|ESPN.com | Baseball Index | Peter Gammons Bio|
Notes from around the majors
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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."
ESPN.com: Help | Advertiser Info | Contact Us | Tools | Site Map | Jobs at ESPN.com