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Rangers face Pudge dilemma
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
By the time its season was 40 games old, the team with the quarter-billion dollar shortstop was 17 games behind the shortstop's former team. The team was waving the white flag on Ken Caminiti, Andres Galarraga and Tim Crabtree and owner Tom Hicks let it be known that he'd like to explore trading Pudge Rodriguez.
So, while Texas likely will look at first baseman Carlos Pena, second baseman Mike Young and possibly even outfielder Kevin Mench before Labor Day, the question of how to rebuild a pitching staff by trading the man who most dominates opposing running games and has his OPS rise every season has sent a lot of minds spinning.
Understand these issues:
1. Pudge, who is signed through 2002 at $8.5M per season, is a 10/5 man beginning on June 2, which necessitates an immediate trade search. If a trade is made after that, Pudge would have to agree to the deal, which means that the team that trades for him likely would have to work out a new contract in the $20 million per year range. Before June 2, a team could deal for Rodriguez and know it has him through 2002 to work on a new contract.
2. This is a battle of the mega-agents, Scott Boras and Jeff Moorad. There are those in Texas who think Boras has Hicks' ear and has suggested the Rangers can't get a pitching staff with two players who make a combined $56 million (where was this thinking when Hicks gave A-Rod the money, knowing where I-Rod stood?). I-Rod signed his current contract because he didn't want to leave Arlington; a deal with the Yankees for Jorge Posada and pitcher Tony Armas was to be announced that afternoon when Pudge walked in and agreed to the deal. That won't happen again.
3. There has long been a concern that all those games Pudge has caught will eventually make him hit the wall. The fact that he's had freak injuries the last two seasons shows how precarious the position can be. Many GMs ask if one wants to have $20 million tied up in someone a foul tip away from the DL. And there is the whole question of the career longevity of catchers. This is what history shows:
Yes, the Dodgers are interested, but they apparently will not give the Rangers both Eric Gagne and Luke Prokopec because that would leave the Dodgers with just four starters and no depth, which is especially dangerous with the medical histories of Darren Dreifort and Andy Ashby and the impending free agency of Chan Ho Park. Would the Rangers take Park in a deal and try to work out a deal with Boras? That may have a better chance. The Yankees, Red Sox, Indians and other teams are curious, mainly under the two-year window scenario. It's even been suggested that next winter Hicks might be interested in Posada and Roger Clemens -- a fellow Longhorn, who could go for 300 wins back home in Texas -- for Rodriguez.
It apparently is too early to tell if Hicks and Melvin will do anything before June 2 or even the end of the season. Hicks, meanwhile, wants to know why Rick Helling's velocity is down 3-4 mph (he did lead the AL in pitches thrown the two previous seasons), why Doug Davis and Ryan Glynn were sure shots in spring training but haven't produced thus far and why closer Tim Crabtree turned into Jerry Spradlin, which is why Larry Rothschild may be hired as an organizational pitching consultant.When Hicks was being fleeced by Boras, he never thought about the consequences. Now, he knows them. Whether or not he understands them, like the entire I-Rod future, is not yet clear. A look inside the Red Sox
On April 25, Brad Radke started in Fenway Park and gave up a two-run homer to Jose Offerman. When Radke next faced the Red Sox this past Thursday, Offerman was riding a 10-game hitting streak. Offerman, however, was not in the starting lineup against Radke. "In the American League, you have to score five runs a game to win," says Red Sox GM Dan Duquette -- who agrees with Indians GM John Hart that second base is an offensive position. "In our league, every position is an offensive position," says Duquette. A's general manager Billy Beane also believes in the five-run rule.
If you look it up, through games of Friday, the Red Sox had scored five runs or more 99 times in the 2000-2001 seasons; only three AL teams had done it less. In those 99 games, the Red Sox were 79-20, .797, a percentage bettered only by the Mariners (102-16, .870) and A's (93-21, .816), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Understand the urgency felt by Duquette and his boss, John Harrington. Duquette is in the last year of his contract, has seen an extension worked out with Harrington postponed by legal eagles and, when he called Tommy Lasorda to recommend his cousin Jim for the Dodgers GM job, threw his own name into the ring (which is why Lasorda has told others, "The perfect man for our job is the guy in Boston"). Harrington wants to win it all before the Yawkey name is off the top of the masthead.And when Jimy Williams leaves one of his three best hitters out of the lineup against the game's winningest pitcher, much less refuses to play him everyday at second base despite the .212 average of Mike Lansing, it clearly piques the front office. The manager's mantra has been to play everyone, to point to the Red Sox' first-place standing and wait for Nomar Garciaparra's return. But the fact remains that the Yankees, heading into Saturday, are only 1½ games back despite having virtually everything awry, the wild-card leader at that point (Cleveland) was in the AL Central and the Oakland A's have come up on the outside and are only five games behind Boston.
As for Garciaparra's savior role, Duquette has constantly deflected the pressure from his All-Star shortstop. "Who knows when he'll be back, and how strong his hand will be?" says Duquette. "It's not fair to him to expect him to be the star right away."
There are growing indications that Duquette is increasingly frustrated by Williams' lineups. Chris Stynes, a notorious streak hitter, got four hits and was on the bench the next day. While Dante Bichette may not have his former power, he did have a 14-game hitting streak, had one 0-fer and was benched in favor of Troy O'Leary, who is in a two-year funk. There are reverberations around the halls on Yawkey Way that Duquette doesn't want this team to cry "early" too late, and that Williams is one bad series in Yankee Stadium from forcing his general manager's hand. It would have been a lot easier had the Expos not won two out of three in Colorado and at home against the Dodgers to save Felipe Alou's job.Paxton Crawford, who was sent to the minors along with Tomo Ohka (who was 11th in the AL in ERA at .357 before being demoted) to make room for David Cone and Hipolito Pichardo, told the Providence Journal on Friday, "Up in Boston, they start panicking when they start losing a couple of games."
True, but Crawford doesn't grasp the urgency caused by a $111 million payroll, a GM at the end of his contract and an owner trying to win before he cashes out. That is an urgency that sitting Jose Offerman against Brad Radke contradicted.
Fire sale looming in Tampa
Thus far, there has been little immediate interest in Fred McGriff, Gerald Williams, who is less than 150 plate appearances from vesting his $4 million 2002 option, and Greg Vaughn. Several teams have been scouting Albie Lopez with great interest while a number of other clubs, including the Red Sox and Blue Jays, are monitoring Wilson Alvarez's comeback. Alvarez is up to 88 mph and will soon begin his minor-league rehab and should be back in the big leagues by July 1. Alvarez is restructuring his current contract, deferring $2M of the $8M he's owed in 2002. At $6M -- less than Steve Trachsel money -- he's more attractive to the team that acquires him.In a year in which everything has gone wrong, down to Josh Hamilton being sidelined with a bad back in Double-A, LaMar soon hopes to have Hall, second baseman Brent Abernathy and left-handed pitcher Joe Kennedy up in the majors. By the end of next season, the Rays should have a sub-$20M payroll and a pretty interesting young team with Hamilton, Carl Crawford, Abernathy, Hall, Jason Standridge, Matt White, et al. Calling all lefties
The mere mention of left-handed whets the appetites of the NL Central folks. When the Cardinals were shut down by Omar Daal Friday night, it was a reminder of what most scares Cubs GM Andy MacPhail about St. Louis.
"They are so dangerous against right-handed pitching with that outfield power that you really want to have left-handers to start against them," says MacPhail.
Problem is, in a six-team division where the Cards play nearly half their schedule, there is one left-handed starting pitcher -- Pittsburgh's Jimmy Anderson. Oh, there might be a second if Tony La Russa takes Mike Matthews out of the pen and starts him, or if Cards GM Walt Jocketty can't wait any longer to bring up Bud Smith (22-4, 2.24 the last two years, with a 43/9 K/BB ratio this season in Triple-A) from Memphis."What's frustrating is that there doesn't appear that there will be much left-handed pitching on the market this summer," says one NL Central GM.
David Wells will be, probably after the All-Star break. Colorado will eventually trade Brian Bohanon and Ron Villone. Alvarez is interesting as well. Some feel that the Giants might consider trading Shawn Estes, another potential free agent, once he comes off the DL.
"You look at Jim Edmonds and realize J.D. Drew (1.141 OPS into the weekend) might be better than Edmonds and on his way to a 40-homer season," says the GM, "and you realize you'd better have left-handers to stop them. Of course, come July, if they have (Albert) Pujols and (Mark) McGwire together, they will be really scary."News and notes
The Mets found the Tigers aren't ready to move Tony Clark, and with a badly depleted farm system have to decide what they need most -- a bat or a pitcher. As Joel Sherman of the New York Post pointed out, in their first 39 games in 2000, the Mets scored two or fewer runs 13 times and were 5-8, while this year they did it 18 times and were 2-16, more of a reflection on dreadful starting pitching than the dead air of their infield.
Ah, come on. Do the Cubs miss Mark Grace? The man played very hard there, but everyone in the front office knows he and Sammy Sosa were not going to co-exist, and Grace had to go when he did because they didn't want Hee Seop Choi coming into Wrigley as the man who immediately replaced Grace. As Sosa hit homer No. 400 this week, the focus should be on him, not Grace. Sosa is the eighth youngest player ever to hit 400 homers (source: Baseball Immortals); the younger seven are all in the Hall of Fame other than Ken Griffey Jr. Sosa is a 32-year-old man who had hit 179 homers over the last three years, had knocked in 100 runs six straight years (averaging 129) and has improved as a hitter from the days of a kid who in 1990-91-92 batted .233, .203, .260 with 15, 10 and eight homers and 33/150, 14/98 and 19/63 BB/K ratios. Oh yes. When Grace arrived in Wrigley this week, Sosa was third in the league in pitches per at-bat, 4.2. Why was there ever a question of who should stay and who shoudl go? "Mad Cow Craze"
This e-mail has circulated around Piitsburgh, titled "Mad Cow Disease; Mad Cam Disease!!"
Traded Jon Lieber for Brant Brown. (Brant Brown was the victim of the first. Ampting to cure Brant Brown, we traded him for Bruce Aven. Yes, Bruce Aven contacted the disease. Bruce Aven traded for Randy Galvez. Randy Galvez just confirmed with the disease. The disease is in the last stages with Brant Brown and Bruce Aven. They are no longer in baseball.
Right now, the confirmed reports are Derek Bell and Pat Meares are current members that have the disease. Rumor has it that some suspect Enrique Wilson has contacted the disease."
"Roque might help us, he's pitched well," says Duquette of Milwaukee's 1999 Opening Day starter, who is 4-1 for Pawtucket.
Actually, Boston's farm system is coming back in terms of pitching. Left-hander Greg Montalbano (4-1), Korean lefty Byeong Hak An (1.76 ERA) and right-hander Brad Baker (3-2, 2.51) could move from Class A Sarasota to Trenton by August, as could Mexican left-hander Jorge de la Rosa (0.70 ERA).
Class A Augusta has an entire rotation of prospects: right-hander Seung Song (2-0, 1.36), lefty Mauricio Lara, 6-5 left-hander Rich Rundles (4-2, 1.63), lefty Luis Peres and righty Matt Thompson. In addition, 2000 draftee Brian Adams, out of Old Dominion, is 6-1 for Augusta and reliever Felix Villegas has the best radar readings of them all.
"Wakefield is one of the most valuable pitchers in the game," says one scout. "He's 34? He'll pitch into his 40s. Remember, unlike the Niekros, Tom Candiotti and all the other knuckleballers, Wakefield converted straight from first base to pitching and had no pitching background to fall back on. That's why I think he's about to enter his prime. He's finally learning how to fall back when things go wrong. And the strike zone doesn't hurt, either."
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