red Sox) and Bobby Seay (Devil Rays) for lefty-lefty matchups.

There are some fascinating young players to watch, led by 19-year-old Sean Burroughs, a prospect in the Padres' system. "We know Burroughs won't be awed," says one committee member. "He can hit, he can adjust and this will be a great experience for him." Last winter, Tony Gwynn visited Burroughs' house to talk hitting. When Gwynn arrived, Burroughs was in his cage, 40 feet from the pitching machine which had been dialed up to 93 mph. "I'm trying to develop bat speed," Burroughs told Gwynn, who in turn shook his head in amazement at the teenager's maturity.

The team should be strong up the middle with Houston shortstop Adam Everett and Tampa Bay second baseman Brent Abernathy, along with Cincinnati's Gookie Dawkins to play either middle-infield position. But there is little corner power with Minnesota's Doug Mientkiewicz at first base (although John Roskos could be added), and all the outfielders are minor-league veterans.

"It was hard because there are so many callups," says a committee member. "We'd have loved to get three more Indians -- center fielder Dave Roberts for speed, Russell Branyan for power and shortstop John McDonald -- but they are trying to get into the postseason. The Yankees wouldn't help; it was like pulling teeth to get Mike Coolbaugh, and he wasn't even going to get called up. We had Juan Pierre earmarked back in June, but his rise to Colorado was sped up. There were others that some members wanted to take on their potential -- Corey Patterson of the Cubs (Andy MacPhail made him available because he doesn't want to bring him up in September), Tigers catcher Brandon Inge and Rangers first baseman Carlos Pena. But there were a lot of others who believed in the experience thing."

Patterson was picked as an alternate, but declined, telling the Olympic Committee that he didn't want to go to Australia if he wasn't guaranteed a spot on the team.

It will be tough, very tough for this team to win. The Cubans have their best veteran team ready, including shortstop German Mesa, second baseman Antonio Pacheco, first baseman Orestes Kindalin and the great Omar Linares. Right-handed pitcher Jose Contreras, who beat the U.S. in the medal game in the Pan Am Games last summer and twice dominated the Orioles, will be in the rotation alongside Jose Ibar, Luis Laza with Nils Rodriguez -- who is reputed to throw close to 100 mph -- as the closer.

By the way, that two-game series the Cubans played with the Orioles last year changed a lot of conditions in Cuba. Players have received a 250 percent pay raise, clubhouses were remodeled, teams were equipped with air-conditioned buses, they stayed in first-class road hotels and per diem was dramatically increased -- all thanks to the money taken in by the series with the Orioles. Credit Peter Angelos with bettering baseball on several counts in agreeing to play the Cubans.

News and notes

  • There may be a few waiver deals for positional players before the Aug. 31 deadline. The Marlins are expected to move Henry Rodriguez (Arizona?) when Cliff Floyd comes off his rehab assignment. But few pitchers got through. One of those few who did is Masato Yoshii, whom the Rockies are shopping to contenders. Seattle is one of the possibilities where Yoshii could land.

  • It's been the season of the non-trades for the Yankees, despite the fact that they've gotten so much out of David Justice, Glenallen Hill and, to a lesser extent, Denny Neagle. But think of the "done" deals that collapsed on them: Jim Edmonds, Juan Gonzalez and Sammy Sosa.

    The one trade that GM Brian Cashman wanted to make was to move Ramiro Mendoza, Alfonso Soriano and another couple of prospects to Anaheim for Darin Erstad. While you can imagine how different the league would be with arguably its most emotional, legitimate leader in Pinstripes instead of Mouse Ears, in the end, the Angels were never going to let their franchise player go no matter how much he appeared to be dogged by injuries during the first half of spring training.

  • What's evolved in Detroit is that manager Phil Garner has clearly taken over as the man in charge of the organization and the person in whom owner Mike Ilitch believes in. It is amazing enough that they were .500 in August for the first time since '93 -- pre-strike -- but Garner has changed the entire mind set and perception of the franchise, which in turn will likely save GM Randy Smith's job.

    Now they need a leadoff hitter, a center fielder, maybe a legitimate first base power guy and a No. 1 and 2 starter and they can join the White Sox in making the AL Central balanced and interesting. And if you give the Royals several everyday players and the Twins pitching and some money to add to what they already have the AL Central would then be one of the deepest of the six divisions in baseball.

  • One Red Sox official this week said, "We're still a long way from getting this ballpark project done, and I'm starting to get worried." Mayor Tom Menino doubled the cost of the project by forcing them off the waterfront and back into the present Fenway area.

    John Harrington erred by not getting the financing to buy the land surrounding the park before leaking its location, then watching other interests buy it and quadruple the cost. But Boston is a one-party political mess, with totally ineffective national leaders, a state legislature and city council that is ripe with abuses of power and the result is that it is less than a 50-50 proposition that there will be a new Fenway in the Harrington Administration. In all, that means the Yawkey Foundation will have to then be auctioned off to the highest bidder and we'll see what happens if it gets sold to some trust fund -- or better yet some egomaniacal twirp like Daniel Snyder.

  • The Yankees have now blown five leads for Roger Clemens, none for Andy Pettitte.

  • Pedro Martinez showed his teammates precisely what makes him so great Thursday when he gave up six runs in the first two innings, then told Jimy Williams, "Don't worry, I will rest the bullpen" and proceeded to shut out the Royals right on through the eighth. In doing that he allowed the bullpen to get the rest they needed and gave Boston a chance to come back to win the game in extra innings.

    The Sox have made a lot of their expected help from their Rehab Fab Four -- Bret Saberhagen, Ramon Martinez, Paxton Crawford and Pete Schourek -- when they play their brutal September schedule, but now they're privately not as optimistic. Saberhagen recently had a setback, Crawford is "a few outings away" and while Ramon threw well Friday for Pawtucket, they are concerned about his ability to throw strikes. The bullpen folks say Ramon sometimes throws less than 50 percent strikes while warming up, which they fear is related to his knee or his shoulder; the surest sign that there's a physical problem is lack of command, not velocity.

    By the way, how would you like to be sitting there deciding whether or not to pick up all those Red Sox options for next season -- Ramon ($8 million), Rod Beck ($4.5M), Tom Gordon ($4.5M), Tim Wakefield ($5), Schourek ($2.5M). In all they have $24.5M worth of options on the pitching staff alone.

  • There are some other players who have big options for next year. They are: Omar Daal ($6M), Kenny Lofton ($8M), Gary DiSarcina ($3.45M), Bret Boone ($4M) and Jose Canseco ($4M). Most likely, none of them will get picked up.

  • As the Rangers drift dangerously close to the Devil Rays in the standings, Johnny Oates is concerned that John Wetteland may retire. There are two big problems with the Rangers -- a lack of power to keep Rafael Palmeiro from being walked three times a game (watch his average continue to drop as he has to swing at pitches he shouldn't be swinging at) and the infield defense, which is one of the worst in either league.

  • "If anyone doubts that the light will snap on for Mike Mussina when he gets on a good team," says one AL scout, "then all they have to see is his stuff. The differential between his fastball and changeup is still 15 to 18 mph, which is Pedroesque-great, which shows that his arm can accelerate and decelerate as well as it ever could before."

  • A number of AL clubs figure Todd Hundley will be available during the winter, and would be a tremendous DH/catching addition to the middle of a lineup and the clubhouse.

  • The best Jeff Bennett/Elias Sports Bureau figure of the week is that since Phil Nevin became the Padres' regular third baseman on Aug. 10, 1999, he leads all major league third basemen in RBI with 128 and batting average (.300) and has 35 homers in 171 games going into this weekend.

  • After being pulled in the sixth inning after allowing 11 baserunners, two runs and a bases-loaded jam in a 2-2 game, Red Sox left-hander Jeff Fassero blasted Jimy Williams, saying "other than Pedro Martinez, no starter is allowed to work out of trouble and none of us now remember how to do so." Hmmm.

    The Red Sox are still on a pace to do something no pitching staff has ever done -- have the fewest innings pitched by starters and finishing with the lowest ERA in the league. The Red Sox are 30th in innings pitched by their starters and first in both leagues in ERA.

    "I will not embarrass a starter by leaving him in," says Williams, who would never allow a pitcher like Jamie Moyer to suffer through consecutive 10-run starts. "I want him thinking good about himself, and if he goes back out there thinking that he's really good and I'm wrong for pulling him out, then fine. In the end he'll pitch better because he's confident and has something to prove."

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  • Gammons: 2000 column archive

    Gammons: A Central disappointment
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